Ezekiel 14 – Noah, Daniel, and Job
A. Rebuking elders and prophets.
1. (1-3) The inquiry and the idols of the elders of Israel.
Now some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them?
a. Some of the elders of Israel came to me: These elders had visited Ezekiel before (Ezekiel 8:1). These were the leaders of the Israelite community in exile.
i. “Rulers and chieftains of the captives in Babylon, pretending to be far better than those elders at Jerusalem, complained about in Ezekiel 8:11-12, but indeed no better; nay, so much the worse, because they had lost the fruit of all their afflictions, and were as arrant hypocrites.” (Trapp)
ii. “They had come presumably in the hope of hearing some oracle about the length of their exile or giving news of affairs at home in Jerusalem. The oracle was given, but it was not what they expected.” (Taylor)
iii. “They pretend they want to listen to the prophet. It is like coming to church with a big Bible under your arm, pretending you want to serve the Lord.” (McGee)
b. These men have set up idols in their hearts: God gave Ezekiel supernatural insight into the hearts of these leaders. Like the leaders mentioned in Ezekiel 8:10-12 and 8:16, these were idol worshippers. Their idols were not evident outwardly but in their hearts. This secret idolatry made them to stumble into iniquity.
i. “The word of the Lord revealed to him that whatever their outward attitude might be, they were at heart idolaters, and he was charged to declare to them that while idolatry remained in their heart they were necessarily estranged from Jehovah.” (Morgan)
ii. “The charge against them is that they have been infected by their Babylonian environment and the attractions of its idolatrous religion. Nothing had changed outwardly in their allegiance to the Lord, but they had taken idols into their hearts.” (Taylor)
iii. “They were like the people in Isaiah’s day who drew near to God with words but not with their hearts (Isaiah 29:13). Jesus said that the Pharisees in His day were guilty of the same sin (Matthew 15:8–9).” (Wiersbe)
iv. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) and the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-26) are New Testament examples of those who looked spiritual on the outside but had idols in their hearts. No wonder John closed his first letter, little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).
c. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them? Knowing the hidden sin in their lives, God asked Ezekiel an obvious and important question. This question, with the assumed answer of “no,” showed that God had no obligation to answer the inquiry of these men who harbored such secret sin.
i. “This verse is important for those who come to Scripture seeking guidance. No true direction can be given to those who have erected idols in their hearts.” (Alexander)
ii. “Can these men seriously consult me? Is it fit I should give counsel to obstinate, resolved sinners, who come to inquire, but will not hearken? Should I help them in their distress, who depend on idols which I hate?” (Poole)
2. (4-5) God’s promise to the idol-loving inquirers.
“Therefore speak to them, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols, that I may seize the house of Israel by their heart, because they are all estranged from Me by their idols.”’
a. I the LORD will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols: God promised that the ones with such hidden idolatry and sin in their lives would receive an answer from Him, but it would be an answer of judgment. It would be an answer according to the multitude of his idols.
i. “No oracle will be given, but I the Lord will answer him myself, in actions and not in words. The words have a sinister ring about them.” (Taylor)
b. That I may seize the house of Israel by their heart: This is a powerful and eloquent statement of one of the great reasons for God’s judgment upon Israel in the Babylonian conquest and captivity. He did it to seize them by their heart. Their hearts were far from God, and He intended to grab hold of their hearts again.
i. “God told Ezekiel that the Jewish people had deserted Him to follow after idols and that He would discipline them in order to ‘recapture’ their hearts.” (Wiersbe)
ii. “As the verb [seize] conveys the forceful seizing of prisoners (1 Sam 15:8; 1 Kings 13:4) or an animal (Ezek 19:4, 8) and the conquest of a city (Deut 20:19; Josh 8:8) or parents seizing a rebellious son (Deut 21:19), so the Lord’s heart for Israel to return to him is seen in his laying hold of those who have gone astray in idolatry.” Alexander)
c. Because they are all estranged from Me by their idols: This was why their hearts were distant from God. As an unfaithful spouse might give their heart to another, so Israel unfaithfully gave their heart to the idols of the Canaanites and other surrounding nations.
