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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 11

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 11. The Reason Why Yahweh Must Depart - And His Final Departure.

Having described the commencement of Yahweh’s departure from Jerusalem, Ezekiel now adds further reasons why it is necessary and well deserved, but adds to it the certain hope that one day Israel will return with changed hearts and minds. Then the mighty chariot of God finally leaves the city and hovers over the mountain outside Jerusalem to the east, and Ezekiel is carried back to Babylon to tell those in captivity what he has seen.


Verse 1

‘Moreover the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of Yahweh’s house, which looks eastward. And behold at the door of the gate five and twenty men. And I saw in the midst of them Jaazaniah, the son of Azzur, and Pelatiah, the son of Benaiah, princes of the people.’

Ezekiel was now also transported to the east gate by the Spirit Who lifted him up as before and brought him there. The east gate was the main gate of the temple which was sited from east to west. At the door of the gate were twenty five men. These were not the same as the ‘about twenty five’ of Ezekiel 8:16 but the repetition of the number must be significant. Five is the number of covenant, and five times five may therefore again signify representatives of the whole covenant community. They include at least two of the princes of the people. Possibly the idea is also that they have replaced the men who were in vision destroyed in the temple as the debased leaders of Israel, or possibly they are the lay version of the twenty five in the inner court, thus demonstrating that both priesthood and laity were defiled.

Among the twenty five were at least two especially prominent men, princes of the people, although in fact they were all prominent men (Ezekiel 11:2). Most would be replacements for those who had been carried off into exile. Thus they were mainly not men of long experience. The gate would be large and have a spacious area where men could gather. It was common for the leaders of a community to meet in such a place (compare Jeremiah 26:10). Space was at a rare commodity in most ancient cities which tended to be an unplanned huddle of houses.

Jaazaniah was a fairly common name. It was found on ostraca (inscribed pieces of broken earthenware) at Lachish and Arad, and the name is also found in 2 Kings 25:23; Jeremiah 35:3. Thus we need not identify this Jaazaniah with that in Ezekiel 8:11. These two men had clearly been prominent in Ezekiel’s younger days, and he recognised them.


Verse 2

‘And he said to me, “Son of man, these are the men who scheme iniquity and who give wicked counsel to this city. Who say, ‘the time is not near to build houses. This city is the cauldron and we are the flesh’.” ’

These men met together as counsellors to advise the city. But in Yahweh’s eyes what they schemed was iniquitous and wicked, and their counsel was evil. Their counsel was probably similar to that proscribed in Micah 2:1-2, resulting from the fact that ‘they covet fields and seize them, and houses and take them away. And they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage’ (see Ezekiel 11:12). Compare also Jeremiah 22:13, ‘who uses his neighbour’s service without wages and does not give him his hire’. The leading men were using their position to enrich themselves.

Their particular advice is stated as, ‘the time is not near to build houses’. They may have been arguing against building houses because of their own mercenary interest. Perhaps they wanted to keep the number of houses low to increase rents, or to keep the land free where houses had been destroyed in the previous invasion, so that they could buy it cheaply. They may even have cited the example of the Rechabites as an example to follow (Jeremiah 35:7), but with evil motive.

Alternately that advice possibly meant that this was no time to build houses because they should be building fortifications ready for rebellion against Nebuchanezzar, probably with the help of Egypt. They would hardly go it alone and the ‘Lachish letters’, ostraca discovered on the site of Lachish, confirm military contact with Egypt. So they were possibly advocating rebellion and resistance. This would suggest that they were not only greedy for other people’s property but also for status, advancement and power. (The false prophets were at this time predicting the fall of Nebuchadnezzar and freedom from his yoke - Jeremiah 28:1-4 - which in itself would be a spur to rebellion).

This interpretation fits well with the illustration, ‘this city is the cauldron and we are the flesh’. Here they were likening Jerusalem to a protective cauldron which kept them (the flesh) out of the fire (of judgment) while they were being made into a delicious meal, something delightful and desirable. Thus they were arguing that its walls would protect them from Nebuchadnezzar, as the sides of the cauldron protected the flesh inside.

