Ezekiel

Notes on Ezekiel 1 to 37 by F. W. Grant, from the fourth volume of the Numerical Bible.

Notes on Ezekiel 38 to 48, with a Historical Chart of the Prophets, Plans illustrating the Temple, and the Future Division of the Land, by J. Bloore.

Loizeaux Brothers, Bible Truth Depot, 19 West 21st Street, New York.

Preface

After many years Ezekiel has at last been printed. The yellowed pages of the MS. have passed through many hands; much labor and prayer have been spent on them; many eyes have pored over them — besides the author, those of Mr. Ridout, P. J. Loizeaux, T. O. Loizeaux, and others engaged in the typing, composition and proof-reading. Most have now entered into that presence of which Ezekiel's closing sentence speaks: "The name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there." Their work is left to His hands to bless.

This book was F. W. G.'s last labor, showing as Mr. Ridout has said, no less brilliant work than his previous volumes. He completed the text, but in compiling his Notes laid down his pen at the 38th chapter, at the threshold of the city which he longed to enter. From that point Mr. Bloore has ably taken up the Notes,which point out the great lesson which the temple and the holy city with their precise measurements are intended to impress upon the people of God: "Show the house, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern." It brings to a focus the continued repetition through the prophecy to each nation of the purpose of God's dealings with them: "They shall know that I am the Lord."

We confess to a first feeling of disappointment when we came to the Notes on the last sentence of the book, expecting an elaboration of all that could be said of that wonderful closing. But it was best to leave it in its grandeur and beauty "Jehovah is there." The statement stands alone. The only thing that could be added is its New Testament correlative which widens out the blessing of that glorious presence beyond Israel, "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Rev. 21:3, 4).

That years have passed since the Notes were written has not lessened their value, but rather added to it, for Ezekiel speaks of eternal and unchanging principles, and time has only brought us nearer to their full display. Since Mr. Grant laid down his pen momentous changes have taken place in the countries that once formed part of the old Roman Empire, and the stage is set for the fulfilment of Ezekiel's later prophecies, as Mr. Bloore has shown in his notes on the land. We are living in days when history is rapidly being made, days when events are occurring whose result is foretold in Ezekiel's prophecy, and which make such books as the present one so interesting to every student of Scripture. People desire to know the future; in the prophets it is unfolded for them, written by the Holy Spirit.

We place the pages of Ezekiel beside the History of the World and trace what has been fulfilled of the prophecies. Kingdoms and nations have passed away, leaving such memorials of the glory that has been that remind us most of their ruin, for they belong to man's day and his glory. Ezekiel directs our attention to this, for God's judgments fall upon the nations, and the glory of man is humbled to the dust. But another glory has filled the prophet's vision. His book opens with the description of "the brightness of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah," he speaks of that glory departing from Israel, yet lingering as though loth to go; but the closing sentence of the book shows, "The glory of God God did lighten and the Lamb is the light thereof." This the glory that abides, nevermore to be removed. E. F.

Significance of the Numerals

The reason for the significance must be sought in previous volumes, especially in Appendix 2 to the Volume on the Psalms.

One.
Soleness, singularity, uniqueness; solitariness, barrenness.
Sufficiency, power, independency, pride, rebellion.
Identity, unchangeableness, consistency, perpetuity, truth, knowledge.

(Unity.)
Unity, at-oneness, harmony, congruity, integrity, righteousness, obedience, concord, peace.

(Primacy.)
Supremacy, headship, rule; beginning, cause, occasion, source, foundation, ground, plea.

(Combinations of meanings.)
Life, personality, will. Choice, election. Grace. Go
d, Almighty, Eternal, Jehovah, Father.

Two.

(Relation.)
Help, support, confirmation, assurance, competent testimony.
Seconding, preservation, deliverance, salvation. Service, ministry.
Addition, increase, growth; progress, movement, activity.
Attachment, love, desire, prayer. Association, partnership, fellowship.

(Second.)
Dependence, faith. Inferiority, lowliness, humiliation, subjection.

(Difference.)
Diversity, contrast; contradiction, opposition, conflict, enmity.
Double-mindedness, duplicity, deceit.

(Division.)
Separation, analysis, differentiation, discernment; judgment, wisdom; sight.
Decay, death, dissolution.Christ, Second Person, God and Man, Second Man, Word of God, Witness, Saviour, Servant, Minister. Cross. Soul. Woman.

Three.

(Three dimensions.)
Solidity; reality, realization, fulfilment, fulness; manifestation.
Sanctuary; glory, praise. Name.

(Three straight lines inclose a space.)
Setting apart for purpose; specialization, sanctification, holiness; transformation.
Dwelling-place, possession, portion. Marriage. Ban.

(Third line of a triangle returns to the first.)
Resurrection; return, revival, recovery; reproduction.
Spirit.

Four.
Yieldingness, weakness; meekness, mercy. Failure, testing; experience; transitoriness, change.
Creature, earth, walk on earth, world.

Five.
God in government; capacity, responsibility, exercise, way and end; conditions.
Weak with the Strong; Man with God; Immanuel.

Six.
Manifestation or fulness of evil. Work-day week; limit, discipline; mastery, overcoming.

Seven.
Completeness, perfection; rest.

Eight.
New in contrast with the Old,

Ten.
Simply a 5 by 2.

Twelve.
The manifest rule of God.

Scope and Divisions of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel, as the third of the greater prophets, most evidently fills this place. His prophecy is as much related to Jeremiah on the one side as it is to Daniel on the other. Jeremiah sees the historical breaking of the link between God and His people — "Lo-ammi" written upon them; while Ezekiel is already among the captives, and enters in detail into the causes of the terrible breach.

The prophet's name, "the Mighty One makes strong" or "firm," is characteristic of the book, there being a manifest application of it at the outset, where God giving him his charge against a people "hard of brow and stiff of heart," declares that He has made his face hard against their faces, and his forehead hard against their foreheads. This implies not merely the strengthening necessary for his difficult position, but much more the attitude of Jehovah Himself towards them. The prophet with his message of wrath is indeed Ben-Buzi, "the child of my contempt," as God would declare with regard to him. They have treated Jehovah with the scorn which He must now needs recompense in judgment.

Thus also we have constantly throughout the book that characteristic expression, scarcely used elsewhere, "The hand of the Lord was upon me;" and again, "The hand of the Lord God fell upon me" (Ezek. 8:1), and even, "The hand of the Lord was strong upon me," where the same Hebrew word chazaq is used (Ezek. 3:14). Thus Jehovah abides, and His word abides, though it be now in judgment. "That ye may know that I am Jehovah," rings through almost every part, and this is a striking link with the book of Leviticus — the place of which Ezekiel occupies in the Pentateuch of the Prophets. In Leviticus we find appended again and again to the commandments there which enforce the holiness of their Deliverer, "I am Jehovah." Here His dealings with them affirm what He is as such, the Unchangeable, true to His own nature at all times, without the possibility of swerving from it. Thus with a people such as Israel have manifested themselves to be, judgment must have its course.

Judgment is therefore largely the theme here, though the end is grace. Sin has first to be manifested in order to be put away. Here again is an echo of Leviticus: it is the priest dealing with the leper. Ezekiel is emphasized for us as the priest-prophet, and the whole book is the expansion of the enjoined dealing with leprosy which Leviticus insists upon. Everything is in place here. It is in the presence oft he glory of God. that the condition is judged; and being plainly discovered, the glory leaves. The leper is thus put outside the camp. Yet this is not the end, for God "hateth putting away," and if He does this, it is but for a time, until His dealing is effectual in the souls of His people. This being found at the time of the end, the glory returns. It is noteworthy that it is the sanctuary in Israel which is seen to be defiled with the abominations of the people, and the book ends with the restored sanctuary and the divine wings brooding once more over the city, whose very name is now Jehovah-Shammah, "Jehovah is there."

Thus if there is judgment, it is the judgment of the priest: not only in necessary holiness, but the judgment of one who desires to justify, and not to judge. Ezekiel is thus all through the book the "son of man," a term by which only once elsewhere another prophet — Daniel — is addressed (Dan. 8:17). Daniel is also the one who sees upon the throne of final empire, "One like unto a Son of man" (Dan. 7:13). Here also, how beautiful it is to see that on the heavenly throne is the "appearance of a man" (Ezek. 1:26). It is the Lord Himself who declares to us that the Father "hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man" (John 5:27). It is by a Man that man is to be judged. It is by One who knows thoroughly all that pertains to man, who has been no stranger to a path of obedience amid all the conditions that have been brought in by the fall, in human weakness facing the full power of the enemy, bearing too the burden of sin, felt as none else could feel it, and drained the cup of wrath to its very dregs. Ezekiel is but the mere shadow of such an One in whose hands judgment is safe, and the divine pity shines all through it. Yet is the title divinely given to him, the assurance of a Heart that thus appeals to man's heart all the way through the long detail of that which has provoked a judgment inflicted only when even divine patience has reached its limit, and further delay could only be dishonor. These details are but the necessary vindication, before the eyes of His creatures, of Him who judges. Thus Ezekiel is the book of manifestation; but in which not man alone, but God also is manifested, and in the love at last to which He is then able to give way.

Judgment has however in Ezekiel a peculiar character. It is not upon the great final judgment (upon which the eyes of the other prophets are so fixed) that Ezekiel dwells; although at the close we do in measure find this; but a nearer one, executed by the hands of men — of Nebuchadnezzar as the main instrument of it — whether upon Israel or upon the surrounding nations. Nebuchadnezzar introduces us, as we know, to a new period, which it is the part of Daniel fully to bring before us, "the times of the Gentiles" — of Gentile supremacy over Israel — and which lasts during the whole time of God's indignation against her. In Ezekiel we have not this as yet, but the preliminary clearing of the field upon which the new world-empires are ready to display themselves. Thus the judgment is not simply upon Israel, although in the first place there: the nations round come under it, and Nebuchadnezzar for thus executing it is awarded compensation (Ezek. 29:18-20).

The nations so visited in judgment are those who have had largest opportunity to learn of God, as having been in nearest connection with Israel: that is, with the revelation of God, however the nation has failed in its own testimony. If, then, she is herself judged, the nations around must not exalt themselves against her. There must be clean work made of the surrounding people before the new beginning. This forms the second part of the book, the judgment being seen to come upon Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, Egypt — seven nations; a complete survey of the field, beginning with the peoples kindred to Israel themselves, as Ammon, Moab and Edom; then the strangers in the land, Philistia, Tyre and Sidon; and then their old land of bondage, Egypt, out of which God delivered them in so signal a manner but which has been so long a snare to them in various ways. All these are related, though in different manner, to the chosen people. The view is complete, and its purpose obvious.

In the third part of the book, Israel is at last restored, and finally, to the favor of God. Theirs is a real resurrection, a revival out of a state of death, such that their very bones are dry and scattered abroad, impossible, as one would think, to come together again. Theirs is then a true resurrection, with the new life from God accordant with this, and the blessing for the earth which they are destined to be — have indeed already been, through God's overruling grace, in spite of themselves — but are yet to be with their whole hearts His, thankfully filling the place which grace has given them. With this we have, as t he type of the general work, the healing of the curse, as seen in the streams which, issuing from the sanctuary, renew the sea of death itself.

The divisions of the book are therefore manifest:
Division 1 (Ezekiel 1 – 24) Israel's rebellion is brought into the presence of Jehovah's unchangeable righteousness. God Himself appears, as it were, to plead His cause against a rebellious people; and Israel is brought into the light of the awful Presence, every detail of her wanderings perfectly exposed.
Division 2 (Ezekiel 25 – 32) gives the judgment at the same time upon the surrounding nations, the enemies of the people of God as such, while —
Division 3 (Ezekiel 33 – 48) gives the prophetic history of Israel's resurrection and restoration.

Notes

Division 1 (Ezekiel 1 — 24).

Israel's rebellion brought into the presence of Jehovah's unchangeable righteousness.

How little can those who are away from God measure the distance they have gone from Him! Away from Him who is Light, and the only light, the soul is in necessary darkness. And even with one who has a memory of the light, there is a lack of responsive energy to overcome the oppression of the existing darkness. For this God Himself must come in, and this is one meaning of the opening vision. Even then we are reminded of the Lord's words that "to them that are without, all these things are done in parables." It is what they complained of in the prophet's speech (Ezek. 20:49), and there was so much truth in this as to enable them to put away the conviction it should have forced upon them. The Lord's answer to a somewhat similar thought on the part of His disciples did not ignore the fact of the parabolic form, but asserted the competence they should have had to understand it: "Know ye not this parable?" He asks, "and how then will ye know all parables?" (Mark 4:13). Yet He adds, To you is it given to know;" which does not deny their responsibility, for God's gifts are not arbitrarily withheld, but casts us upon Himself for competence. It is good for us to realize all sides of truth like this when we take up Ezekiel. Though it be all of grace, yet we must remember that to see what Ezekiel saw we must be in some sense where Ezekiel was. Grace does not release from the conditions which holiness demands, but enables for them. Oh then that we might realize this vision as He who searcheth the deep things of God can give ability!

Subdivision 1 (Ezekiel 1 — 7).

The charge given to the prophet.

The charge is given to the prophet, as we have seen, by Jehovah Himself, and in a marvelous revelation of Himself as the holy Governor of the world which He has made The awful solemnity of wills in opposition to such an One is here emphasized. The glory of Jehovah is revealed, though in terms necessarily symbolical, as in fact all visions of divine glory apart from "Christ come in flesh" must be. How blessed to have here the deepest revelation, in the sweet and tender speech of Him who has become Man in order to bring it to us! Yet, even in Ezekiel, as we have already seen, there is, as it were, "the appearance of a Man upon the throne." God is drawing near in a way which in many respects cannot fail to remind us of the vision of Patmos. Ezekiel himself is truly in Patmos — in a place of isolation in the midst of a world hostile to God; and here with the awful sorrow added of the just judgment of God upon a people in revolt from Him. All the more do we see here how all creation works in harmonious obedience to Him. This is what the living creatures speak of; and not only they, but the cycles of earthly history, as represented by the wheels, show fully the same thing. All creation, all events, display His glory, and it is in the presence of such an One that Israel's sin must be brought in order to give it its full character. Yet for the soul of the saint what comfort in such a revelation! No wonder that Ezekiel is strengthened by it to stand under the weight of his commission. How thus, in times of greatest failure and apostasy, God comes near to those who have a heart for Him! Thus it is with Ezekiel; thus it is with Daniel; and even the beloved John in his blessed vision stands amid a people who have already begun to depart from God. Ephesus, to whom is committed the highest view of the Church which is given us, has left its first love, and the voice now is to overcomers — not merely with regard to the world, which opposes its darkness to the divine light, but in the Church over which the same darkness is ominously stealing. Yet, in the face of all, it is the God of all encouragement who always speaks to us. To hear His voice indeed is to receive "not the spirit of cowardice, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

Section 1 (Ezekiel 1).

Jehovah the Almighty whom all creation, all events, harmoniously obey.

1. The opening verses, as an introduction to the whole book, should be of the deepest significance. As we look at them, at first they may seem but a mere record of dates and places; but we may be sure that underneath we shall find a true introduction, every word of which bears upon that which is to follow. It is thus only that we can read these scriptures aright when we willingly pass over nothing, assured that everywhere the word of God will vindicate itself as that, and that to make one word from the divine mouth idle, is the insult of unbelief to Him who speaks in it. There is a studied emphasis here, manifestly put upon that which we might overlook. This 30th year, this 4th month, this 5th day of the month, are manifestly specifications full of purpose. The 30th year is, no doubt, as it is generally considered, the year of the prophet. It was the period at which the priest entered upon his office; it was the year in which it pleased Christ, Himself the true Priest, to begin His public ministry. This 30th year has in it as one of its factors that number 5 which we shall find accompanying us remarkably through the book: We have thus the 5th day, the 5th year of Jehoiachin's captivity. Five is the number of man in relation to God. It is the number, therefore, which speaks of responsibility under His government, and that is most suited in the book of Ezekiel. Yet we must not forget that there is another side to it, and that the weak with the strong, the 4–1–1, we have found many times to speak of Immanuel. The New Testament is thus a 5th Pentateuch, and of what does it speak? Certainly the burden of its message is not responsibility, but the blessed way in which the weakness of humanity and the strength of Deity have come together in the Person revealed.

Then let us notice that 10 is but a twice 5, and that this number 2, which is the additional factor, is the number which speaks directly of, and therefore emphasizes, relationship. Here is a 3X10, the number of manifestation and of the Spirit alike, and in connection with man, thus in company with God. And when the Lord came up from Jordan, in His 30th year, from His pledge to that ministry in which the river of death was indeed the point to which it guided, and the end for which it marked Him out, it was to be manifested and approved of God as the perfect Mediator, His beloved Son, upon whom then the Dove from heaven descends. Thus He becomes in full reality the Christ, anointed for His work of bringing God and man together. And here also, in what is now before us (though we must modify a good deal the proper force of the words), we may say that the prophet is anointed for the work upon which he enters, where man's relationship to God is that which is in question, which he is to realize in his soul in its tremendous consequences, yet where in the end God will indeed be seen to unite Himself to man in His own manner, and according to what has been ever in His heart.

This 30th year is now in its 4th month, speaking manifestly of that season of trial to which everything under God must come, which for mere fallen man proves necessarily disastrous, but which for those who accept the searching out is but "for a season, if need be," and the end, blessing. Meanwhile the prophet is one among a band of captives by the river Chebar — the "great" or "abundant" river — evidently reminding us of Isaiah's language when God declared by him that He would bring upon Israel "the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria and all his glory" (Isa. 8:7). Here it is indeed another spoiler, for the land of Israel is already a land that the rivers have spoiled (Isa. 18:2). Babylon has succeeded Assyria, but with no relief in the oppressing hand; yet, though the judgment be not removed, here it is, that over the head of one who, bowed under it, accepts the divine judgment, the heavens are opened and there are "visions of God." How blessed to know, by the voice of nature itself, that it is night and not day that opens the heavens; and here, whatever the message that may be given, the first thing for the prophet's soul is that there are "visions of God"

With God coming in, how everything changes, even though nothing may be changed! For there is no desolation like the absence of God; and there is nothing to lack with His presence realized. Thus the end is, as it were, seen from the beginning. These visions of God will be, at the end, visions of exceeding comfort The word that is to come is yet unspoken. First of all God is seen, and by and by there will be His word. But the sentence closes for a moment here, that the sweetness of the vision may be taken in without distraction, for here we have something that had never before occurred. Never before could it be said that the heavens were opened. Over this poor, lone man they opened, into whose soul the pang of the captivity of the people of God had entered in a way unrealized by his fellows around him. Isaiah had seen the glory of the Lord in the temple, and everywhere of course it is the same glory. That vision had closed, and the sanctuary on earth was desolate; but God remained and is seen in the higher sphere where His throne abides untouched by all the sin and sorrow of earth It is the preparation for that which we find in Daniel, where in contrast with that which was said when the ark, the throne of "the God of all the earth," passed through the dry bed of Jordan to its place in the land, it is now "the God of heaven" who is constantly before us. A higher point of view, and therefore a wider view also, is reached; and these opened heavens have now disclosed for us things that were in the time of the prophet a secret in the heart of God. Yet he who has reached the vision of God Himself has reached that beyond which there can be no height higher. He Himself is the realized pledge of all blessedness to come, and there can be nothing else but this. Thus Ezekiel may well be strengthened for all further disclosures. They can only disclose Him more whom the soul knows and recognizes as its security and rest.

And now we are carried on to look at another side of things; for on this "5th day of the month, which was in the 5th year of king Jehoiachin's captivity, the word of Jehovah came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans, by the river Chebar; and the hand of Jehovah was there upon him." Notice the change of person. We have here, so to speak, the official account, as before we had the personal; and the message is necessarily one of sorrow and judgment. This 5th year of king Jehoiachin's captivity shows us how Israel's present relationship to God ha. been marked by the taking away of him whose name falsely prophesied of "establishment by Jehovah." "Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with Thee, which frameth mischief by a law?" (Ps. 94:20). The false confidence must be taken away before God can come in for blessing, and when His "judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9). These are principles of God's very nature which no grace that He shows can ever alter. Grace itself can only reign through righteousness, and the word that now comes is the word of Jehovah, this unchangeable God, to Ezekiel the priest, whom "the Mighty One makes strong" to proclaim it. The son of Buzi, "my contempt," marks the fruit of that contempt of God which all that had passed and was passing now in Israel, so completely manifested on the part of the people. Thus he was in the ]and of the Chaldeans (perhaps "the robber-like" or "the encroachers"), by the river Chebar; and now, molding him to His will, while sustaining him for all that that will may involve, the hand of Jehovah is there upon him.

2. He looks, and now, out of the north, there comes "a stormy wind," "a great cloud and a fire infolding itself" with a brightness round about it, "and out of the midst, as the look of brass and gold. out of the midst of the fire." The north is not simply the quarter f, om which the invaders come — though the judgment of God it truly is which is executed by them — but it is rather, as always in its deeper meaning, the place of darkness, of mystery therefore, but a mystery which the coming in of God must needs dispel. The judgment itself declares Him — vindicates His nature, answers the questioning suspense of the righteous perplexed by His long patience in the presence of evil. Thus it is a storm-wind, a whirlwind, in fact, as we see by the fire infolding itself, "taking hold of itself," as it is literally, something which answers to what we shall see in the whirling wheels afterwards; and, as fire is ever sustained by that on which it takes hold, here it takes hold upon itself — it is sustained by its own nature. This fire is not pure wrath; it is rather, as a symbol, the holiness of God of which it speaks, a consuming fire indeed, therefore, to iniquity, but judgment is not its essence, not what it seeks or delights in, but what is necessitated by the perfection of God Himself. Judgment is rather seen in the whirl of the wind, such a whirl as the preacher saw in nature (Ecc. 1:6), and it is but part of the ordained circuit of events as seen in those succeeding generations in which each repeats what has been before it, and yet does not repeat it wholly: for there is progress, a purpose working through it which is but the purpose of God; though in strange forms to which the sin of man has compelled it. But if there be a great cloud, there is yet a brightness round about, a brightness which necessarily must be when we know Him whose that purpose is; and lo, "out of the midst of it as the look of brass and gold, out of the midst of the fire." Thus the nature of God Himself is seen, what is at the heart of the judgment, and which, therefore, while it has in it the fixedness which is always symbolized by the brass, is the display of the glory of God, such as the gold ever signifies.* All this is but a first and distant view of that which is seen approaching, but there are already in it the elements of that which presently is seen in detail. The first thing indeed is that in the form of judgment, God it is who is enwrapping Himself; but in such a way that He Himself can be discerned — nay, is made known and glorified. With Him, that which makes Him known is necessarily that which glorifies Him.

{*The word hashmal in the original is translated electron in the Septuagint, or amber, as in the Authorized Version. It is, according to Wilson, a compound word, formed apparently of the Hebrew word nahash, brass, and another root meaning "to be smooth." In this way it suggests the similar word chalkolibanon of Rev. 1:15. These are the two characteristics of judgment, as seen in the brass, and of glory, as seen in the other smooth bright metal, probably gold. Thus it is glory in judgment that is displayed. — S. Ridout.}

The first and distant view already gives the character of that which is approaching. It is storm — the divine wrath — but God revealed in it, and therefore, brightness round about, which presently we shall find, moreover, putting on the iris-hues in which the light breaks out into a band of various glory which once more reveals Him in the storm when it is passed, and now in covenant with the earth, enfranchised and renewed. It is the anticipation of what we find in Revelation, the rainbow round the throne. As now it rapidly draws near, and the details develop, this agreement with Revelation is marked in such a manner as to be recognized at once; for out of the fire there comes the likeness of four living creatures.

They are, strictly, "living ones," creatures not being expressed, though surely implied in the four forms of man, lion, ox, and eagle, in which they appear. The human form however predominates and gives character to them; while yet each one has four faces and four wings corresponding to these. Thus it is not a likeness of God that they present; and all likeness of Him is expressly forbidden. They are creatures of His — no more; in His hand, obedient to His will, and used for His purposes; in fact, as we shall see, instruments of His government; in Revelation seen in the midst of and around the Throne here underneath, it for here the view is from earth, and there in heaven. They have in general the likeness of a man, but their feet are like the feet of an ox, "upright," and not extended, as is man's foot. They sparkle, giving the look of glowing brass, reminding us once more of Revelation, but there of Him who appears to John, and who is the Lord Himself, "His feet like unto fine (or glowing) brass, as if they burned in a furnace." The treading down in wrath is clearly indicated. The sole of the foot is like that of a young bullock, for patient labor is manifest in the exercise of righteous judgment.

They had human hands under their wings: implying doubtless their possession of that delicacy of touch and power of manipulation which the lower extremities lacked; thus they were not quadrupedal, but human; their hands being moreover under those wings which showed them to be fitted for a higher sphere than that of earth.

Their wings joined together, so that there was perfect unity of action among the whole four living ones, the face guiding in a straightforward course in which was no deviation; a higher Spirit than that of the living creature itself in fact guided and governed all.

In the vision of Revelation the four forms are separate, which here we find united in each living creature They are given also in another order from that given here, and plainly suited to what is contemplated in the second part of Revelation where the Lion of Judah takes the seven-sealed book. There, the lion comes first therefore; the emblem of the resistless power which is fundamental to perfect government. A government without power to execute its will is plainly none. We might expect from this that swift decisiveness of action which we so naturally look for in view of the almightiness of God and His holiness as against evil; and indeed such action is drawing near at that time of the end which John is looking on to. Yet the cry of the martyred saints, when the fifth seal is opened, tells how long has been the delay of judgment for which they wait, and for which they are still told to wait. But there is a patience which results from the very consciousness of strength; and with everything completely under His control, there is no haste in the execution of the divine purposes of God. Thus the patient-working ox follows the lion, to supply what is needed to the first thought; the ox too being the worker for coming harvest, as this patience of God is to have fruit in blessing to His creatures. The long-suffering of the Lord is for salvation. Then, the human-faced cherub at once reminds us of how He has come in to manifest Himself in manhood for the accomplishment of this, and how He is seeking to be known, intimately, to lead us into fellowship with Himself. And with this there will be necessarily exercise of heart and conscience, as the man's face still reminds us: for of these different forms the man alone speaks of a moral agent. And this exercise under divine government is none the less, but the more thorough and solemn, because His ways in this, as the final figure of the eagle comes to assure us, are ways that often soar beyond our knowledge: God were no God if there were not depths in His nature and a wisdom in His ways inaccessible to man. He dwelleth in the light unapproachable One whom no man hath seen, nor can see though, blessed be His name, in what we know of Him, better known after all than we are to ourselves.

Thus these four forms, while certainly not meant to attract engagingly the eye, still less in their fourfold complexity as represented in Ezekiel, nor to convey to us the idea of any actually existing spiritual beings, are manifestly suited to intimate to us the characters of a government which God exercises continually, with a plenitude of power in subjection to which all creation works. Thus in the apocalyptic vision the living creatures are seen from a heavenly standpoint, "in the midst of the throne and round about the throne." Here they are under it for we are looking at them from the world-side, whence they naturally appear more complex in their forms, and with the world-number, four, emphasized in the four faces and four wings of each. The faces are in a different order also from that in which the forms are represented in Revelation.

But here, in Ezekiel, the human form in general is dwelt upon it is the human face that comes to the front and this suits well the tenderness of God's approach to His people when in trial, which Scripture everywhere exhibits. How good to see that, just here, when judgment is impending, yet to the prophet's view, the lion is not first, but the man first. The human form invites, as by and by we see even upon the throne itself. The lion is seen next, upon the right hand (yamin), which is the Hebrew also for the south: opposed thus to all the soft, relaxing influences which are naturally implied under this, for the judgment of God must no more be treated easily and with indifference, as hitherto. The ox is on the left, or as it might otherwise be rendered, the north, to meet with patient resistance the dark and evil forces proceeding from the kingdom of darkness, which must not be allowed to oppose or ally themselves with the holy judgment of God. While finally, behind all is the eagle, to remove from the earth the corruption which defiles it (Luke 17:37), that as of old He may bear His people upon eagles, wings, and bring them to Himself (Ex. 19:4).

The creature-forms are not separate from one another here, as seen in the heavenly vision of Revelation, but each living being unites in itself these diverse characters, as on earth we see the acts of divine government displaying, though not in equal prominence, the whole.

As to the wings of the living creatures, they are four, not six as in Revelation. With only two of these they fly and these are joined one to another in perfect unity of action while two cover their bodies, as in a higher Presence. In the seraphim of Isaiah's vision, who have six wings like those of Revelation, two cover the face and two the feet, while with two alone they fly. Can there be any true work for God, or wisdom for it, where in the presence of His glory the creature takes not its place of nothingness before Him? Thus there was no unsteadiness or fickleness in their movement, they went each one in the direction of its face: and, obedient to the spirit that dwelt in them, they lacked no ability for the attainment of their end, whither the spirit was to go they went with simple directness of purpose — they turned not when they went.

The likeness of the living creatures as a whole bears witness of the coming of unwilling judgment which the people have provoked, but which still is not of the essence of what is here. Their appearance is indeed like burning coals of fire, which nevertheless is not identified with the living creatures, but as the appearance of torches (not simply destroying, but enlightening also) goes up and down among them. But the judgment is manifest: the fire is bright, and out of the fire goes forth lightning; and to this the motions of the living creatures agree: they go and return as the appearance of a flash of lightning.

Now we have another thing, which is altogether outside the vision of Revelation. For there, as already said, it is as seen by one in heaven. Here the prophet is on earth, and the wheels are seen upon earth also, and have a more intimate connection with it than the living creatures themselves. Yet they move in unison with these, nay, are moved by them, for the spirit of the living creatures is in the wheels, and their character is thus reflected in them. But the wheels are moreover gem-like. their appearance and their work is as the look of a topaz; for there is in them the display of the attributes of God, as in the jewels of the high priest's breastplate, which are the Prim and Thummim, the divine "lights and perfections," the glory of the refracted light, which God is.

The four wheels are alike, and have one fundamental meaning; their appearance and their structure is as it were a wheel in the midst of a wheel; so that they go upon four sides, the one wheel being set into the other, which it crosses at right angles; thus, like the living creatures, having no need to turn, to whatever quarter they may go.

The wheel speaks naturally, primarily, of the revolution of time, marked as it is for us by those luminaries which God appointed for "signs" as well as "seasons;" and most significant signs they are: heaven putting thus the stamp of vanity upon the fallen creature, whose dependence upon God it reveals for that renewal of life ever needed by it. "To everything there is a season," and no more; nothing continues at one stay: the day comes out of the womb of night, only to go back into it again. The winter swallows up the autumn fruits. So the generations of men follow one another; and even "history," as is often said, "repeats itself." "The thing that has been is that which shall be, and there is nothing new under the sun." Yet with all this repetition there is a certain progress also: the wheel is moving; not only so, but it is moving on. Whither? There is often a certain betterment as it moves, which is apt to fill us with only too exuberant a hope. The wheel has eyes, in which there seems the light of purpose. And indeed, purpose of a sort is easily seen: the spirit of the living creature at least is in the wheels; the living creature taking on also, as Ezekiel sees, the human form preeminently, as the course of events plainly shows, the large control of things man has, though not alone: for with him, constantly carrying, often controlling, often thwarting him, there works a force, itself under the constraint of law, without which he can do nothing.

And here the wheel rises so high that it is dreadful: he can see but a brief portion — follow but a short way; and if he sees no more, the light dies out again; for what of this spirit of man which counts for so much, and is yet so little? which passes so readily as a breath that cometh not again? Whither does it pass? as the preacher asks: "Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?" Even the spirit of the living creature seems thus but part of the machinery itself. The wheel it is that controls, and the spirit of man is under this law which so utterly abases him, and carries him down at last into a darkness out of which no one sees him emerge. He then is no master of the wheel, but the wheel is master: he dies as the beast dies; and how is he then greater than the beast? Thus death baffles him. The earth abides, and things that seem passed away return again; but the generations do not return. Progress there may be, and fruitful thoughts take root and spring up, but it is upon the graves of those who have wrought to produce the harvest. Yet here is precisely that which has in it purpose of its own, and the highest, that is moral, purpose. In the mystery of this sentence, as it surely seems, upon him — which the voice within him interprets so persistently and bodingly as sentence — the wheel begins to put on the topaz look, and the "lights and perfections" of God reveal themselves in it. The supreme control which is not in man's hands can still less be in the wheel itself. The eyes in it after all speak of a wisdom which is alien to mere mechanism; and if the wheel be but the ordinance of God, we may learn hope of Him whose heavens proclaim to us their control over the earth, and how He can bring light out of darkness, summer out of winter, life out of death.

