Ezekiel 24 – The Death of the Prophet’s Wife
A. The parable of the boiling cauldron.
1. (1-2) The start of the siege of Jerusalem.
Again, in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, write down the name of the day, this very day—the king of Babylon started his siege against Jerusalem this very day.
a. In the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month: As God commanded, Ezekiel carefully recorded the day of this prophecy. This was a nation-changing and life-changing date, long remembered. To relate this to 21st century United States events, it was an iconic date like 9-11 which remembers attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001.
i. This exact date is also recorded in 2 Kings 25:1, Jeremiah 39:1, and Jeremiah 52:4.
ii. “It is also known from Zechariah 8:19 that this date became a fast for the exiles, as commemorating one of the critical days in the fall of the holy city.” (Taylor)
b. The king of Babylon started his siege against Jerusalem: The day was important because it was the start of what God had long promised – the final siege, conquest, and destruction of Jerusalem.
2. (3-5) Jerusalem like a cooking pot, a boiling cauldron.
And utter a parable to the rebellious house, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD:
“Put on a pot, set it on,
And also pour water into it.
Gather pieces of meat in it,
Every good piece,
The thigh and the shoulder.
Fill it with choice cuts;
Take the choice of the flock.
Also pile fuel bones under it,
Make it boil well,
And let the cuts simmer in it.”
a. Put on a pot, set it on: We don’t know if Ezekiel literally acted out this parable, or simply told the story. Either way, the meaning is the same. The picture is of a cooking pot or cauldron, filled with water and pieces of meat.
i. “The word for cauldron [pot] normally refers to any large wide-mouthed pottery utensil used for washing or cookery, though in this instance we find in Ezekiel 24:11 that it is made of copper.” (Taylor)
ii. “Like most preachers Ezekiel uses an illustration more than once, varying the application according to the point of his message. He has used the picture of the cauldron in Ezekiel 11:3-12. Now he takes it up again. Jerusalem is the cooking pot, and its people are the meat that is to be cooked.” (Wright)
iii. From the description, Jerusalem would be a remarkable feast for Nebuchadnezzar and his armies. “The cook does not appear to be fixing an ordinary dinner; rather, an extraordinarily sumptuous meal is implied by the emphasis on the quality and quantity of meat being prepared.” (Block)
b. Pile fuel bones under it: With a fire feeding on bones, the command was to make the pot boil well so that its contents would simmer and cook.
i. Most commentators consider the picture to be of animal bones, but Block makes the case for it to be the chilling picture of a fire fueled by human bones: “Since the feminine plural form is used elsewhere in Ezekiel only of human bones, an interpretive element has already been introduced: the contents of the pot about to be destroyed are not animal bones—they are human.”
3. (6-8) Woe to the bloody city of Jerusalem.
‘Therefore thus says the Lord GOD:
“Woe to the bloody city,
To the pot whose scum is in it,
And whose scum is not gone from it!
Bring it out piece by piece,
On which no lot has fallen.
For her blood is in her midst;
She set it on top of a rock;
She did not pour it on the ground,
To cover it with dust.
That it may raise up fury and take vengeance,
I have set her blood on top of a rock,
That it may not be covered.”
a. Woe to the bloody city: Since it was the very day that Jerusalem was surrounded by Nebuchadnezzar’s siege army, there is no doubt that the bloody city was Jerusalem. It was a bloody city in at least two ways. First, it was the city where much innocent blood had been shed, often under the cover of authority (Ezekiel 21:13 and many other passages). Second, it was the city where much blood would be shed under Nebuchadnezzar’s attack.
b. To the pot whose scum is in it: As Jerusalem boiled and cooked, its worst qualities would become evident to everyone. Most commentators believe that scum here is better understood as rust, especially in light of its reddish color.
i. “Some translate the word as ‘scum,’ but ‘rust’ is correct. It was a symbol of the corrosion and corruption of the city and may have represented the blood of victims slain through intrigue and oppression.” (Feinberg)
ii. Whose scum is in it: “Filthiness, her abominations, all her lewdness, are still within her; they have not been punished, restrained, or cast out by the execution of just and good laws; but the citizens have with obstinacy, impenitence, and with impudence continued in them.” (Poole)
iii. Bring it out piece by piece: “Pull out the flesh indiscriminately; let no piece be chosen for king or priest; thus showing that all should be involved in one indiscriminate ruin.” (Clarke)
iv. “The people of Jerusalem may have thought they were choice cuts, but as far as Ezekiel is concerned they were unfit for consumption; no lot would fall on Jerusalem.” (Block)
c. Her blood is in her midst: The death and bloodshed coming to Jerusalem would prevent proper burial. The bloody dead would not be covered with dirt and dust; their dead bodies would lie horrifically exposed. This was another example of God’s fury and vengeance against Jerusalem and Judah.