So they oozed sinful self confidence, while they were disobedient to the commands of Yahweh through His prophets (Ezekiel 11:12; Micah 2:1-2; Jeremiah 21:8-10). They were being presumptious and relying, in spite of their own sinfulness and idolatry, on the well established idea that Yahweh would not allow the city and temple to be destroyed. If they were also relying on Egypt it compounded their sin. But there was no way in which it was through genuine trust in Yahweh.

Indeed they may well have claimed that Yahweh had removed the old unbelieving leadership in judgment so as to make room for them. ‘We are the flesh’, may be intended to imply that those previous leaders were rejected offal, as they are seen as suggesting later in Ezekiel 11:15. (Those who see themselves as ‘chosen’ can often behave and think foolishly). But Yahweh had warned them through Jeremiah that they could not rely on belief in the inviolability of Jerusalem. That superstitious belief would cause Israel great damage now as it would on a number of occasions. But unlike Ezekiel they did not realise that Yahweh had for the time finished with both, for they did not believe the words of His prophets. Had they repented it might have been different, but Yahweh knew that they were too hardened to repent (compare Jeremiah 42-43).

However, the Hebrew says literally‘who say, ‘not at hand to build houses’, and AV, for example, translates, ‘it is not near, let us build houses’, meaning that the coming judgment was far off so that they could settle down in peace and build houses to live in with the future secure (compare Ezekiel 28:26). But the infinitive cannot easily be so interpreted as an exhortation, which is against this translation.

But another possibility in line with this is to see the Hebrew as a question, ‘is not the time at hand to build houses?’ which contains the same idea. LXX seemingly read it in a similar way and translated ‘who say, Have not the houses been newly built? This is the cauldron, and we are the flesh’ which might be seen as supporting something like this (but LXX is not necessarily reliable as a deciding factor). Under this interpretation it would, however, simply be presumption of a different kind, and still be relying on the security of Jerusalem to protect them. They would be advocating building houses and by it denying that Yahweh was about to act against the city.

An alternative idea is that ‘the time is not near to build houses’ had the exiles in mind. The exiles were being exhorted by the prophets to settle down in exile. Perhaps these men were arguing, against Yahweh, that now was not the time to build houses in exile, it was the time for freeing Jerusalem. (The words were in vision and finally intended for the exiles to interpret and understand. They were to see this as wrong advice, and iniquitous).

But the central point is the same in all views. That they were being presumptious, that they were relying on the fallacy of the inviolability of Jerusalem, that they were exalting themselves, and that they were ignoring Yahweh’s words through His prophets. They were frighteningly blind to their own failures and self-satisfied in spite of their iniquitous behaviour.


Verse 4

‘Therefore prophesy against them, prophesy O son of man.’

Ezekiel is to raise his voice against these presumptious ideas for they were the evidence of a complacency not justified by the facts. Judah and Israel were still not repentant over their sinfulness, and until they were there could be no restoration. Note that the command to prophesy is given twice for emphasis. There is need for his words.


Verse 5

‘And the Spirit of Yahweh fell on me, and he said to me, “Speak. Thus says Yahweh, “Thus have you said, Oh house of Israel, for I know the things that come into your mind.” ’

Once more Ezekiel was possessed by the Spirit to speak the word of Yahweh to the house of Israel. Here ‘house of Israel’ includes the exiles, for they would all be in agreement with the words of the men in Jerusalem. All believed that Jerusalem would not be destroyed and that soon things would be back to normal. Thus Yahweh points out that He is perfectly aware of how they are thinking. He wants them to know that He always knows men’s thoughts both in the present and in the future (Ezekiel 20:32; Ezekiel 38:10 compare Psalms 139:1-6; Isaiah 29:15 see also Daniel 2:30; Acts 1:24 of all men). Thus they must not think that they can hide their thoughts from Him (Hebrews 4:13).


Verses 6-8

“You have multiplied your slain in this city, and you have filled its streets with the slain. Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Your slain whom you have laid in its midst, they are the flesh, and this city is the cauldron, but you will be brought forth out of the midst of it. You have feared the sword and I will bring the sword on you, says the Lord Yahweh’.”