Resurrection is indeed the full display of God's thought. Without it there is no proper revolution of the wheel; and God Himself is not seen, who cannot be seen in judgment merely. That is His "strange work," and His heart cannot be seen in it. But this "sore travail which God has given to the sons of men to be exercised with it," is but God's travail with man so exercised for a new birth, which is to make him, beyond all that the first creation made him, a child of God, the heir of a glorious purpose, of which revelation has been preaching to him from the beginning, even in the story of those primal days to which the Scripture record carries us back. For these, even then, were in a manner new-creative days — days of resurrection for that earth not created in that state of desolation into which it had now lapsed under those whelming waters, the records of whose work the earth has been little by little disclosing to us. The "days" of Genesis 1, with deeper lessons than ever geology could in the nature of things give us, reveal indeed the work of Him who has alone the power, not only to "renew the face of the earth," but to renew also man's moral nature. Spite of all resistance, He carries on step by step to their complete development those purposes of His grace which the dispensations are disclosing, which are all here wrapped up, in a way which went far beyond the knowledge of him who wrote, not by traditional inspiration, but by the teaching of the Spirit of God.

Thus, in the record of the first day, if God calls the darkness which He is displacing "night," yet "the evening and the morning" are the day, as He would interpret to us; a day which does not therefore begin with the night and end with the night, as we have sadly chosen, if for our common purposes conveniently, to reckon it. Nor does it begin with the day and end with the night either. No; the evening begins, and the morning follows. The light which a the call of God has just appeared, thus seems at once to be disappearing again, and the darkness to triumph over it. But it has not really done so. The day is only being conformed to the type of resurrection which will be recognized by faith on the part of His people in coming generations as the inimitable, unmistakable pattern of His workmanship. In the victory over sin and evil which are coming in, God is to be known as the God of resurrection. Death is the brand of vanity upon the evil, the leveling of the pride which is the rebellion of the creature against the Hand that formed it. But it is in that Hand also the weapon by which the arch-enemy is defeated and spoiled; and through death, for those who accept the humiliation of it, there is found the way of life. The revolution of the wheel, though it be high and outside the ken of sense merely, is that in which it puts on its topaz look and reveals its mystery.

3. Thus Ezekiel does not see merely the wheels, or the living creatures; he sees over their heads the likeness of an expanse as the look of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. And again, above the likeness of the expanse itself there is the likeness of a throne; and upon the likeness of the throne there is, what indeed is strange and wonderful to see, the appearance of a Man above upon it. As soon as we look up thither we become conscious, in the attitude of the living creatures, that they are themselves in profound subjection to the higher power that is there. The harmony in which they act with one another is manifested as only the result of a common subjection to One who controls all. Their wings are spread out in full activity, their bodies remaining however always covered by their wings, as we have already seen them, and as is emphasized here by the repetition. And now the sound of their wings is heard as the sound of many waters — a cataract of sound, which presently is realized as the voice of the Almighty — the noise indeed as of a multitude, but not tumultuous — the sound of a marshalled host. This is the plain interpretation of the living creatures themselves; which the heathen, as the monuments of Babylon have shown us, worshiped in such forms (there indeed grotesque), seeing what was under the firmament only, and not able to pierce to the Throne that was above it, and turning thus "the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things" (Rom. 1:23). Here they are in their place, and serving; at His voice moving, wing-enwrapped, before Him; at His voice stilled to absolute rest, with their wings let down.

But we are permitted not alone to behold the throne, and hear the voice of the Eternal, but to see Him who sits upon it. First, however, as to the throne: it is as the appearance of a sapphire stone. This does not seem to be what we now call the sapphire. That of the ancients was, as Pliny testifies, "refulgent with spots of gold — azure, never transparent:" that is, the lapis lazuli. And when we hear God's own voice claiming the heavens as His throne, how suited is the likeness of a sapphire stone! The word is derived from one (saphar) which means "to number," and hence "to tell, declare," and this is the word used when it is said that "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1) . This sapphire throne, then, is symbolically just the starry vault, which is seen similarly in the vision of God upon Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:10) when "they saw the God of Israel; and there was beneath His feet as transparent sapphire-work, even as the heavens themselves for clearness" This seems to have been taken by some to prove that the ancient sapphire was itself transparent; but in fact there is no occasion from this to suppose so. There is, in what is seen, the general appearance of a sapphire stone, but with this the added character of a transparency such as there is in the heavens themselves: words which show plainly that it is the starry heavens that are here symbolized.

Upon this throne then, there is "the likeness as the appearance of a Man above upon it." We are warned by the language here to be careful how far we go in the way of exact application. There can be no doubt indeed for the Christian that Christ exactly fills the picture; even as Daniel (Ezekiel's contemporary) sees in his vision "One like unto a Son of Man come in the clouds of heaven," and dominion given to Him (Dan. 7:13). Yet, no doubt, the time is not come even yet in which this will be fulfilled. This does not however prevent the ultimate reference to Christ which is such an imperative necessity. Christ on the throne is God's ideal of government for a world departed from Him, and He it is who is thus to subdue all things to God. Thus it is not strange if the divine throne ever puts on the human character. And it surely does so. Is God a man that He should repent? It is human essentially to do so; yet governmentally God "repenteth Him of the evil;" nay, announces this as a principle in His dealings with men (Joel 2:13; Jer. 18:8). His threatenings, therefore, no less than the blessings He holds out to them, are for the proving of what is in their hearts, as again He declares (Deut. 8:2; Deut. 13:3; Ps. 7:9; Jer. 17:10). But why should He thus try the creatures He has made, who knows them perfectly, and the whole issue of every trial? Ah, it is the need of man himself and not of God, and a need on the part of all His creatures, who throughout the universe are spectators of His dealings with men, and who are learning in the Church His manifold wisdom; and to learn "in the ages to come, the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7; 3:10).

In connection with this, the dispensational changes show us the "likeness of the appearance of a Man upon the throne." Not only has the trial of man been constantly going on, but new methods of trial have been instituted as the old ones seemed to show themselves inefficacious. Thus after the fall, there was at first the appeal to conscience, and men were suffered to do what was right in their own eyes. What men now desire, as anarchy, has had its full trial at the very beginning of things. Even Cain, the first murderer, was not to be slain; and there were no kings or potentates of any kind; but the result was the deluge; the earth had to be washed thoroughly clean, and everything to start afresh. Then human government was ordained; and that was a step in advance from which there has been on God's part no return; nor has there been since such utter disaster as with those early generations. Yet human government soon manifested its incapacity to meet the deeper need of those whose hearts were departing from the living God. Men manufactured gods to suit themselves; and thus, out of a world given over to idolatry, God had to call a people among whom the truth could be maintained — the written Word taking the place of traditions which human imaginations darkened and perverted, and fresh revelations by the mouths of prophets whom He raised up giving constantly increasing light as the world's darkness deepened. We need not enter into more detail of those interventions which culminated in the rising of that Light of the world, whose beams today illumine all who have eyes to see. But this succession of various appeals to man, how human, if indeed much more than human, they are in that appeal! How plainly is to be seen in them the "appearance of the likeness of a Man" upon a throne which is in the heavens!

But here it is we find what had been seen by the prophet at the outset, giving character to the whole, "the look of brass and gold," the manifestation of unchangeable holiness in that which comes as judgment, but with the display in it of the glory of God. From the loins upward this appears in the fire — the glory of the Person who is thus revealed; while from the loins downward it is more His acts that are in view; where it is more the pure fire, but with a brightness round about, in which are seen the hues of the bow of promise, the work of righteousness executed being peace, "and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever" (Isa. 32:17).

"This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah."

The prophet falls prostrate before his God, and then there comes to him a voice which raises and energizes him, and sends him forth Jehovah's messenger to a rebellious people.

Section 2 (Ezekiel 2 — 3:11.)

God's words to be spoken to those who would not hear.

We have now the charge given to the prophet, which, as we see at once, is to speak to a people who will not hear, of whom it can only be hoped that here and there ears may be open to receive it. There is no encouraging hope with regard to the success of the message; yet, whether they would hear or whether they would forbear, they should know that there had been a prophet among them. All the more if there is not to be the encouragement of conscious success, is he to find it in the consciousness of the Lord with him, whom Israel would reject in rejecting His messenger.

He is addressed at once by the title which we have already seen to be characteristic of his prophecy: "Son of man," says the Voice, "stand upon thy feet, and I will speak with thee." The title given him is itself a proof that the people to whom he goes have lost their special distinctive place with God, but at the same time that if Israel will not hear, grace will not be thwarted in its object. The message will only go out the more widely, and indeed, with a deeper, sweeter, fuller message, as we abundantly prove today. This title is in itself the foreshadow of One who when standing in the midst of Israel in a day which was then future, would adopt it for His own. The Son of Man would be the Seeker of men, and Himself a man in all the conditions of humanity — Himself the perfect, because unfallen, Man. The Lord's adoption of this title is, however, distinct in its significance from the use of it by God in His address to the prophet. God never addresses Christ as the Son of Man, but as His own Son; man indeed, but as it is said in Zechariah: "The Man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 13:7). But the Lord's adoption of it for Himself is peculiar, and characteristic of the uniqueness of His personality. Who but Himself could say, "I the Son of man?" No mere man could claim distinctively to be what all men are. Man indeed He is thoroughly, nor only man, but Son of man, entering into manhood by the door ordained, by its lowliness, to hide pride from man. To the weakness of infancy He is no stranger. He grows and learns as other men, His kinship with whom this name discloses; yet while it discloses this, it distinguishes Him none the less from all else among men — distinctive even because of its universality; for who could distinguish himself by a title that was not distinctive? He was thus Son of man in some sense peculiar to Himself — Son of man, while much more than this. With Ezekiel the term speaks, on the other hand, simply of his identification with men. He is not the son of man, but reminded of the lowliness of his condition, while at the same time this only magnifies the grace which has taken him up; and thus also there is in him a peculiar suitability to convey the message with which he is charged — not an angel, but with human sympathies, and a human intelligence acquired and exercised amid human conditions; himself thus the proof of the heart of God behind the hand of Him who is love and cannot change His nature, even when He is executing judgment.

The feebleness of the instrument is recognized, and thus calls forth Jehovah's might to sustain it. We see this at the outset here: "Son of man, stand upon thy feet and I will speak with thee." And not only so, but the Spirit enters into him to make him stand. He cannot even listen to the message in that prostrate condition which, while it may rightly express the nothingness of the creature in the presence of God, at the same time cannot suitably express the divine grace towards him. We see this everywhere in the history of the prophets, as notably in the prophet Daniel, and as again also in the case of John the beloved. God cannot utter His thoughts to one prostrate in the dust before Him. This does not suit the blessed Speaker; and this is already the foretaste of that which enables us to say we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, "Abba, Father." That cry is not yet come in Ezekiel's case, belonging as he does to a previous dispensation, but none the less the spirit of fear is bidden to depart, in order that the divine communications may have their suited character; for if God is enwrapping Himself in the cloud of judgment, nevertheless there is, as we have seen, the manifestation of One to whom judgment is a strange work, and those iris hues of promise are about the cloud. The messenger must in his spirit reflect this, that he may be fit as a messenger; and whether they hear or whether they forbear, the prophet must be witness in his own person that if "justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne," "mercy and truth" yet "go before His face."

But Israel have, in fact, already thoroughly proved themselves, and are no other (except in the privileges which they have perverted) than the nations around. Thus the divine Speaker marks them here: "I send thee to the children of Israel," He says — to Gentiles — for they are none other than these. They are but "the rebellious who have rebelled against Me. They and their fathers have transgressed against Me unto this very day." Thus they are children as "impudent of face" as "hard of heart." Their heart spoke in their faces in such a way that there could be no more concealment, and God sends to them in the full recognition of this, putting against their blasphemous words the speech of the Unchangeable whom they have refused. Thus they shall know, if it be learned by the judgment executed, that there has been a prophet among them. Among such a people does the prophet dwell as briars and thorns wound and entangle those who come in contact with them, as scorpions poisonous in their sting yet he who has been admitted to see the glory of Jehovah need not be afraid among them. How unseemly indeed would be any fear of man on the part of such an one, and how ill would he represent the majesty of Him with whom they had to do! How ill, alas, do we represent Him if in any wise we manifest this, into whose mouths God has put a sweeter message, and to whom the glory of the Lord has been more wondrously revealed than even as Ezekiel saw it here!

And now the prophet is instructed to make thoroughly his own that which he is commissioned to proclaim amongst them. The vision character of what is here, one would think, ought to be plain to us, and an indication of the character of much that is to follow in the prophecy. "I looked," he says, "and behold a hand was put forth toward me, and lo a roll of a book therein: and he spread it before me, and it was written within and without, and there were written in it lamentations and mournings and woe. And he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest. Eat this roll, and go, speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat this roll." The meaning is perfectly clear, which any literal construction would rather obscure than add any force to. Again we are reminded of the visions of the Apocalypse. The roll of the book is written within and without, which does not simply speak of the fulness of its contents, as it is taken, but rather, one would say, speaks of things outward and manifest as well as of things of a deeper and more hidden nature. That which is manifest is needed by a condition of soul that can see nothing except that which is external while, on the other hand, there are things within, which for those who have hearts to realize, are beyond all this. Even so for the prophet himself there is something that answers to this; for while what was manifest was simply matter for "lamentations and mournings and woe," yet in the mouth of the prophet there was as the taste of honey for sweetness, and this corresponds with what we have already seen throughout the vision, where the judgment does not stand alone, but the glory of the Lord is revealed in it, and in result, the accomplishment of counsels which are in His heart and which display His heart. Alas, the message might seem such as if it must be addressed to peoples of obscure language and difficult speech, to men of foreign tongues, strangers such as those among whom they were already being scattered. No, these were strangers in heart alone, all the more terrible in their enmity and misconception of the words of God, which above all should have been familiar. The difficulty of foreign speech might have been overcome, but here was a difficulty which no words that the prophet could utter would overcome. "But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee, for none of them will hearken unto Me." There was the stubbornness of a condition upon which mercy itself could wait no longer, and the prophet's brow must be made hard against their brazen front, and his face against their faces. Already, the wrath to be poured out was foreshown in their condition, captives as they were to the heathen around them, who were themselves more capable of hearing the words of God, had they been addressed to them, than those who had been nursed up with them. It is the solemn lesson which we are constantly receiving, that not the lack of opportunity condemns men to judgment, but the fearful mystery of hearts that depart from the living God, who themselves invite the unwilling judgment, and can be constrained by nothing but the doom which in their case is the last touch of mercy which they are capable of receiving.

Section 3 (Ezekiel 3:12-27).

Set apart to be Israel's watchman, the voice of God to the people.

The prophet has been now qualified and energized for his work. He is accordingly inducted into it: "The Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the sound of a great rushing, Blessed be the glory of Jehovah from its place and the sound of the wings of the living creatures that kissed one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them was even the sound of a great rushing."

This sound is heard behind him, at his back, because in the path in which God leads, the movement of the living creatures, the whole machinery of government, as it were, follows him who is in it, and thus becomes articulate in praise of the outshining glory, whatever the place from which it shines. It was seen, in fact, now, not in what had been its dwelling place upon earth, not in Israel's temple consecrated to it for so many generations, neither yet in its own proper home in heaven, but in an activity to which not simply its own nature calls it, but the needs of man, of the creature, and thus of creation everywhere, which if touched in one point is touched in all. It is everywhere the creation of God, and He is manifested in it. Thus it can take no place, but its glory shines from it so as to awaken (not, alas, the praise of man now fallen, but) the praise of all that is symbolized here by the living creatures and the moving wheels upon the earth, which will at last utter His praise so that it shall be re-echoed throughout the universe.

Here is again another connecting link with the book of Revelation, where it is said of these same living creatures that "they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). Beautiful it is to see the perfect harmony here as their wings, in the emphatic language of the prophet, "kiss" one another. On earth the pall of night may be hanging, and the lightnings quiver from the threatening storm nevertheless here there is no storm, no conflict, but emphatically peace the wings taking on, according to the Hebrew here, even a tender feminine character, as that of "a woman with her sister" — harmony and subjection united in one, or, in fact, but one and the same thing.

So, impelled by the same energy, the prophet says: "The Spirit lifted me up and took me away and I went in the bitterness of my spirit, and the hand of Jehovah was strong upon me." The bitterness of God's judgment upon His people is still felt and this is no discord, when we know the heart that is behind the judgment — not slackened by it, but rather impelled; the anger against the rebellion of the people of God burning all the more within him who realizes that these are the people of God, and that God is robbed of His glory in them. The hand of Jehovah, of the unchangeable One, known as the Unchangeable in His very covenant name, this hand is strong upon him to enable him for the execution of the commission which has been given him.

Thus he goes to those of the captivity at Tel-abib, who dwelt by the river Chebar. Tel-abib means "the mound of green corn." How vividly is pictured in this name the hopes springing up afresh, as it were, in this land of captivity — a mere green mound though it be by the waters of the desolating river. Here they have come into a land of vagabondage like Cain of old, to build their city and rest, if they may rest. The sight smites upon the prophet's heart and overwhelms him with astonishment seven days. How complete is the ignorance, how puerile the self-confidence of this hope against hope, but which has no faith for its support! Tel-abib by the river Chebar is the very sign of their condition, around which the circling storm of the divine wrath is moving for its overthrow.

The prophet is allowed full time for the realization of these true human feelings the weight of his charge not pressing him unduly, but permitting the perfect realization of it all in his soul before, at last, he takes it up. Only at the end of the seven days does the word of Jehovah come to him, saying: "Son of man, I have given thee as a watchman to the house of Israel, and thou shalt hear the word from my mouth, and warn them from Me." But we see in what follows that as a nation there is no hope at all. The case as to them is closed. His mission, for the mass, is only to declare the certainty of the judgment coming but which is, because God is in it, a discriminative judgment, which separates a remnant of those who do hear from the unheeding mass.

The divine words are now, however, first of all to himself, set in charge as God's watchman for the people to put every individual soul upon his responsibility before God, his own responsibility remaining unaffected, whatever the result or apparent want of result. Warned or unwarned, the wicked, obstinate in his wickedness, will die; he also who turns from his righteousness to commit iniquity, whether or not the warnings were uttered which should have preserved him in the path of righteousness. This is an important point for us at all times: so apt as we are to argue from mere results which can never rightly be our guide, as results cannot precede but follow, and cannot affect the question of duty for those who are to walk by faith and not by sight, who are to be in the divine Hand for the execution of His purposes with whom the result is.

Let us notice here that, in all that which is now before us, we are upon the plane of God's outward, manifest government, so conspicuous and fitting in the prophecy of Ezekiel. Thus the death threatened to the wicked is not simply that under which we all are; nor, is it, as commonly supposed, eternal death as the doom of every unrepentant soul; but it is a removal from earth, under the government of God, which even for the present makes for blessing to the upright with Him, as the apostle also tells us, that "godliness hath the promise of the life that now is," as well as "of that which is to come." The deeper question is not raised here — it is not what is put before us; not even as the law raised it, appealing to the outward government of God which levels all pretension to righteousness on the part of any, and shuts up to grace alone, of which the law is everywhere the handmaid.

This charge being given him, the prophet is now summoned into the valley that Jehovah may speak with him. The word used here is "cleft," though it is sometimes used for a plain, as in Genesis 11:2, "plain of Shinar;" yet even there seems to have reference to what is its strict meaning, as a cleft between the mountains. It is used for the valley of Jericho, the deep Jordan-cleft through which it enters the Dead Sea. Its significance here should be plain. In all that we have seen, God is cleaving indeed the mountains of man's pride, bringing in a breach upon all that seems most stable, wherein those who are really His own are made to recognize a judgment which abases them before Him, but where the glory of God can appear to them, as now it does to the prophet. One must ever be abased in order to be exalted; and because of what we are, we must abide in that abasement in order to abide in the exaltation itself. God thus abides for us in all that He is, as the apostle realized after his being taken into the blessedness of the paradise of God, the third heaven; yet, because of the flesh in him, needing the thorn for the flesh, which love itself could not remove, while it could enable him to glory in it.

Prostrate the prophet falls again; for who can stand before this holy, holy, holy God? But again the Spirit raises and sets him upon his feet, and with an injunction now, which at first seems almost in contradiction to the call he has received, but which is in fact to guide him in obedience to it. He is to shut himself in his house. There is no readiness on the people's part to receive the divine communication. Thus their condition will, as he is told, put bands upon him, and he can only speak amongst these obdurate people as the way is opened for him irresistibly, the Spirit of God refusing to be hindered. We cannot but realize that what was true of Israel in that day is true now of the world at large; and that is why the apostle says that we must "redeem the time," (Eph. 5:16) — "the opportunity," as it really is — take the opening or opportunities which God makes in speaking His message amongst men, "because the days are evil." For it is He who "openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth." And while the commission of His grace is world-wide, yet he who would be fruitful in it must realize entire dependence, and watch for the doors that open under the Hand that guides.

Section 4 (Ezekiel 4, 5).

Delivered to the nations as worse than they: the four signs.

1. The language of parable is now taken up again, the significance of which is so fully declared to us by the Lord in relation to His own use of it (Matt. 13:13). It is only the remnant from whom anything can now be expected. The call of the parable is to "him who hath ears to hear." And thus we have now four signs, in which the prophet is to address himself to those about him.

The first sign is a simple, but what a significant one! He is instructed to take a brick,* and lay it before him, and portray upon it a city — Jerusalem, in fact, and lay siege against it, and place battering rams against it round about. All simple enough, surely, in view of what was actually threatening the people at that time. But there is a deeper significance: "Take thou unto thee an iron plate, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city, and set thy face against it, and it shall be in siege; even thou shalt lay siege against it." A sign indeed this, for the prophet is the representative of God Himself, and it is God who is at work through these strange hostile hands of His people's enemies. There is, as it were, indeed a wall of iron between the prophet and the city. The separation which their sins had caused is not too vividly pictured here. But more: for separation from God cannot be with any indifference on the part of Him who is the living God, ever moving in the activity of His own nature; and if He separates Himself from the people it is not simply to cast them off, but to "lay siege" Himself against them. In Jerusalem centre the hopes of the people and the promises of God. For Jerusalem to be in siege, and God, as seen in the attitude of the prophet, Himself to lay siege against it, is indeed a sign to the house of Israel which should stir them to the very depth.

{*The brick may suggest Babylon, as the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:3) was made of bricks. It would thus suggest that Jerusalem had morally become assimilated to Babylon, and therefore would be subjugated by it. — S. Ridout.}

2. But another sign quickly follows. He is to lie upon his side, the left one, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. He is to bear this 390 days, each day of penalty corresponding to a year of their iniquity. But this is not all. When he has accomplished this, he is to lie again upon his side, the right one, and now bear the iniquity of the house of Judah 40 days, each day once more given for a year. The siege of Jerusalem is through all, we may say, the object-lesson, and as he lies under the burden of their sin, his arm is to be uncovered, and his prophecy to be against it. He is not to turn from one side to the other until the days of the siege are accomplished.

What we have here has been a cause of great perplexity to all commentators. The separation between the house of Israel and the house of Judah has been supposed to refer, and quite naturally, to the two kingdoms, of Judah and of the ten tribes; and thus the 390 years have been attempted to be applied to the separate kingdom of Israel, already in the prophet's time long and completely overthrown. The separate kingdom of the ten tribes lasted about 254 years, and that of Judah about 134 years, at least, afterwards. The lying upon the left side, which, according to the common use of the right hand for the south, might refer to the position of the northern kingdom (and which probably does refer to this), yet if it be taken as applying exclusively to Israel, as separate from Judah, breaks down entirely. There were no 390 years of the separate kingdom, and these cannot be read into it in any intelligible way. If you carry them back from the taking of Samaria by the Assyrians and the deportation of the people, they would reach into the times of the Judges; and thus it has been contended that the number of years can be only allegorically significant. This, however, surely seems impossible as an interpretation of what is here. The 390 days, a day for a year, is the time of the remembering of the sins of the people, which the prophet, as representative of the remnant according to God (and in this way inferring the attitude of God Himself), has been so long suffering under. The allegorical reckoning of the number 390 itself is hard to make out, and in order to justify it at all, the 40 years of Judah have sometimes been added to these, in order to reproduce, as it were, the 430 years which was the limit of Egyptian bondage; but such a reference confounds two periods which are certainly meant here to be distinguished, as well as the connection of the house of Israel with the one, and that of Judah with the other. But the years also must surely be years of sin, of actual sin which is provoking the punishment, and no 430 years have ever been marked out in this way at all.

What then are we to say with regard to it? It is plain that only the separate notice of the house of Judah here seems to require the application of the 390 years to the separate Ephraimitic kingdom. If this can be otherwise explained, then there is no reason why the 390 years should not be those of divine forbearance as to the nation as a whole; and if we date them from the separation of the kingdoms under Jeroboam to the fall of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar, we have, as closely as possible, exactly this time. This separation was the break-up, under God, of a time of unexampled prosperity, and it was the break-out of man's will at the same time; judgment thus already beginning while yet the long-suffering of God tempered it during all this period. The separation of the northern kingdom may thus have fully its place here, and be that which, as it were, weighed heavily on that side the nation as a whole, which never recovered itself from that great disaster. It is striking also that the actual siege of Jerusalem lasted for about the 390 days of the prophet's burden. It lasted from the 10th day of the 10th month of the 9th year of Zedekiah to the 9th day of the 4th month of his 11th year; and this, says Schroeder, "can very simply be made to correspond by making a deduction for the temporary raising of the siege on account of the Egyptians" (Jer. 37:5). The reference to the actual siege of Jerusalem is thus strictly in conformity with the actual fact.

With regard to the forty years of the house of Judah, the difficulties have been considered great. The symbolism of numbers has been very naturally invoked in this case, and there is no need at all to deny that there is a significance of this sort in them. Nevertheless it is impossible to make this the whole matter. But where are these 40 years then? The 390 having already run on from the beginning of Rehoboam's reign to the fall of the city (thus including all Israel, not the ten tribes only), makes it impossible to put the period for Judah anywhere among these. It has been thought, therefore, that we must go back for them to the time of Solomon. Solomon's reign was just forty years; it was a time, it is said, in which Judah had necessarily a special prominence. It was also a time in which the remarkable prosperity which God gave them tested them as to their real condition. The departure of the people into idolatry, Solomon himself drawn into it through his wives, was the sad answer to a test like this. Thus, it is considered, that this is what is pointed to, as significant of their whole history, and through which their captivity was already assured.

But, as already said, this application is entirely against the order here, in which the prophet is distinctly told that when he had accomplished the 390 days, each standing for a year, he was to lie again upon his side, the right one, to bear the iniquity of the house of Judah. This is emphasized, then, as coming after the injunction concerning the house of Israel. If, therefore, this period is to be reckoned chronologically at all (as everybody would say it should, but for the difficulty of finding it) we must go forward and not backward for its discovery.

Now it is undeniable that from the time of the destruction of the temple to its rebuilding, according to Ezra 3:8, there elapse just 40 years; and they have reference distinctly to Judah, whose captivity was then at an end.* The ten tribes never did return. Judah, it is true, only partially; nevertheless the temple was built once more, and the city; and here they were permitted to abide that according to the divine promise the Messiah might come to them. Accordingly the post-captivity prophets, especially Haggai and Zechariah, are full of the coming of Christ. Their very names point to this. Haggai means "festive;" Zechariah, "Jehovah has remembered." Those also who come forward to rebuild the temple, as Zerubbabel, the prince of Judah, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, are. according to the latter prophet, the double type of Christ as Priest and King. Thus the air is full of the rays of the coming dawn, and the very names breathe the music of it. All seems prepared; and in their prophecies the present is the prelude of a glorious future into which it seemed ready to develop. All seems prepared — except, alas, once more the people; and here the significance of the number puts its impress upon the result. Those 40 years of their captivity should indeed have convinced them where their only hope lay; and under the solemn teaching of men like Ezekiel, they should surely have received the sentence of death in themselves that they should not trust in themselves, but in God who raiseth the dead. To such grace as is in God, had they had hearts to receive it, no power upon earth could be an impediment. But the issue proved how little, in fact, they had learnt by the long story of their past; and Malachi, with whom the voice of prophecy closes, points once more to the needed separation of a remnant, to whom alone the Sun of Righteousness should arise with healing upon His wings. After this, therefore, their history is a mere blank. The prophetic voices cease; then a long silence, and the 40 years have proved, as far as the people are concerned, the determination of the whole matter.

{*The text of the notes present a difficulty which cannot be solved. The reference to Ezra 3:8 does not seem to help matters. Our beloved brother is no longer here to explain his meaning. It has therefore been thought best to let the text stand as he wrote it, and to add this note.

The following is suggested as a possible explanation in line with the author's thought: The first deportation to Babylon was in B.C. 606 (2 Kings 24:14). The second and main deportation was in B.C. 598 (2 Kings 25:11). This was probably when Ezekiel was carried away — Ezek. 1:1, 2. The Temple was destroyed (Jer. 52:28, 29) in the third deportation, B.C. 588. There seem to be two ways of counting the 70 years' captivity: from the first deportation, 606 B.C., to the Edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1), B.C. 536; and from the destruction of the Temple, B.C. 588, to its rebuilding, B.C. 518. Thus there is a general as well as a specific meaning to these 70 years. If we consider them as general, not from one date to the other, we have, then, from 598 to 588, ten years in which Judah is not completely in captivity; and twenty years from 538 to 518, during which they are in their land. If these 30 years are deducted from the 70 we have the 40 of complete captivity which the prophet expressed. — S. Ridout.}

Christ comes indeed, as we know; comes to His own according to the promise, but only to be decisively rejected by them, so that they are finally scattered for the whole time in which, already for so long, the Jebusite, "the treader down," has held Jerusalem. Thus the significance of these 40 years is unmistakable; they are seen to be at once symbolical and chronological, and filling their proper place with regard to the 390 years at the close of which they come. There is no contradiction between a symbolical and a chronological import. God is constantly showing His control over human history in giving the facts of history such deeper significance.

3. The third sign follows — some features of which corroborate the view which has just been taken. The prophet is to take wheat and barley and beans and lentils and millet and spelt, and put this miscellaneous material into one vessel, and make bread of it according to the number of the days that he has been lying upon his side. But, notice, the limit is plainly given here as that of 390 days only, not 430 as we should have imagined. Thus there is a distinction of some sort plainly between this period and the 40 days following it. It says, "390 days shalt thou eat thereof." This was, as has already been said, probably at least, the exact time of the siege of the city, which according to the first sign given has fundamental relation to all that is here. The siege of the city is, on the part of the people, their bearing the iniquity of the previous time. Yet, as we know, this is not the whole of the matter. Scattered then among the nations by which they were led captive, they are, in fact, still bearing their iniquity before God; and this extension of the character of the siege to the time following is intimated in what we have here; for the unclean bread which they eat under the pressure of the siege is to be eaten also among the nations whither Jehovah drives them. Thus, while the days of the siege are distinguished in one sense from the period following. yet, in another, they are connected with it. Thus, the 40 years are distinguished from the time of siege, while yet some of the character of that time still attached to them. All seems thus plain enough and that which at first sight is a difficulty, brings in its solution the solution of other difficulties.