i. “The blood in Ezekiel 24:7 is that of murder, wrongful conviction, and human sacrifice. Blood unjustly shed cries for vengeance (Genesis 4:10; Job 16:18).” (Wright)
ii. “According to Genesis 4:10, blood which was uncovered called for God’s vindication of it (cf. Isaiah 26:21). When blood was not covered with dust, there was a violation of the Mosaic law (Leviticus 17:13).” (Feinberg)
iii. This principle was even true of animal blood. “The Mosaic law required that whenever a game animal or bird was slain, the blood was to be poured out and covered with earth (Deuteronomy 12:16, 24; 15:23). To leave it exposed was to provoke the wrath of God, the source and guarantor of all life.” (Block)
4. (9-13) Further woe to the bloody city.
‘Therefore thus says the Lord GOD:
“Woe to the bloody city!
I too will make the pyre great.
Heap on the wood,
Kindle the fire;
Cook the meat well,
Mix in the spices,
And let the cuts be burned up.
“Then set the pot empty on the coals,
That it may become hot and its bronze may burn,
That its filthiness may be melted in it,
That its scum may be consumed.
She has grown weary with lies,
And her great scum has not gone from her.
Let her scum be in the fire!
In your filthiness is lewdness.
Because I have cleansed you, and you were not cleansed,
You will not be cleansed of your filthiness anymore,
Till I have caused My fury to rest upon you.
a. Woe to the bloody city: Jerusalem’s woe did not end with the tragedies described in the previous section. There was much more to describe.
b. I too will make the pyre great: The fire under the cooking pot is now described as a pyre – a burning for the dead. The fire will be huge, and the contents of the pot will first be burned up – then, the pot itself will become hot and its bronze may burn. All of Jerusalem’s impurities, her scum, will be consumed in the judgment coming upon her.
i. “Let the siege be severe, the carnage great, and the ruin and catastrophe complete.” (Clarke)
ii. “The great opportunity had passed by. And therefore, says the Lord, the fire will be an agent of destruction with no purificatory features whatever. The fire—now the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians—will be heaped up, and the pot will be reduced to molten metal. There will be no regeneration, only total destruction.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
c. Because I have cleansed you, and you were not cleansed: Through many generations God sent His prophets to His people. They had the institutions of the temple, the sacrifices, the feasts, and the priesthood. All of these should have been cleansing, purifying agents upon His people – yet they were not. Therefore God would not cleanse them anymore; in His fury He would judge them.
i. Because I have cleansed you: “One can only surmise to which historical events Ezekiel alludes. Josiah’s recent attempts at reformation (2 Kings 22-23) must be in view, but Hezekiah’s earlier efforts would also be included (2 Kings 18:4, 22; 2 Chronicles 31).” (Block)
ii. “Ezekiel’s entire prophecy implies that God’s wrath will cease and Israel will be cleansed completely when God begins to restore Israel to the land of Canaan in the end time.” (Alexander)
iii. Lewdness: “A word that denominates the worst kinds of impurity; adultery, incest, &c., and the purpose, wish, design, and ardent desire to do these things. Hers were not accidental sins, they were abominations by design.” (Clarke)
5. (14) The certainty of God’s pronouncement.
I, the LORD, have spoken it;
It shall come to pass, and I will do it;
I will not hold back,
Nor will I spare,
Nor will I relent;
According to your ways
And according to your deeds
They will judge you,”
Says the Lord GOD.’”
a. I, the LORD, have spoken it; it shall come to pass: God wanted to leave no doubt that this would happen just as He had said. The terrible calamity announced for Jerusalem and Judah would surely happen.
b. According to your ways and according to your deeds: Under the covenant Israel made with God at Mount Sinai, they would be blessed in their obedience and cursed in their disobedience. Their wicked ways and deeds would judge them.
B. The death of Ezekiel’s wife.
1. (15-17) God tells Ezekiel his wife will die and how he must react.
Also the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead; bind your turban on your head, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man’s bread of sorrow.”
a. I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke: God brought Ezekiel a shocking message regarding his wife (touchingly referred to as the desire of your eyes). The message was that she would suddenly and unexpectedly die (I take away…with one stroke).
i. The desire of your eyes: “Whether it refer to the beauty of her person or no, it certainly refers to the amiableness of her disposition, and the agreeableness of her to the prophet.” (Poole)
ii. “In these verses we catch a glimpse of the inner Ezekiel which rarely appears through his apparently harsh and unyielding exterior. His austerity and rigid self-discipline, his passion for truth and for the honour of God’s holy name, very nearly conceal the tender heart that lies within.” (Taylor)
iii. With one stroke: “With pestilence, palsy, or some similar sudden death. This was no small trial of the prophet’s patience and obedience. Let us learn to hang loose to all outward comforts.” (Trapp)
iv. Wiersbe observed that in some way or another, the wife of a Biblical prophet was connected with their mission or message.