3. (6-8) A call to repentance and a promise of judgment.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations. For anyone of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who separates himself from Me and sets up his idols in his heart and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, then comes to a prophet to inquire of him concerning Me, I the LORD will answer him by Myself. I will set My face against that man and make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of My people. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.
a. Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations: This was God’s word to those among Israel who sought Him. If they inquired of Him, God had a simple response: repent. Then God defined repentance as turning away from idols and abominations.
i. This included both those of the house of Israel and foreigners in Israel (the strangers who dwell in Israel). “What the text says simply is that all Israelites, native and [strangers], have through their idolatry cut themselves off from Yahweh’s prophetic communication. God will now deal with them directly.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
b. Then comes to a prophet to inquire of him concerning Me: The people of Israel – such as the elders described in Ezekiel 14:1-3 – were secretly immersed in idolatry, yet they still went to a prophet to inquire about God’s will.
c. I will set My face against that man and make him a sign and a proverb: God promised to oppose such double-hearted men. God knew the truth about those who pretended to serve God on the outside but were filled with idolatry on the inside, and He would oppose them and judge them according to that truth.
i. Set My face against that man: “I will look him to death.” (Trapp)
ii. A proverb: “Just as the name ‘Nimrod’ has become proverbial for hunting prowess (Genesis 10:9), and ‘Babel’ for incomprehensible speech (Genesis 11:9), so the name ‘Israel’ would become proverbial for divinely imposed disaster.” (Block)
iii. “The punishment outlined echoes the wording of Deuteronomy 28:37 and the earlier warning in Leviticus 20:3, 5-6. God would set Himself against that man until he was destroyed from the midst of Israel.” (Feinberg)
4. (9-11) God’s promised punishment of the prophets.
“And if the prophet is induced to speak anything, I the LORD have induced that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel. And they shall bear their iniquity; the punishment of the prophet shall be the same as the punishment of the one who inquired, that the house of Israel may no longer stray from Me, nor be profaned anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be My people and I may be their God,” says the Lord GOD.’”
a. If the prophet is induced to speak anything: From the context, we understand that Ezekiel spoke here of false prophets. When the idol-hearted people went to a false prophet to inquire of the LORD, God could very well give them an answer (I the LORD have induced that prophet).
i. “The prophet, viz. the prophet who makes this his trade and gain, the false prophet, who speaks all serene and quiet, in hope of reward for his kind answer to those that desired to hear what might please them more than what God commanded, promised, or threatened.” (Poole)
ii. I the LORD have induced that prophet: “I had not only a permissive, but an active hand in that imposture; not as a sin, but as a punishment of other sins. See 1 Kings 22:20, Job 12:16, Jeremiah 4:10, 2 Thessalonians 2:11.” (Trapp)
iii. “Yahweh answers insincerity with insincerity. Unrepentant kings and unrepentant people, who seek confirmation of their perverse ways, and who clamor for reassurances of well-being, do not deserve a straight answer.” (Block)
iv. “When the false prophet, sensing the desires of his idolatrous inquirers, gave them a prediction, a prophetic word in keeping with their wishes, thus aiding their apostasy and delusion, the prophet himself had been deceived by his wicked heart; and ultimately it was the Lord who had enticed him. There is an elimination of secondary causes as in Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6.” (Feinberg)
b. I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel: God’s ultimate response to that false prophet would be to destroy him. Even if God used the false prophet to give the idolater the deception they longed for, God would still send judgment upon the false and wicked prophet.
i. “By giving the people lying prophets, who proclaim to the people exactly what they want to hear, Yahweh ensures the people’s judgment.” (Block)
ii. Wright saw in this a warning to those who have a gift and are unfaithful with it. “If we have some great gift and are being used in the service of God, and then try to use it in our own interests, or divorce it from the requirements of Christian living, God may turn the gift against us. A theologian, who abandons revealed truth for clever ideas of his own, first deceives himself, and then, by divine rule, becomes blind to the truth.”
c. The punishment of the prophet shall be the same as the punishment of the one who inquired: God would bring judgment upon the false prophet just as much as He brought it upon the secret idolater who sought the false prophet.
i. “There is so great parity in the folly and impiety of both seducing prophets and the seduced people, that it is hard to say whose sin is greatest. Their punishment shall be by the Lord made as like as they made their sin, and both shall be cut off and destroyed.” (Poole)
ii. “Neither shall excuse other; but as they have sinned together, so shall they suffer together.” (Trapp)
d. That the house of Israel may no longer stray from Me, nor be profaned anymore: Once more, God explained the ultimate reason for His great judgment upon Israel. It was so that they would be corrected of their sins and no longer stray as before. Israel would have a restored relationship with God (that they may be My people and I may be their God).
i. “Yahweh’s desire is for a people who will never stray from him again. The word [stray] derives from the realm of animal husbandry but is also applied to persons who are lost.” (Block)
ii. This declared purpose of God was fulfilled in history. When Israel came back into the land in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, they did not have the same problem with idolatry as before. In some sense, the Babylonian conquest and captivity “cured” Israel of idolatry.
iii. “Again Ezekiel stressed that this judgment had a positive purpose. The judgment would cause the house of Israel no longer to stray from the Lord or defile themselves by their transgressions.” (Smith)
B. Noah, Daniel, and Job.
1. (12-14) No hope for Judah during famine.