This third sign, indeed, shows the state of the people more than the distresses of the siege themselves do, for here is signified the destruction of their sanctification as a separate people. This polluted bread that is eaten among the Gentiles is no longer the consequence of being shut up within the walls of the besieged city. As we have already seen, they can have, after all, their Telabib by the desolating "river." and rally, alas, all too soon, from the hopelessness of such a condition as the siege of the city implies. But their new hopes only reveal more deeply their condition, despising as they do the chastening of the Lord, and building themselves up on hopes which, instead of encouraging them to a true separation of heart to God, practically reduce them in God's sight to the level of the nations around them. In fact, the contamination of contact with the heathen, in more ways than their captivity would necessarily involve (for an Ezekiel and a Daniel were among t he captives too), is shown, as we have already seen, most signally on their return from captivity. If after their return they learned to build themselves up in a proud isolation, such as we find in the Rabbinism which soon began, and which found its perfect expression in the pretentious hypocrisy of Pharisaism, this was at the farthest extreme from any return to God. Their bread, in fact, become most thoroughly defiled, when, instead of the precious Word which God had given them, they taught "for commandments, the doctrines of men," and once more substituted for that Word by which men live, "statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby man could not live." For a remnant among those that had returned from Babylon it was a period in which there was a famine of the word of God itself; and their association with those that had returned from the captivity must have become a thing less endurable than the captivity itself.

4. A fourth sign closes the series here. As in the last we have already got beyond the siege of the city, so in the present we are manifestly beyond it, but with no revocation of the sentence upon them. Ezekiel was now to take a sharp sword, using it as a barber's razor to put upon himself the brand of shame upon his head and beard — thus manifestly in the sight of all. This was forbidden to the priest (which Ezekiel was), and thus the loss of the priestly character is made apparent. But this enforced shaving of the hair is used with a further significance, to show the fate of Israel's scattered multitudes, thus smitten. A third part was to be burnt in the midst of the city when the days of the siege were fulfilled, most evidently referring to the slaughter of the multitude when the city was taken. A third part was to be smitten about with the sword, the sword drawn out after them in the land of their captivity itself. The final third part was to be scattered to the wind, and of these, only a few in number were to be bound in the prophet's skirts for preservation; while again even of these also some are taken and cast into the midst of the fire to be burned. It is the awful fire of the wrath of God which is thus going forth to all the house of Israel. The significance here is so plain that it hardly needs comment. There is, as we see, the sparing of a feeble remnant — alas, how feeble now! But this is all that even the voice of mercy has any longer to say to them.

5. We have now the summing up of the judgment in general, along with the solemn declaration of that for which the judgment comes. Jerusalem is still taken as the sign of the state of the people as a whole, the city in which the house of God was: to lose which was to lose the only place in which the atoning blood could be presented to God; so that for Jerusalem to be set aside was for the nation to be left to the full burden of its sins. But for what a Purpose had God set them in this place of privilege — this people alone in all the earth the recipient of divine revelations? In the midst of the nations, as we have seen abundantly, it should have been theirs to maintain a testimony for God amongst those that had turned their backs upon Him — a testimony which might appeal to every heart that sought God in the lands around. But what was the result? Israel had gone beyond the very nations themselves in wickedness, refusing His judgments and rebelling against His statutes; copying the manners of those from whom, because of their condition, God had separated them, they became all the more (as would necessarily be the case, for the abuse of their privileges) aliens from God and devoted to their abominations. God therefore had to make their judgment as unique as their iniquity had been. Even here the tenderness of His love is shown in the very announcement of His judgment; and we see indeed again the "appearance as of a Man upon the throne." "I will withdraw mine eye," He says, "that it may not spare thee." The eye affects the heart, and it is as if He said that, if He allowed Himself but to let His eye rest upon them, He could not bear to execute the judgment. This is the Heart behind the Hand; but the Hand does not on that account really falter in the carrying out of that which righteousness now so imperatively demands. If, on the one hand, He has a pitiful eye that would spare, yet on the other there is that in His character which makes Him speak of the wrath which He causes to rest upon them as that in which He will "comfort Himself."

Yet even here there is a lesson, as we know, for every susceptible heart amongst them, as there is a terrible lesson of holiness for the nations around. "They shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken in my jealousy when I have accomplished my wrath upon them. And I will make thee a desolation and reproach among the nations that are round about thee, before the eyes of every passer by; and it shall be a reproach and a taunt and a warning and an astonishment to the nations that are round about thee." This is sealed again and again by the solemn asseveration: "I, Jehovah, have spoken."

Section 5 (Ezekiel 6).

The sinful people in Jehovah's hands.

The word of Jehovah now comes afresh to the prophet with the distinct count in the indictment against Israel. The mountains are here specifically addressed because of their connection with the people's idolatrous foreign worship which had its location there. The channels of water and the valleys, as dependent upon them, have a necessary place here also. In contrast with Egypt, the land of independence — watered by its river, whose sources were so far off that practically they could forget all about them — Israel's land was a land of mountains and valleys, drinking the water of the rain of heaven, a land essentially dependent, and its dependence manifest, but a land which, as thus cast upon God, was such as He specially chose for a people that were in like manner to be dependent upon Himself, and thus to realize His gracious and continual care. Thus it was "a land that the Lord thy God careth for," where the eyes and the heart of Jehovah were continually. It is noticeable that Shinar was, like Egypt, nourished by its rivers, and in distinct contrast with the mountains from which those who colonized it had come down. "They found," Scripture says (what exactly suited them), "a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there." Here, therefore, as so constantly in Scripture, the material thing is significant of the spiritual condition. Israel's mountains were in this way like a constant prayer to God, upon which the dews of heaven settled, and brought down the rain so continually needed. At the same time, and beautifully, these mountains were also the fortifications of the land which would derive its strength in the same way in which it preserved constantly its dependence upon and appeal to heaven. This distinguished and separated them from the nations around which had got far enough away from God to identify Him with the mere creatures of His hand.

Thus Israel's land was to be a protest against the heathenism which everywhere else prevailed, and in this way suited to be the depository of a continually growing revelation, the blessing of which is ours today. But, alas, what had Israel done? They had made these very mountains to be but heathen altars with which to insult their gracious Protector, the Source of all their blessing. Upon the tops of those mountains, the idolatrous altars that were so conspicuous there were now the sad witnesses of their own departure from Jehovah, their covenant God, who had signified Himself such in the very name which they thus insulted. They must, therefore, by judgment be made to recognize Him as the Jehovah that He was. And thus, as if the people themselves were unworthy to be addressed, the word by the prophet comes to the mountains, to the hills, to the water channels and to the valleys: "Behold, I, even I, am bringing upon you a sword. And I will destroy your high places, and your altars shall be desolate, and your sun-pillars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your altars. I will even lay the carcases of the children of Israel before their idols, and scatter your bones round about your altars." Thus were they to prove now by experience, as bitter as God would have made it sweet to them, that He was Jehovah indeed.

Yet a remnant is to be left, to be His witness on the one hand of the grace in which He would for His own sake at last fulfil His promises "a remnant," as the apostle says, "according to the election of grace" on the other hand a remnant that must witness in sorrow and brokenness of spirit the judgment which had come in because of the abominations practised, and from which grace alone could exempt any. "Yet will I leave a remnant," He says, "in that ye shall have some escaped from the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries. And they of you that escape shall remember Me among the nations whither they have been carried captives how that I have been broken with their lewd hearts which have departed from Me, and their eyes which play the harlot after their idols." But here the judgment should have its desired effect: "And they shall loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations, and they shall know that I am Jehovah." Alas for the people, to whom God had revealed Himself after so abundant a manner, who now needed to be called back to the recognition of the blessed Person Himself who had delivered and blessed them!

But, for the mass, no judgment could avail: "Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Smite with thy hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas, because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence." Nothing but a complete emptying of the land as to the living could now suffice — leaving it a mere sepulchre of their multitudinous dead, reeking with the unburied corpses which would make it desolate, "more desolate than the wilderness towards Diblath." This last word, though there is question about it, probably means "fertility." Such indeed should have been the condition in every way of Jehovah's land, which was now to be so utter a desolation. In all their dwelling-places, as scattered amongst the nations, they were at last to know, without any peradventure, that their God was Jehovah.

Section 6 (Ezekiel 7).

The limit of forbearance reached.

The final word is now addressed through the prophet to the land of Israel, the very soil itself, to which the end is come, in all the four corners of it. Thus, clearly, there is no hope of anything more. There is no soil to produce fruit. The limit of forbearance is reached, and there is no limit to the wrath, save only that there are those in whom grace manifests its power still, as there always will be. Otherwise the end was upon the whole land, an end in God's anger, the condition of things in it being the manifest proof of all the abominations of its inhabitants. The earth at large, as we well know, suffers everywhere because of the sin of man, both by the desolations which sin itself naturally produces, and by the judgments which are upon it from God. Thus the places of highest privilege may become necessarily the places of most marked desolation. God's own pitiful eye can spare no more. "I will bring thy ways upon thee, and thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee:" that is, there is no deliverance, no ability to roll off the burden. The unchangeableness of Jehovah Himself certifies and assures the continuation of the punishment.

Thus He declares that that which has come is evil, and only evil. It is unmixed calamity. The "turn" — that is, the revolution of the wheel — is come to the dweller in the land. Much difficulty has been made of an expression which is very simple in view of what forms so large a part of Ezekiel's vision — those wheels that are so high as to be terrible, that do a terrible though needful work in the abasement of man, and even in view of final restoration. The privileged people of God thus become subject to the mutability which is the law of all things merely human. They could claim no exemption; and even the higher they had been lifted, the more terrible would be the fall. The time had come for this — not the day which in false hope they had been prophesying for themselves, but of consternation and confusion; the battle lost, not won; no joyful tidings of victory to announce from the mountain-tops, as there will be even yet in the future for them (Isa. 40:9); for the wrath of God was now to be poured out wholly, and His anger consummated, although it would be no more than just the fruit of their ways, the equal demonstration of divine righteousness in their case; taken, as they were, with the evidences of their guilt in their midst, in all the idolatry which polluted them and which we shall soon have exhibited in full detail.

It is a solemn thing to realize that God permits full consummation of human iniquity before the judgment falls. As it was in Israel, so it will be in Christendom. God does not come in to judge in a day of reformation, even partial as this may be. If He sees even an Ahab putting on sackcloth and walking softly before Him. He refrains from judgment (1 Kings 21:27-29). With Ahab it was mere fear, of course — nothing that God could really accept; and yet it was enough to avert, for the moment, the imminent wrath; and thus the abominations that are everywhere under the surface in Christendom must be allowed to come out openly before the full judgment comes. The Church must be removed, and the indwelling Spirit of God that hinders the full development of things according to their nature. The restraint removed, there will be manifested, in the man of sin, the iniquity which has been working in mystery through the ages past. This has to be brought out of its concealment, and the delusion which man seeks must be permitted to him. Then, as the issue, there will be that open defiance of God in every way in which He has revealed Himself, which will necessitate the full display of long-lingering judgment. He who is to come will come, and "will smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips destroy the wicked one" (Isa. 11:4).

But the time of wrath upon Christendom can only come after there has been the full revelation of God, and time given for the effect of it to be fully manifest. Almost 2,000 years have passed since the revelation has been completed, and now he that will may see that the end is at hand.

The judgment upon Israel here is only a partial anticipation of the wrath in that day. Nevertheless, the rooting of Israel out of their land, and the desolation of the house which God had among men, marked a distinct crisis, the day of which had come. The turn of the wheel, as Ezekiel repeats, had come to them. The rod for the punishment of their iniquity was blossoming, even as the pride which provoked the judgment was indeed full blown. Violence among them had thus risen up into a rod to smite them: in itself a rod of wickedness, no doubt for not on account of righteousness in the enemy did God permit their triumph over His people yet comparatively even these were clean. They had not trampled God's gifts under their feet as Israel had done. And thus they had themselves invited the scourge which was now to sweep through the land, leaving nothing remaining, neither of their multitude, nor of their wealth, nor even any to wail for the absence of these. The time was already come, the day was at hand the buyer need no more rejoice in that which he had acquired, nor the seller either mourn for that which he had lost: for the wrath upon all was without distinction. No day of jubilee would return with its gracious provision to him who had had to give up his patrimony through poverty and if even his life were yet permitted to him there would be no land for him to return to. "The vision," says the Lord, "is touching the whole multitude thereof. It shall not be revoked, and none shall through his iniquity assure his life." Strange indeed that man under the very judgment of God could think to secure himself by means of the very iniquity which was bringing down the judgment; yet man is capable of just such thoughts.

The prophet sees only utter desolation. Were the trumpet blown, there was none to go to battle. Sword, pestilence and famine had already done their work, and if there were but a few that escaped, they would be like scared and scattered doves of the valleys driven to the mountains — all of them with their mournful plaint, and every one for his own iniquity. Horror would cover them, shame be upon their faces, and baldness upon their heads. The very silver and gold, so precious to man, would be cast away in bitterness as worthless, utterly unable to accomplish anything for them neither to satisfy their souls, nor fill their belly; for indeed it was the very stumbling-block of their iniquity. God had enriched them with that which was much more than the riches so much valued by man: He had set the beautiful ornament of His own house in their midst, and they had put therein the images of their abominations so that God had Himself to treat His holy house as an unclean thing, and give it up to the hands of strangers to be a spoil for the wicked of the earth.

Thus the prophet is bidden now to "make the chain" which indeed they had forged for themselves, as the crimes that filled their land attested. No sanctuary could be maintained in the midst of a people such as they were, and the glory of God required the removal of that which now only dishonored Him by its existence. Thus all, in fact, was gone. The prophet who was alone their hope, in days when every other link was broken, would have a vision from God no more, as the law would perish from the priest, and counsel from the elders. From prince to people they would alike now receive their judgment and thus they would know (how terrible to know it thus, and how constant the repetition of this!) that their God was Jehovah.

Subdivision 2 (Ezekiel 8 – 19).

Conviction of the sin for which the glory leaves the city.

There yet remains to be given proof of the general charge which has been made as to the condition of the people, and this in view of all the privileges, all the mercies shown, and all the warnings given. Here it is Jerusalem, and those connected with it, that are especially before us, as those most conspicuous for the pride of heart which hardened itself against all warning. Proportionately to the mercy that had so far spared, so must their punishment be.

Section 1 (Ezekiel 8 — 11).

The shepherd's rod becomes a rod of iron.

Jehovah had been their Shepherd, as witnessed by the pillar of cloud and glory, of which Ezekiel speaks so much, which had guided and protected them. But it is this that has now become their adversary. Their Shepherd's rod becomes thus to themselves — not to their enemies merely — a rod of iron; and God calls in the witness of man himself to the necessity of this. God calls to witness earth as well as heaven, in the judgment of His people; after which the glory finally leaves the city.

1. There are four examples given, all witnesses to their complete adoption of the idolatry around them. Question has been raised as to how far that which Ezekiel sees in vision answered to the facts. For instance, as to the actual defilement of the temple in the way that Ezekiel sees it, it being supposed by some that it is God Himself who connects their abominations with that holy house of His, which stamped its character upon the land. Yet, while it is true that all here is expressly stated to be in vision, it is clear that there must be in it, none the less, a true picture of the people's state. It is the evidence upon which they are convicted; it must not be merely ideal, therefore, but the positive facts of the case — facts that could be appealed to as without possibility of question.

(1) The new division is marked, as we might expect, by a new date, although reckoned from the same significant period as before — that of Jehoiachin's captivity. We have come now to the sixth year of this; and the sixth month of the sixth year emphasizes the thought of evil come to its head, but at the same time with God's hand over it; while the fifth day, the day of the vision, links responsibility with judgment. On this day the prophet is in his own house, the place of family relationships, which could not be exempt from the invasion of that which, as judgment, brooded over the whole people; the shadow falling even where grace had wrought exemption from the actual judgment.

The presence of the elders of Judah prevents that which follows from being simply a private, personal communication. Nothing is said of the purpose for which they were there; it is therefore a matter of entire indifference. We need no speculations to explain what is manifestly unexplained. The elders are rulers of Judah, as is manifest — those who should have maintained judgment according to God, but who now were made the witness of judgment which was coming from God in place of that which they had failed to exercise. In their presence, then, the hand of the Lord Jehovah fell once more upon the prophet.

He beholds, and, first of all, there appears to him, as he has seen before, the likeness of a Man upon the throne of God. Again there is seen, "as the appearance of fire" — the holiness of God, which against unrepentant wickedness is wrath, and which takes this character especially "from the loins and downward:" that is, in that which speaks of the activities of the person seen, rather than of the personality itself. "From the loins upward" there is the appearance of brightness, as the look of gold and brass. Thus we are ever reminded that, whatever the work may be, the character of Him who is engaged in it cannot fail to be displayed; and there is for us the joy of this, the appearance of a brightness, which is in fact that of the divine glory itself, the glory of One who is in His own nature immutable, of which the brass speaks.

There is at first no vision of anything beside, not even of the throne upon which He sits, no living creatures, no wheels. We shall come to these directly, but we have to notice that here, first of all, we have the Lord Himself. It is He who puts forth the form of a hand, and taking the prophet by a lock of his head, the Spirit lifts him up between earth and heaven, and brings him in the visions of God to Jerusalem. Thus it is plain that all that follows here is a vision simply. It is a vision according to the truth, necessarily, because it is a vision of God; nevertheless, we have to remember that God looks forward as well as back, and that the judgments which are seen now to take place may be, in fact, as in the slaughter of those in the temple-courts and in the city, that which takes place afterwards, and not necessarily at the moment in which they are seen.

In Jerusalem, as the prophet is carried there, nothing is seen but its great dominant feature, the house of God which is in it. Here is the heart of the whole subject before us — the heart of God Himself; of Him who assumes for the prophet the "form of a Man," and of whom it could be said from of old that His "delights were with the sons of men." The temple is the symbol of this, for which David's heart longed after as the abode of God among men; of which He, of whom David was but the mere shadow, "sware unto Jehovah and vowed unto the mighty One of Jacob, Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up to my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, until I find out a place for Jehovah, a tabernacle for the Mighty One of Jacob" (Ps. 132:2-5). And where did David himself find this? "Lo," he says, "we heard of it in Ephratah; we found it in the fields of the wood." Thus had man treated in those days the token of the Lord's presence with them; what had characterized the preceding time was that the ark "had not been inquired of in the days of Saul" (1 Chr. 13:3).

Thus has man met again and again the wondrous grace that would draw man to God Himself; and here now, the place of such a testimony, is the very place of fullest abomination! Brought to the entrance of the inner gate that looked toward the north, there the prophet is confronted at the outset with the proof of this. It is the seat of the image of jealousy, "which provoketh to jealousy." And now, in full view of this, the glory of the God of Israel appears according to the appearance that the prophet had seen in the valley: "And he said unto me, Son of man, lift up now thine eyes towards the north." From the north, the place of darkness, from where the sun is absent, comes ever the opposition to God: "And I lifted up mine eyes toward the north, and behold, northward of the gate of the altar, this image of jealousy in the entry."

The image of jealousy presents, first, the general thought which underlies all that follows here. God will not give His glory to another. Hence any self-devised image of Him, which must of necessity be man's imagination, must be a challenge of the One only to be known by revelation, otherwise unsearchable. It is impossible indeed for man's thoughts to get beyond himself. Thus the image of God which he devises must be only in some way a reflection of himself; but this is the debasement of God to man's own likeness. The question is asked in Job as an unanswerable one: "Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?" Whatever the witness of creation therefore (true witness as it is), God never really left man to that. He declared Himself, as Scripture assures us, at the beginning; and it was man who voluntarily got away from this, banished himself into the darkness and distortion of his own thoughts.

And still this image of jealousy is that which threatens us all. It stands, as it were, at the very entrance when we would approach God Himself. And it need not be a visible or open image to do this. What admonition there is for us in this endeavor, as it really is, to have a god after our own thoughts, which is always in opposition to the true God? Thus "covetousness," the apostle tells us, "is idolatry;" and this, as we know, may be amongst those who are in all other respects most orthodox. But the heart after its own object, seeking that which gratifies itself (although it never satisfies), will have a god according to its own thought; while in name He may abide just what He was, and all the points of orthodoxy be preserved.

Here, in Israel, their hearts had got away so manifestly from God that the image of jealousy stood in open sight at the very gate by which men approached God; appealing thus to all, and blocking the way of sacrifice (the way of the altar) which, while it is God's only way, is just on that account what man's heart naturally would put aside. The image was in the outer court, presenting itself thus to the multitude. It was indeed the common sin and snare.

And we need not speculate, as has been done, as to the form of the image, what false deity was represented by it. The less we define in this respect, if we could define, as we really cannot, the more significant will be what is before us. Any special false god the multitude might disclaim; for man's thoughts are various, and their gods therefore multitudinous as their thoughts; but the trouble is with the thinking at all. God has revealed Himself. Blessed to know we have only to receive His revelation.

How careful we should be, therefore, that we add nothing to it, that there be no mere speculation even within the limits, as we may say, of revelation itself. God's own Word is best; is all-sufficient. If we add to its perfection, we in reality subtract from it. We are right in inquiring into it, in seeking to know the depths that are there; and if we do so we shall find that indeed God has spoken to us in it, "not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth" even," but which the Holy Ghost teacheth." Were we to say that the image here was the image of Baal or the image of Ashtaroth or any other specific form, the meaning for us at least would have largely died out of it. We would refer it to the past, to Israel, the rebellious nation, and we should escape entirely the warning which speaks to us today, as much as ever, of an image that provoketh to jealousy — the imagination of man, whatever form it may assume. But how blessed to know that we have indeed "the image of the invisible God," One in whom God has spoken to us, and met all true cravings of the heart after Him, the One in whom we find "the Word made flesh, the Only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, and who hath declared Him."

(2) What follows, therefore, is but a further development of this fundamental thought; it shows whither it would carry those who commit themselves to it. The second proof of Israel's condition is their open adoption, if we may call it open — for after all, the secrecy and darkness accompanying it betray the consciousness of the moral deformity attaching to it — their open adoption of beast-worship.

We shall find much suggestiveness here in the symbolism of the numerals. We are at the second step downwards, and the number indicates descent; but in its ideal form it is for service, as with the Lord Jesus. It is His number, as we have abundantly seen. But the heathen gods themselves came down to men. They had an interest in reference to the things of earth, but how essentially different! The descent of the heathen gods was almost always their real degradation, in which even bestial forms were assumed by them for base and lustful ends. There is no need to enter into this for those who have the slightest knowledge of the ancient idolatry which the Egyptian animal-worship made permanent, the worship of the animal forms themselves, which (whatever may be pleaded for its esoteric meaning) would necessarily be accompanied with the most debasing results, such as the epistle to the Romans witnesses. For a beast, no immorality is possible, and therefore where beasts are gods it may well drop out of common speech. Apart from the spirit which God has given him (which often, alas, is almost as if it were not) man is, in fact, but a beast; and thus he can find in the beast that which reflects and appeals to his lower nature; but become a beast, he cannot. He must carry with him into these bestial instincts the evidence of a higher nature, which in subjection to the lower must of necessity degrade itself. But let us not relegate what is here merely to the past, as something of old time which has been civilized out of existence, and which we may well forget, therefore, except as the evidence of the progress we have made since times like these. For Scripture at least the "natural" man is still the "psychical" man, the soul-led man; and his wisdom, which cometh not from above, is "earthly, sensual" (psychical, that is). And more, it is "devilish;" for, through all human departures, easily traceable is the subtlety and power of one who, with no beast nature in himself, yet has led man in this departure.

These things then characterized Israel in the awful days that we are contemplating. The people who had in their hands God's revelation, the people separated from the nations around by multiplied interventions on God's part and wondrous works of power by which He made Himself known, are a people now so completely gone from Him that it is precisely in this worship of the beast, in secrecy and darkness, that we find the seventy elders, and Jaazaniah, a son of Shaphan, in their midst. What was the condition of the nation whose elders were the leaders and instigators in such things as these! And the names here mark the rapid and complete departure that had been going on. Jaazaniah means "Jehovah hears," and this name came to him from a father whose own name signifies "one who is hidden" — the name of the hyrax or coney of our common version. The book of Proverbs speaks of it as one of the things "little upon the earth, but exceeding wise." "They are a feeble folk," says the wise man, "yet make they their houses in the rocks" (Prov. 30:26). This is their wisdom: they know their weakness and hide themselves in their stronghold. And the record that we have of Shaphan in the history (2 Kings 22:8-10) answers at least to this, connecting him as it does with the publication of the newly discovered book of the law which Hilkiah, the priest, gives first to Shaphan. How rapid then had been the movement towards apostasy! The father in the light, cleaving to God and His Word; the son in the midnight darkness, degrading himself into a worshiper of the beasts that perish! Such then was the condition of things in Israel.

(3) But we have still further proofs. The next account involves another class from that of the elders, and shows how all parts of the nation were infected now: "He brought me to the entry of the gate of Jehovah's house toward the north, and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz." Tammuz* is a word of difficult derivation, but the history of which is in measure plain. We have to identify him, no doubt, with one better known to us and to history in general as Adonis, who according to the legend, which is told in different ways, was beloved of Venus for his beauty. Slain in hunting by a boar, says the legend, he was, at her solicitation, permitted to return six months in the year from the under-world to her companionship. We need not go into it, as the general lesson is all that interests us. It is a nature picture in some way, no doubt; and faithfully represents the brief and lawless joys of earth under a heaven pictured as no less lawless, joys which soon end in lamentation; along with this longing for their recovery, which in one way or another makes men prophesy this for themselves, but with little comfort even in that which they prophesy: as to which there need be no wonder, no knowledge of sin being in it, and no repentance.

{*The derivation of "Tammuz" which is most accepted would make it a corruption of tammezuz, "melting away," and which they refer to the discoloration of the streams of Lebanon, among which is the river Adonis, by the mountain floods. This they connect with Adonis' legendary death by the boar, but it seems nevertheless hardly possibly to justify the derivation. On the other hand, may it not be derived more simply as tam'uz from tamam, "to complete" (and thus "finish," "end"), and uz, "strength," thus giving the meaning of the exhaustion of strength? This seems, more directly than the other, to apply itself to the story of Adonis.

We find God setting before us here the one side only, the sorrow and not the joy; the weak and passionate wail over the shadow departing, which identifies itself, as the details of this Tammuz-worship show, with only the increase of the power of evil in the despair of good. Thus this weeping of the women was accompanied with utter self-abandonment to the grossest wickedness. It was the practical fulfilment of the motto of despair: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Yet after all this is not absolute. Man will cling to the poorest and vainest hopes; and in the case before us here we have the distorted, faint image of what is indeed God's remedy for the sorrow of earth — not escape from death, but resurrection out of it. But this is indeed out of the power of man to accomplish; and has come to us — alone could come to us — in Him who has put His seal upon man's sentence, Himself bearing it.

Thus the evil which has wrecked the world is judged, and we reach God's side of it; finding not the mere restoration of the life wrecked, but, thank God, a new life in sanctification, and indeed with higher hopes than ever before. God is the God of resurrection, and this we have seen to be stamped upon the whole physical frame of things here, and to be especially that which is before Ezekiel, the revolution of the wheel: which indeed is so high as to be dreadful, out of man's merely natural ken, yet which, as revealed, becomes with all its blessedness a possession of faith, open to all who will accept the lesson of abasement. This is the only hope, the acknowledgment of a ruin which is at once the condemnation of evil and the glorification of God. The numerical symbolism here sheds full light upon what is before us, the divine substitute for the poor hopes to which man vainly clings, and which are pictured in this Tammuz worship among God's people of old.

(4) The last picture here is that of priestly apostasy; in this way it is the natural conclusion of the whole. Approach to God is what His house speaks of. The apostasy of the priesthood leaves this approach no longer possible; and this is complete in what is before us. "And he said unto me, Seest thou, son of man? Thou shalt see yet again greater abominations than these. And he brought me into the inner court of Jehovah's house, and behold, at the entry of the temple of Jehovah, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men with their backs toward the temple of Jehovah, and their faces toward the east; and they worshiped the sun towards the east."

These twenty-five men are necessarily a priestly company. They are representatives of the twenty-four courses into which we know the priesthood were divided, with the high-priest at the head of them. They are not indeed spoken of as priests, and at this we need not at all wonder, for the plain reason that they are apostate; but their position is between the porch and the altar, therefore in the priestly court, where no others were allowed. "And He said unto me, Seest thou, son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here, that they yet fill the land with violence, and keep again provoking Me to anger; and behold, they put the vine-branch to their nose. Therefore will I also deal in wrath. Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them." Thus the very ones, chosen out of the chosen nation itself, to draw near to God, are seen with their backs turned upon His house, and worshiping the sun, the foremost feature in those heavens which "declare God's glory and show His handiwork," as the Psalmist reminds us (Ps. 19).

The sun, with all his brilliancy and blessing for us, is manifestly but the servant of a power beyond his own, and indeed, as Moses declares in his appeal against this very worship, servant to the peoples to whom God has assigned the ordinance of heaven (Deut. 4:19). Thus in the very constancy with which it observes its appointed seasons, its character is seen as abiding under physical law, that of a servant simply. It is part of the great wheel of nature which Ezekiel has shown us, whose revolutions, indeed, its own revolution marks. But law is the rule of the governed, and not of the Governor. We must penetrate to the Heart that is beyond all this, to One who is not limited by the laws which He has appointed, to get above the necessary perplexity of those who see only, as the preacher saw, what is "under the sun." Law is indeed most necessary to produce a stable world. Where would we be if we could not trust the stability of the things amongst which we move? But those who worship it, as alas so many seem inclined to do now, instead of worshiping are merely putting the vine-branch to their nose. There is a sweetness in nature, apart from that which sin has brought into it, which we cannot and need not deny; and for one whose heart enshrines the true Beloved, "the vines with their tender grapes give a good smell" still (Cant. 2:13). But if we rise no higher, this sweetness of nature only hinders the sweet savor of sacrifice — of that which is true worship and of Him who has offered it, the basis upon which everything rests now for faith. The fall being ignored, no sacrifice is needed, as is plain. Nature itself bears witness of this, though it needs interpretation. But without God, what is nature, with all the steadfastness of the laws which govern it, but a poor, weak thing fittingly imaged by this vine in which God pictures it — the very image of dependence, as it surely is, with ourselves, who are part of it, upon the One "in whom we live and move and have our being." Those who are but mere Danites of Ir-shemesh (Joshua 19:41) find, spite of their joy in nature, nothing finally but perplexity, as the Preacher did (Ecc. 8:17). The Comtist, with his worship of humanity, may illustrate in a very forcible way man's need and the vanity of all attempts to meet it. He is most surely one who is putting the vine-branch to his nose, and imagining himself the worshiper that he is not; for who, after all, can worship himself, much as he may desire it?

But here, then, is the end of that which we saw in the beginning, in the image of jealousy. This is what all men's imaginations come to. They cannot get beyond the nature of which they are part, and they cannot get beyond the perplexity that is in nature, the vanity written upon all that is merely "under the sun." Yet, thank God, there is a better Sun soon to appear as Sun of righteousness upon the world, and with healing in His wings. Then shall men find how the types of nature are prophecies of what is in God's thoughts for us; and then shall the vines with their tender grapes give a good smell; not alienating the heart from God, but drawing it to Him.

Here, then, the evidences of Israel's condition are complete. Surely, nothing more is needed. Sentence is passed, therefore, and we have but to see the execution of it in what follows.

2. "And he cried in mine ears with a loud voice saying, Draw near, ye that have charge over the city, and every man with his destroying weapon in his hand." As already said, we are not to look at this as a judgment actually taking place at the time of the prophet's vision. It is no doubt that which is. really executed by the Chaldeans afterwards. For the purpose of the vision there is no need to distinguish in this way, or rather, the thought that is impressed upon us is precisely that which the bringing in of Nebuchadnezzar's host might conceal for many. The judgment is as direct from God as if the Chaldeans were not at all in question.

The six men that answer to this summons come from the north and this was, as we know, the route of invasion by the Chaldean hosts. The number six speaks, as always, of divine sovereignty over evil.* This, alas, is now to be shown in judgment. Yet on this very account the judgment must be discriminative also, as the man in linen tells us: "In the midst of them one man clothed in linen with a writer's inkhorn by his side" Here, plainly, is that which speaks of peace in the midst of all that is adverse. "And they went in and stood beside the brazen altar." The altar had in a special way been outraged by the abominations practised, and the vengeance upon this is now to be executed. When men refuse the only way of propitiation, there can be none, of course; and as the fitting corollary to this, "the glory of the God of Israel," distinctly emphasized as that, "went up from off the cherub whereupon it was, to the threshold of the house" — a significant action indeed, for we have nothing as yet here of the living creatures, which Ezekiel soon afterwards identifies with the cherubim of the mercy-seat. But as yet they are not identified; and we are to think of the abode of the glory as realized of old, which made "the Lord God that dwelleth between the cherubim" a familiar thought. He is seen for a moment there again, but only now to show distinctly the terrible change which is taking place. There is to be no more for Israel the truth of a mercy-seat over which the cherubim bend down to see the blood of propitiation placed there. If the altar be rejected, there is no blood to be sprinkled upon it any more. But then He who dwells between the cherubim must go forth.