The reason for God’s unrelenting judgment was made clear. Murder had been, and still was, rife in the city, even judicial murder. Rivals were removed, and good men who protested were executed under false pretences. Life had been, and was, violent, for the commands of Yahweh were being ignored (compare Jeremiah 22:3). Their sins were unrelenting. They were still refusing to learn their lesson.

There is then a play on their own illustration. This can be taken in two ways. 1). Rather than their being the flesh in the cauldron, it was the dead at their hands who were the flesh in the cauldron, for it had proved a cauldron of death. Rather than the cauldron acting as a protection from outsiders it had caused the death of the good flesh brought about by those within the cauldron. 2). That it is the slain alone who could rejoice in the protection of the cauldron, for they have been rescued by death. For those still alive it would provide no protection.

If the leaders were seeing themselves as the good flesh, as they probably were (compare Ezekiel 11:15), then Ezekiel may be pointing out that in truth they were the ones who had actually slain the good flesh, those who had been faithful to Yahweh, by purges and persecution. Thus He was declaring that He would not protect these men of violence, for they would be brought out of Jerusalem and suffer the fate that they feared, and that they had brought on others, the avenger’s sword, (this supports the first interpretation of Ezekiel 11:3). And it would be brought on them by the Lord Yahweh Himself Who had deserted the city (Jeremiah 12:7).

Note the stress on ‘the Lord Yahweh’. Here was the root of the problem. They were ignoring, no, even rebelling against, the One Who was truly Lord over them. They were not just ignoring and rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar, and breaking a treaty with him, they were ignoring and rebelling against their own covenant God and His treaty.


Verses 9-11

“And I will bring you forth out of its midst and deliver you into the hands of strangers, and will execute judgments among you. You will fall by the sword. I will judge you in the border of Israel, and you will know that I am Yahweh. This city will not be your cauldron, nor will you be the flesh in its midst. I will judge you in the border of Israel.”

The cauldron of Jerusalem would not protect them. It would not be a cauldron to them, nor would they prosper as the flesh within it. Indeed they would not remain within it. Its walls will fall and they will be brought out and handed over to strangers, and then God’s judgments will be carried out on them. Many will fall by the sword, and those who remain alive will be judged at the border of Israel. They will have deserted their so-called cauldron, a final derisory comment in the face for their proud claims.

The fulfilment of this came about when many of these people escaped from Jerusalem when its walls were breached, and were overtaken at the Jericho border (2 Kings 25:5), and those who remained alive were taken to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah on the northern border of the old Israel and there the leaders were slain (2 Kings 25:7; 2 Kings 25:21). The prophecy was rather one of certain defeat and humiliation than of detail. It would not be unusual for military headquarters to be set up in a safe border area preparatory for the invasion. And further rebellion would have ensured the final execution of its leaders. Once the capture of the city was accepted as a certainty the rest could easily be foreseen.

‘And you will know that I am Yahweh.’ This is now amplified.


Verse 12

“And you will know that I am Yahweh, for you have not walked in my statutes, nor have you carried out my judgments, but have done after the ordinances of the nations that are round about you.”

The result of what was to happen to them would bring home to them that Yahweh was not there to be trifled with. They would know that HewasYahweh. He was their covenant God, the One Who was there, the One Who controlled their destiny. But they had ignored His requirements, they had not walked in His ways and in His statutes, they had not ruled justly under His guidance and according to His will. Rather they had chosen to abide by the principles and ideas and customs taught by nations round about, worshipping their gods and walking in their ways at the same time as they claimed to belong to Yahweh. They had sunk themselves to their level, and put Yahweh on a level with the gods of other nations, powerless, amoral and ineffective.

This was in the end the reason for their certain judgment. They had forsaken the Instruction (Torah) of Yahweh, and indeed had it not been for this judgment on Israel which forced them into preserving it, and into once again recognising Yahweh for what He was, it might have been lost for ever, a huge loss to the world beyond description. God would have had to raise up another Abraham and begin again.