· Abraham was a prophet (Genesis 20:7) who twice lied about his wife and got into trouble.
· Moses was a prophet and was criticized for the wife he chose (Numbers 12:1).
· Isaiah’s wife was a prophetess (Isaiah 8:3). She bore him at least two sons whose names were signs to the people of Judah.
· The Prophet Jeremiah wasn’t allowed to have a wife (Jeremiah 16:1-4), and this was a sign to the Jews that judgment was coming, and it was not time for marrying.
· Hosea’s wife became a prostitute and he had to buy her out of the slave market (Hosea 1-3).
b. Yet you shall neither mourn nor weep: Ezekiel was strangely forbidden to grieve or even weep over the loss of the desire of his eyes. The command was strong: nor shall your tears run down, and no visible signs of mourning were permitted.
i. According to Leviticus 21:1-4, God restricted the mourning of the priests. This can be seen as an extension of that principle.
ii. “He was not forbidden to sorrow, for even our Lord wept at the grave of Lazarus. He was only prohibited from a loud manifestation of it, which was in contrast to the usual loud wailing on such occasions.” (Feinberg)
iii. “The general truth may be found in Jeremiah 16:5, where it is shown that all personal sorrow will be eclipsed in the hour of universal calamity.” (Feinberg)
iv. Sigh in silence: “In that we see the understanding heart of God. He knew the sorrow of His servant’s soul, both personal and public, and did not rebuke it. In days when public testimony demands that we rise superior to private sorrows, it is good to know that He understands the difficulty, and does not forbid the sigh.” (Morgan)
v. “The word ‘sigh’ is normally used of the noisy groaning of wounded men and is a reminder of the ritual lamentations that were regularly laid on for funeral occasions.” (Taylor)
2. (18-19) The death of Ezekiel’s wife.
So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded. And the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things signify to us, that you behave so?”
a. So I spoke to the people in the morning: Presumably, Ezekiel spoke as he had many times before, reporting what God had told him to proclaim. This time the message was both strange and sad. As a prophet, he told them that his wife would die. We can only wonder what Ezekiel had told his wife the night before.
b. At evening my wife died: This was a great loss to Ezekiel, one that many have suffered. The title, the desire of your eyes (Ezekiel 24:16), points to a dear and loving relationship. Throughout the book, Ezekiel is presented to us as a man of deep feeling and emotion who often mourned and wept over the fate of Jerusalem and Judah. He certainly was deeply affected by this sudden loss of a dear companion and spouse.
c. The next morning I did as I was commanded: Remarkably, Ezekiel obeyed God. However overwhelming the feeling may have been to mourn and weep, Ezekiel was determined to honor God by obeying Him despite his feelings and the quite understandable circumstances.
i. “Obedience must be yielded to God even in the most difficult duties, and conjugal love must give place to our love to him.” (Trapp)
ii. This strange incident teaches us many things about mourning and grief over the loss of a loved one.
· Such sudden and dear losses may happen to anyone, including great prophets and servants of God.
· This was unusual. We never read again in the Scriptures of such a loss of a dear one and such a commanded non-reaction. In its specifics, we should never regard this strange incident as a pattern of God’s work.
· Mourning and weeping over the loss of a loved one is so natural and to be expected that Ezekiel needed an express command from God not to do it.
· In obedience to God and under the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s people are not absolute slaves to their emotions.
d. Will you not tell us what these things signify to us, that you behave so? The strange event had the intended effect. The people were shocked and mystified at Ezekiel’s sudden loss and strange behavior.
i. “By this time the captives were familiar enough with Ezekiel’s methodology to realize that the absence of emotion at the death of his beloved wife must have some prophetic meaning. They therefore asked the prophet to explain his conduct.” (Smith)
3. (20-24) God explains the sign to the people: death without the ability to mourn.