{*It is also the number of man, the utmost limit of his power, and thus of evil in its assault upon what is of God. It enters into Goliath's stature (1 Sam. 17:4), the dimensions of Nebuchadnezzar's image (Dan. 3:1), and the number of the Beast (Rev. 13:18), where, thrice repeated, it would assail the people of God. It is thus fittingly associated with this preliminary assault of the Chaldeans. — S. Ridout.} of a mercy-seat over which the cherubim bend down to see the blood of propitiation placed there. If the altar be rejected, there is no blood to be sprinkled upon it any more. But then He who dwells between the cherubim must go forth.

This, then, is what we have here the full significance of it will be developed for us in what is soon to follow. But, first of all, He calls to the man clothed in linen who had the writer's inkhorn by his side, and bids him go through the midst of the city to "set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst" of it. The word for "mark" here is that which designates the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the tau, which in the manner of writing of that time was a cross. Who can forbear, in connection with all that we have here, to realize the meaning of this? The judgment is judgment in behalf of the altar or, to put it in another way, it is that which necessarily comes because the propitiation of the altar is no more. How significant, then, that those whom the judgment spares are just those marked for mercy by the altar itself, that is, by the sign of the cross, as the Christian heart at once interprets it. As far back as the days of Tertullian it has been interpreted in this way, and all the circumstances here confirm the interpretation. Here, then, is the sinner's shield at all times, the only hope of escape where all are sinners.

"Unto the others He said in my hearing Go through the city after him, and smite . . . and begin at my sanctuary." Judgment must begin at the house of God. It always begins there. In proportion to the privilege is the responsibility; and the outward nearness to God, with the heart away, only the more invites judgment. The house is completely gone as that. The blood defiles it; and in the midst of the awful judgment which is then poured out, the prophet pleads against the complete removal of Israel from before God's sight. But this has been already anticipated and answered. The only reply now is the urging of Israel's iniquity, which is now complete, and God can no longer spare.

3. Even yet the tale of judgment is not ended. What is of the utmost importance is now seen: the appearance of the heavenly throne, as the prophet had already seen it in the vision at Chebar, is to replace the earthly one which God can no more take. The removing is to be complete. He who was once, when the ark of old passed through Jordan, spoken of as "the God of all the earth," is now to be known simply as "the God of heaven." The earth is, as we see in Daniel, to be committed in fact to the Gentiles. Outwardly and visibly God's throne is no longer on earth. The throne of Gentile empire is, alas, how different! And yet it is the representative, responsibly, of the throne above. Though we cannot hope that this responsibility will now be discharged in a way more according to God than hitherto, yet, even so, God will rather have the Gentile with all his manifest alienation from God, than the Jew with his false profession and worse dishonor of Him by them who professed to draw nigh.

The judgment still proceeds; and it is the man clothed in linen, who has been hitherto the messenger of God's mercy, who is told to go in between the revolving wheels and fill his hand with coals of fire from between the cherubim and scatter them over the city. Here, of course, we have the pregnant figure of divine wrath; and it is at least an approach to that which we find afterwards, when the yet future day of wrath shall have arrived, and when this will be distinctively "the wrath of the Lamb." How terrible and how hopeless when it is His wrath! And yet how blessed to see and know that it is He who is eternal Love itself who will execute the judgment, and that, therefore, the one cannot be in contradiction to the other.

And now we are called to see more fully all the significance of that which is taking place. The cloud as yet fills the house; the glory of Jehovah, as we are reminded here, having risen up from off the cherub over the threshold of the house. The brightness of the glory is rather in the court itself now than in the house which it is leaving. The wings of the cherubim too are in motion, heard as the speech of the Almighty God Himself; and the cherubim are of course no longer those of the golden mercy-seat, which, as the memorials of a mere dead worship, are now left behind. The wheels of the former vision are here also, and ready for revolution; stayed for the moment, as the linen-clothed man goes in to take of the fire (which we have already seen at Chebar as going up and down between the cherubim), and which they now put into his hands. We are reminded here of what has been seen before, that there was the form of a man's hand under the wings of the cherubim. Human hands, we need not doubt, are to execute that judgment which, nevertheless, is itself the wrath of God.

Attention is once more called particularly to the wheels. We have them just as they appeared at Chebar, one wheel beside each cherub, with the look of the topaz in them, the display still of divine characteristics, though in human history, and the likeness as of a wheel within a wheel. There is added here that the whole body, and backs, and hands, and wings, and wheels, are full of eyes round about, the tokens of a knowledge which is indeed omniscient, although there is of course no omniscience in the creature; but they move by a wisdom higher than their own. They are, in fact, beginning as it were afresh their revolution in obedience to the call of the Voice to them, at the bidding of which they revolve. This is no doubt the real meaning of the 13th verse. The pause of contemplation is over. The trial is over. The wheels that have halted as it were in suspense for the moment, are to revolve again; and we are bidden to take notice once more of the faces of the cherubim as we have seen them, only that now the cherub itself is identified with the face of the ox; which is foremost, therefore: for through all this, while judgment is before us, God has nevertheless His harvest-field in view.

But now the cherubim mount up, and at last we have the full identification of the living creature with the figures upon the mercy-seat. "The cherubim mounted up . . . this was the living creature that I saw by the river Chebar." "I knew," says the prophet just after this, "I knew that they were cherubim." There is the complete identification. It is, as it were, those figures upon the mercy-seat that are now manifesting life and activity.

It is very striking as to this word "cherub" that only two derivations seem to be at all satisfactory for it. The one is from the word charab, "to engrave," of which "cherub" would be but the past participle; thus, "the forms engraved." This suits (but alone suits) the cherubim of the mercy-seat. On the other hand, Hengstenberg contends for another derivation, which certainly exactly suits the meaning of the living creatures, according to which it is a compound word, che-rov, "as it were a multitude."* But here, not the mercy-seat is before us, but the Chebar vision. Significant it surely is that the one meaning now goes over as it were to the other. The one is, no doubt, the interpretation of the other. But, more than this, the reality is now taking the place of the mere symbol. The cherubim are indeed the living ones, in every way full of life, and standing for that multitudinous host of God which in all His creation ever obey His will.

{*Another derivation has been given — che-reb "As if pleading." These assessors to the throne are pleading for righteous judgment upon an apostate nation. At other times their pleading has been for mercy on the basis of the blood upon the mercy-seat. But that having been rejected by the people, nothing but judgment is left. — S. Ridout.}

But, alas, for Israel, the mercy-seat is left, and the cherubim now go forth from it. "And the cherubim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight when they went forth, and the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of Jehovah's house;" and now also "the glory of the God of Israel is over them above." It is God who is leaving His earthly abode; and yet even as He leaves, everything assumes a greater clearness and a fuller glory. Notice once more, as we are called to it, the close dependence of the wheels upon the living creatures. As the cherubim mount up, the wheels mount up with them: they leave the earth. 'Thus as far as Israel is concerned, whatever suspension of the sentence there may be (and which we read in this lingering yet a while over the east gate), it is signified to us that they are soon, as it were, to revolve no more.

As far as prophetic history is concerned, we see the truth of this fully at the present time. Prophecy as to them has ceased. We are in a gap of time which has for them, as it were, no more significance! And yet in this very way how sad a significance! In truth there was a longer suspense than this lingering over the east gate might seem to signify. God's mercy lingered, as we know, over the returned remnant until, in fulfilment of what the countless voices of the prophets had declared, He who was to come did come, and Messiah, Himself the King of glory, stood in their midst. But it was only to find rejection proportionately decisive and complete. The wings that would have sheltered Jerusalem had to be withdrawn. She had once more to be given up to enemies that would lay her in the dust and her children with her. The glorious vision in the midst is gone, but it has gone in fact to heaven, a heaven which is opened for us that we may see it there. The living creatures are connected with this throne above, which has just been intimated to us in Ezekiel. Israel abides outside of the glory without a mercy-seat and without a priest to represent them before it; but for us there is only a nearer, sweeter vision, a fuller reality, a gospel of the glory which is indeed no longer in the face of Moses but in the face of Him who, Man as He is, is "the image of the invisible God," the effulgence of it.*

{*There seems to be a striking correspondence between this vision of the removal of the throne of God from the temple to the chariot of the cherubim, from earth to heaven, and the removal of God's testimony from the Jews and Jerusalem to the Church, as recorded in the book of Acts. During His life our Lord had declared to the Jews, "Behold your house is left unto you desolate" (Matt. 23:38, 39), and the removal or transfer of the glory is seen taking place at Pentecost. The Jewish "house" being left desolate, the shekinah glory descends upon believers, instead of filling the temple of Jehovah (2 Chron. 13:14). The persecution of the saints develops until in the stoning of Stephen the glory is seen in heaven rather than upon earth. Gradually the blessing extends from Jerusalem to Samaria, Caesarea and Antioch — a Gentile city. The meeting at Jerusalem to consider the relation of the Gentiles to the law (Acts 15) may be considered as the final lingering upon the threshold of the temple; but the widening circle of blessing reaching to Ephesus, Philippi and Corinth shows how a great change was impending. Paul's last visit to Jerusalem is, we may say, the final appeal of lingering love, and his closing words to the Jews at Rome (Acts 28:28) indicate the complete removal of the shekinah from Judaism: "The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear it." — S. Ridout.}

4. We have what is now in some sense an appendix to what has gone before. The judgment having been definitely pronounced, the glory, as we have seen, yet lingers, and I he mercy which is in God's heart expresses itself more freely, as one may say, because of the judgment pronounced. God's character being cleared by this, He is free to show what is in His heart. At the same time, that there may be no false hope, the judgment is re-affirmed.

We are introduced once more to the leaders of the people who have, as we see, the people behind them. They are twenty-five men (the number of the priests as given before), but these are not the priests, though they represent, as one may say, all represented by the priesthood — that is, the people at large, and therefore are the same in number. Among them, two prominent men recall in their very names the false hopes which are misleading the people: Jaazaniah, "the Lord heareth," who is the son of Azzur, "the helper," with Pelatiah, "Jehovah delivers," the son of Benaiah, "Jehovah builds up." Their words correspond to their names. These are the men, as it is declared to Ezekiel, who supplant Jeremiah's exhortation to the captives to build houses in the place of their captivity, which was to be long (Jer. 29:5), by building in Jerusalem. Judgment is not near, they say. They infer, the time to act after this manner never will be. If Jerusalem, in the midst of all its enemies, may seem indeed to be but a cauldron, and "we are the flesh in it," be it so, say they, we can accept that place with all that we find in it. The words, vague though they may seem, can scarcely be anything but mockery. They base themselves upon such prophecies as both Ezekiel and his contemporary Jeremiah were uttering against the place, which nevertheless still stood, defying its adversaries; so they argue that it will stand. These prophecies are idle talk, say they, suited enough for exiles whom the land has already cast out, and who have forfeited the privileges of the chosen people. For us, they say, we need not fear them.

Swiftly as the destruction was coming, God yet meets this with another prophetic warning. He who was acquainted with all their thoughts, would give them presently their full answer. Already the prophet sees the slain in the city, slain at the hands of those who have misled them. These would fulfil the figure, and be, manifestly enough, the flesh in the cauldron; but for themselves, the deceivers of the people, there waited still a severer judgment. God would not suffer the city to be even the tomb of such. The sword which they defied, even while they trembled at it, Jehovah would bring upon them, taking them out of the midst of the city which they had profaned, to fall by the sword in the border of Israel; they would witness before their death the calamities which they had brought upon the people. Cast out of the city, they would be judged in the border of Israel, and should learn there, to their utter confusion, that it was Jehovah who had been speaking to them — Jehovah, whose ordinances they had transgressed, while they claimed the privileges which belonged to His elect, and had gone after the ordinances of the nations around them.*

{*For an Israelite especially it was a great dishonor not to be buried, or not in his own sepulchre. There seems to have been, in the care taken of the body and its burial, a hint of the resurrection to blessing. So Abraham purchased the cave of Machpelah (Gen. 21). To have no burial, as in the case of Jehoiakim (Jer. 22:19) was like "the burial of an ass" — S. Ridout.}

While Ezekiel thus prophesies, one of these leaders, the man whose name falsely spoke of deliverance and building up, Pelatiah, died. Vision it is still; yet one would naturally argue that this was, in fact, an actual occurrence at the time. Such a proof has constantly accompanied true prophecy, that God was speaking in it. There was to be no deliverance nor building up in the way that they imagined to themselves; but, as before, the heart of the prophet, standing truly before God for the people, trembles at the judgment manifested, and again there is a question in his heart, as has been uttered before, whether any can survive it. "Ah, Lord Jehovah," he cries "wilt Thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?" But this had been already answered again and again.

It is but a moment of dismay; a confusion which the Lord answers in grace, explaining to him that these people, the objects of His divine judgment, are not such a remnant. His brethren, such as the prophet could truly own as kindred, those who truly represent the house of Israel, are not such men as these, but have characteristically their position among those very exiles to whom the then inhabitants of Jerusalem were saying, "Get you far from Jehovah," as having no claim upon Him. In their own possession the land still was, and so, they argued, it would continue. Was not the condition of those in exile a plain proof of the displeasure of God against them? Nay, says the Lord: it is amongst these that I am, and though it is true that in this national breach of the covenant they are removed far off among the nations and scattered among the countries, and though they have lost the recognized sanctuary in Jerusalem, yet I Myself will be to them for a little sanctuary in the countries whither they come. It was not indeed all that they were looking for, and might look for yet, it was an unseen Presence that was with them. The glory was unseen, save by such opened eyes as were those of Ezekiel . Nevertheless, in the "remnant according to the election of grace," as the apostle speaks afterwards, there was the assurance of what grace would be in its fulness when the time should come for the completion of those promises which God had unconditionally made, and which, therefore, He would fulfil. The sap of life was in the tree, although it was a tree cut down; and it would in due time manifest itself in the renewal of all they had departed from, and much more: "Thus saith the Lord Jehovah" — it is the exiles plainly to whom He is turning, He has no promise for the doomed inhabitants of the city itself — "I will even gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where ye are scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel." But along with this there must be and would be, therefore, the return of heart to God which would alone be the fulfilment of such promises. The terms of the new covenant must be fulfilled, and they would contemplate not the mere setting up again of the glory that had departed, but much more, the inward renewal, in which alone they would be manifested as the true seed of Abraham and the heirs of all that God had promised to him

Here, it is plain, we go far beyond the mere return of a remnant out of Babylon, such as took place under the Persian kings. This was, according to the Lord's figure, but a fig-tree planted in the vineyard, under conditions of fruit-bearing, which were not fulfilled; and when He who was to come, and did come, seeking fruit upon the fig-tree and finding none, according to His word it withered away. But this could not be the end of the promise — the free and unchangeable promise of God, which never can be taken away from the people to whom He made it. And the words of Jehovah here look on to an end not come even yet, but which through all the length of time elapsed He has never forgotten: "They shall come thither," says the Lord; "and they shall take away from thence all its detestable things, and all its abominations; and I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh and will give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in my statutes, and keep my ordinances, and do them; and they shall be my people and I will be their God." This, then, is afresh certified with all the assurance of God's word, and in plain view of all that has just before been denounced in the way of judgment. Nay, it is repeated here: "But as for them whose heart walketh heartily after their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their heads, saith the Lord Jehovah."

And now the breach between the city and the Lord is consummated: "And the glory of Jehovah went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city" — the Mount of Olives. How it reminds us of how the Lord Himself took leave of the same city from the same place! Refused by the world, and risen from the dead, He went up finally to heaven in the eyes of His disciples from the Mount of Olives once more. The angels prophesy His return, as Zechariah had prophesied it long before. For us, the Mount of Olives with its Bethany home, is the witness of what is ours in the meantime. Olivet is the memorial of the spiritual unction which has been poured out upon us, anointed with which we wait for His return. Meanwhile, in widowed loneliness, God's earthly city waits also; but in how different a manner! Her captivity has been unbroken ever since, and it is to the men of the captivity that the prophet now returns. "The Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God unto Chaldea to them of the captivity, and the vision that I had seen went up from me." In principle, the story is told out, although there may be many and important details that are to follow. What a word for the elders who had been waiting all this time the result of this prophetic rapture: "I spake unto them of the captivity all the things that Jehovah had shown me."

Section 2 (Ezekiel 12 — 15).

The judgments in detail.

The story having been told, we have in what follows the detail of exactly measured judgment in relation to the various classes.

1. First of all, therefore, we begin with the king, of so great significance in Judah as the one who "sat upon the throne of the Lord" in Jerusalem (1 Chr. 29:23). The removal of the king means, therefore, that the representative throne exists no more. Yet how many hopes had been centred in it! Throughout the history of the Judges we find that the great necessity was that a king should come. Even if men did that which was right, it was "that which was right in their own eyes;" that only made the need more apparent. There was no king yet in Israel. When he came, he was ushered in by the prophet, as we know, so in Ezekiel the prophet announces his removal; for the prophet remains through all this time the witness for God and of His ideal in government; but from the very first, we see how the ideal of the people diverged from God's thought. Saul, who was really the man of the people, as such had to be removed; and David, though the man after God's heart, fails in his turn, and is himself the witness that, although in his house the promise of sovereignty remains, yet it must be fulfilled in some higher way than man can accomplish it — the true King must come. Whatever faint shadows of Him there might be, as shadows they could not be permanent, and as they more and more departed from their character as witnesses to Him that was to come, always the more clear it becomes that they must pass. The meaningless king must be removed; he cannot be left for a reproach as God's king — an imbecile, and worse. Ezekiel is now summoned, therefore, to announce his definite removal from the land, no more to return there. During the time in which the desolate land keeps its sabbaths, which it keeps yet, it cannot prosper in their hands; thus we have here the connection of the two parts of the prophecy.

All is simplicity itself with regard to the prophecy, however little they, who were a rebellious house, as Ezekiel was told from the beginning, might see what was meant. Eyes they had to see, and saw not; ears they had to hear, and heard not; yet God acts for Himself, and unhindered by this incapacity on their part. Ezekiel is instructed to prepare the baggage of an exile and to remove by day in their sight. "Perhaps they will see," says Jehovah; for we know there were still those who were capable of doing so; and, as for the rest, God would still make things so plain that on His part there should be no possible misunderstanding — nothing wanting to complete conviction.

He is to gather together his baggage by day, but himself was to go forth at evening, under the cover of darkness, digging through the wall to carry off just what he can bear upon his shoulder, and no more; covering his face also, so as not to see the ground — a pregnant sign to the house of Israel of what was to take place. All this, of course, was not in vision, but in reality; expressly intended to awaken question by those who saw these enigmatical doings, and would naturally inquire into what they meant. He is to tell them that the burden concerns the prince still in Jerusalem, with all the signs of his royalty about him, but who is to go forth into exile, into captivity, with no sign of his forfeited rank, but as a mere ordinary fugitive; and even so, not to be allowed to go safely away, but to be taken in the net by Him whose hand was acting through the Chaldeans. And yet the very land to which he would be removed he should not see, although he should die there. His eyes, in fact, were put out, according to a common custom of the Babylonians in such cases. His following would be all dispersed, the mass of them slain by the sword, by famine and by pestilence, and the few left would be but as witnesses of the state of things amongst them which had provoked Jehovah's wrath; for in all this, as it is repeated again and again, they were to know that He was Jehovah.

To this burden concerning the king, there is appended, as naturally connected with it, the burden of the land left waste and desolate; for as long as the king continued, even though he might be but the shadow of royalty at the last, this was a testimony that the covenant between God and Israel was yet not wholly gone. The land itself also, as Jehovah's land, which they enjoyed as sojourners with Him, as His guests, was another sign of this: it could not pass wholly into other hands; and in this way even still remains, until the people of God are brought back to enjoy it. Thus, in one way or another, the curse of barrenness must be upon it. The hands that should have wrought in its harvests are scattered far away, and the few that remain, remain but to eat their bread with anxiety and drink their water with astonishment, while their cities should be laid waste and the land a desolation — and this, though Jehovah were His covenant name, that all might know Him to be the Unchangeable, as His name implied.

To this is appended another solemn testimony against the vain hopes of those who, expecting the message of peace which the false prophets had given them, and grounding it upon all the promises to their fathers, were already realizing the failure of their vision, which was no true vision. How often people imagine a failure of God's word, when the failure is only that of hopes falsely built upon His word! But the true word was not of smooth things, but of judgment, which would not linger now. It was at hand. In the very days of those that spoke, the Lord Jehovah would fulfil at once that which He was declaring He would bring upon them. Again the word comes re-affirming this: "Son of man, behold they of the house of Israel say, The vision that he seeth is for many days, and he prophesieth of times that are afar off. Therefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: There shall none of my words be deferred any more, but the word which I speak shall be performed, saith the Lord Jehovah."

2. (1) When the priesthood (the first link between God and Israel) failed, the prophet was raised up extraordinarily of God, in sovereign goodness, to stand between the people and Himself. When the kings failed afterwards, the prophet again came forward, the sign, on the one hand, of the broken condition of things, and yet on the other, of God's patience, waiting for possible recovery. Priest and king belonged to the established order of things, and therefore their office passed in the ordinary way from father to son. With the prophet it was otherwise. There was no provision for the continuance of the prophet. He was specially raised up by the goodness of God, as His messenger, to bring His word to the people in such a condition of things as was, or should have been, exceptional altogether. Alas, the adversary of God and man might find his opportunity in this very way to imitate that which is of God, bringing forth prophets of his own invention to speak falsehood as from God, so as to lead more entirely astray their followers.

Naturally, therefore, Ezekiel now turns to these, to prophesy to and against these prophets — prophesying out of their own hearts and seeing nothing. The word which the prophet spoke was not simply something evolved out of a man's "inner consciousness," as men represent it today, a divination as it were of a spiritual mind prognosticating the future from what he saw before him. On the contrary, it was no human judgment that they professed to bring, but the judgment of God Himself. Thus it was not their own saying, but Jehovah's saying. And so thoroughly was this known in Israel, that the false prophets themselves had to go as far as this in their pretension. If they saw nothing, they must feign that they saw. But the true heart of the prophet was not seen in them, nor, therefore, the true voice of Jehovah heard. The priest's breastplate was typical of what made the priest the true expression of the Lord's mind towards His people. It contained the Urim and Thummim, by which the priest gave answer from God; the precious jewels which shone in it representing the various attributes of the Unchangeable. They were "the lights and perfections" of Him who is the true and perfect Light, abiding unalterably in Him as the lustre in the gem. But upon these jewels also the names of the people of God were indelibly engraved. Thus the priest bore upon his heart before God the interests of God's people, and God's interests, therefore, in His people. If the priest had now passed, and the king also, any one raised up of God as His prophet must be marked by these very characteristics. Thus, in Ezekiel's day, the prophets should have been men "gone up into the breaches," not ignoring them nor what had been the occasion of them, but proclaiming the faithful word of Jehovah, while at the same time seeking, if it might be, to build up the wall which had been broken down, that it might stand in the battle, even in the day of Jehovah.

But these false prophets had failed in all this. Great as was their pretension, it was as far as possible from the reality. "O Israel, thy prophets have been like jackals in waste places" — a significant figure indeed of those who preyed upon the corruption around, hiding from the light in the barren wilderness which could only furnish them the covert that they sought. In pretension they were angels of light indeed — as Satan's emissaries among God's people constantly are — but the evil which prospered around them bore them true witness. They had seen but vanity, says the Lord, and divined lies. They should not, therefore, be in the counsel of His people, nor written in the register of the house of Israel, nor possess themselves of that land which could be held only according to the tenure of the covenant. Thus they too must know that He was the Lord Jehovah. Yet these were the men that swarmed around in proportion as the true prophet of the Lord was scarce, banding together, confirming one another's words, one building up a wall and another daubing it with untempered mortar, which could never stand the storm that was at hand. God would bring it down completely to the dust, so that the foundation upon which it was built would be discovered — a lie, all through, which could work but the destruction of those who trusted in it. For their prophesying of peace could but provoke war, and the pretension of security provoke God to sweep away the refuge of lies for, however men misrepresent Him, Jehovah must still and evermore be the Lord; and as against the men who misrepresent Him the Lord will be found Jehovah — the unchanging One. This is the constant reiteration all the way through. Jehovah is arising in His own behalf when there remains as it were no longer any witness for Him.

(2) But there were not only prophets, but prophetesses. Beautiful it is to see that, when it is God's grace that is raising up help, the expression of it will be found in those who in their very weakness will thus be most competent witnesses. There were no priestesses in Israel; nor, saving usurpation, any queens that reigned in their own right, but there were prophetesses. The grace of God did not in the same way regard distinctions such as these. Nay, if the men of Israel failed, the rise of a prophetess might be a more signal rebuke to them — thus Deborah, in the days of the Judges, and others at other times. And if after all there were but few women of this class, we know how slow God's people are to accept the grace which thus visits them in its fulness of blessing. And God's delight is shown in various instances, as in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad, who claimed their portion in Jehovah's land when a weaker faith might have thought it humility to make no claim. The heart that counts upon God's grace, how much may it enjoy of the grace it counts upon! Grace is the same grace towards all, and God answers faith. Alas, we ourselves put limit where God puts none. If we make our portion in the land the whole question, we may hesitate to ask for the needed springs — which Achsah did — to make the very land that is our own, fruitful! Beautiful is the recognition, which even a false prophecy is forced to make, as to the sovereign grace of God in the instruments that it employs. But, alas, even such precious grace as this could find those who would pervert it, and Ezekiel has now to utter Jehovah's voice against the daughters of his people, who prophesied out of their own heart merely.*

{*It has been suggested, by Hengstenberg, that these may not have been literal women, but effeminate men, whom in derision the prophet calls prophetesses, and who address themselves to the love of luxury and pleasure which appeals to effeminate natures. "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth" (1 Tim. 5:6). It is very significant that it was "that woman Jezebel who calleth herself a prophetess" (Rev. 2:20) who is the type of the luxurious seductions of the "great harlot" described in Rev. 17, 18. These seductions were for ease and a smooth path by which the people were ensnared, and these snares might well be spread by men who had lost all true manliness of spirit. "As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them." — S. Ridout.}

The words that describe the conduct of these have been differently interpreted. What was this sewing of cushions upon all arm-holes, and making veils for the head of every stature to catch souls? Many have interpreted these things literally, as magic fillets worn by these women after the manner of sorceresses, to impose upon their dupes, and which perhaps imposed upon themselves also But this seems nothing but conjecture; there is no proof, if it be not in the words before us; and while it is easy to recognize the feminine character of these doings, it is surely not necessary to make them seamstresses for such occasions, nor would it mark them out with any plausibility as prophetesses of Jehovah. On the other hand, we may easily read Ezekiel's language here as figurative. They did in fact, by their prophecies of soft and pleasant things, sew cushions upon the arm-holes, upon which those who listened to them might repose themselves and be at rest; while the veils for the head might, on the one hand, suit what was a mere false humility, and be, on the other, a blinding of the eyes, so as not to see things as they were. These prophetesses sold cheap their sophistries, as Jehovah says, working destruction by them, perverting judgment, so as "to slay souls that should not die, and to save souls alive that should not live." Here again Jehovah must come in to manifest Himself and tear from them the cushions which were upon their own arms also for repose — their false confidence, which infected others. As the constant repetition shows, Jehovah must be and must prove Himself, Jehovah. No lie can avail before Him who is the living Truth, and before whose presence every delusion must at last be broken and pass away; and then what would be the condition of those who had prophesied deceits? Would they catch souls of His people and yet save their own souls alive?

3. The idolatry in the heart of those who professed to be inquiring of the Lord is now exposed in the very elders of Israel who should have led the people in Jehovah's ways, and from whom the revival of the nation should have been looked for. Certain of them come and sit before the prophet, and before they speak God anticipates their inquiry. Only the fact that they are elders is given, those who should have the wisdom of age, therefore, and from whom came the judges of the people. Moreover, they had before their eyes the judgment of God already taking effect upon the nation; a judgment of which they themselves, in their scattered and captive condition, were witnesses. Yet, among those who thus have a decorous outside of orthodoxy, the heart is found, for the most part at least, gone after the common idolatry. It was in this way that false prophets rose up among the true, finding their inspiration, as we presently see, from the desire of the people who, under whatever name, really coveted gods of their own — manageable gods, as the idols certainly were, although the power of Satan was not deficient in them. They were now treating Ezekiel as a false prophet himself, and thus putting Jehovah also among the false gods, as one who could be flattered, wheedled and bribed into conformity with their own desires. How strange is the mystery of the human heart that must, after all, have a god, and yet will not bow to him! — must have a god, yet in reality be its own god; "serving," but even with professing Christians, "serving their own belly," as Scripture says! What a strange and terrible conflict this between their interests and their convictions; and what folly it writes upon this creature of God, intended for communion with Himself, but who has made itself so incapable of it! Their false gods are but the expression of how their hearts and their convictions are opposed to one another.

God therefore meets them, as we see, first of all with the assurance of how truly He discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart, arresting the very inquiry which is upon their lips by giving them the answer which indeed they do not seek, but with all the evidence that it is God who gives them answer. It was but their doom, however; it could be nothing else, as they were but too truly representatives of the house of Israel as a whole, and are addressed therefore as such. They are to learn that the prophet, who truly represents Jehovah, is no advocate to make terms between the people and their offended God. Thus God declares that if they approach Him through one upon whom they can work more easily than upon Himself, in hope that such an one can draw God to be of their mind, they shall find that He will answer for Himself, to manifest the more His own unchangeable nature. He therefore declares the doom of those who set up their idols in their hearts, yet came to the prophet with an outward semblance of obedience to inquire from Jehovah. He would answer for Himself — not merely by the prophet — setting His face against such, making them a sign and a proverb by His dealing with them. Moreover, if they could entice, as, alas, they did entice prophets professedly of God, to utter a word such as they coveted to hear, Jehovah might permit them to have the message which they craved from such a prophet, but they would both alike find the penalty of their iniquity, and be destroyed from among the people whom God would have in result as His people, and to whom He would be God, according to the name by which He was in covenant with them, the unchangeable Jehovah.

4. A solemn appendix to this follows. These elders would fain have had an answer of peace without righteous foundation to it, and would have made the prophet the mediator of such a peace. God answers them now, although not with a direct message to them, but as it were with His face turned away; addressing the prophet merely, He announces the principles of His own holy government under which they and all must come. Thus "the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, when a land sinneth against Me by working unfaithfulness, and I stretch out my hand upon it and break the staff of bread thereof, and send famine upon it, and cut off man and beast from it: though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job, should be in it. they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord Jehovah."

Thus, in the condition of which the Lord speaks, and in which the people of Israel were at this time, no human mediation could be at all available, even of the righteous. Of these, God chooses three who might of all men be most suited as intercessors; if even they were before Him at the present time, their pleading would alter nothing in such a case. Noah had stood at the wreck of one world, and alone was spared with his house to begin another; when the after-world was once again departing far from Him, Job was declared by God Himself to have no equal upon the earth. Noah and Job had long since passed away. It is remarkable to find Daniel associated with such men as these — a young man as Daniel surely was at this time, and in the court of the king of Babylon; but this has no doubt to do with his fitness to represent hopes that might be very much centered in him; his great place with Nebuchadnezzar being gained in so remarkable a way, and so conspicuous. It had been, too, by actual prevailing with God in prayer — prayer which had availed for others as much as for himself, a sample of the "effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous," of which James speaks. It was as one of these practically righteous ones his prayer had prevailed with the Lord. It was not the favor of man that had raised up Daniel, but the favor of God. How much might be hoped for from such a conspicuous representative of God in a day like that! Yet, while recognizing Daniel's eminent place, and associating him with the prominently righteous of by-gone generations, all human hopes that might be based upon this are refused. Not Noah, Daniel and Job together could avert a judgment which was already in fact begun!* Indeed, if only one of God's four sore plagues had been in question, they could not have turned it away; but these four plagues were all of them together now upon the land.