Verse 13

‘And it happened that when I prophesied Pelatiah, the son of Benaiah, died. Then I fell down on my face and cried with a loud voice, and said, “Ah, Lord Yahweh, will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” ’

As Ezekiel obeyed Yahweh and pronounced his words against the house of Israel, Pelatiah fell down and died. The assumption is made that the two were connected although it is not stated. Certainly it deeply affected Ezekiel who saw it that way. He saw in this the beginning of the destruction of all Israel, and pleaded for God’s mercy. This will be promised in the following verses, and explains why at this early stage the revelation of future restoration began, a brief light in a dark scenario (but see also Ezekiel 5:3; Ezekiel 6:8-9).

It is probable that we are to see Pelatiah as dying in Jerusalem. Thus Ezekiel’s vision would receive confirmation as to its genuineness and accuracy once the news reached Babylonia some weeks later. This incident tends to confirm that at least ‘in spirit’ Ezekiel was in Jerusalem and was not just having visions in Babylonia of being transported and present there.

It is ironic that the name Pelatiah means ‘Yahweh delivers’. This may have been why Ezekiel, in the moment of shock after the death, saw it as the end of all hope. But that it was not he essentially knew. (Such names compounded with plt are attested from the Amorite period in Canaan and were common in Ugarit in 13th century BC as well as in later Aramaic. They were thus fairly common).


Verse 14-15

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man. Your brothers, even your brothers, the men related by blood (kindred) to you, and all the house of Israel, all of them, are they to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, “You get far from Yahweh, this land is given for a possession to us.”

This emphasises the attitude of the men of Jerusalem. They considered that the exiles were unclean and no longer had any part in Yahweh’s promises, but that those promises all now belonged to those in Jerusalem who had had the land handed over to them as their possession. (And this in spite of their rampant idolatry, for they still saw Yahweh as the official God of Judah. He was simply ignored in practise).

Note the stress by repetition on the fact that all the exiles are excluded by the men of Jdrusalem, both Ezekiel’s own blood relatives, his fellow-priests, and all the house of Israel in exile. In fact, however, He will now point out, this is far from the truth.


Verse 16

“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, whereas I have removed them far off among the nations, and whereas I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them a sanctuary for a little while in the countries where they have gone.’ ”

‘Therefore say.’ Yahweh was clearly angry at their attitude and His reply to the people of Jerusalem was that the opposite was the case. Those who were scattered, both of Israel and Judah, wherever they were, would find that Yahweh would be a sanctuary to them. He would be their temple. They would find that they had a sanctuary provided by Yahweh, even while His sanctuary in Jerusalem would be deserted. He would watch over them and protect them in all the countries to which they had gone. He had not forgotten them and would continue to plead with them. And for a little while this would be the situation. Immediate restoration was not an option. But then things would change.


Verse 17-18

“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come there, and they will take away all its detestable things, and all its abominations from there.’ ”

One day Yahweh would again act for His people, and would gather and assemble them wherever they were, and would bring them back to the land and again give it to them. And when they came they would scrupulously remove all idolatry and all that was connected with it. Notice the stress on multiplicity. They would be gathered from far and wide. There is no reason to doubt that connection was maintained between scattered families and once restoration began the clarion call would go out and exiles would come from near and far. With possibly a few exceptions the ‘lost tribes’ were really not lost at all.

‘I will give you the land of Israel.’ This was the guarantee of their continuing part in the covenant. Contrast Ezekiel 11:15 where possession of the land was seen as the proof of blessing by those who were in fact under condemnation. But what they overlooked was that the land was no longer theirs for God had for the time being given it to Nebuchadnezzar. But for the exiles He was promising a new Exodus, a new deliverance, a new journey to the promised land. This giving of the land was part of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), and was seen by Israel as evidence that they were God’s people. However it should be noted that the idea of the land drops out of the later covenants (e.g. 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 55:3, where it is replaced by eternal kingship; Jeremiah 31:31-34 where it is replaced by an eternal relationship) because a greater idea and fulfilment is in view.


Verse 19

“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you, and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and do them. And they will be my people and I will be their God.”

