Ezekiel 12 – Two Signs Warning of Judgment
John B. Taylor wrote of Ezekiel 12-24: “The section could, in today’s idiom, be entitled ‘Objections to Judgment’, as long as it is understood that the objections are raised only to be demolished.” These are some of the objections that are answered in this extended section:
· We have heard this all before, but it hasn’t happened.
· Those who say we will be delivered are right.
· God will never do this to His people.
A. The sign of coming captivity.
1. (1-2) Speaking to a rebellious house.
Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying: “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, which has eyes to see but does not see, and ears to hear but does not hear; for they are a rebellious house.
a. Now the word of the LORD came to me: This begins another section of Ezekiel’s prophetic work, mainly a series of announcements of judgment coming against the kingdom of Judah.
b. You dwell in the midst of a rebellious house: Ezekiel was among a rebellious people, those who had been carried into exile under the Babylonians. Ezekiel was also part of the larger community of Israel, including those still living in the yet-to-be judged and conquered kingdom of Judah.
c. Which has eyes to see but does not see: This was part of the great tragedy for the children of Israel. Because they had the word of God, the institution of the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the temple, and because they had the prophets of Yahweh among them they could have seen and heard – but they would not.
2. (3-6) The command to act out captivity.
“Therefore, son of man, prepare your belongings for captivity, and go into captivity by day in their sight. You shall go from your place into captivity to another place in their sight. It may be that they will consider, though they are a rebellious house. By day you shall bring out your belongings in their sight, as though going into captivity; and at evening you shall go in their sight, like those who go into captivity. Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry your belongings out through it. In their sight you shall bear them on your shoulders and carry them out at twilight; you shall cover your face, so that you cannot see the ground, for I have made you a sign to the house of Israel.”
a. Prepare your belongings for captivity: God commanded Ezekiel to act as if he were going into captivity or exile. He already was an exile in Babylon, but God wanted him to act this out among the exiles to make a message from God clear: all those remaining in Judah and Jerusalem would go into captivity.
i. It is important to remember that there were many false prophets in Judah, Jerusalem, and likely among the exiles in Babylon who promised that God would rescue His people from the Babylonians. These false prophets spoke smooth words of certain deliverance. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel strongly warned them that this deliverance would not come and that God had appointed them to be conquered.
ii. “Rival prophets were foretelling a speedy return to a flourishing Jerusalem (Ezekiel 12:24; 13:16; Jeremiah 28:1-4; 29:8,9,15,21).” (Wright)
iii. “Ezekiel was to play the part of an exile, reenacting a scene all the exiles had painfully experienced when led from their land. He dramatized the fate of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (Feinberg)
iv. Your belongings: “The article in question is illustrated in a series of neo-Assyrian monumental reliefs that portray captives being led away in procession with large bags slung over their shoulders. The packs were made either of durable cloth or skin, and loaded with such bare necessities for survival during the long trek as could be salvaged from the ruins of a conquered city.” (Block)
v. “Part of his activity occurred in the daytime and part at twilight, and the curious but perplexed Jewish exiles watched his strange actions.” (Wiersbe)
b. Dig through the wall in their sight: Ezekiel was also to act out a person desperately escaping from a city under siege. These also could end up as exiles, leaving with their face covered in shame (cover your face, so that you cannot see the ground).
i. “Digging through the wall pictured the desperation with which they would seek to escape.” (Feinberg)
ii. “In particular King Zedekiah will creep out of the city walls by night (Ezekiel 12:12; 2 Kings 25:4), but the Lord plans for him to be caught and brought to Babylon.” (Wright)
3. (7) Ezekiel acts out what God commanded.
So I did as I was commanded. I brought out my belongings by day, as though going into captivity, and at evening I dug through the wall with my hand. I brought them out at twilight, and I bore them on my shoulder in their sight.
a. So I did as I was commanded: God asked Ezekiel to act out many prophetic messages, so that both his words and his actions would communicate God’s warning. Each time, Ezekiel did as he was commanded.
i. “Ezekiel was a very brilliant man, but I think he also had a real sense of humor. I would love to have seen his face when he went through some of these mechanics! I think he might have been somewhat of a ham actor and been greatly amused as he did these things.” (McGee)
b. As though going into captivity: Ezekiel became a living lesson to his fellow exiles in Babylon, and perhaps to those in Judah who would hear of his strange actions and what those actions meant.
i. “Since all the exiles had participated in a deportation themselves (either in 605 B.C. or 597 B.C.), they should have understood clearly Ezekiel’s picture of deportation.” (Alexander)
ii. “Perhaps this action would make this rebellious people realize that those left in Jerusalem would shortly be joining those who had been deported to Babylon.” (Smith)
4. (8-14) The message to the princes and people of Jerusalem.