{*There seems a contrast here too with the Lord's mercy when there is the least indication of a possibility of any returning to Him. "Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now . . . if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment . . . and I will pardon it" (Jer. 5:1). So in Abraham's intercession for Sodom, God declared He would spare the city if but ten righteous were found there. It is to be noted that Abraham ceased asking for any further lowering of the number; as long as he asked, God granted his request. "Ye are the salt of the earth;" but the time comes, as in the days of Noah, when the salt was taken away and the corrupt earth left to its doom. So will it be at the coming of the Lord for His church. A similar moral state is here described by Ezekiel. The testimony of the few faithful ones, like Jeremiah, was helpless in the face of universal apostasy. Therefore nothing but judgment was left. — S. Ridout.}

The sentence had been pronounced; judgment was already begun; how vain to think of altering the word which had thus gone forth from God! All that remained was to acquiesce in it; and in a strange and terrible way would God work, as He assures Ezekiel, to produce this acquiescence. There should be left in Jerusalem a remnant who would escape, and be brought out of it, sons and daughters: Behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings; and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, as to all that I have brought upon it; yea, they shall comfort you when ye see their way and their doings, and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it." Such language is as unmistakable as solemn. This spared remnant, alas, a remnant not of the righteous, but of the wicked, after all God's mercy to them would demonstrate by their very doings the necessity of God's judgment. God would be vindicated in such a way that every upright heart must acquiesce in it.

5. And still there is a supplement, as we may say, even to. this. "And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, what is the wood of the vine more than any wood? — the vine-branch which is among the trees of the forest? Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?" The vine, as we know, is of use simply for one thing, for its fruit. If it bear no fruit, there is no reason for its existence. What is its wood? Compare it, says the Lord, with those trees of the forest among which it twines its branches. Has it wood like their wood? Can you manufacture anything from it? or can it serve any purpose? Only for one thing is it of the least use, it is for the fire.* And, as already shown, God was acting thus with regard to Israel. Its two ends, the kingdom of Ephraim and the kingdom of Judah alike, were manifestly being consumed in the fire which was burning the whole of it. How useless now to expect anything from what was so manifestly a mere brand for the burning! Thus it was with the inhabitants of Jerusalem; at the time the prophet spoke they were as between two fires from both sides — Egypt and Babylon — ready to lay hold of them; and to the fire they would be given up. That which they dreaded would come upon them; they should know that He was Jehovah when He set His face in unchangeable holiness against them.

{*Israel had been brought as a vine out of Egypt (Ps. 80:8). Everything had been done to secure fruit. The heathen had been displaced, it had been cared for, and had flourished, but all had been in vain. With a slight change of figure, the prophet Isaiah pleads with Israel, which had been planted as a vine in a very fruitful hill, fenced, guarded and tended, but which had borne only wild grapes. "For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel . . . and He looked for judgment, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry" (Isa. 5:1-7). Their vine had become as the vine of Sodom (Deut. 32:32), although planted a noble vine (Jer. 2:21). Israel had become an empty vine (Hosea 10:1). Therefore, failing utterly to bear fruit, nothing but judgment was left for it. — S. Ridout.}

One cannot but remember, in connection with what is here, the Lord's word to us as Christians, in which He declares Himself the true Vine, the stock of the vine for His people, from which all the sap and nourishment must come; in whom alone, therefore, all ability for fruit is found: "I am the Vine," says the Lord to His disciples: "ye are the branches." There is nothing strange, therefore, in the choice of this image for Jerusalem. In God's people is found at all times that weakness and impotence which belong to man, apart from Him who alone can be to them the source of supply — the all-sufficient Source. It is ours to recognize this feebleness and nothingness on our part; not merely such as is necessarily in the creature, but more, in the ruined creature; as hopelessly ruined as Israel in the picture here. To be connected with Israel, now cast out of the land, could be no cause of hope, apart from the grace of God which could alone fulfil to them those promises which in grace He had given, which He would fulfil, therefore — must fulfil — for His own sake, for He can neither change nor repent. Nevertheless, no individual in Israel could claim their fulfilment. God's grace itself was manifestly out of their reach, save only as in the confession of this helplessness faith turned to Him who, because of His own nature, could not turn away from the prayer of the destitute confiding in Him. Here is where we find our place and portion still, who have indeed no part in these promises which are to be fulfilled to Israel, but who enjoy, nevertheless, the sweet new covenant assurances in their fullest reality.

How blessed to know Christ as the unfailing resource of His people; from whom they have but to draw, as the branch from the vine, for unlimited capacity for fruitfulness! We are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus." What we want, therefore, is but the faith which claims and looks for the fulfilment of these blessings — the actual ministry of them for actual need. And of what use are we if we do not bear fruit? "In this," says the Lord, "is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples."

Section 3 (Ezekiel 16).

Jerusalem's profanation of her marriage covenant, yet final restoration.

We have now the long and terrible history of Jerusalem as the Lord alone could give it; a people who, in so signal and manifest a way, had been delivered by the power of God from the misery of her original condition, as born among the nations, and made to know Himself. None, surely, had been brought face to face with Him as Israel had. And Jerusalem was only Israel in fullest manifestation; and not only delivered, but they had been united to God in a way no other nation had, to have their part with Him, and know the full blessedness of that in the midst of a world gone far from Him. They were thus (wonderful to speak of it) as it were Jehovah's married wife, to whom He was in a relationship peculiar and exclusive amongst the nations, and enjoying all the blessings that this great and wonderful position would of necessity yield for them. Yet they were now to prove the terrible capacity on man's part of losing all that he is entrusted with, in breaking, as far as he can do it, every tie by which God would bind him to Himself.

The long story of this is given in all its loathsomeness, for it was no time to hide the reality of it all, so that it should be fully judged. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not find judgment from God; thus, for those who had hearts to realize it (and the spiritual eye is in the heart) Israel is taught here to judge herself, that grace may even now be her refuge; and, as at the beginning, so at the end, triumphant therefore all through, God's grace is manifest. If Israel has profaned her marriage covenant, yet God in the end shows Himself true to it: and from Him shall come the final restoration which shall at last openly, in the eyes of all the world, manifest His grace, so that the world itself should know it. This, then, is what we have here.

1. Israel's original condition is first reviewed. As already said, Jerusalem is only Israel in full development. The city stands for the people, as cities are everywhere the development of man, in which what he is is most fully shown and brought to maturity. The city in this way is notable from many sides. The tendency of men is plainly towards cities; they show what man is, what he can do for himself; as, on the other side, they show his feebleness, his dependence, and how little he can do. There was no city of God in the beginning. The first city that we read of was man's city, not God's. It was the offspring of man's thoughts and of his need. The city is the bringing together of men in the consciousness of their need of one another, according to the common motto that "Union is strength." Helplessness is written upon man in his very beginning. The human babe is helpless as the young of no other creature is. The child from its beginning and for long, is debtor to others if it is to exist at all; and for suitable development men must come together. God has so ordained that full independence should be impossible for us. Individuality with all of us is grounded in some way upon individual defect We are not competent all round. We have each his special capacities and his special deficiencies; as, in the world at large also, each country has its own peculiar productions and its need of what is to be got from elsewhere. Thus the world is bound together, and it is quite superfluous today to dwell upon the need which we thus have of one another.

The city then is the natural product of this need; but while it is almost necessarily thus the product of man's thought, there is in it a divine meaning which eternity itself will recognize in the fullest way. Yet man anticipated God as to it, and such an anticipation is ever found to be without God, and to have, therefore, all the terrible characteristics of this. Those who would not scatter, when that was God's mind, remained but to build up Babel. Yet man finds the help he seeks. "As iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." The bringing of men together favors this; and even the more diverse such men are, the more may this help be manifested — struck out, as one may say, even from the collision of contrasted attributes. Thus in the city we find, as a rule, the ripest fruits of man's efforts, and always, perhaps, his ripest wisdom, but in evil as well as good. And, alas, with man such as he is, selfish ends dominate too largely to make the coming together wholly good. Rather is there oftentimes, as we know, the most manifest and fullest debasement in this way. What spectacles are men's cities of vice and poverty, as, on the other hand, of man's achievements! Cain builds his city; and his posterity show the aptitudes which are developed in such combinations as the city manifests. But it is plain that morally the development is but a degeneration. On the other hand, in the final future, the city will manifest God's hand in it — God's hand in our individual necessities themselves; in our various adaptation to one another; in our various ability to help one another. Love is the spirit of help, and, where true, manifests the divine nature. How blessed to know that His own ministry of love to us all is to be reflected in our ways with one another. The city of God stands over against the city of man, contrasted, yet resembling. Jerusalem here gives us, in a sense, both sides of this — city of God, as in His thought and desire city of man, as he but too surely makes it. Jerusalem, then, is but Israel herself in full development.

She is first told of her extraction and of her birth. Heredity puts its mark upon the pages of Scripture, as it does everywhere upon nature; only, man being fallen, the mark of heredity is largely the mark of the fall. Grace makes us to rise above this, but if the power of grace declines, the natural heredity manifests itself once more. Thus Jerusalem was, as it were, again Canaanite, as it was in its origin: "Thy father," says God, "was an Amorite, and thy mother a Hittite." Notice these names here, where everything has a symbolic force, and fully significant, therefore. At the very opening of the world after the flood, as a mark of departure from God already beginning, and so soon to spread everywhere in it, we find the shameful story of Ham ("darkened by the light," as his name imports), and Canaan is his immediate descendant; it shows us man, not in mere original ignorance of God, as many now would make him, but as one who, in the presence of the light received it only as capacity for degradation. Resisted light is ten-fold darkness. From such an one Canaan is the natural fruit, Canaan "the merchantman," as the word is plainly used in Scripture. Canaan is from cana, "to bend the knee, to bow down." "Servant of servants" he was to be to his brethren; and we may be sure that he was that in spirit, if God puts him into this place. But we may serve it two ways. We may serve in love, in which there is nothing higher. But, with fallen man, this service may be but as in Canaan the spirit of the slave (the "servant of servants"), the spirit of fear and not of love. Or it may be for selfish ends; when, of necessity, subtlety and deceit will characterize it. "He is a merchant" (Canaan), says the prophet, "the balances of deceit are in his hand; he loveth to oppress" (Hosea 12:7). Thus it is plain what the spirit of his service is. The Amorite comes naturally from this.

The Amorite, as we have seen elsewhere, does not mean "the mountaineer," for which there is no proper justification. He is "the talker," the man of words; in the East, in the market-place, he is the person who perhaps most impresses you. The merchant, there, is emphatically one who "cries up" his wares; demanding a higher price than he ever expects to get, in order to leave room for the inevitable coming down. He knows the uttermost value of his goods; or if he is buying, how to depreciate that which he really values. The wise man exactly describes him: "It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth" (Prov. 20:14). With greed against greed, the balances are sure to be deceitful ones; and for him who is possessed with a spirit of this sort, everything is valued according to its estimate in the market. Alas for "the Canaanite in the house of the Lord!" (Zech. 14:21). Here the Judas-spirit develops, who will sell his Master cheap enough; and we see directly the proofs of Israel's parentage in this way, how the Amorite father manifests itself in her.*

{*The Amorites, or "Talkers," suggest that pride which is so distinctive of high profession "speaking great swelling words;" — "Our lips are our own, who is lord over us." Pride and boasting seem thus to be connected with the thought of the Amorite, the emir (as the word is) who exalts himself, and gives his commands. The Hittite is the other extreme — cringing, fawning cowardice. They are linked together as the parentage of the natural man. "Ye shall be as God" is the Amorite pride; "they hid themselves" is the Hittite cowardice. — S. Ridout.}

Her mother also as the Hittite is not difficult to understand. The sons of Heth are literally "the children of fear" (See Gen. 23:19, Notes). Such fear necessarily develops where the heart is set upon its own things, and in a world where every one is at strife with his neighbor. In the things of God also it comes in, as we know, in such sort that men tell us today that all religion is bred of it. This, moreover, can alternate with utter recklessness; for such a spirit will naturally seek the antidotes for its torment, which the world and Satan will as readily supply. All this, alas, but too well depicts the history of the professing people of God, whether in Israel or in the Christendom that has succeeded it. If we would get the profit of all this, we must not lose sight of the unmistakable repetition before our eyes today of Israel's history. We have it all, even to the Babylonish captivity, and the broken fragments which have come out of it. Go back to the so-called "dark ages," or find the spots in in which these dark ages have survived to the present day, and see how a selfish spirit of fear is everywhere, and how it connects with the haughtiness of a spiritual profession which knows how to cry up its wares, while it will sell them cheap, too, to attract sufficiently the bidder. The Amorite and the Hittite have left unmistakably their impress upon things everywhere; and we have little cause to boast ourselves with the Philistine boast (see ver. 27) against scattered and exiled Israel. Yet we cannot but notice in Jacob, the supplanter, how these features showed themselves in the very beginning of the nation — before there was a nation at all. But this is all that heredity can do for us. For the rest, it must be the grace of God or nothing.

We come now (ver. 4) to the actual birth of the nation which, as we know, was in Egypt. The forlornness of their condition was manifest when, according to the figurative language here, their navel was not cut; that is to say, they were not qualified, as it might seem, for independent life at all, and thus exposed to death at the very outset.* Nor were they washed with water for cleansing. How they had forgotten the very name of their God in Egypt is manifest by Moses, inquiry (Ex. 3:13); and the golden calf is manifest proof of how the Egyptian idolatry had laid hold of them. Thus they were not rubbed with salt at all; they were strangers to divine holiness and to that power which alone can resist corruption. Nor, as yet, were there even swaddling-bands for the infant nation. The restraints suited to their condition which love itself may impose, and which they were to find afterwards, were, as yet, unfelt. Egypt had lawlessness enough for them, if it had no true freedom. And Israel was, as we know, no object of compassion even to the nation among whom they had come to be. They were but as a foundling cast out into the open field to perish; as we may see them in Moses their deliverer himself thus cast out, but with the divine hand over him, and a divine purpose in all, through which these very circumstances became the means of lifting him into his higher and God-ordained position.

{*The necessary separation from defilements of birth is here suggested. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." The link with its symbolic Hittite mother had not been cut. The picture is dreadful and solemn, but divinely applicable to Israel's infancy as a nation. — S. Ridout.}

2. It is evident, then, in what we find here, it is not the city Jerusalem merely or literally that we are to think of, but the nation as we find them in Egypt when under the decree of the persecutor, in their blood, as it is expressed here, and groaning in their bondage, "God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them" (Ex. 2:25). The first sign of their national life and of the blessing of God was even then manifesting itself with regard to them in their multiplication under the very decree of death; and when afterwards the judgments were upon Egypt, Israel, as we read, grew great and came to excellent adornment. It was indeed the voice of the Almighty that had said unto them in their blood, "Live." And, according to the figure, the breasts that were to nourish her children grew; while even then, nevertheless, they were, as far as the blessing which God designed for them, still "naked and bare." But then and thus it was that He looked upon them; and for this despised people, mere Egyptian bond-slaves as they were, there came the time of love in which, as He declares, He spread His skirt over them to cover their nakedness. We cannot but think of the covering cloud, and how, when they seemed to be exposed to the wrath of their enemies and almost in their grasp, the sea made way for them, while the cloud covered them from above. Here, already, they were proclaimed the people of the Lord, although the covenant at Sinai had not yet taken place; and, indeed, it is important to realize that this covenant was not, after all, the foundation of blessing for the nation. God had His own purpose in it, and His purposes are always blessing.*

{*This period is touchingly referred to in Jeremiah, "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness . . . Israel was holiness unto the Lord" (Jer. 2:2, 3). The whole chapter is a solemn and tender pleading with a poor unfaithful people, like an untrue wife; and this is followed up in the next chapter: "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you" (Jer. 3:14). Similarly Isaiah (Isa. 50) shows that it was not the Lord, but Israel's sins which had brought about her divorce. This is the frequent imagery of Scripture in history (as Gen. 29:18), psalm (Ps. 45) and prophecy. In a higher and sweeter sense it is also the type of the union of Christ with the Church (Eph. 5:32, etc.). The two are not however to be confounded. — S. Ridout.}

The law was needed as the handmaid of a grace for which the people as yet, alas, were not prepared; and when God looked upon them in Egypt, it is expressly declared that He remembered His "covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob," and thus "took knowledge of them." In the same way, at the bush, God declares Himself to Moses as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;" and His word is: "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt" (Ex. 3:7). His message to Pharaoh accordingly is: "Thus saith Jehovah, Israel is my son, my first-born; and I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve Me." Thus God's recognition of His people does not wait for any legal promise on their part of what they will do: and when at Sinai the legal covenant begins, He could already say to them (Ex. 19:4): "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles, wings, and brought you to Myself." True, He has now to say: "If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex. 19:5, 6). Thus there was a covenant which they had to keep or observe, but that which followed was not what is yet in the divine mind for them, of which the new covenant is to be the perfect expression. Nor are we to confound, as alas so many Christians even still do, the old with the new covenant. It was of their own choice and with the declaration of their own ability — the value of which had so soon to be tested, but with such terrible result — that God proclaimed in their hearing from the mount which flamed with fire and quaked under His presence there, the terms of blessing which they might find in an obedience which was rendered as easy as possible for them, but which, nevertheless, was the "ministration of death."

Hittite they are in their own character surely, as they tremble and stand afar off while Moses draws near to the thick darkness in which God is (Ex. 20:18-21); and Amorite none the less for that, as we see in their ready profession. But thus it was that they had to be tested, as Moses declares: "God is come to prove you," he says. But alas for the fallen creature under the proving of God! What can it prove but a fallen condition? And Moses' song long after this (Deut. 32), a song which was to be put into their mouths that it might be a witness for God against the children of Israel (Deut. 31:19), declares at once the utter hopelessness of blessing under it, and the grace of God which must be their only resource at last. Nevertheless, Israel was here now by their own profession in covenant with the Lord; they had fully, of course, the responsibility of this.

3. The object here is manifestly to recite all that God did for them, and in spite of legal conditions, how God's grace as well as His holiness was made to shine out. "I washed thee with water," He says, "yea, I thoroughly washed thy blood from off thee, and I anointed thee with oil." Hengstenberg asserts here that "We are not to think of spiritual benefits;" and that "the prophet abides by what is palpable, which the ungodly even, whose consciences he wishes to touch, would necessarily recognize." How narrow is this as an idea, and how little it does justice to what God was doing for His people, in which the spiritual benefits were, as one may say, the whole thing aimed at — without which all others would be necessarily empty and vain; true also, as has just been acknowledged, that the people under the test of the law, would necessarily show themselves what man under such tests has ever shown himself to be, and that, notwithstanding the large outward show of blessing in keeping the Lord's words, which should have enticed nature itself, if possible, into obedience. They were to have all possible assistances to this, and self-interest itself was to be enlisted upon the same side. Every material good was to be with the righteous; the whole nation, under one government, committed to the same path, was to be in favor of him who kept the covenant. Nevertheless, He who knew man perfectly — who knew the needs of the true-hearted who would experience that by the law is the knowledge of sin — could not but speak all through of God's continual mercy and the ground of His showing this. The very publication of commandments in the keeping of which, if it were possible, man should live, was a light which must needs have effect upon the nation at large. Moreover, they had all the responsibility of the knowledge which God had given them of Himself in the constant interventions in their behalf, providing for them through the barren sands of the wilderness every day of their journey — a, constant miracle. Thus He could say of them, in contrast with the terrible immoralities of the nations around: "I washed thee with water;" and in the provisions of His law itself, when seen in connection with their typical meaning: "I thoroughly washed thy blood from off thee, and I anointed thee with oil."

As to what these last words signify in their deepest meaning, we cannot but see ground for it in the gifts and work of the Spirit manifesting Himself among them, the responsibility of which was upon all. From those who have heart for the blessing, nothing can shut out blessing. Nothing on God's part surely would ever do it. And the oracles of God, which, as we must remember, began to take written form with Moses himself, were as the voice of the Spirit; the apostle Paul puts them as Israel's chiefest blessing: "Chiefly that unto them were committed the oracles of God." How much are we not receiving at this present time through God's word to them! Here, then, God puts before the nation, in its extreme departure from Him, all that in which He had wrought to bring them nigh.*

{*The anointing with oil was an official act in setting apart priests, kings, and in one case at least, the prophet to his work. As a type of the Spirit, it would suggest the empowering of the anointed one for his work. Thus Israel as a nation had that ministry of the Spirit which should have been an abundant sufficiency for all her testimony and service. That she so utterly failed was but proof of her alienation, not of any lack in God's provision. The simile of the marriage relation is still preserved here. The presentation of queen Esther to Ahasuerus will illustrate this. For the Church however the unction is of the indwelling Spirit, and therefore abides eternally. — S. Ridout.}

The clothing with "broidered work" (literally, "variegated work ") naturally refers to the elaborate ceremonial of their religion; in which, although under a veil, all the grace of God was found for them, as far as it could then have expression. What an interweaving of forms and colors do we find there when we consider its typical significance — continually inviting the meditation of the thoughtful; and for those who, stricken in conscience by the law's just claim upon them, how it pointed them to God's way of forgiveness! We may see in the 32nd psalm how far this knowledge could go, while here the very failure of the law to produce perfection made it all the more a finger pointing to that which was yet to come. The inefficiency of those sacrifices, such as those of bulls and goats, would necessarily press itself upon any who realized what sin was; while faith, in connection with prophecies given from the very beginning, would find in it the foretoken of a better Sacrifice to come. On the other hand, when positive, wilful sin was in question, the ceremonies failed altogether, and one in sin like David's was left entirely to God's mercy, as he also expresses it in the 51st psalm. In all this Israel was plainly under the school-master, and the law was already the handmaid of the grace upon which everything depends for man.

The shoeing with seal-skin, which is next spoken of, makes us think of Kohath's charge in the wilderness, to whom the most precious things, as the object-lessons for approach to God, were committed — all went under the protection of sealskin. Israel was thus, in a higher sense than the literal, shod for the way. She must pursue her journey in peace: and so are we, as the apostle tells us, "shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;" shoes which, like those of Israel in the wilderness, never wear out.

The "fine linen" speaks of practical righteousness, inscribed as it was upon the tables of the covenant. The clothing of the priests, and the enclosure of the tabernacle itself, was of fine linen; to a thoughtful mind it could hardly fail to suggest something of what it typified. It comes also in its natural place in the enumeration here, after cleansing by the blood and the maintenance of approach to God had been duly cared for — things upon which all righteousness depends.

The word used here for "silk" only occurs twice in Scripture. It speaks of something drawn out (meshi, from mashah); it is an animal product, as the fine linen is a vegetable one. All nature contributes to the symbolism of spiritual things, and none can question that Israel's was a symbolic system throughout. Silk is produced by the caterpillar, according to the figurative idea, through death to resurrection; left behind, as it were, by the creature for the use of man. We thus see in it the most costly ornament of God's people still — in fact, the "best robe" for the Father's house.

This introduces to what is more simply ornament, for God is not satisfied with meeting the necessities of His people, but must enrich those whom He has delivered. Hands, neck, nose, ears, head, are all covered with them. The bracelet (tsamid) speaks of what is "joined together," and tsemed means a "yoke;" thus are the hands still ornamented that are used to labor in the service of Christ. The chain for the neck (rabhid, "collar for the throat") reminds us of that through which the high praises of God should sound, as expressed in psalm 149. In both of these last things the activities of the divine life are pointed out as the true ornament of God's people. The nose-ring seems to give us the effect for the whole life here: nezem al appaim means literally "the device for the nostrils," which in Scripture are connected with the human life which is as a vapor in the poor, weak creature which man is; but by God's "device," the wonderful plan which these things bring before us, the life is redeemed from vanity. It seems that we are here reminded of all this.

Then we have the ear-rings in the ear. The word agil is in close relation with the name Eglon (see Joshua 10:3, Notes), which means not simply a "ring," but with the thought of movement also, reminding us of what Ezekiel has ever in remembrance, the whirring wheels, the wheel of life ordained at once for man's humiliation and his blessing. These two things come constantly together, and the ear is truly circumcised when it accepts the divine lesson. "The ear that heareth the reproof of life shall abide among the wise" (Prov. 15:31). Thus the ear is indeed beautified and capable of hearing aright all other things when it has heard, first of all, the condemnation upon man himself, which, accepted, brings him ever to the never-failing blessing which God has for him.*

{*How beautifully all these adornments speak of the Lord our righteousness. Each detail yields a fuller richer meaning for us than even it could do for Israel, for all is real, spiritual, and therefore eternal. — S. Ridout.}

After all this comes the beautiful crown. A people of whom the former things were true could not lack it. Israel, when true to her God, could not but be thus a queen among the nations. If she failed, the cause of the failure is manifest. For when God was even in measure owned in the midst of Israel, she stood unconquerable by all enemies. Thus the next words picture her according to her God-given exaltation. As we see her in Solomon's time, she has indeed "come to royal estate." The Lord sums up what He has done for them: "Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver, and thy clothing was fine linen and silk and broidered work." And to this is added that by which God sustains the creature so dependent upon Him: "Thou didst eat fine flour and honey and oil." Even in the wilderness, the bread from heaven was given them; not only angels' food, as the common version puts it, but "the food of the mighty" (Ps. 78:25) — the food which makes mighty. How apt we are to think that if we are once Christians, the character of our food is of no vital import. How little is realized our dependence upon the word of God — that "man shall live not by bread alone," but by that which is its true antitype, "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God!" If only we knew better our dependence upon this, if only God's word was searched into, not to obtain mere knowledge, but that which ministers to the need of the soul (and there is nothing in all God's word that does not minister to it if read aright), what mighty men would be produced! Is it not for want of this that revivals, such as are truly that, so soon decline? Through the grace of God, some ministry has laid hold upon men, some fresh truth, it may be, or some fresh power in truth known before; but then, so often comes the lack in going on acquiring and growing. God has invited, has drawn to Himself, and is ready to give in unexhausted grace what would maintain the spiritual life in blessing and power. But we are satisfied, as it were, with the first taste, and go no further. Thus, as the manna, kept and unused, quickly grew old and became corrupt, so the truth once enjoyed, even if not lost, becomes, as it were, without sap or lifeless, inadequate to produce what once it did produce. And why? It has been neglected, if not slighted. It has not led, as it should, to God Himself and to the growing acquaintance with Him for which it was intended. The glow and fervor that once was, passes away therefore; and we are brought under that law which we have seen again and again so to characterize that which is earthly — of revival and decay. The unsearched pages of God's word are witness against us of how we have really dishonored that which we have professed to believe in as, all of it, the word of God. If we are content with this, decay is assured.

Again, we read of the manna that it was like wafers made with honey (Ex. 16:31). Honey speaks of natural sweetness, which may refresh one for the moment, as in Jonathan's case, but which we can in no wise live upon. But the manna, the heavenly food, has in it a power which does not pall; not mere natural sweetness, but that which is abiding. In Christ, the true antitype of the manna, our true food, we find indeed all the sweetness of humanity, but raised to the divine. Such honey of spiritual sweetness awakens an appetite which should never languish.

But again, we find in the manna (Num. 11:8) that the taste of it was like "fresh oil." So the power of the Spirit is in the word of God; it is Christ whom it ministers to us; and in this there is perpetual freshness, which will resist decay. Thus even in the wilderness we already have that which will be our food in the land itself — the meat which, as the Lord says, "endureth to everlasting life."

This is the application for ourselves, of course. The things that happened unto Israel "happened unto them for types;" yet in all this we surely can see how God was drawing His people to Himself; how He would make, and did make, day by day bear witness to His inexhaustible resources, and lead His people on from strength to strength, making their difficulties only the more to manifest the almighty power which was there to meet them. Thus Israel became "exceeding beautiful," even in the eyes of the nations around, as we see in the gifts of Tyre and Sheba in the days of Solomon — an anticipation of the time yet to come in which again, drawn by the glory of her glorious King, "the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift." "The kings of Tar-shish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him" (Ps. 45:12; Ps. 72:10, 11). But Israel forgot that it was the comeliness which Jehovah's presence imparted to them which constituted her beauty. Hence the misery which soon followed, and which not yet has passed away.

4. The story of Israel's failure is next brought out; and, alas, all her privilege, her wealth of blessing, became for her only the means of more fatal and deeper downfall. It is traced to its root here, to their self-confidence. Alas, how possible it is for those who owe all they have to grace alone, that self-confidence should yet show itself! And we may build ourselves up just as Israel did, upon privileges which only God's grace could have given to us, thus taking the glory which is His due to dress ourselves with it! And how quickly pride may thus darken the sunshine of God's grace — for God dwelleth with the humble and the contrite spirit, and the proud He beholdeth afar off: it is the necessity of His nature. Sin entered at the very outset of man's history, by departure from the God-appointed place, as it began in heaven itself. The account of this is given us later on, where we shall have to consider it: "Thy heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness" (Ezek. 28:17). So with Israel: "Thou didst trust in thy beauty," and then, alas, the Canaanite character came fully out. Israel could make merchandise of that beauty itself, and, in the strong language of Scripture (to make it offensive to us, as it was to God), she played the harlot because of her renown, prostituting herself with the nations around in utter debasement. What cause had she indeed to whom all God's wealth was being ministered, to make merchandise of it with others? Alas, where pride turns the thoughts upon oneself, God's gifts fail to satisfy. So with Israel; and so with us, wherever in any measure we repeat this history. All that we see here in Israel is in principle only too sadly possible for the Christian also. Ezekiel has thus a message for us today. The heart that loses its first love becomes unsatisfied with its God-given blessings; the good that is in them is not found, and a mad craving comes into the soul to seek from the world a satisfaction which the world has not, and therefore cannot give. Thus it finds but degradation, and this is what God calls idolatry and harlotry — singularly strong words, we may think, but only because the true estimate of things is lost. "Ye adulterers and adulteresses;" says James, "know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" And again another apostle says, "Covetousness, which is idolatry." The Church taking up with the world has repeated, only in a more terrible way, Israel's history; and we must not forget this, so as to make the prophetic words but mere records of the past, and lose their admonition for us.

Departure from God took its outward form in Israel by making for themselves "high places." It was but a heathen habit, playing upon the imagination with a worship in which there is no heart, just as men still seek to satisfy themselves with music, architecture, drapery, and that most characteristic "dim religious light," in which to worship a God who is Light itself, and in whom no darkness is. Such things work upon nature, and produce a sentiment which is so largely taken for the reality which is wanting to it. Thus upon the mountain-tops man could imagine himself nearer to God than in the valleys, and the depths of groves and forests helped, with the beauty of nature, to make him think he was nearer to the God of nature than he really was. There is indeed a witness to God in all these things: who would wish to deny it? Nay, with joy to realize how God in all these things is seeking to draw near to man. Nevertheless, it is just here that man so often makes the fatal mistake of substituting what is merely natural for what is spiritual, and so deceives himself. In heathenism these high places and these groves turned thus, as was inevitable, to evil instead of good, and the worst abominations of heathenism attached themselves to them. What is figurative in the language used here is nevertheless drawn from the awful grossness of the heathen abominations, in which the lusts and passions of men were let loose as homage to the God of nature, with the consequent degradation following upon this. Israel soon realized all these abominations, and spent the riches which God had heaped upon her to the gratification of those various forms of lust which make the world the corrupt thing it always has been.

Under such figures as we find here, the Spirit of God in the final book, in Revelation, draws the awful picture of Babylon the Great, the corrupt Church, in her commerce with the kings of the earth. She has gone Israel's way, but further in reality than Israel could go, for holy things were committed to her such as Israel never had, and with these she has made merchandise in true Canaanite fashion. She has given that which is holy to the dogs; she has cast her pearls before swine; and she, too, out of her silver and gold, has made for herself what is spoken of immediately here, the "image of men" — men not as they are, but as she would have them: in effect, sacramental, sham Christians, decorated with the lowest debasement of spiritual blessings. But wherever the heart departs from God, it will adorn what it seeks with imaginations of its Own, and conjure up delirious visions, which only show the loss of all sobriety. The false becomes the true, and the true therefore becomes the false.