The word of the LORD came again to me, saying: “Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it. Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,” says the Lord GOD.
a. When a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it: God said that there was a sense in which a land could sin against Him. Of course, people sin and real estate does not. Yet since God gives responsibility over certain real estate to certain people, there is a sense in which a land can indeed sin – and become a target of God’s judgment.
i. Persistent unfaithfulness: “It is used of the sin of Achan in relation to the devoted thing (the herem, Joshua 7:1) and of a wife’s adulterous act (Numbers 5:12), both of which incurred the death penalty. The meaning here is similarly of a land which by its unfaithfulness deserves the ultimate in punishment.” (Taylor)
b. I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it: This was God’s promised judgment upon a land – agricultural failure and the famine that results from it. The lack of food would cut off man and beast from it.
c. Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves: The sin of Israel was so deep and serious that even if three of the most righteous men of Israel’s history were present in the land, it would not stop God’s judgment against the land. They would deliver only themselves by their righteousness, and not the nation as a whole.
i. “Here he makes the point that a nation cannot shelter under the goodness of a few individuals.” (Wright)
ii. “This is an assertion of personal and individual responsibility that runs athwart the old idea of communal virtue and vice in which all participated as a people.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iii. “The intercession even of the holiest of men shall not avert my judgments. Noah, though a righteous man, could not by his intercession preserve the old world from being drowned. Job, though a righteous man, could not preserve his children from being killed by the fall of their house. Daniel, though a righteous man, could not prevent the captivity of his country.” (Clarke)
iv. “Jerusalem was more culpable than Sodom. A few righteous men would have delivered Sodom. Here none could turn away the wrath.” (Alexander)
v. This text teaches us “the prayers of the greatest intercessors cannot avail if men persist in their unbelief.” (Spurgeon)
d. Noah, Daniel, and Job: The choice of these three men is fascinating. All three were men who were tested and proven faithful, men of faith who were rescued by their trust in God.
· Noah was a righteous and obedient man (though later shown to be flawed), yet his righteousness did not save his world, only himself and his immediate family.
· Daniel was alive and in Babylon in Ezekiel’s day. His leadership and godliness were so evident to everyone that God could cite him as an example of great righteousness even in his own lifetime.
· Job was not, properly, even an Israelite (the same could be said of Noah). The reality of his relationship with God was demonstrated through the most difficult of testing and misery.
i. “Questions have been raised about the inclusion of the name of Daniel, but he was a well-known contemporary of Ezekiel at the court of Babylon…. Daniel’s fame for wisdom and piety was already wide-spread in Ezekiel’s day.” (Feinberg)
ii. “Daniel was now alive and in his prime; Ezekiel, his contemporary and fellow prophet, envieth him not, but celebrateth him; as also Peter doth Paul. [2 Peter 3:15-16]” (Trapp)
iii. “From this account we may infer that Job was as real a person as Noah or Daniel; and of their identity no man has pretended to doubt.” (Clarke)
2. (15-16) No hope for Judah during desolation.
“If I cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they empty it, and make it so desolate that no man may pass through because of the beasts, even though these three men were in it, as I live,” says the Lord GOD, “they would deliver neither sons nor daughters; only they would be delivered, and the land would be desolate.
a. If I cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they empty it: In the previous verses God described the judgment of famine. Here God spoke of the judgment of wild beasts that would drive out the people of the land.
i. When the Babylonians depopulated the land of Israel, it gave much more territory to the wild animals of the forest and wilderness. This happens even in the present day when villages and towns depopulate; animals such as wolves come in and make life dangerous for any who may remain.
ii. “God gave the Jews victory over the residents ‘little by little’ so that the land wouldn’t revert to its natural state and the wild animals take over (Deuteronomy 7:22).” (Wiersbe)
iii. “As lions, wolves, bears, serpents, &c. Great hurt hath been done not only by such, as Numbers 21:6, 2 Kings 2:24; 2 Kings 17:25-26, Joshua 24:12; but also by tamer creatures when set on by God.” (Trapp)
b. Even though these three men were in it: God promised that even the presence of the three men (Noah, Daniel, and Job) would not spare the land of Israel from the judgment of the wild beasts soon to come.
i. “In all the procedures of divine judgment the principle of individual responsibility can never be relaxed. Hence the need of personal piety – the absolute necessity that men and women should pray for themselves-that each one should repent for himself, that each one should believe for himself; and that each one should in his own proper person be born again by the effectual operation of the Spirit of God. No proxy in these matters is possible.” (Spurgeon)
3. (17-18) No hope for Judah during war.