And in the morning the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, has not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said to you, ‘What are you doing?’ Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “This burden concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel who are among them.”’ Say, ‘I am a sign to you. As I have done, so shall it be done to them; they shall be carried away into captivity.’ And the prince who is among them shall bear his belongings on his shoulder at twilight and go out. They shall dig through the wall to carry them out through it. He shall cover his face, so that he cannot see the ground with his eyes. I will also spread My net over him, and he shall be caught in My snare. I will bring him to Babylon, to the land of the Chaldeans; yet he shall not see it, though he shall die there. I will scatter to every wind all who are around him to help him, and all his troops; and I will draw out the sword after them.
a. What are you doing? Ezekiel’s strange actions invited this question. That was the whole purpose for an exiled man acting as if he were going into exile all over again.
i. What are you doing? “Is more than a demand to know what he was doing; their eyes had seen plainly enough what he had done. At issue is the significance of his actions.” (Block)
b. This burden concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel who are among them: The prophet clearly explained that those who were about to go into exile were not those already in Babylon, but those still in Jerusalem and Judah. The warning was for both the prince and all the house of Israel.
i. The prince, specifically, was Zedekiah. “The subject of the message was King Zedekiah, who was always spoken of by Ezekiel as prince, never king. Jehoiachin was regarded as the true king (Ezekiel 17:13).…In ration tablets found by archaeologists in Babylon, Jehoiachin was still referred to as the king of Judah.” (Feinberg)
ii. “He was called ‘the prince’ (Ezekiel 12:12) because he was not the legitimate king. That right belonged to Jehoiachin who was in Babylonia. ” (Alexander)
c. The prince who is among them shall bear his belongings on his shoulder: Even the mighty and prominent men among them would be brought low and have to bear their own burdens – something princes are not used to doing.
i. Shall bear his belongings: “Disguised no doubt as a common ordinary servant, in hope so to escape; but to conceal himself he flees in a disguise, and chooseth the twilight as the time that would best favour his design; so 2 Kings 25:4.” (Poole)
d. He shall cover his face: Some think the prince would do this out of shame, others to disguise himself. Either way, it spoke of defeat and not deliverance.
i. “Shame, grief, humiliation, the instinctive furtiveness with which the defeated flee the scene of their disaster—doubtless all these combine in the gesture of covering the face and refusing to look on the land.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
e. I will also spread My net over him: This refers to king Zedekiah of Judah, who tried to escape but was caught, captured, and made captive to Babylon (Jeremiah 39:2-4 and 2 Kings 25:4). His soldiers would be powerless to help him; God promised to scatter to every wind all who are around him to help him, and all his troops.
i. “The destruction of the king was like the dropping of a net over a snarling wild beast that the hunter then drags away to an inevitable slaughter.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
f. Yet he shall not see it, though he shall die there: This was fulfilled in Jeremiah 39:6-7. The Babylonians were not known to be as cruel as the Assyrians who conquered the northern kingdom of Israel some 130 years earlier, but they were still experts in cruelty in their own right. They made certain that the last sight King Zedekiah saw was the murder of his own sons, and that he spent the rest of his life in darkness.
i. “All the prophecies from this to the twentieth chapter are supposed to have been delivered in the sixth year of Zedekiah, five years before the taking of Jerusalem. How accurate the prediction! and how exactly fulfilled!” (Clarke)
5. (15-16) Yahweh revealed in His judgments.
“Then they shall know that I am the LORD, when I scatter them among the nations and disperse them throughout the countries. But I will spare a few of their men from the sword, from famine, and from pestilence, that they may declare all their abominations among the Gentiles wherever they go. Then they shall know that I am the LORD.”
a. Then they shall know that I am the LORD: Ezekiel often used this phrase to explain why God allowed such great and devastating judgment to come against His people. In the end, it was to reveal Himself to them, even if it were in His judgments.
b. I will spare a few of their men from the sword, from famine, and from pestilence: God promised to spare a remnant, so they could declare the sins of God’s people among the Gentiles, and so that God would be revealed.
B. The sign of the bread.
1. (17-20) Eating bread and drinking water with great worry.
Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, eat your bread with quaking, and drink your water with trembling and anxiety. And say to the people of the land, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the land of Israel: “They shall eat their bread with anxiety, and drink their water with dread, so that her land may be emptied of all who are in it, because of the violence of all those who dwell in it. Then the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall become desolate; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”’”
a. Eat your bread with quaking, and drink your water with trembling and anxiety: God told Ezekiel to act out another sign speaking of the coming conquest and captivity of Jerusalem and Judah. Those under siege would be so traumatized by their experience that they could not even eat or drink without quaking and trembling.
i. “By themselves, eating and drinking represent life at its most basic level, carrying on as if all is well. But the accompanying trembling announces the opposite.” (Block)
ii. “He was illustrating the tragic condition of the people in Jerusalem during the Babylonian siege. They would have very little food and would eat it with fear and trembling because it might well be their last meal.” (Wiersbe)
iii. Say to the people of the land: “This phrase is used consistently to refer to the peasant population of Judah, as distinct from the ruling classes, and particularly to those left there during the exile.” (Taylor)
b. Then the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste: When the siege was over, the cities would be conquered and all carried off into captivity (the land shall become desolate).
i. “The land would be emptied of its fruitfulness because of the violence that had been done in it (Ezekiel 12:19). The violence they had done to others would return on their own heads, reflecting the principle of lex talionis [law of retaliation].” (Alexander)
2. (21-25) Answering a false proverb.
And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, what is this proverb that you people have about the land of Israel, which says, ‘The days are prolonged, and every vision fails’? Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will lay this proverb to rest, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel.” But say to them, “The days are at hand, and the fulfillment of every vision. For no more shall there be any false vision or flattering divination within the house of Israel. For I am the LORD. I speak, and the word which I speak will come to pass; it will no more be postponed; for in your days, O rebellious house, I will say the word and perform it,” says the Lord GOD.’”
a. The days are prolonged, and every vision fails: This was a proverb in use among the people of Israel in Ezekiel’s day. By it they meant that things would continue on as before (the days are prolonged) and that the visions and prophecies of doom would never come to pass (every vision fails).
i. “The captives asserted that they believed all the previous judgments proclaimed by Isaiah, Micah et al. were not true, for they had not come to pass. Why should they now accept Ezekiel’s prophecies as valid?” (Alexander)
ii. The days are prolonged was actually an act of God’s mercy. “A saying had become current among them because God’s long-suffering, which should have led to repentance, was made an argument against His word.” (Feinberg)
b. I will lay this proverb to rest, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel: God promised to permanently answer this proverb, forever proving it wrong. Things would not continue on as before, and the visions of judgment would not fail and would come to pass.
c. The days are at hand, and the fulfillment of every vision: The sad and terrible things prophesied by Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and many others would come to pass. God promised, the word which I speak will come to pass.
i. “By skillfully recasting the proverb, Ezekiel announces that ‘every vision’ has not failed; on the contrary, ‘every vision’ is about to be fulfilled.” (Block)
ii. Flattering divination: “Divination suggests that the false prophets used mechanical means of obtaining their oracles, either by the use of lots or by throwing arrows into the air and studying the way they fell, or by other methods of augury. The term clearly carries overtones of opprobrium.” (Taylor)
3. (26-28) No more postponement.
Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, look, the house of Israel is saying, ‘The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off.’ Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “None of My words will be postponed any more, but the word which I speak will be done,” says the Lord GOD.’”
a. The vision that he sees is for many days from now: This was one way the people of Israel explained away Ezekiel and his warnings. Whatever danger he might announce was for a distant future, and he prophesies of times far off.
i. “They did not deny that he spoke the word of God; but comforted themselves with the reflection that it was not likely to be fulfilled for some time yet.” (Meyer)
ii. “The heart of man, set upon evil courses, constantly adopts one of these two expedients to comfort itself. Either it mocks at the prophetic word, or says that fulfillment is postponed.” (Morgan)
iii. “‘These predictions either will not come in our days, or will wholly fail; why then should we disquiet ourselves about them?’ Strange, that the very means used by the most gracious God to bring sinners to repentance, should be made by them the very instruments of their own destruction!” (Clarke)
iv. Spurgeon saw in this an excuse that many make to delay their trust in and surrender to God, especially many young people. “God knows the frivolity of your plea for delay, he knows that you yourself are doubtful about it, and dare not stand to it so as to give it anything like a solemn consideration. Very hard do you try to deceive yourself into an easy state of conscience concerning it, but in your inmost soul you are ashamed of your own falsehoods.” (Spurgeon)
b. None of My words will be postponed any more: God promised there would be no more delay in the carrying out of the terrible things He had warned of for so long.