The last step here is one in which the apostate Church has still followed the ancient order. The children really born to God in the midst of Israel, the remnant owned as His, were sacrificed by a people mad upon their idols; and who knows not that, for refusing divine homage to a piece of magically transformed bread, the blood of God's saints has been poured out like water? If we had eyes to read such things on a minuter scale, how often might we find that the impulses and purposes born of the Spirit within us have been sacrificed in like manner to the self-will that even in a Christian may go thus after its idols. In all this, as with Israel, God's grace and the deliverance wrought by His grace must be practically forgotten. The way is naturally downward, and Israel leaving her true God transgressed as the heathen with their false ones would be ashamed to do. "Hath a nation changed its gods which are yet no gods?" asked the Lord by Jeremiah; "but my people have changed their glory into that which doth not profit" (Jer. 2:11). The Philistines who at Ashdod would not tread upon the threshold of their mutilated Dagon (1 Sam. 5:5), might be ashamed of Israel's lewd way. They recognized the hand of the Lord upon them, when they sent back the ark to Israelitish territory; yet how little did Israel recognize or repent under the divine hand which was upon her! "Why," asks the Lord by Isaiah, "should ye be smitten any more? Ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint" (Isa. 1:5). But as in a Christian assembly, even in the apostles, days, there had been what even the Gentiles stigmatized as infamous, so Israel away from God became more heathenish than the heathen. Her high places were, as the Lord reproaches her here, at every cross-road, to allure passers-by from all quarters. As Rome in her days of degeneracy, so had Israel her Pantheon of all the gods there were round about her — of Egypt, with the fleshly grossness indicated in the worship of bestial gods; of Assyria, of Babylon, etc., all sought after, with continually increasing loss of prestige and power. The infatuated harlot squandered in vain all that divine goodness had bestowed upon her, hiring lovers for reward, getting herself none, and her portion from her true Husband necessarily finding no replenishment. If godliness hath profit of this life also, as well as that which is to come, how sure and utter is the loss that is entailed by the will that wanders from the Source of every good!

The record of Israel here is what we find in the history of Christendom as well, as already said, which has repeated the sins of her ancestry, even though there may be with this the disguise of a new dialect which puts no restraint upon the things thus covered up by it, the darkness only favoring the deeds that suit it.*

{*It may be well to remember that this apostasy may have had, ostensibly, its origin in a political effort to court the friendship of the nations by whom Israel was surrounded. Isolated from all other peoples, Israel's only safety lay in abiding obedience to Jehovah. Lapsing from that she turned for help to one and another of the nations. Only faith would keep them true to God; this is abundantly seen in the book of Deuteronomy. Therefore when that faith failed, the people soon courted the favor of the world, and this of course led them into the idolatry described with such unsparing faithfulness in this portion.

So in the history of the Church, when first love failed — as in Ephesus — in the very effort to escape persecution — of Smyrna — the world was courted, and the illicit union of Pergamos and Thyatira was the inevitable result. Of course true faith resisted all this; but, alas, all men have not faith, and so the mass turn to the world for its help.

Similarly in the soul's individual history, faith alone fights the good fight; where faith weakens, the power of spiritual enemies increases, and in very timidity the soul turns to the world and its principles for the strength which comes from God alone. Compromises, worldly ways and entanglements, and shameful dishonor to the Lord are the result.

But it cannot be too constantly repeated, that the beginning of all declension is a loss of heart for the things of Christ, and of faith which counts upon Him alone. — S. Ridout.}

5. Israel's guilt is now summed up and her punishment announced. Her sins are made the means of her recompense, and those to whom she has turned, while turning away from God, become the instruments of His judgments. Stripped of the riches she had received from God, but had lavished upon her lusts, she should no more be able to gratify herself in this way. She had fully proved, as she is again reminded, her Canaanite descent, which was now apparent: "Behold, every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying, As is the mother, so is her daughter. Your mother was a Hittite, and your father an Amorite." There remained for her but the judgment long since pronounced upon Canaan for their sins; and Judah was but the sister of already judged Samaria — and more, of judged Sodom too. She had exceeded in her enormities even these, and, as the Lord declares, had even justified them, comparatively — she had exceeded them in iniquity. She who had judged her sisters must now take her place along with them and bear her shame. Jerusalem that had looked on in pride of heart while Samaria had gone into captivity, and had ceased to think of Sodom, a mere vacant spot as it were upon the earth which had cast it out, was now to exhibit her guilt in her condemnation as fully as they did.

6. And is this then the end? It might seem indeed to be so. What could be done more than God had done, but in vain? If the story were merely a human one, a dealing of man with man, there would surely be no help, no remedy; and God Himself numbering Judah now with Sodom and with Samaria might seem to argue that He had fully and finally given her up. Indeed, interpreters not a few have argued from such premises in this very way. If Sodom could return and find blessing, then there might be hope for Jerusalem; but was it not already wiped out from the earth? Yet God takes up this argument to answer it in a way of His own: meeting the challenge from His own words, to say, Well, I will do this thing which is impossible: "Thy sister Sodom and her daughters shall return to their first estate, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their first estate. Thou also and thy daughters shall return to your first estate."

What is intended here seems a difficulty, for it is certain that Sodom has gone out of knowledge. If we look for her upon the earth, we shall not find her; yet it is just of this earthly restitution that Ezekiel, as has often been said already, everywhere speaks. The judgment that he pronounces is not the judgment of eternity, the judgment following after death, but the historical earth-judgment. Thus we are not permitted here to do as some do, and look beyond the grave to find the remedy. The fact that we have just now had before us, that the judgment of Israel was to be at the hands of those with whom she had sinned, shows that it is in the record of the world's history that we are to look for its accomplishment. It is not a question therefore of the standing of souls before God, nor of individuals, whatever inference we may make, as we have to make in many cases, but what is before us here is Sodom as a whole, Samaria as a whole, and so again Jerusalem as a whole. God is acting things out before the eyes of men, in order to give the broad, general lesson so much needed. We do right to carry it further than the mere details of history. If sin is the destruction of any people, it is because it is the destruction of individual souls; and if it is their destruction in this world, assuredly, except God's grace in some way come in, it must be their destruction in the eternity that follows time. But this is not Ezekiel's theme. It is the broad lesson of history to which he would call our attention, and we may be sure that these lessons are of immense importance to us. It was for this that the trial of man, through the forty centuries before Christ, went on. And we know how God in the New Testament takes up the result of this trial. It was "when the world by wisdom knew not God," that "it pleased God by the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe;" and it was "when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Thus we may not think lightly of the lessons of history, while there is that, truly, which no earthly history can reveal, of which indeed we must think, and for which all else works.*

{*Our Lord had declared it would be more tolerable for Sodom than for the city which rejected Him; and in Revelation (Rev. 11:8) Jerusalem is spiritually called Sodom. The Phariseeism which made self its object, resulted in spiritual abominations and corruptions which can only be characterized in this awful way. — S. Ridout.}

If we take what is here clearly revealed, then, Sodom is to reappear in a future generation, with her burden of sin and shame removed, and owned as sister to the tribes of Israel; as in their punishment, so in the grace they can say at last, they have received double for all their sins (Isa. 40:2). We need not at all be at the trouble to search for her at the present time. God will know how to bring her out of her obscurity in His own due time; but it is certain that for other perished nations besides Sodom, the future, according to the word of God, has a resurrection-time at hand. Nor can we fail to see, if we have eyes for it, some anticipations of such things furnished by present history. Thus has Italy been finding her lost national unity again; and Greece is upon the way to realize this also.* In some cases it seems indeed as if there were to be, not a resurrection of life, but rather a resurrection of judgment. Into all this it is not the place to inquire here; but, for various purposes of righteousness or of grace, God will certainly show, as the Preacher assures us, that He "requireth that which is past" (Ecc. 3:15). This, once more, is only part of that implied in the revolution of the wheel which again and again Ezekiel brings before us, in which we may see the lesson it surely has for us. The divine Word thus positively assures us that "Sodom and her daughters shall return to their first estate;" "Samaria and her daughters shall return" also — guaranteed by Scripture again and again, though disputed still (perhaps less and less however). The verity of the judgment which has come is only the seal upon the verity of the restoration that shall come. The wheel is, in fact, revolving; and that which brings down will bring up again.**

{*Since the 10 years when this was written, Greece has taken further strides, and even now seems on the verge of assuming the national prominence foretold in Scripture. — S. Ridout.

** Sodom, we must remember, was a typical Canaanite city. If the "mother" was overthrown, the "daughters" were spared, and in Zoar (the "little one" spared for Lot's sake) we see the perpetuation of the Canaanite, which in the latter day will blossom out in what will answer to a literal restoration of Sodom. — S. Ridout.}

So the double assurance is given here: "Thy lewdness and thine abominations, thou barest them, saith Jehovah; for thus saith the Lord Jehovah, I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, who hast despised the oath and broken the covenant. Nevertheless, I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and establish to thee an everlasting covenant. And thou shalt remember thy ways and be confounded, when thou receivest thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger one; for I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not because of thy covenant; and I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shalt know that I am Jehovah." Thus, if on man's side the covenant with God has been broken, from God's side, breach there really can never be.*

{*It is instructive to note the causes which developed such abominable iniquity in Sodom — "Pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness." Pride, the exaltation of self, comes first. It is the sin of Satan, as it is declared in Ezek. 28. Pride's self-sufficiency has no need of mercy nor of grace; it says to God, "Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." Next comes "fulness of bread" — no need which would force a cry to God. It is notorious in the world's history that wealth and luxury are the cause of moral and manly decay.

"Abundance of idleness" leaves the soul open for the lusts of the flesh to assert themselves. Vices flourish in luxuries, until unspeakable corruption brings God's judgment upon the putrid mass. When, in the language of the Roman satirist, "the Orontes flowed into the Tiber" — oriental luxury and vice displaced the manly energy of former days — the great empire tottered to its fall. Nations can no more afford to be idle than individuals. Peoples of a rough northern climate or bleak mountain lands, often put to shame those under a balmy sky where sloth flourishes.

So in spiritual things, the saint must meet the foe, must toil and wrestle with an apparently barren condition, if he is to avoid succumbing to the deceits of this world. There is special warning in this for the young believer. "It is good that a man bear the yoke in his youth" — learn to endure hardness, and thus become a good soldier of Jesus Christ. — S. Ridout.}

This covenant in the days of Israel's youth we must not confound, as has been already said, with the mere legal covenant which Israel so readily entered into, but which has had such bitter fruit. The covenant which God remembered when He took up Israel at the first was, as we have seen, His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob; and those three names give what is to be His memorial to all generations (Ex. 3:15). So also the everlasting covenant which He will establish with them is expressly said to be a new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34): "Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which my covenant they brake, though I was a husband to them, saith the Lord." To confound these contrasted covenants would seem to be impossible for us; yet it has been done, and is being done continually. The covenant with their fathers they could not break; it had no conditions which might entail the loss of its blessings. The Sinaitic covenant is distinctly marked out in the very passage before us as not that covenant: "I will give them unto thee for daughters," says the Lord here, "but not because of thy covenant." "Thy covenant" He calls it, because man with his legal heart necessitated, as it continually does in individual experience, the allowing of a law which could yet perfect nothing, and with which God thus finds fault — not indeed for lack of holiness in it or anything unsuited in that way to His requirements, but just because it is that requirement which, to those who are under it, yields nothing but the knowledge of sin and self-hopelessness. Indeed that is its true and worthy fruit. But then, as the apostle says, if God speaks of a new covenant, He has made the first old; and it is according to the new covenant that He says here: "I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shalt know that I am Jehovah; that thou mayest remember and be ashamed, and no more open thy mouth because of thy confusion, when I am propitiated as to thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord Jehovah." Here the fruit of Christ's work is, as we see, recognized. The glory, over which the law necessitated a veil, is now in open sight.

Section 4 (Ezekiel 17).

The mercy to an abased kingdom; yet its failure.

Having thus seen Israel in her relation to God, and in what comes from this on her side, and on God's side — the judgment, and the grace which follows the judgment — we return now to what is more simply history, but which has of necessity, as ever, its spiritual lesson, as all history will have if it be read aright. We have, here, the mercy which had been shown to the abased kingdom, in the long days of its latter declension, when God yet waited upon it in patient long-suffering. But this mercy failed to effect recovery, as we see here; and it must be reserved to a future day, in which it will manifest itself at last in triumph. This brings in, of course, a prophecy of Messiah, the future King; for in all this part, in which judgment is assured and imminent, the promise of future dawn is held out for faith, to deliver from a hopelessness which is not of Him who is "the God of all encouragement."

1. We have first a parable put forth, of which the interpretation is given afterwards. It is significant, as to the use of a parable, that it should be given with its interpretation alongside of it; which one might think to be the whole matter. It is evident that in pictures such as these we have what strikes the mind and fastens upon the imagination in a peculiar way; and God does not disdain to use these helps for men's attention. Certainly everything is full of parables, if we had only skill to read them; parables which are not mere chance applications, but everywhere rooted in the very nature of things. God's wisdom is everywhere seen in that with which He has surrounded man in all his history. It needed no apology therefore that Ezekiel should be, what they in fact accused him of being, "a speaker of parables." It showed that he was in the line of that universal teaching which divine wisdom has appointed for us, which connects itself with what is before our eyes, that we might never lose sight of it. How good it would be if our minds were spiritually trained in the interpretation of parables! When the Lord asked His disciples the question: "How then will ye know all parables?" did it not imply that He intended them to know what was thus set before them for their exercise? Yet we are not ashamed to own our want of skill in such things, and so far despise what Scripture calls "the deep things of God."

The parable here, as all true parables are, is from God Himself: "Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: A great eagle with great wings, long-pinioned, full of feathers, which had divers colors, came unto Lebanon, and took the topmost branch of the cedar. He cropped off the topmost of the young shoots thereof, and carried it into a land of merchants. In a city of traders he set it. And he took of the seed of the land and planted it in a fruitful soil. He placed it beside many waters; he set it as a willow, and it sprouted, and became a spreading vine of low stature; so that its branches might turn towards him and its roots might be under him. And it became a vine, and produced branches and shot forth sprigs." Here is plainly a story of humiliation, and yet of mercy mingling with the humiliation. He had once reminded them of a deliverance from Egyptian bondage, and how He had borne them on eagles, wings and brought them to Himself (Ex. 19:4). This, however, is not what we have here. It is not in Egypt or the wilderness that the scene is laid; nor is it the beginning of a nation that is spoken of; but of the Cedar of Lebanon, which in fact Israel was, with the sign of its former glory. The interpretation leaves no doubt of this: "Behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and took its king and its princes, and brought them to him to Babylon; and he took one of the seed royal and made a covenant with him, and brought him under an oath. He took away the mighty of the land, that the kingdom might be abased, that it might not lift itself up, that it might keep his covenant in order to stand." It is, plainly, the history of Zedekiah that is thus before us. Jehoiachin had been plucked off and carried away in the captivity from which, as we have seen, Ezekiel dates his own prophecies. Jehoiachin never returned, and the captivity of Judah was already begun. Daniel himself belonged to the beginning of this transportation to Babylon.

Thus the great eagle is Nebuchadnezzar, a royal bird, his royalty being derived from God Himself; yet a bird of prey, whose great wings show the extent of his dominion, as well, perhaps, as the rapidity with which he acquired power. The feathers of divers colors are the heterogeneous multitudes which followed him; yet he is plainly under divine control, and his acts towards Israel are at first gentleness itself, as far as a king of Babylon could show this. If he crops off the topmost shoots of the cedar, it is to carry them to a land of merchants, a city of traders. We see in Daniel himself an illustration of this conduct; in the captives of Tel-abib we see how they could find their hope in it. But Israel as a whole was not yet rooted out of the land. He took of the seed of it and planted it in a fruitful soil. Nebuchadnezzar placed it beside many waters, set it as a willow that its branches might turn towards himself. This was everywhere, and necessarily, the policy of the empire, whose interest was to encourage in a subjective way the growth of various powers under it, independent of one another while dependent upon himself. Thus one might be used against another, and the empire sustained by these divided interests. Here we find the beginning of Zedekiah's history. His significant name, "Jehovah's righteousness," was soon to be the illustration of it against himself. The kingdom, under Nebuchadnezzar's policy, was reviving hopefully. It was indeed but as a vine of low stature; it could be nothing else, but it produced branches and shot forth sprigs. But soon the spirit of independence arose which was to work the total downfall of the nation.

Another great eagle is seen with great wings and many feathers; it is the king of Egypt, but in no wise with the power of the king of Babylon; yet for this very reason more capable of being made use of, while having sufficient power, as they hoped, to enable them to stand by his help against Babylon's rising power, which was much more to be feared. Thus did this vine bend its roots towards him, and shot forth its branches toward him, that he might water it from the beds of its plantation. There was nothing to be pleaded for this on the ground of any oppression by Nebuchadnezzar. On the contrary, Israel might still have prospered in bowing to Jehovah's will. It was still, according to the language of the prophet, in a good field, by many waters, and had been planted to be a noble vine. God had declared His purpose as to Babylon, so that rebellion against it was rebellion against Him. It was resistance to the chastening which the Lord had appointed for blessing, if they had received it as such.* But all was forfeited by this resistance. The question then is capable of but one answer: "Shall it prosper? Shall he not pull up its roots and cut off its fruit, that it may wither?" This, surely, would be the result, if God's word and His power counted for anything. What was the power of Egypt that it should be opposed to Him? "Shall it not utterly wither," the Lord asks, "when the east wind toucheth it?" — but "toucheth" it! and of course it did.

{*This is clearly seen in the closing part of Jeremiah,where the whole situation is the same, both in the exhortations of the prophet, and the disastrous consequences of their going down into Egypt (Jer. 34 — 52). — S. Ridout.}

2. The people are not left to interpret this parable for themselves. That they may be without excuse, God Himself will give them the interpretation. They are to be plainly told the issue of this breach of a covenant which had solemnly been made in the name of the Lord with Nebuchadnezzar; the breach of which could only make heavier the chastisement which had already come, and thoroughly arm God as well as man against them. Thus the royal power in Israel, which was to have been for the deliverance of the people, was now to involve them completely in its doom: "As I live," says the Lord, of Zedekiah, "Verily in the place of the king that made him king, whose oath he despised and whose covenant he brake, even with him in the midst of Babylon shall he die. I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare; and I will bring him to Babylon, and will enter into judgment with him there for his unfaithfulness in which he hath been unfaithful to Me." Plainly, the whole character of Israel as the people of the Lord was gone, and nothing remained for them but complete scattering, which would assure them at last what their unbelief had refused to own, that Jehovah had spoken!

3. Such then, for many centuries, was the end of the throne of David; yet God had guaranteed that throne with a promise which no failure of man could possibly set aside. Nay, in giving it, God had contemplated the failure, and declared what He would do: "I will establish his seed forever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake my law, and walk not in mine ordinances; if they profane my statutes and keep not my commandments, then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter that which has gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness, I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure forever, and his throne shall be as the sun before Me" (Ps. 89:29-36).

Therefore, while avenging their breaking of the covenant, God will surely not forget His own; and while the rod is upon David's house for its unfaithfulness, the assurance is at once given that God is not as man to repent, and that He will be to Israel at last, what the Babylonian eagle could only be by contrast, representing as it did, God's tender hand in their present discipline: "Thus, saith the Lord Jehovah, I will also take of the topmost branch of the high cedar, and will set it. I will crop off from the top of its young shoots a tender one, and will plant it upon a mountain high and exalted."

For God, the cedar remains therefore, though He seem now to be calling that which is not as though it were. But this cedar of David's house rises up only to fuller stature, as it were, out of its degradation, when Christ of whom the Spirit speaks here becomes the Head of it; humbled, and accepting the deepest possible humiliation, when every promise of blessing to the people who refused Him will seem to have come to an end forever. What blessing can there be, we might ask, for those who have refused the Deliverer when He came and, in a way beyond all that Zedekiah could possibly do, hurled defiance against Him who sent His Son for man's salvation? Yet, in the resurrection of Him who went down thus to death for man, is the assurance of the fulfilment of every promise: "Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I also will take of the highest branch of the lofty cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of its young shoots a tender one, and I will plant it upon a mountain high and exalted. Upon the mountain height of Israel will I plant it." There is here no question of legal conditions at all, nor breach of covenant, which we see all through Israel's history, to affect Jehovah's promise in grace when He takes up her cause. It is a new beginning, as we see. It is the branch cropped off by Jehovah which now becomes a noble cedar, and all birds of every wing shall dwell in the shadow of its branches. Here comes at last the universal refuge from the oppressor, the beneficent power in which the weakest shall rejoice. All the music of heaven shall be heard amid its branches. Here at last is One in whom God shall fully display Himself, and in whom will be revealed the secret of all God's former dealings with the nation, and with men at large. Man's pride is brought down that thus abased he may be rightly exalted. The tree, once so green to man's eye, is dried up that it may flourish again after God's mind. Ezekiel's wheel, and the Preacher's, has made now its final revolution! Thank God, it will need to revolve no more; for here is One come who, having been abased, is now exalted, and shall never again be abased. By His abasement all has been secured. It was "overturn, overturn, overturn," till He should come whose right it was, and now it is given Him. God has put His seal upon this: "I, Jehovah, have spoken, and will do it."*

{*Let it be borne in mind that the prophet refers, not to the first coming of our Lord, but to His final revelation as the King of His people, which introduces the millennial reign. He is seen indeed at His first coming as "a root out of a dry ground" — ready to be the Deliverer. But "His own received Him not;" Messiah was cut off and had nothing. The true Vine was refused, save by the remnant of His people, who became the nucleus of a new order, the Church. "We have no king but Caesar," shows how the people still leaned upon the arm of flesh, and their house remained desolate. It will be so until (after the close of the present day of grace) the remnant will turn in faith to the One whom they have previously disregarded. "Return, we beseech Thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; and the vineyard which Thy right hand hath planted, and the BRANCH that Thou madest strong for Thyself . . . Let Thy hand be upon the Man of Thy right hand, upon the Son of Man whom Thou madest strong for Thyself" (Ps. 80:14-17). Then will this tender Shoot spread abroad its branches, and redeemed Israel will dwell under the shadow of the Vine of the Lord. "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the earth with fruit" (Isa. 27:6). But it will be through Him whose voice they shall at last hear saying "From ME is thy fruit found." "His branches shall spread, and His beauty shall be as the olive tree, and His smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under ins shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine" (Hosea 14:6-8). — S. Ridout.}

Section 5 (Ezekiel 18).

The righteous ways of God.

We have now another chapter after the manner of, and according to the line of things committed to Ezekiel — the affirmation of God's righteous ways in government. These governmental ways form the matter of his whole prophecy hitherto. And they are ways that need to be affirmed; for in God's government of the world, clouds and darkness are round about Him, and we have here that in which the whole law given to Israel finds its explanation. Even now, with His face fully seen, as Moses yet could not see it, we are in some sense upon the mount with Moses still hearing Him say: "Thou canst not see my face." And though we may be consciously hidden and safe under His hand while His glory passes by, yet still what we see is just the glory of the back parts — glory after it is passed. The apostle says of the chastening Hand (which so often is like a cloud encompassing the throne), "Afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby." Faith, therefore, is the requisite all through; but it is faith, now, in One who has fully manifested Himself in Christ, so that as to what He Himself is there should be henceforth no rightful question. But His ways may still perplex us; and the exercise which we have under them is intended as part of the wholesome discipline under which we are.

With Israel under the law, the glory was under a covering; and here we have to look at things necessarily from the standpoint of men in those days. The chapter before us deals with the unbelief which prevailed so much in Israel, which argued from what was but the consequence of their own sin, against the righteousness, as well as the goodness, of God's chastening hand.

1. The statement of the chapter is very full, and we see easily God's earnestness about it. It is not of little account to Him what man, the creature He has made, may make of Him. He is saying here, as in the opening words of another prophet: "Come, let us reason together;" although upon His side, there is here little of what we might call reasoning. He reasons in fact upon that in man which should be obvious upon the mere statement of it, which if denied would mean there was no God at all, none worthy to be called that. On the other hand, man's arguments are but those of unbelief, of self-ignorance; for he who knows not God, we may be sure, knows not himself to begin with. We must come to ourselves in order to come to Him. As surely as we have taken our true place before Him, so surely will His glory shine upon us.

"And the word of Jehovah came unto me saying, What mean ye that ye use this proverb in the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge?" It is to be noted that it was in the land of Israel that this proverb was being used; the land of God's gift to them, the land that was emphatically "a good land," a land into which God had brought them by the display of most wonderful miracles, beating down the haughtiest power on earth existing then, to give them deliverance, and executing judgment upon Egypt's false gods in a way which rang in the ears of the nations around for long. It was in this good land they could speak of "sour grapes" which their fathers had eaten, and their children's teeth were set on edge through no failure of their own! How little need of argument, one would say, against a proverb of this sort in the land and among the people of Israel! All the more, and because these people are the objects of His love, for whom He has shown Himself mighty, must He silence this talk forever: "As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, ye shall not have any more to use this proverb in Israel." In fact, throughout all the judgments which the prophet had had to announce, we have heard echoing again and again the assurance that He is Jehovah, the One who took them up under this Name. How plainly His heart is in the answer: "Behold, all souls are mine. As the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine." Will they take from Him the souls of those He has created? Will they doubt His care and goodness toward those whom He had created? Will they think, in the face of the goodness which He has lavished upon them, that those for whom He has thus provided are of no concern to Him? And as the apostle asks long after, "Is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles?" As surely as man is man, wherever he is, so surely must God be God to them all. Clouds and darkness may be round about Him, but is the sun less bright because it is hidden? And are the clouds that encompass it of heaven or of earth?

We must remember that Israel was brought into special relationship with God as Creator. As such the very opening of their inspired oracles declare Him; and if Israel had special nearness to Him, yet, even where this is declared, there is careful remembrance of His relation to all others on the same ground. Thus, if God says to Pharaoh: "Israel is my son, even my first-born," the first-born son implies there are other sons. And if there be a special promise to Abraham and to his seed, that promise (indirectly, but as truly) takes in others: "In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Thus the relationship of the Creator to His creatures is especially insisted on in the Old Testament. So the Psalmist (Ps. 139:13-16), if troubled at the omniscient eye of God ever upon him, has but to go back and consider how that same eye watched over him before ever he was born, while gradually that delicately interwoven body of his was forming. How could he do other than welcome the eye of such an One to search him through and through? So, pitiful even in His anger, God says in Isa. 57:16: "For I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before Me, and the souls that I have made."

True, death has come into the old creation, and God does not forget it here. It is His own penalty, and He cannot overlook it. It is meant to have meaning for man. The very law is the ministration of it; and if all souls are His, the soul of the son as of the father is an object of emphatic interest to Him; none the less is it true that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die." It is solemnly affirmed that it is for his own sins that man dies — not for the sins of another.

We must pause a moment here to consider (what has been considered elsewhere and in various places) what the "soul" is that is intended here, and what death. The "soul that sinneth" is so constantly assumed to be the immortal part of man, and therefore the death, with which it is immortal death, as it were, that we must stop to consider the Old Testament's constant speech as to this, and the law which is in a special way the spirit of the Old Testament. It has often been said that if it is the judgment of eternity that is affirmed in the law, and its death-judgment eternal death, then God has pledged Himself that every sinner shall receive eternal condemnation. But we know this is contrary to every principle that Scripture declares. God has not thus bound Himself as to be unable to show grace; nor could He play fast and loose with what He has declared. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" is the patent fact before all men, and pressed upon them by what is itself the ministration of death. It is the undeniable reality of this fact, that all men are under the sentence of death, which makes the law a true and full test of man's condition — shows his inability to stand before God in judgment. It says, "The man that doeth these things shall live in them." Is it not plain that the man who really doeth these things, in a way absolutely according to God, could not be under the sentence of death at all? How could God put such a sentence upon one who is altogether according to His mind? Ah, but that is the contention. Does God really mean that all must be according to His mind? Does He not know, do we not all know and confess, that men are sinners? And if we be so, why any test of man in this way at all?

The answer is, that man will ever mix up God's mercy and man's righteousness, so as to get credit for himself for whatever partial righteousness he thinks he can furnish; and God did, in fact, in the second giving of the law, contemplate this very thought which was in man's heart. With the first giving of the law no promise of forgiveness was attached; the trial was soon over, as we know. The golden calf was the end of that; and the tables of the covenant as first made were simply broken under the mount, and never reached the people. In the second giving of the law God declares that He is not only righteous but "merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth . . . forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." Here, then, is a provision made for those who are allowed — what, in fact, the first trial proved them so clearly to be — sinners. God was ready to forgive sins — though the ground of it is not yet stated — with regard to every one who truly turns to Him. Yet, according to this, man is under a legal system still; and it is of the essence of a legal system that God should say that He can "by no means clear the guilty." How reconcile this with the forgiveness which He has just declared? Where shall the line be drawn? How much sin will God forgive? And where will He put the limit? Here man would interpret in the easiest way according to the measure of his own light thoughts, making God such an one as himself. It is of all importance, therefore, to show precisely what God means, and to declare also from His side what must be the issue of such a trial. And this is not held back at all. The ten commandments are the measure of the righteousness God requires. But who can yield to Him this requirement? And if that be the measure (however often God may come in to cancel the past, and bid him begin again) will man, in result, be anything else but guilty, at any time God comes in? and then how can God clear him? Thus, clearly, it is of this second giving of the law that the apostle asserts it is "the ministration of death and condemnation." No need to say so as to the first. It was of the time when God had declared His mercy, and thus His glory, which made the face of Moses to shine, that the apostle is speaking; and how important it is to realize that God here actually cuts off all hope as to the issue. No man can stand before Me and live, He says. How far does that go? Moses himself, the mediator of this covenant, can in no wise behold His face, as He declares. After He has gone by, God will take away His hand and let him see His back parts; but this is God turned — His back, not the face. And this is the constant tenor of the law. Man misreads it because he is anxious to maintain his own righteousness in whatever fragment of it he thinks himself able.

But grace was always in God's heart; and grace is the only possible hope for any. "But if it be of grace," says the apostle, "it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace." You cannot mix these principles at all. The legal system could not but be a ministration of death to man. And this yet has its use, as is also plain. The law becomes in this very way the handmaid of the gospel, cutting off all hope derived from human effort, and thus making us debtors to God's grace alone. How suited to this character of it, then, that the law should affirm, not the penalty of eternity (unseen as yet), but the penalty which man can plainly see exacted from man day by day, the penalty which in its universality is designed to cut off hope absolutely from all on that ground. Thus the death must be the present death; and God can maintain the penalty here and now, while holding to His own grace as to the eternity that follows. All is absolutely clear and perfectly consistent.

The death here in Ezekiel, then, is not what we think of as the death of the soul. It is "the soul that sinneth" that dies, true; but what is the soul in this Old Testament language? Just the person himself, the man who was made "a living soul." The soul of the father and the soul of the son is just the person of the father and of the son, and this use is retained in our common language.* And it is well to see how perfectly all this unites with the whole character of Ezekiel's prophecy, which contemplates the world and God's judgment of the nations as nations, of Israel as a nation, judgment executed by special instruments, as here by Nebuchadnezzar. Eternal judgment is entirely out of the question. It is not Nebuchadnezzar who inflicts eternal penalty.

{*It is interesting to find in the Syriac New Testament the word nephesh, "soul," constantly used for "self." — S. Ridout.}

Another difficulty must also be considered here. It will be said, and rightly, that the penalty of death, of which God speaks by Ezekiel in, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" can scarcely be a penalty resting upon all, when God Himself positively exempts the righteous from it. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" is but in contrast with the righteous man who shall not die, but live; and that God is not speaking of absolute righteousness, but of those who in heart are His own, who are constantly spoken of, in the Old Testament especially, as "the righteous." Nor that it means the righteous by faith, as it was not the principle yet clearly announced.

We acknowledge this to be true. It is the man righteous in character of whom God is speaking, distinguished in this way from the wicked, even while he "the righteous" lays no claim to any absolute righteousness. Yet he escapes death as it is spoken of here. We can easily see how some at once would say: Here, at least, it must be eternal death that is intended. But, whatever the implication, that is not what is meant. It is death, no question, but as a special judgment of God — not as what comes upon man so universally that he thinks of it as the law of nature with him; but it is a cutting off before the time, in such a way as declares God's wrath upon the person so cut off.