“Or if I bring a sword on that land, and say, ‘Sword, go through the land,’ and I cut off man and beast from it, even though these three men were in it, as I live,” says the Lord GOD, “they would deliver neither sons nor daughters, but only they themselves would be delivered.
a. If I bring a sword on that land: Famine (Ezekiel 14:12-14) and wild beasts (Ezekiel 14:15-16) were not the only judgments God could send against Israel. He could also bring the sword of invading armies against them.
b. Even though these three men were in it: God promised that even the presence of the three men (Noah, Daniel, and Job) would not spare the land of Israel from the judgment of the sword soon to come.
4. (19-20) No hope for Judah during a plague.
“Or if I send a pestilence into that land and pour out My fury on it in blood, and cut off from it man and beast, even though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live,” says the Lord GOD, “they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.”
a. If I send a pestilence into that land: We can think of these four judgments as Ezekiel’s version of the four horsemen: famine, wild beasts, war, and now pestilence.
b. Even though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it: God promised that even the presence of the three men (Noah, Daniel, and Job) would not spare the land of Israel from the judgment of pestilence soon to come.
i. “It is very remarkable how evil men believe in goodness, and in hours of danger hope that its influence will protect them. I was once told by a multi-millionaire, who was completely materialised, and had become boastfully cynical concerning Christianity, that perhaps the piety of his wife would secure him entry into heaven.” (Morgan)
5. (21-23) The lesson from a remnant.
For thus says the Lord GOD: “How much more it shall be when I send My four severe judgments on Jerusalem—the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence—to cut off man and beast from it? Yet behold, there shall be left in it a remnant who will be brought out, both sons and daughters; surely they will come out to you, and you will see their ways and their doings. Then you will be comforted concerning the disaster that I have brought upon Jerusalem, all that I have brought upon it. And they will comfort you, when you see their ways and their doings; and you shall know that I have done nothing without cause that I have done in it,” says the Lord GOD.
a. How much more it shall be when I send My four severe judgments on Jerusalem: God promised to send these four severe judgments upon Jerusalem and Judah. When they came, they would be God’s severe judgments, and they would bring death to both man and beast.
b. Yet behold, there shall be left in it a remnant: This is an unusual reference to a remnant, because it does not seem to refer to a righteous remnant, but a wicked one. We understand this from the phrase their ways and their doings, which almost always had a negative meaning.
i. Their ways and their doings: “Most recent commentators recognize that the context demands that these words refer to ‘unrighteous doings’ for which due punishment has been meted out, and Cooke points out that in Ezekiel doings always has a bad sense. So the remnant of the fugitives would be wicked men.” (Taylor)
ii. “This ‘unspiritual remnant’ will provide evidence of Yahweh’s justice in annihilating the nation. Instead of responding to their narrow escape with a change in behavior, their pattern of impious conduct will be on display for the entire exilic community to observe.” (Block)
c. You will see their ways and doings: At the time Ezekiel spoke this, there were still many more exiles to come from Jerusalem and Judah to Babylon. When this remnant survived and arrived in Babylon, the Jews already in Babylon would see their wicked lives and know that the judgment Ezekiel spoke of was well deserved.
i. “This, of course, does not exclude righteous survivors (9.4-6), but tells the exiles that when they find these fresh exiles flooding into Babylonia, they will see that Ezekiel has not been exaggerating the black picture he has drawn of them.” (Wright)
d. Then you will be comforted: The comfort would come in the understanding of God’s ways and judgments. God would send these sons and daughters to be a living example of God’s righteousness in the disaster of the deserved judgment of God.
i. “It would all take place in order to convince the exiles of God’s justice, that he had not brought about the destruction of Jerusalem without cause.” (Taylor)
e. You shall know that I have done nothing without cause: In the end, Israel would know something of God’s comfort, but also His righteousness. They would understand that God was righteous in all He did, even in His severe judgments.
i. “We do not know the cause of so much that crushes us to the ground. But if we did know it as well as we shall know it some day, we should have no difficulty in reconciling God’s dealings with His perfect love.” (Meyer)