Then I answered them, “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Speak to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I will profane My sanctuary, your arrogant boast, the desire of your eyes, the delight of your soul; and your sons and daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword. And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your lips nor eat man’s bread of sorrow. Your turbans shall be on your heads and your sandals on your feet; you shall neither mourn nor weep, but you shall pine away in your iniquities and mourn with one another. Thus Ezekiel is a sign to you; according to all that he has done you shall do; and when this comes, you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.’”
a. Then I answered them: The tragic event and the strange reaction had a divine purpose. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Ezekiel had an answer for their legitimate question, and the answer was not fate, chance, or ignorance.
b. Behold, I will profane My sanctuary, your arrogant boast, the desire of your eyes, the delight of your soul: As a husband finds a proper source of joy, confidence, and security in his relationship with his wife, so Israel had an improper source of confidence and security in the temple (your arrogant boast). As Ezekiel’s wife suddenly died, so the sanctuary would suddenly and soon perish.
i. Both in exile and in the land, in Ezekiel’s day the people of Israel had an irrational and dangerous confidence in the mere existence of the temple. They thought, “This is God’s house. It is dear to Him and to us. He will never allow it to be conquered.” God shattered this mistaken confidence.
ii. We note how God referred to the temple that had become an idol and false source of hope for Judah:
· Your arrogant boast, thought to guarantee their security.
· The desire of your eyes, that most precious to them.
· The delight of your soul, that which delighted them most.
c. Your sons and daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword: The captives in Babylon had many sons and daughters still in Jerusalem and Judah, and many of those dear ones would die in the judgment that had now come upon the land.
d. You shall do as I have done: When all this tragedy comes upon their dear ones and their dear temple, the people would have to respond as Ezekiel did. Their shock would make them unable to mourn “normally,” and perhaps the Babylonian culture would also hinder their expressions of grief.
i. “Ezekiel had not wept, and Israel would not weep either: because in both cases the tragedy was too deep and stunning for any expression of grief to prove adequate.” (Taylor)
ii. “Yet no mourning is to take place, for this is a judgment that calls not for mutual consolation but for mutual shame and recrimination.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iii. “They would experience a grief which is beyond tears, a despondency which could not be expressed with outward acts.… The only outward expression which would be heard among them would be a quiet moan.” (Smith)
e. When this comes, you shall know that I am the Lord GOD: The consistent purpose of God throughout the book of Ezekiel is the revelation of Himself even through tragedy and crisis. In all their unexpressed sorrow, there would be a revelation of the Lord GOD.
i. They should not have mourned the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple because it was deserved, and it was clearly announced long ahead of time. In contrast, the death of Ezekiel’s wife was neither deserved nor announced long ahead – yet he was commanded to not mourn. It was much truer that Israel should not mourn the conquest of Judah, Jerusalem, and the temple.
4. (25-27) God explains the sign to Ezekiel.
‘And you, son of man—will it not be in the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and their glory, the desire of their eyes, and that on which they set their minds, their sons and their daughters: that on that day one who escapes will come to you to let you hear it with your ears; on that day your mouth will be opened to him who has escaped; you shall speak and no longer be mute. Thus you will be a sign to them, and they shall know that I am the LORD.’”
a. In the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and their glory, the desire of their eyes: The beginning of Ezekiel 24 marked the start of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem. The day would soon and inevitably come when the temple (stronghold) and all else they held dear would be conquered and destroyed.
b. On that day your mouth will be opened to him who has escaped; you shall speak and no longer be mute: There was, in some sense, a restriction on the distribution of Ezekiel’s message that waited for Jerusalem to finally fall. The day would soon come when that restriction would end.
i. “When some one who shall have escaped from Jerusalem, having arrived among the captives, shall inform them of the destruction of the city, the temple, the royal family, and the people at large; till then he might suppress his tears and lamentations. And we find from Ezekiel 33:21, that one did actually escape from the city, and informed the prophet and his brethren in captivity that the city was smitten.” (Clarke)
c. You shall speak and no longer be mute: Ezekiel’s loosened tongue will mean that he will begin to prophesy in a much more hopeful tone. The judgment had been measured out in all its strength; now God could begin to rebuild and do so with true hope. The ultimate restoration would be glorious.
i. “His prophecies of doom will no longer need to be uttered. He will be able to act as a shepherd and a watchman to his people. He will be free to work constructively towards the building up of a new community, a new Israel.” (Taylor)
ii. “His ministry would change. He would be able to comfort and encourage them with words of hope rather than oracles of doom and stony silence. This prophet who previously had been so negative would become at that time the great encourager.” (Smith)
d. Thus you will be a sign to them, and they shall know that I am the LORD: In the end, both the prophet and his God, the covenant God of Israel, would be vindicated and revealed.
i. “That day will be marked by two significant events: Yahweh will pull the rug out from under the people by removing the ground of all their hopes, and he will vindicate his prophet by confirming his sign value for the nation.” (Block)