It is the same here as ever in the Old Testament therefore; just what we call natural death, but as a special infliction. For instance,we have no difficulty in understanding what the apostle means when he says to the Corinthians (because of their profanation of the Lord's supper). "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." And he adds as to it: "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged," while at the same time carefully preserving the grace in which the Christian stands by the declaration, "But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." Thus there is a death in judgment here which is, nevertheless, not eternal judgment, but which is God's open manifestation of what departure from Him naturally leads to. So the apostle John speaks again: "If any one see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life, for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it." This is perhaps more than what is necessary to be said upon the matter, but Christians and commentators have so largely gone astray with regard to just such things.

As already said, Ezekiel keeps constantly in view what the law has in view, the tribunal of God in His providential dealings with men upon earth. He is, through all this, contemplating the issue and the end of this very legal covenant; and thus the penalty which He announces is the penalty in human history.

In the first place, then, the Lord speaks of His way with a righteous man — not absolutely such, as already said, but distinctively so: "If a man be righteous, and do judgment and justice, he hath not eaten upon the mountains, nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, . . . he hath walked in my statutes and kept mine ordinances to deal faithfully; he is righteous; he shall surely live, saith the Lord Jehovah." This was entirely subversive, therefore, of the proverb which Israel was using. There is no question about their ancestry; each one was responsible for himself; and this is the basic principle of all that follows.

2. In the second place we have the son of the righteous, or the son of the wicked, as he is himself righteous or wicked. First, as to the son of the righteous: If this righteous man "have begotten a son that is violent, a shedder of blood . . . shall he live because of his father's righteousness?" This was an important question for the Jew, and especially for the Jew of the captivity, who with the nation under God's dealings, cut off from their land and temple, more and more learned to fall back upon the merits of Abraham, which Rabbis pressed to the extent of involving in some sense the acceptance of all his natural seed. The question is turned back upon them. Here was a father who had not eaten sour grapes; did it prevent his children having their teeth on edge? God was dealing with them for their own sins; and all the privileges they had through Abraham were necessarily forfeited, if in their own character they were not the true seed of Abraham.*

{*This is dwelt upon by our Lord in John 8, where it is well to note the distinction He makes between Abraham's seed — according to the flesh — and Abraham's children according to faith and new birth. See John 8:37, 39. — S. Ridout.}

Next comes the question of the son of the wicked man, who "sees all his father's sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like." This should ever be the result with one who has had such an object lesson before him. If he read it aright, so as to turn from his father's iniquity and to walk in the divine statutes, should he die for the iniquity of his father? Nay, he should surely live. Father and son are thus judged according to their own personal character.

But they raise the objection: "Why? Doth not the son bear the iniquity of his father?" Spite of many commentators, the second commandment of the law is evidently in question here. It was that which gave a seeming excuse for the proverb itself. For God had declared that He was "a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them, that love Me and keep my commandments." It seems evident that the resentful thought that is in the mind of those overtaken by the present calamities of the nation, is that the third and fourth generations were suffering for faults that were in no wise their own. Allowing the wickedness of former generations — which is not so hard to confess as one's own — they admit that their fathers indeed ate the sour grapes, but not themselves. But the commandment speaks quite otherwise than this; for those who love God and keep His commandments have in it the definite assurance of mercy to be shown them, and could not come, therefore, under the contradictory law of inheriting their father's sins.

This is quite plain as to the law. But it may be argued, Is there not a testimony of fact, however, which we cannot help taking as an interpretation of the commandment? Is there not a law of heredity entailing the most serious consequences? What do we all inherit from Adam? There is but one answer to this. We certainly inherit both a sinful nature and its consequences; but the nature is not in question here. It is the penalty, of which the popular proverb here is speaking. A fallen nature we all have, truly — though we must remember that man is not as a beast to be bound by his nature, nor to be excused by it. Let a man argue as he will about what he has inherited from Adam, he knows in his own soul, as to every sin that he has committed, that he is responsible, and why he is responsible for it. He cannot put his sins to Adam's account. They are his own. Theology may complicate matters for him, indeed, but we are not concerned with that now — it is looked at elsewhere. (See Rom. 5:12-21, Notes.)

As to penalty, the apostle plainly declares that "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men" (not, for that Adam sinned, but) "for that all have sinned." Any one who can say he has not sinned, may justly argue that he should be free from a penalty which comes to him simply from his fathers. But let us look at this in the light of some examples that may help us. The Christian at least is free from wrath. He is accepted in Christ before God in all the fulness of Christ's own acceptance. With regard to him the Lord distinctly states: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment (as the word is), but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24). In this thought of judgment (not as the holy discipline of God with His people, as in 1 Cor. 11:30-32, but) as true penalty, the Christian is wholly free; yet he dies as others do (unless the Lord comes before), for death came into the world through Adam. Plainly, we must carefully distinguish here. Death for the Christian has changed its character. The Lord has pronounced with regard to this that he who believeth on Him, though he were dead, yet shall live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in Him shall never die (John 11:25, 26). Yet we must admit a death which is the result of chastisement. Discipline, so far from being penalty merely, is that which secures our being partakers of God's holiness (Heb. 12:10). It is a proof thus of sonship, as the apostle says.

An Old Testament example is of great value to us here. The book of Job gives an account of the trial of a man who had not his like upon the earth; a man that feared God and eschewed evil. Yet Job is permitted to be in Satan's hands in such a way that his suffering through it is proverbial. His friends argue, as men so commonly do, that this must be the visitation of God for sins in his life, thus detected and exposed, in spite of all his righteous seeming. Of the suffering there was no doubt. Of its being distinctly from God there can be no proper doubt either. Yet Job could proclaim his blameless conduct without possibility of any one controverting it. But there was another cause, which the speech of Elihu (who alone has God's mind with regard to it) brings into open view. There is often an inner condition of heart which has to be reached, and which Job's very claim of righteousness, truthful as in a sense it was, clearly manifests. He has to come where, instead of any such claim to righteousness, he can only say: "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5, 6).

By such examples as these we can see clearly how the fruits and consequences of sin — which is indeed penalty for the unrepentant sinner — may be found in the case of the righteous. If a man like Job needed the discipline through which he passed to open his eyes to his condition — to sin in his very nature — it is plain that no one could think of being exempt from these ways of a holy and merciful God with regard to him. And proportionately as we have little knowledge of ourselves, these ways may be mysterious to us. They were surely that to Job until they found their interpretation; and it is plain that the great point through it all is, as Elihu says, to turn man from his purpose, from all his own ends and ways, and to hide pride from man. Pride is that which, above all, obscures the ways of God with us, while it necessitates a severity of trial which, arguing from the mere outward conduct, when there is even a general desire to be right with God, is hard to penetrate. Thus we can see why, in a world like this, the righteous and the wicked seem often to fare so similarly; indeed, as the psalmist thought, the wicked may get on best. He found that he must be in the sanctuary to understand this.

3. We have now another case considered; which closes the account. It is that of the sinner turning to righteousness; or, on the other hand, the turning of the righteous outwardly to sin. In either case, the judgment must be according to the end of the trial. Former sin, or former righteousness, cannot be remembered; that is, the sin of the past will not make the present righteousness to which one has turned, unavailing; nor, on the other hand, the past righteousness make the present sin to be cancelled by it. We must remember in all this that it is not the final account in eternity that is spoken of, but the present entering into the favor or under the judgment of God in government. Nor have we the grace of God's mercy, as the gospel has shown it to us, spoken of at all. It is God's ways in government that are before us, which is the constant theme of the prophet. We must remember also how, in the case of sin like David's, there might have to be, as far as outward experiences go, the remembrance of the sin, even when it had been forgiven and the soul was once more in the unclouded favor of God. The need in David's case is explicitly given to us. Because he had made the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, God must glorify Himself as to the sin, not merely on account of any disciplinary need on David's part, but because God cares for His glory among men in general. He must maintain His character, and show that He cannot pass over evil in the lives of His own people because they are that. Thus the sword was never to depart from David's house, and the sin that he had committed sprang up again and again in his own family history. How great the need that there should be no right question with regard to the holiness of Him who yet delights in mercy, abundant in goodness and in truth at the same time! But with Him, "mercy rejoiceth against judgment," and He emphatically declares, therefore, that He can have no pleasure in the death of the sinner. In fact, the nation of Israel as a whole were in such a state as necessitated judgment. The darkness over the ways of God was with them the fruit of that darkened understanding which a heart turned away from Him will surely produce; and he closes here with an earnest appeal to their conscience and heart together. Their ways, not His, were unequal; of necessity therefore, judgment was at hand; but still He would have them turn from all their transgressions, that they might not be to their destruction. "Cast away from you all your transgressions wherewith ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" How fully is man's responsibility for his whole condition recognized in this appeal! It is not, of course, what the Lord urged upon Nicodemus, when the new light was dawning upon him, that man must be born again; but it is responsibility pressed to the full, and man is fully recognized as one who ought to be master of himself, capable of such appeal as is made to him here: "For why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah; therefore, turn ye and live."

Section 6 (Ezekiel 19).

The victories of the Gentiles over the line of David, so that under them Israel never obtains her hope.

In this chapter we return to the lessons furnished by the history of the people. The prevailing of Gentile power over the line of David, spite of the promises of God given to it, is here pointed out. The hope which these promises awakened, Israel seemed not to obtain. We have not this fact merely, however, but the plain reason for it, which its very brevity makes all the more vivid. Two pictures of Israel are set side by side before us, Jerusalem and her king being the representatives of Israel; and these pictures are intended to cast light upon one another. There is a certain incongruity between them which at first sight makes the connection difficult, but which is the very point intended to be pressed. Jerusalem as the lioness among lions is the very secret of Jerusalem's present broken-down condition as God's vine.

The lamentation is over the princes of Israel; it is the kingdom that is before us, and the question is asked, "What was thy mother?" The answer is, "A lioness; she lay down among lions; she nourished her whelps in the midst of the young lions." She is a kingdom among the kingdoms of the earth, in a relation to them which makes her offspring as their offspring, and reproduces in them the Gentile characters. There is, truly, a Lion of the tribe of Judah; it is a title of Christ Himself, and He will arise in this character to put down all enemies at last by one decisive stroke. The book of Revelation shows us Christ after this manner, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. When the seer looks to see this Lion, however, he sees the Lamb. These things are not incongruous or contradictory in Him. The Lamb is His true and inner character; and all the way through it is the Lamb that is upon the throne, and it is the Lamb whose wrath is dreaded. The rod of iron, to use another figure, is in His hand; but it is the Shepherd's rod none the less. Judgment is not only in behalf of righteousness, but it is the fruit of love itself. He must manifest Himself against the enemies of His people; He must destroy those that destroy the earth.

But the lion which is spoken of here is a very different one. Indeed, Israel was nothing now but a Gentile power, with the lawlessness and selfish spirit that belongs to man in nature. Her offspring manifest this: "She brought up one of her whelps. It became a young lion, and he learned to catch prey; he devoured men." The statement is as decisive as it is short. This is not God's picture of the "Ruler amongst men," surely. It is not David's picture in his final song; and we see how truly he realized it when he owned that his house was "not so with God." Indeed, it was not, as the disorders already manifested plainly showed; but this being so, the rule of the line of David could not justify its existence; for even God's promise would not do this apart from its possessing the characters of true rule, which it had not. Thus it directly follows that when "the nations heard of him, he was taken in their pit, and they brought him with hooks into the land of Egypt." It is the fate of Jehoahaz that is referred to; it is his history generalized for our consideration. What would people do with a man-eating lion? The pit and the hooks were the only right treatment for such.

But Jehoahaz is only one example out of many: "And when she saw that she had waited and her hope was lost, she took another of her whelps and made him a young lion; and he went up and down among the lions; he became a young lion, and learned to catch prey: he devoured men." We scarcely know whether it is Jehoachin who is spoken of here, or Zedekiah who replaced him. It is really of no consequence. In any case, it is but another lion's whelp, like the former; and as the character is like, so also must be the result.

There is some further description to bring out fully the moral of the whole. The first expression is difficult, and there is some question with regard to the text. "He knew their palaces:" more strictly perhaps, "He knew their widows;" but it may mean, rather, their solitary or widowed places or palaces. Some would read it: "He broke down their palaces," which would seem to connect better with what follows. But we have to be careful in Scripture how we take what seems simplest to be the best. The general thought, however, is plain: "He laid waste their cities, and the land was desolate and its fulness" (i.e., all that was in it), "because of the noise of his roaring." His voice was evidently more pretentious than his power, but his power was enough, such as it was, to make a desolation, whereas there should have been prosperity. This repeats, therefore, only more emphatically, what was the character of these lion whelps. The consequence is that the same destruction comes upon him, only now from another side. "Then the nations set themselves against him on every side from the provinces, and spread their net over him. He was taken in their pit, and they put him into a cage with hooks, and brought him" (this time) "to the king of Babylon. They brought him into strongholds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel." This would make it look more like Zedekiah, the last king; but in any case it is the justification of the Gentile overthrow of David's house, and it is a complete one. It may be said, of course, that these Gentiles were none of them any better. The answer is plain, that Israel, with all her privileges and her knowledge of God, should have been better; and that the profession of this knowledge could not possibly be permitted to dishonor God, accompanied, as it was, with the full heathen character.

This ends the first picture. Now, in opposition to this, we have what Israel should have been, what it was in the mind of God according to the place in which He had set it for Himself upon the earth. Here the address is, one would say, to Zedekiah: "Thy mother like thee is as a vine planted by the waters." That seems the most probable rendering of another difficult expression. Naturally, the mother was like her offspring in character; but that is not the point here: it is place, not character; and the place of the king in Israel was to exhibit rightly the character corresponding to the place which God had given to the nation, the mass of which had departed from Him. Ezekiel, as Isaiah also, had already used the same figure, reminding us of fruitfulness as the only purpose of a vine, of its weakness and dependence. It was in this weakness that Israel would find her strength; it was in drawing from the one Source of all blessing that all her fruitfulness was to be found; and God had in Israel's case done all that could be done in this respect. For a short time, intermittently, it was fruitful; but, by reason of many waters with which God had encompassed it, it grew strong rods for sceptres of them that bare rule, and its stature was exalted among the thick boughs, and it became conspicuous by its height with the multitude of its branches. That is all that is said as to its condition; but we have had abundance heretofore to show that, whilst in weakness she was to find strength, she turned her very blessings, alas, into instruments for her weakness.

These strong rods for sceptres were indeed conspicuous in such times as those of David and Solomon, when the kingdom stretched from the Edomite Gulf to the Euphrates; but it was at this very time that the seed was being sown of the disasters which were soon to follow. The idolatry under Solomon blasted it at once; and though God indeed bore with them in long patience, so that the history of the divided kingdom was prolonged for centuries, yet it forebode the end as a sure thing, and it came at last: "It was plucked up in fury, it was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up its fruit; its strong rods were broken and withered; the fire consumed them." So much wood, useful for nothing else when the fruit was gone, as already shown — was proper fuel for the fire. Israel still remained, but in how different a condition! "And now it is planted in the wilderness in a dry and thirsty land, and the fire is gone out of a rod of its branches" (Zedekiah seems clearly intimated here), "it hath devoured its fruit, so that there is in it no strong rod to be a sceptre for ruling." The kingdom had passed — passed with every hope that could be grounded upon man as man. It had passed in the righteous judgment of God upon it; and yet who can forbear to mourn for the blighting? "This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation."

We have thus reached already the close of this sad history. The last section here, extended beyond what is usual, gives us the summary of it all before the final judgment, which we reach in the last chapter of this division, where the siege of the city by Nebuchadnezzar is announced as having begun, and closes therefore the first division of the prophecy.

Subdivision 3 (Ezekiel 20 – 24).

The full exposure of the people's sin, the heart laid bare.

Section 1 (Ezekiel. 20:1-44).

Rebellion from the beginning hitherto, though still God's purpose as to them abides.

We have now, therefore, their history given from the beginning. We have had it already in various aspects, but here it is shown how consistent, alas, had been the conduct of the people from their very birth as a nation in Egypt to the present time. Constant grace had been shown them; on their part constantly resisted, and thus made ineffectual. Still the purpose of that grace abides, as we see in the end here. God would not leave His gracious purpose to end in failure, whatever may be man's sin against it. Once more, therefore, we are reminded that the promise abides, and that God will perform it in His own wonderful way.

1. We have a new date now, which is significant. "It came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of Jehovah, and they sat before me." This seventh year with the numbers of responsibility attaching to the month and day, with which we are already familiar, naturally connects itself with the subject before us. We have once more a deputation of elders to inquire of Jehovah, and once again their inquiry is unanswered — it is not even uttered, one would say. They represent, as we see by their inquiry, the professed orthodoxy of the people of whom they are the leaders. But God has nothing to say to them; that is, He has nothing that will answer to their expectations. They are looking for good, and there is nothing but evil that can be announced to them. They fully represent those fathers who, according to the current proverb, had set their teeth on edge and the prophet is commissioned only to set before them the way in which they were repeating their fathers' abominations. We cannot but remember how in the Lord's time, the scribes and Pharisees were pleading, in the same way as was done here, their right of exemption from the judgment coming for their fathers, deeds, and how the Lord meets them at that time: "Ye are witnesses," He says, "that ye are the children of them who killed the prophets. Fill ye up, then, the measure of your fathers" (Matt. 23:31, 32).

What is most manifest here is the moral unity of the generations which succeeded one another. There is a perfect monotony of evil all the way through, from the nation's birth in Egypt to Ezekiel's time, and nothing else can be expected until God acts in the sovereignty of His Own grace, at last to fulfil His promises in spite of this continuous rebellion.

The elders here are not spoken of as the same company that had previously come to inquire of the prophet, but they are met in the same way, for there is no moral difference. God will not suffer any more inquiry from them. What right have they to inquire, when the terms upon which He alone can be with them have been fully before them, so continually pressed upon them also by the voices of the prophets whom God raised up, and violated all the time? Their own consciences would witness that their hearts were untrue in the inquiry itself. There was no need, therefore, but to remind them of their fathers, abominations: they would find in them a mirror of their own. For this cm the long history is brought before them, beginning from the time God had chosen them, making Himself known in the land of Egypt, to bring them out of it into the land He had selected for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the glory of all lands. But they were all defiled with the abominations of Egypt, and God had warned them from the outset that these must be put away. Yet with His judgments upon the gods of Egypt before their very eyes, they had not put them away so that in Egypt itself He had threatened to pour out His wrath upon them. What an inside picture of the condition of things already in the people whom His grace was taking up! Yet He had taken them up, and for His name's sake still wrought, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they were, with whom God was dealing through them, and with purposes of mercy towards those also who might listen to His powerful voice. Israel was thus a witness of the living God, proclaiming Himself in the sight of all in bringing them out of the land of Egypt.*

{*It is to be remembered that in all this historical review of Israel's sin, God's controversy with them is not primarily for their sinful acts, but for that which lay at the root of all those acts — their apostasy from Him, and their idolatry. All else is the fruit of this. So it ever is: sin, in principle, is departure from God, a departure which produces actual transgressions. So God wrought for the glory of His name, and will eventually magnify that name, in the recovery of the apostate, but finally penitent people. The chapter is strikingly correspondent to chapter 16. — S. Ridout.}

2. The wilderness begins another portion of their history yet how thoroughly it resembled that which had come to an end! What deliverances God had wrought for them how thoroughly He had declared Himself to them. Question there could not be, one would say, as to the power or grace of One who was among them, making Himself known in constant miracles. Yet it is not of these that He speaks here, but rather of the statutes and judgments which He had given them, which pointed to the way of life. His sabbaths were the seal upon all these, a sign between God and them of the rest which He designed for them. Not a hard taskmaster was He, but their gracious Deliverer: He ever would point them to the rest, for themselves and the very cattle with them, the memorial of that creation-rest when, satisfied with the perfect goodness of all that He had created, Himself rested. But man's sin had soon broken in upon it, and they continually repeated this: "They walked not in my statutes, and they rejected my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live by them and my sabbaths they greatly profaned." Thus again, as in His words to Moses, He had to threaten them with the wrath which could so easily have consumed them; but still His mercy held back the merited reward of their sins, and again it was for His name's sake that He wrought, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations before whose eyes He had brought them out. How much depended upon the preservation of the witness of what He was amid the idols with which everywhere men had surrounded themselves!

But God could not bring, as He had been ready to bring, that generation into the land which He had promised them; for their hearts yet were after the idols they had seen smitten by Him blow after blow. How useless that man's mind should be convinced when his heart is deliberately astray! God's eye had spared them so as not to destroy them, not to make a full end of them in the wilderness; and once again He took their children by the hand, saying: "Walk not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols: I am Jehovah your God;" but was answered after their former manner. They again refused the statutes which commended themselves to their consciences. They profaned the sabbaths, the sign of the rest which He desired for them; and even before the land was reached, He had again to threaten them with the wrath which love and pity held back from a people who were to be the bearers of His name before the nations; for how could He destroy that which alone remained as a witness at all? Yet, through all that time, as the prophet Amos bears distinct witness, they deserted Him for the false gods around them. His own words by the prophet appeal to them: "Have ye offered unto Me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? Nay, ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god which ye made to yourselves. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts" (Amos 5:25-27). Thus the wilderness had decided as to the issue which only now in Ezekiel's time was becoming history; and since they had rejected His statutes, and their eyes were after their fathers, idols, He had to "give them," as in strong language He puts it here — give them over to "statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live:" that is, give them over to statutes of the heathen around them, as we see immediately when He adds: "And I polluted them with their own gifts in that they caused to pass through the fire all that opened the womb" (every first-born whom the Lord had sanctified to Himself), "that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am Jehovah." People ask still for evidences of Christianity, as if God had not been heaping evidence upon evidence; and here was a people before whose eyes were constant miracles, which forbade men to doubt the reality and power of their Deliverer, yet the answer given to Him was only in unfaithfulness and blasphemy.

3. There is but a glance at their history in the land. What would come upon them, as we have seen, was already pronounced; and this in itself declared what would be their conduct, which God foresaw. Fresh privileges would be only fresh opportunity for evil; and the high hills of the land to which they were now brought, and the trees which showed its fertility, became for them the places of idolatrous resort where they lifted up, professedly to Him, offerings that provoked Him, or would fain have hid amongst the trees the sin from which they could not be divorced. Their sweet savor was for others than Himself. Their drink-offerings of joy became but drunken revels in honor of their multitudinous deities. This worship in the high places had left its marks upon the land in the very names by which they were known. Thus everywhere, upon the face of the country and the city alike, they had written out their sentence.

4. As to all their history, therefore, there was nothing more to say. Reformations attempted here and there by some of their kings, and all that was accomplished by the prophets whom God had raised up amongst them, altered in no wise the character of things below the surface. What a witness against man it is! And the history of the Church on earth has still been a viler history, when we think of the higher privileges perverted, and the sweeter communications of God's grace — a grace now fully declared. We are today, as a mass, just where Ezekiel was in his day, although we may hide it from ourselves, as they would fain have hidden it also. A spiritual captivity may be more easily denied, of course, than their external one; but "as in water face answereth face, so the heart of man to man." We may worship silver and gold still, while we do not make it into the hideous shapes which once were made. We may civilize and refine, while altering nothing as to the terrible reality of hearts that are away from God; and we are surely now, at the very end, face to face with an impending judgment to which Scripture bears fullest witness. An outbreak of evil is at hand which will fill the world once more with a darkness of which the prophets of Israel bore witness: "Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples" — and this at the time when it is said as to Israel, "The Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee" (Isa. 60:2).

We have cause, therefore, to enter into the feelings of the prophet as God's voice denounces those who, with the light that He had given them, deliberately preferred darkness, who said: "We will be as the nations, as the families of the countries in serving wood and stone." They had plenty of evidence of this before their eyes; but whatever presents itself as a hiding from God has always been, alas, acceptable to those whose hearts wander from Him. If He reigns at all, it must be in power, therefore: "As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely with a mighty hand, and with an. outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out will I reign over you. And I will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out from the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an out-stretched arm, and with wrath poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness, and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face." Here we are plainly carried on to what is still future. They are now indeed scattered in the countries and among many peoples, yet they are with reviving hope turning once more to the land which God is indeed keeping vacant for them, expecting to find quiet possession, to obtain it as a mere matter of merchandise and by successful politics. But that is not what God has in mind for them; for the record of their history has yet to be faced, and that record, unrepented of, can only be faced in judgment.

Thus, God will gather out, but only into a condition of things such as when He brought Jacob their father out of Padan-aram to meet the consequences of the sin which had driven him there, and for which, if God is to interfere for him, He must wrestle with him Himself. Thus Peniel must be known by the nation also before they can know Bethel. And "like as I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I enter into judgment with you, saith the Lord Jehovah; and I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant."

It is for mercy, and yet through judgment; for mercy will once more rejoice against judgment. But the judgment must itself do a necessary work: "I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me, and I will bring them forth out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah." This is not, of course, the whole history of the people in that day soon to come. There will be those who doubtless will return to their land and get a certain possession of it for a while, but only to end in a worse condition than ever, as they yield themselves to an idolatry more terrible than all that has been seen among them yet. People may scout even the possibility of this, while false christs and false prophets are everywhere rising up, leading men captives with unblushing delusions.

We do not enter into the details here, which the book of Daniel is to bring fully before us but the issue is given by the prophet Isaiah in words that cannot be mistaken, except wilfully. Thus he speaks: "In that day shall the Branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel. And it shall come to pass that he that is left in Zion and he that remaineth in Jerusalem shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning." There is no room to say that this has been fulfilled in any time of their previous history, for the prophet goes immediately on to what is certainly still future: "And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion and upon her assemblies a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory shall be a defence. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain" (Isa. 4:2-6). To the time pictured here, Ezekiel will bring us before his prophecy is run out. Here what we have is the intervening judgment, the judgment which has scattered and will scatter, the judgment which has overturned and will overturn, "until He come whose right it is," and the kingdom shall be His to whose hands it belongs.

5. Even here a brief glance is permitted forward at the blessing that shall be. Israel is dismissed, as it were, for the time present, to go and serve every one his idols as he lists. Only, let them do it openly, and not with the profanation of His holy name as attached to it. For once again God will, and finally, sanctify His name, and that in the grace which is His, and which we cannot wonder at when we know how it has dealt with ourselves: "For in my holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel" (that is, when the mountain of the house shall finally be lifted up, and exalted above the top of the mountains, as God has declared, Isa. 2:2), "there shall all the house of Israel serve Me — the whole of it, in the land. There will I accept them, and there will I require your heave offerings and the firstfruits of your offerings, with all your holy things. As a sweet savor will I accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered, and am sanctified in you in the sight of the nations." Yes, if He is sanctified in judgment first, as He must be, yet will He only be sanctified fully in blessing, as becomes Him. What a time when the people who have been Ms witnesses in spite of themselves, in all the scattering by which they have fulfilled the words of their ancient prophets, and still by their preservation in which is contemplated the mercy that awaits them! "And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country which I lifted up my hand to give to your fathers; and there ye shall remember your ways and all your doings wherein ye have polluted yourselves, and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils which ye have committed. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah when I have wrought with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah."

This, then, is how the story ends. There is no triumph of man in it, but there is the triumph of God's own sovereign grace. The view of their history given here is morally complete. We have not details, but for its purpose what is more suited, the character of that history as a whole. Whatever the individual exceptions, and the superficial and momentary revivals which we know have been, God has not yet interpreted by the event what He means by working for His name's sake. Then His name, so long profaned, shall be indeed honored, according to the psalmist's words of praise, anticipating those of the nation: "Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us, and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him" Ps. 67:6, 7).

Section 2 (Ezekiel 20:45 — 21:32).

The sword upon the righteous and the wicked.

We are nearing the end of all this part of Ezekiel — the first Division. There is little more now than the reiterated announcement of judgment, which in the last chapter, the 24th, we see begun. Nebuchadnezzar has there begun the siege of the city, which we see him here contemplating. And with this commencement of what the prophet has announced, the word for the present ceases. There is no need and no use in any further announcement. The chapter before us shows the sword in Nebuchadnezzar's hand as God's judgment upon the land, a judgment so complete that it sweeps away the righteous and the wicked together; that is, the whole land was desolate. It is not meant that there is no discrimination between the righteous and the wicked, for this would contradict what we have had explicitly in a previous chapter as to the seal put upon those who sighed and cried before God for the abominations of the people, and who are, therefore, by this seal itself, put explicitly under the care of God whom they have honored. Nevertheless, the land is swept bare; the righteous and wicked suffer together in this respect. The sword is upon both; only, as we have already seen, and as is simple enough, that which is pure judgment for the one class is only a refining lire for the other, and God is in it carefully superintending the process which is to bring forth a perfect vessel for Himself.

1. First of all, it is insisted that one common doom is to envelop the whole of the land. God will be true to His own, but they cannot save from destruction that which is already devoted to it. God's wrath is as a devouring fire, which lays hold of all that is before it, and that is the first point. "The word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face towards the south" in which Judah and Jerusalem were), "and drop thy word towards the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field." According to the idea here given, the cultivated "field" has, as it were, grown wild, grown into a forest, as we know was the case with Judah. (For a similar thought, the meaning of Kirjath-Jearim, "the city of the woods," may be compared in Joshua xv: 9. See Notes.) In such a case, the very fertility of the ground, and the care that may once have been bestowed upon it, only helps the luxuriance of the wild growth. It is the common story of perverted privileges and blessing of every kind. Thus the prophet is to address himself to "the forest of the south." God is bringing a fire upon it, which is of course the symbol of His wrath, although the wrath must in a sense be discriminative, which the fire is not. This is not a contradiction, however. The external calamity reaches all alike, and the green tree suffers with the dry, but God knows how to turn the suffering itself into blessing for His people, which eternity shall reveal; and in spite of all, as He has Himself said, the man that doeth righteousness shall live thereby.

But a flame is devouring the land from south to north. Why the direction here, when the inroad of the enemy was from north to south? It would seem that what is intimated is, what was according to the fact, that the destruction of Jerusalem would scatter the people mainly northward, as it did, and would follow them there.* It was to be the unmistakable evidence of God's own judgment. God was to be glorified in it when His people were not glorifying, but dishonoring Him. The speech of the prophet, however, is as the people urge, in parables. God was dealing with them after their own fashion, for His plainest warnings had been but words to them; and, shut up in their own unbelief, there seemed no use in speaking more plainly. The ear that was opened would hear; and if it were realized that Jehovah was speaking, the very language of parable would only invite the more to search into the meaning of it.

{*The south was the place of light — under the sun — of privilege, and if the privileges of the light were not used, they became means of dryness. So the various words for "south" indicate the failure to enjoy privilege, and thus "I will curse your blessings" is fulfilled. The fire begins in the south, the place of privilege. "Begin at my house," and it reaches northward, to the mass of the people until all are consumed. — S. Ridout.}

2. Nevertheless, the word of Jehovah answers the voice of the people, and Ezekiel is instructed to speak plainly, to set his face towards Jerusalem, and drop his word toward the holy places, which, of course, were that no more, but only the witness against those who had destroyed them by their desecration. The prophecy is now to the whole land, and God says plainly that the sword, which they might then see drawn out of its sheath, was the sword of no mortal enemy merely, but His own; and as the fire devoured the green wood and the dry, so He would cut off out of the land the righteous and the wicked. The judgment was, as already declared, to be plainly his judgment. And if we follow Daniel to the court of the king of Babylon, we shall see how God took care to make known, in such a way that the heathen himself had to acknowledge it, His power and majesty, whose sanctuaries Nebuchadnezzar might seem to have overthrown. The king of Babylon was, as the chapter itself declares plainly, but an instrument in the hands of the Almighty who wielded all the power which Nebuchadnezzar would naturally ascribe to himself. In fact it was this which brought judgment upon him — a judgment which humbled his heart and brought him fully to own the Most High God, while the hearts of His own people remained intractable and rebellious. But it is not without sorrow, such as He never hesitates to attribute to Himself, that God inflicts this inevitable chastisement; and the sighing of the prophet, even with breaking of the loins and bitterness, is but the echo of what is in the heart of Him who bids him give vent thus to his human sorrow. As of old it was said, "In all their affliction He was afflicted," so it ever is, even when He whose delights are with the sons of men has to manifest Himself against them. The tears of the
Lord over Jerusalem, when He took leave of it, witness with the anguish of the prophet. Yet He who wept could not spare; and that which threatened now would melt the heart and enfeeble the hands and make every spirit faint; and it was already upon them: "It cometh, it is even here, saith the Lord Jehovah."

3. Still, we have to be reminded once more of what is involved in this. It is not simply the judgment of a people, but of a people with whom were the promises of God; and it is this which for the time sets aside those promises, that they cannot be fulfilled. The sons of David, however much in rebellion against God, had nevertheless built themselves up in pride upon these very promises; and the heart of the righteous might plead with Him: Was He going to permit that the sweet assurances He had given be made void? Might they make mirth and say, as if from God's side of things, "The sceptre of my Son despiseth every tree?"* Could it not make light of all human power, however firmly rooted, which would set itself in opposition against it? "The sceptre of my Son" shows the thought implied. Was it not, according to the second psalm, the One who could declare the decree that Jehovah had said to Him, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten Thee," who was appointed to rule upon God's holy hill of Zion, and the very ends of the earth were to be given into His hands? And had it not been said in older prophecy, that the sceptre should not depart from Judah and a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh came? (Gen. 49.) How simple, it seemed, to put such things together, and think of it as faith itself, to resist the conviction of coming judgment. Yet, in spite of this, the prophet affirms that it is coming. The sword of the Lord, He has made it ready, furbished and sharpened it, that it should be as fully as possible effective, and this sword was to be against this people of Jehovah, and against all the princes of Israel; princes and people alike were to be given up to the sword. Yea, the test (in the event) was even now being made; and what if this sceptre that despiseth were actually to be no more? asks the Lord Jehovah.

{*"He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh"; God's sceptre, held by His Son, would lay low every thing that exalted itself against Him, would bring down the high tree and dry up the green tree. Hengstenberg makes this rod, despising every tree, to be the affliction which is now about to fall upon the people — so great that it eclipses ("despises") all former rods of affliction. But the explanation in the text is so lucid, appropriate and complete, that there can be little room for questioning it. — S. Ridout.}

How readily may His people misinterpret His plain words! How ready are we today to misinterpret them! How often do we hear that "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord is to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea" interpreted as being of course through the spread of Christianity — and this after nearly 2,000 years, which have manifested its incapacity to do this; and not merely this, but exhibited everywhere, as is so plain today, its capacity for decay — yet how many still look for this! And the very word which announces what is plainly opposite to such thoughts is made to confirm them: "Israel shall bud and blossom, and fill the face of the earth with fruit" — and are not we Christians the true Israel?

Thus we see the heart searched out in Ezekiel's day; and here we have a glimpse, as it would seem, that we have not elsewhere, as to the perplexity which must have been in the hearts of many of such a day, faced with all those promises of triumph and blessing of which Scripture is full for them; and then, on the other hand, faced by the prophet now with this assurance of the coming desolation. But God's word abides, and time will reconcile all these things. What concerned them now was to realize the Lord's judgment upon His people, and its sure and swift coming. "Son of man, prophesy and smite thy hands together, and let the sword be doubled the third time:" the strokes of it growing only the more terrible to the end — perhaps, if we are to read the number symbolically, until the time of full manifestation. This is the sword which is soon to be busy in its dreadful work, and among the slain, the "great one," the sword which has penetrated to the king himself who is the "deadly wounded." Not that Zedekiah was himself slain in the siege or after it: we know he was not. His sons were slain before his eyes, and then those eyes that had been witness of the awful sorrow were put out, that they might see the light no more. As king, he lived no more; and his life after that, was it life? And still the sword swept on, melting every heart and multiplying the carcases so that men stumbled over them. And there was no escape from it: the threatening sword was against all their gates. Its very glitter was meant by God as prophesying the sure quenching in blood which was to follow. Jehovah turns to it and bids it do its work: gather up its strength, go to the right, turn to the left, finding its work unfailingly wherever it turned, for it could not miss worthy objects. And thus was Jehovah's wrath: "I will smite my hands together, and I will cause my wrath to rest. I Jehovah have spoken."

4. The next word of Jehovah contemplates more the human instrument which is implied in all this. The sword is the sword of the king of Babylon, which, even if blindly, is none the less the instrument of the Hand which is over him continually. The prophet marks his course, the path that he is to pursue. He sees him pause, and hesitate, where the one road out of his land separates into two. The one road leads to Rabbah of the Ammonite; the other to Jerusalem, strong in its fortifications. There he stands at the parting of the way, practising his vain divination, shaking his arrows, inquiring of the teraphim, looking into the liver. In his right hand is the divination for Jerusalem, to lay siege to it. A poor thing in itself, against which men might build themselves up, as mere false divination of the heathen — they who had in Jehovah's name sworn faithfulness to the king of Babylon and broken their oath! All right to scorn the heathen divination, but what about Jehovah who has been scorned and defied? "He bringeth the iniquity to remembrance that they may be taken." And thus the divination does not fail.

5. Divine government has not loosed its hand upon men in all this. Nay, it is the very thing that is coming out in its full reality. The "iniquity of the end" (which is bringing about the end) has taken place. The crown is gone from the head of the king of Israel, and the mitre of the high priest, which was supported by the crown, has to go also. That which still existed was to be no more. The wheel was going round! That which is low is to be exalted; that which is high is to be abased. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it," says Jehovah; "and it shall be no more until He come whose right it is, and I will give it Him." Thus there is even here a gleam through the thunderclouds. All other hands are proved incompetent to wield this sceptre which God is taking for the time being from the line of David. There is One, however, who has right, and who will put forth His claim to it, and Judah's rod of magistracy would not cease until Shiloh comes. How sweet such a promise to a sorely-stricken heart! How sweet for us in our own day, revealing, as it does, the mystery of the breakdown of all things upon which we rest our human hopes, "until He comes whose right it is!" How we forget this, that the overturning is not something against His right, but contemplates it. Just as Israel's desolate land with all its desolation speaks of a people for whom it is waiting, in God's design, so the broken sceptre and the empty throne are only waiting for the One to come who surely will fulfil every promise, and outdo all that the heart can imagine or crave, in the blessing that He brings.

There is yet one final word: Ammon had escaped; the enemy of God's people had gone scot-free. The king of Babylon had turned off to Jerusalem; and the enemy now can insult them as they will. Ammon, as we know, was an ancient enemy of Israel; and, as a type, shows still more the opposition of the heart to that which is of God. We may remind ourselves how in the days of Jephthah, and afterwards in the days of Saul, Ammon stood forth under its king Nahash. "the serpent," as bent upon taking from Israel the land that was their own. (Judges 11 and 1 Sam. 11, Notes.) This is ever the work of the enemy of our souls — not merely to gain a victory over the people of God, but to take from them the very portion which God has given them. Israel's sins, now at their height, bringing judgment upon them, the desolate land lay open to the attacks of the enemy. But God's eye is upon it, and Ammon is not to escape. The sword is to prove itself as Jehovah's sword in this way also. Misjudging altogether the work of God, as the enemy continually misjudges it, Ammon brings upon himself the wrath in which, as against others, he is rejoicing. "And I will blow upon thee," says the Lord, "with the fire of my wrath, and deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, skilful to destroy. Thou shalt be for fuel to the fire; thy blood shall be in the midst of the land; thou shalt not be remembered. For I Jehovah have spoken." Thus, where all seems wreck, and what God has done for His glory seems to have fully shared in this, yet Jehovah's word stands forth unchanged in its utterance!

Section 3 (Ezekiel 22).

The corruption in Jerusalem manifest.

We return now to see once more in Jerusalem the manifest corruption which is bringing in the judgment. As has been said elsewhere, God does not judge until the corruption is fully manifest. Evil is allowed to come to its head before God smites upon it, for He will be justified in its judgment, and be clear when He is judged. What we have here, therefore, is no more history: it is not the sins of the fathers, even, as showing themselves in the children. It is the present condition of things — the causes which necessitated that which was at hand.

1. We need not spend many words upon interpretation of what is manifest. The evil speaks for itself, and what we have is an enumeration of crimes in high and in low; crimes of which the apostle says, with reference to them, that the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles through them. We need not wonder at this. It is according to the constant rule of perverted privileges, and that which is done in the darkness elsewhere, is now done in the full light. Along with this, and instead of the anticipation of a sure judgment coming, that there was hardening of the heart against it is in entire harmony with all the rest. Nothing but the actual infliction of wrath would now avail. Words merely were useless. They must be replaced by deeds.

2. Accordingly, Jerusalem has become a furnace which melts down the various things exposed to it into one mass of manifest dross. God surely has purification in mind, but what is here is the wrath itself — a wrath by which what cannot be changed may yet be limited and kept under. And such will be the fire of hell; corruption, at last, will be permitted no longer; none of the rioting will be there which has been in men's shameful imaginations of what is to come; Satan, then, is the arch-tormentor no more, but himself the most tormented. Suited and necessitated penalty, carefully discriminated, will be God's decisive repression of that which can be no more permitted to break out at all. Man's ways come to an end then, and God comes to His own finally and fully.

3. The final word returns once again to the corruption itself. It is complete, among all classes, and especially are the prophets and priests brought into the dark catalogue here; for in their corruption hope is gone entirely. Among all these not a man was left ("and I sought for such," says the Lord), that can make up a fence to keep out the incoming desolation, or stand in the breach before Him, that He might not destroy the land. Thus, then, the indignation, so long warned of, is at last to be poured out: "I will consume them in the fire of my wrath. Their own way will I recompense upon their head, saith the Lord Jehovah."

Section 4 (Ezekiel 23).

Yielding themselves to the world.

We have now once more one of those apparent repetitions which, as such, emphasize the importance of what they speak. Yet there is perhaps no mere repetition in all Scripture, and it is important for us to realize what constitutes the difference between things which at first sight seem absolutely similar. The present chapter gives us, as is evident, substantially the theme of the 16th; Israel's departure from God being symbolized by the sin of adultery; Jehovah's exclusive relationship to Israel among all the nations of the earth being compared in this way to marriage. God has taken up the most intimate relations of human life to show us the fulness of His love towards men, and the nearness in which His heart delights to bring us to Himself. All the greater therefore is the sin which breaks through a love so manifested, and we cannot wonder if the foulest of human sins becomes a shadow of that which is symbolized by it here. We shrink from these descriptions. How thoroughly God would teach us by it to loathe that which in His sight is so much worse: the human symbol is but a shadow of the greater sin!

It has been truly said that the present chapter, as compared with the former one, speaks of political, rather than of spiritual, departure from God; yet this only shows the more how intimately the two are related to one another. Religion is necessarily the most powerful bond that unites men together, and thus it is no wonder that when men no longer recognized the one true God, supreme over all, each nation came naturally to have. its own gods whose glory or decay became identified with that of the nation to which they belonged. We see in Nebuchadnezzar's policy, in the setting up of his golden image in the plain of Dura, the recognition of the power of such a motive. The different gods of the subjected nations were acknowledged in what was owned as supreme over them still. As Nebuchadnezzar was a king of kings, so naturally in his thought was his god a god of gods. Such then being the condition of things, and idolatry set up everywhere among the nations dispersed at Babel, God bad necessarily to separate to Himself politically a people who were to be in true spiritual relationship to Himself. Where the nations ruled, their gods must rule; and thus to lose national independence threatened the loss of all else. This could not have been as to Israel, had they not been untrue to themselves as the people of Jehovah. The captives in Babylon show what the change meant for the true-hearted under its imperial power.

Christianity, indeed, openly disclaimed any separate political existence for its converts; this was necessary; for, in the first place, it was a gospel for the world, going out freely to men apart from all question of nationality. Judaism had not such a gospel; and as long as Judaism lasted, the time for it had not come. The people whom God took up to reveal Himself to them showed this by their ready acceptance of the legal system after their own demonstrated inability, and on this account it was necessary that they should have it, that they should be allowed to prove in the fullest way that inability. The "due season" for the gospel did not come until man was shown not only to be "ungodly," but "without strength." Then and thus it was Christ died for us. But if God would prove in the completest way what man was, He must give them, and did give them, all the assistance in His power to walk aright according to a law. Thus they were fenced off from the intrusion of the nations, and assured of God's protection in preserving the fence. Among themselves they were bound together by family relationships, by the promises to their forefathers, which embraced them all, by the earthly blessings attached to obedience, by a central worship which drew them together from all parts of the land, while through all their tribes the cities of the priests and Levites were, as it were, a garrison to keep them for God — men separate from all other interests and devoted to God alone.

This all broke down, as we know; the hands of the people themselves broke it down. Christianity fully accepts the fact of this, being itself a complete salvation for men who can no longer trust in themselves at all; and it accepts the fact of a hostile world through which, kept by the power of God alone, His people have to make their way, finding in Christ at once their Leader and the Captain of their salvation. To the Jewish policy we cannot go back; and while on the one hand it is no wonder that men should have sought the advantage of this, it should be just as plain that for Christians themselves it is absolutely impossible. We stand by faith, and faith is not helped by circumstances, or by any natural conditions, but rather by the very difficulties which exercise and develop it. A higher blessing is thus secured for us as we have higher privileges and a perfect Example. We are strangers and pilgrims, and not citizens of earth at all. Yet there will be a time when God's present purpose completed, and His heavenly people taken to Himself, the world will be delivered from the power of evil which now rules it; and what we find in Israel of old will be reproduced again, with all the imperfection of it removed, in restored Israel, no longer in the midst of hostile nations, but under the dominion of Him who will be owned over all the earth, one Lord, and His name one.

1. In what is before us, the kingdoms of Judah and Israel are seen as distinct, but in closest relation to one another; alas, clearly related also in the common course that they pursue. "And the word of Jehovah came unto me saying, Son of man, there were two women, daughters of one mother." There is no need to question as to that mother now, nor to speak of Amorite or Hittite. The heredity which they exemplify goes further back, and lust, in whatever way displayed, is the beggar's badge which marks out everywhere fallen man. As the apostle has shown us, the full condition of man is reached and judged in that one commandment: "Thou shalt not lust." Of these lusts, the idols of the nations are the exhibition, and meant for their gratification. They represent an imaginary freedom of souls who have got away from God, seeking to satisfy themselves, apart from His way and will, with things incompetent to do so.

Such as these women here, all the children of Adam are in all their generations. And if we ask, as we look at their history, How could God take up such as these? the answer is found in another question: Where could He find any better? As we see their common origin, so we are taken back to Egypt to see them from the very beginning of their course nationally. And this licentious free-will marks them from the start. God had appointed them in Egypt a school which should have been profitable for them. No land could more fairly and fully exhibit the folly and degradation of heathen idolatry, while God made them also to realize the rod of the school-master in what they suffered at their hands. There was as plainly, on one side, God's meaning in all this, as on the other was exhibited the natural perverseness of the human heart. Little cause had Israel to take up with Egypt, themselves having the revelation of the true God and such promises of blessing as might well have won their hearts to obedience. Yet, it is plain, they accepted Egypt as their school in another way entirely from that in which God meant it. Egypt was the land of independence, the type of the world in that way, nurtured by the constant overflow of its river, with no need of the rain of heaven, which was, however, the source of the abundance that was round about them. But these sources were afar off, unnoticed and unknown, and if they were not content to make the river itself their god, as we know they did, there was another course, yet more satisfactory to human pride: "My river is mine, and I have made it" — the complete folly of which was no hindrance to its adoption. Manifestly, Oholah ("her own tent") made this the text upon which her conduct was the comment. Oholah is Ephraim, characterized by her chief city, Samaria, a name which speaks of the desire to preserve that which they stood for. Samaria (Shomeron) means "keeper" or "guard." It was Omri's city, set up against Jerusalem, and as Micah says (Micah 6:16), "the statutes of Omri were kept" but too faithfully in it. But before this, at the very commencement of their independence as a kingdom, the calves which Jeroboam set up remind us of Egyptian worship. In fact, he had been in Egypt and manifestly brought them from thence.* Jerusalem, on the other hand, the capital city and representative of Judah, characterized by its glorious temple, was Oholibah ("my tent is in her") in contrast with Oholah, "her own tent." How far this affected her after-course we have already had intimated.

{*Israel worshiped the golden calf at Sinai. Thus the Egyptian idolatry was manifest both in the earlier and the later apostasy. — S. Ridout.}

2. We have first the history of Oholah; and, under the strong figure of adultery, we find how the world outside at once attracted her. Assyria was her main attraction: "She doted upon her lovers, upon the Assyrians her neighbors, clothed in blue, governors and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon horses." In a worldly course, the world in fact surpasses the people of God, whose own things, the moment they seek the world, fail with them at the start. In the outside world there is full room for all the energy, ambition, luxury, self-enjoyment, which the terms speak of here: youth, vigor, the keen pursuit of that which man counts to be riches, and which makes him all that he can hope to be, these things attract, alas, how much, the people of God themselves!

And what does Asshur stand for? If we go back to the neglected book of national genealogy,  Genesis 10, we find that Asshur has his place as the second son of Shem. He is, therefore, in the line of revelation, of which Shem speaks. Shem means "name;" the name of God revealed in connection with him, which makes him all that he is; and, as is well known, revelation as a whole has come to us through the line of Shem; and as has been said elsewhere (see Judges 3, Notes) the genealogy of Shem, as God has given it to us, shows in its necessary order the unfolding of this revelation.

We begin with Elam, which is only, in another form, Olam, "eternity;" and the first necessary revelation of God is that He is the Eternal. His name, therefore, which stands for what He is, must be eternal as Himself. Nevertheless, there is a gradual unfolding of this, of which Asshur in the next place speaks. Asshur means "step," and the steps of Gad, His activities, are also His manifestation. In every act of God, He more or less reveals Himself; and there has been, as we surely know, an adaptation of this revelation to the conditions and needs of men which has made it a revelation, gradual indeed, far more so than we should have thought could be; but our thoughts are not as God's thoughts. It has been shown, in what has just been referred to, that the names following show the continued development of the revelation.

Arphaxad, in the third place, brings us to what God's manifestation for the need of man is, the mystery in which He is truly manifest, the mystery of the cross being spoken of in it; while the next name, in the fourth place, Lud, "born," shows that He has revealed God in manhood; this humiliation of His being followed by what the last name speaks of, Aram, "exalted." The depths and the heights that we find in Christ are surely before us here. "Beautiful, however, as are these names thus joined together, we easily understand how in a world like this, and as connected with the human generations for which they stand, they soon scatter and fall away from one another, and thus lose their meaning and their beauty as united. The sentences become but broken words, capable of very different, even of opposite suggestion. The Shem families, as they scattered and multiplied into nations, lost almost entirely the promise of their origin. Their primitive worship became corrupted into a dark and debasing idolatry" in which, however, we find still as we look into them, the fragments of primitive revelation. Still, as a whole, the meaning is lost. Cut off from the Name of which they speak, there is no purpose of God really left. What should have been God's "steps" become in fact but a reflection of man himself and of his lusts. Strikingly in this way does Asshur's god speak for what he is. Asshur's god was Asshur. Man serves but himself — himself, alas, the miserable object of his worship! Even as the apostle puts it, with regard to some professing Christians, "whose god is their belly, whose glory is in their shame" (Phil. 3:19). Yet he is successful, as men say; his energies are spent undividedly upon that which is within his reach, and "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." He is successful; and what is his success like? Look at the 73rd psalm for the answer, and see how perplexed even the godly can be at what he finds it. Only in the sanctuary can you learn the truth about it — the end of it.

After Asshur, therefore, Oholah goes with her whole heart. She still carries her Egyptian idolatries with her, for evil, as we know, is tolerant of evil, while the good is not. Yet at last, as we find in her history here, out of men's vices are hatched the hordes that prey on them, and out of this has arisen the fable that Satan is the torturer of men in God's final place of judgment; but this is only the reflection of present things. He is indeed here the torturer, not there; and God would wake man up by this constant connection of sin with its judgment. Man's pleasant vices are the whips that scourge him.

The history here in the case of Ephraim is plainly read: "I gave her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the sons of Asshur upon whom she doted. These uncovered her nakedness, they took her sons and daughters, and slew her with the sword, and she became a name among women, and they executed judgment upon her."

3. Oholibah's history now follows. In it we see once more the power of example, as we see also how one evil develops out of another, and the consequent progress made in a downward path. Once more Oholibah chooses the human school instead of the school of God, and learns nothing by His rod upon her sister. She too goes after the attractive Assyrians, but she adds to these the Chaldeans, the images of whom promptly carried her off. And these Chaldeans, as we learn by more than the derivation of their name, which seems to be "demon-like," bring with them a power of evil more intense, less human, more supernatural. As James teaches us, it is how the wisdom that cometh not from above develops; it is "earthly, sensual, devilish." These Chaldeans had their own tongue and learning, practised occult arts, "wore a peculiar dress like that seen upon the gods, and deified men in Assyrian sculptures." Added to this, they were not Shemites, but Cushites, and belonged fully to the darkness of this their origin. Yet Oholibah, as we see, is immediately attracted; their mere images attract her: "As soon as she saw them, she doted on them and sent messengers to them, unto Chaldea." This passion, as we know by their history, did not last long, except in its consequences. It was, as is so often the case, as short-lived as it was sudden. Oholibah returned to her old passion for Egypt, and this brought on her doom.

When her day of lawless self-will is past, the day of the Lord finds all her former lovers gathered against her. The mustering is come now, the sons of Babylon heading the list with all the Chaldeans; and Asshur too, with Babylon, Assyria following under the power of Nebuchadnezzar.

Numbered among the Chaldeans, we have three names which present a special difficulty. Pekod is, in Jer. 1. 21, an allegorical name for Babylon itself as the land of "visitation" — there, visited of God; here a visitation of God upon others; or it may mean her "charge," "office," for officer. Shoa means "wealth," "liberal;" Koa, probably "prince." Geographically no such names are found within the limits of Chaldea, and the words remain a problem yet unsolved, while from the connection they might seem to form part of the enumeration of all that was brilliant and attractive in the land, now gathered with the desirable sons of Asshur against Jerusalem. The qualities which before spoke of the energy and ability which carried away the hearts of the Israelites are now enumerated in the same terms, but realized now in an opposite interest. How men's old allurements face them in the day of visitation which comes for each one! They work their will without mercy, though the mere instruments of God's judgment, as He declares. The punishment of cutting off the nose and ears was the punishment of an adulteress and we may remember how these, on God's part, were ornamented in a former chapter (Ezek. 16) which gives us, as the present does not, the blessing which God had poured out upon those brought into this peculiar relationship to Himself. Now, not only the ornaments are removed, but there is no place for them any longer, mere deformity instead, and with the jewels the garments are also taken away.

Yet all this severity is on God's part not mere judgment. The effect is, as He puts it here, to make the lewdness of Oholibah cease from her, and the objects formerly attractive to be turned from with loathing. One must come to one's self in order to come to God, and this is the process through which God was now bringing Israel. What a terrible thing to face, when one is left naked and destitute, all that gone which, while it was being squandered, made one for a time feel and look rich to others! But the cup now must be drained to its bitter dregs, wrung out in desperation by the soul that has lost its all, but cannot yet fully awake to it; the very sherds of the broken cup, as represented here, gnawed in madness to obtain that which is impossible, while the tearing off of the breasts is but the self-despair under which, if anywhere, the true blessing lies. But this is not gone on to in the chapter before us, which ends with judgment: "Because thou hast forgotten Me and cast Me behind thy back, therefore bear also thy lewdness and thy fornications."

4. God now appeals to man himself in the person of the prophet against both these debauched and uncensured women: "And Jehovah said unto me, Son of man, wilt thou judge Oholah and Oholibah? Yea, declare unto them their abominations." And the story is repeated briefly with all the circumstances of its aggravation and the persistency of wickedness, which seems as if it would go on to the end — the scum of a pot, as in the next chapter, which will never be cleansed. Adultery and blood are both in the count against them here. Their idolatries contained both features: unfaithfulness to God, and causing their sons to pass through the fire to their idols to be devoured; and all the while shamelessly entering Jehovah's sanctuary, which could but be defiled by their presence; and His sabbaths, the sign of His covenant with them, profaned by all their actions. They had not been the victims of others, simply; they had not merely been solicited by others; they themselves had been the solicitresses, laboring to bring from afar those who could only pollute them with their abominations; they had decked themselves with the ornaments that God had given, for the reception of their corrupters!

The picture is painted for us in a few brief touches: the insensate profligate sitting upon a stately bed, with a table prepared before it whereon were placed the incense and the oil that belonged to her forsaken God. Around her the voices of a loose crowd in utter abandonment, even the Sabeans of the wilderness, the men who lived by pillage, as their name here may indicate, brought in to join with them, and all this when plainly old age was come upon her, hastened by her excesses.* The two sisters, every way such, are joined together in this count, and men of mere human righteousness are called to pronounce the judgment upon them which they so well deserve. Thus a divine judgment is executed, but with the approbation of the human conscience everywhere. God and man are united together against them, but with the end in God's thoughts still of getting rid, by whatever severe measures, of the wickedness which else would never end, but which shall at last make them recognize their covenant-God in the holiness which compels Him thus to afflict them. The end for Israel and for the nations alike is ever that they shall know that He is the Lord Jehovah.

{*There is a resemblance to Jezebel, the apostate queen of Israel, 2 Kings 9:30,who in her old age "painted her face and tired her head." She is also the symbolic adulteress in the professed church, the Thyatira of Rev. 2, whose adulteries bring down the Lord's judgments. — S. Ridout.}

Section 5 (Ezekiel 24).

The judgment reached.

In the last chapter of this series, which comes evidently as an appendix to what has gone before, we find the judgment now reached. The king of Babylon has drawn near to Jerusalem, and with this, when fully ascertained, prophetic communications cease for the present. The events speak for themselves, and to God's voice in them they have now to listen.

There are two parts in the chapter. The first announces, before the people could have any message of it to reach them, that the siege has begun while the second shows us what is implied in this — the divine sundering of the tie between Jehovah and the people, as figured in the death of the prophet's wife. These two parts are in a certain sense, and in a most touching manner, in contrast with one another, as we shall see when we examine them.

1. We are now in the second year from the last communication, and in the ninth year of Jehoiachin's captivity. The number speaks of divine manifestation, God manifesting Himself now, alas, in the very cloud which hides Him from the people but the cloud is that which their sins have raised, and God is manifest in necessary judgment. Thus also the tenth month the tenth day of the month, speaks. The word of Jehovah conies to Ezekiel on that day, bidding him to write down the name of the day, with the assurance that the king of Babylon has drawn near to Jerusalem on that self-same day.

And now the taunt about the caldron is to be answered in the event. Jerusalem is indeed to be their caldron in which they are to be subjected to the fire of divine wrath: "Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Set on the caldron, set it on, and also pour water into it. Gather the pieces thereof into it, every good piece, the thigh and the shoulder fill it with the choice bones. Take the choice of the flock, and make also a pile of bones underneath it. Make it boil well yea, let the bones thereof be boiled in the midst of it." This then was to be the issue of every controversy with God, of which there was ample necessity. The city itself was a caldron whose rust was in it, and could not be scoured out. The whole, therefore, is visited. No lot has fallen upon it for the sparing of any. She had taken life — that life which God had ordained to be sacred, even where rightly taken, when the blood was to be poured out to Him. It had not been poured out it remained to defile her nay, she had set it upon the bare rock in open view: "She poured it not upon the ground to cover it with dust." Thus it cried openly for vengeance, and God had set her blood upon the bare rock, in His turn, that it should not be covered. The very city emptied of its inhabitants must go down in the fire of His anger: "Set it empty upon the coals thereof, that it may be hot, and the brass thereof may burn, that the filthiness thereof may be molten in it and its rust may cease. It has exhausted labor, yet its great rust goeth not forth out of it. Let its rust be in the fire." Thus after all possible pains taken with her, such pains as God Himself might take, she was not cleansed. Here then was the only possible end inexorable, unsparing judgment was alone sufficient for such a case: "According to thy ways and according to thy doings shall they judge thee, saith the Lord Jehovah."

2. We have now a parable of another nature, which seems to bear a double significance; one open, and one hidden. Jerusalem is gone in judgment. The city is gone, and the sanctuary with it — the sanctuary so necessary for the nation as a whole, where alone the blood of sacrifice could be offered to God. Thus the destruction of the sanctuary was the end of all relationship. What could remain between a holy God and a people for whose sins no atonement could be made? This is the overwhelming calamity which, as to the people, might well make every other of comparatively small account. The voice of lamentation itself was hushed in this silence of despair. "And the word of Jehovah came unto me saying, Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke, yet thou shalt not mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down." It is not that grief is forbidden, but the expression of it. He is to be in this expressionless grief a sign to the people: "Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead, bind thy turban upon thee, and put thy sandals upon thy feet, and cover not the beard, and eat not the bread of men. And I spake unto the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded."

In contrast with the loud lamentation customary in such cases, for which they even hired mourners, this conduct calls for explanation: "The people said unto me, Wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us which thou doest? Then I said unto them, The word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Say unto the house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the desire of your eyes and the pity of your soul, and your sons and your daughters whom ye have left behind shall fall by the sword." It is the mourning for these last that is to cease in view of the mourning which can have no sufficient expression.

Yet, after all, it is not they who can feel these things according to the divine account of them. They might be overwhelmed by the calamity, but were to pine away in iniquities yet unrepented of. This is why, as it seems, the full meaning as to what Ezekiel is called to do does not come out. The loss of their sons and daughters, with all its severity, cannot answer to this breaking of a marriage-tie under which Ezekiel suffers. For that, we have to think of the sanctuary itself gone, which was the pledge and seal of the tie, which spoke of the Lord's presence with them, and gave the people access to Himself; that tie being broken, it might well swallow up all others.

But this does not put the prophet's parabolic action in its full meaning before us. Ezekiel himself is plainly here, as elsewhere, the representative of God to the people, as the prophet in fact always was. It is to be noted that the stroke falls not upon the people, but upon the prophet himself. Nor is it inflicted as a judgment, as far as he is concerned. With the prophet there is no divorce from God by it; on the contrary, just at this time he stands before the people fully as the representative of God Himself, speaking and acting in His name. We have to take the prophet here as really representing the One for whom he stands. Thus it is not obscurely intimated that the prophet's sorrow is the sorrow of God Himself. The affliction is on His part, not on man's side. Yet it is an affliction which can find no expression in the midst of a people obdurate as these are. It is their sin which has wrought their calamity. It is their sin in which they still pine away; feeling, no doubt, certain effects of it, but not the iniquity itself. He who has inflicted it is He who feels what He has inflicted. It is the sundering of His own relationship with a people whom He had taken up to manifest His love to them and to bring them near to Himself in such a way as all their history indicates. Yet He has been compelled to give them up. The tie, in fact, is broken, for we are not thinking here of purposes to be fulfilled in the end, but of present relationship, and these ended for the nation as such. Yet He who in all their affliction has ever been afflicted, can give no expression to it. It is the shadow of judgment which is necessarily over them all and which hinders this expression.

Yet how wonderful in its pathos is this unexpressed, inexpressible sorrow with which all this part of the prophecy closes! God will not, as it were, permit it all to end in judgment merely, without bringing us to His side in this matter, if we have heart for it, and showing us how truly His heart remains unchanged, and how thoroughly the divorce which He has given, as He says in Hosea, is not on His side but on theirs. Nothing can divorce His heart from the objects of His love, and if He has to act in a way apparently most contradictory to this, faith may yet penetrate the disguise and realize the love unchangeable throughout it all. This is what seems to be the meaning here — the meaning upon His side; the worthy end to which we have been looking.

The prophetic communication to the people closes here for the time. The last act of the judgment which is now about to take place is to be waited for until the message shall come which speaks of its full accomplishment. For nearly a year and a half the siege lasted, and then came the message that the city was taken. In that day, when at last all was over, and no false hope could any longer be maintained, the prophet's mouth would be opened. He would speak, and no more be dumb. This we shall find accordingly in the third division of these prophecies. When judgment has had its way, and God's holiness is fully vindicated, the prophet's mouth is to be opened, not in judgment once more, but in the announcement of blessing to come of blessing which, in God's unrepenting goodness, is still reserved for them, however much their persistent iniquity has delayed the fulfilment of it.