The constant change of person is an indication of Ezekiel’s excitement at the prospect. He was writing in an exalted state and exact grammar was of secondary importance.

The returning people would be made as one with a united heart (compare Jeremiah 32:39), they would be ‘the house of Israel’ and no longer Israel and Judah, or split by tribal loyalties, and they would be inwardly transformed. Their stony hearts would become hearts of flesh, softened and responsive. They really would be ‘the flesh’ (Ezekiel 11:3), the chosen of Yahweh. There would be no more hardheartedness but a determination to walk according to Yahweh’s instruction, to obey Him and fulfil all His requirements. Once again they would be His own people, and He would again be their God in the fullest sense (see also Ezekiel 36:25-28).

There is an interesting contrast between these promises and Ezekiel 18:31 where God tells them to repent of their transgressions and make for themselves a new heart and a new spirit. There He knew, of course, that they would not do it. Thus here and in Ezekiel 36:25-28 He promises that grace will conquer disobedience and bring about in His people what He has commanded.

That this would be through the working of God’s Spirit goes without saying, as is evidenced in His then present working in Psalms 139:7; Psalms 143:10 and in Ezekiel 36:26-27; Deuteronomy 30:6; Isaiah 44:2-5; Jeremiah 31:33; Joel 2:28-29; Zechariah 4:6. While the great work of the Spirit awaited the Upper Room and Pentecost, God’s Spirit has worked in His own through all ages (e.g. John 3:1-6 before Pentecost).

The working of God through the centuries has always had this in mind. It found partial fulfilment at the return from exile as men sought God afresh and put away all idolatry (Ezra 4:1-3; Ezra 6:19-21; Nehemiah 8-10), and as His Spirit worked in them for the rebuilding of the temple (Zechariah 4:6). But it was only partial. They were still partially lacking (Ezra 9:1-2; Ezra 9:10-15; Ezra 10:15; Ezra 10:44; Nehemiah 5:1-9; Nehemiah 13:7-29). It found partial fulfilment in the Upper Room and at Pentecost and what followed, continuing still today. But again His people have shown themselves to be still partially lacking. But it will find its final fulfilment when we are made like Him and see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

Note the contrast of ‘take away’. When His people ‘take away’ the abominable things (Ezekiel 11:18) Yahweh will at the same time ‘take away’ their stony heart (Ezekiel 11:19). The new birth and repentance and doing away with sin go hand in hand.


Verse 21

“But as for those whose heart walks after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their way on their own heads,” says the Lord Yahweh.

God now finished off His comment on Ezekiel 11:15 with reference to the presumptious people of Jerusalem. But it was not so much their presumption that excluded them, it was their sin. They were boasting in what Yahweh had given them even while they were saturated in idolatry. Had their hearts been set towards Yahweh things might have been different. But their hearts were not with Yahweh. Their hearts were continually with their idols and their detestable ways, their sexual perversions and their child sacrifices, their violence and their injustice, and their persecution of godly people. So He would bring their way on their own heads. What they were sowing they would reap.


Verse 22-23

‘Then the cherubim lifted up their wings and the wheels were beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. And the glory of Yahweh went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain which is on the east of the city.’

Having made His declarations the chariot of Yahweh, with the glory of Yahweh on it, left the city for the mountain to the east of the city. Later when His glory will return to the temple it will be the east from which it comes (Ezekiel 43:1-4). The appearance on the mountain east of the city was to be the last time that it was seen in this generation. Yahweh had departed and would come no more until His future day arrived. So Yahweh had moved, deliberately and certainly, from the holy of holies to the threshold of the temple (Ezekiel 10:4), from the threshold of the temple to the door at the east gate of Yahweh’s house (Ezekiel 10:19), and from there to the mountain to the east of the city (Ezekiel 11:23), revealing iniquity on the way and pronouncing His judgments.

There may be in the eastern movement the thought of His eastward departure towards Babylon, (otherwise He would surely have returned to the north - Ezekiel 1:4) but there is no direct suggestion of it, or it may simply have been intended as a a mysterious disappearance from the Mount of Olives, to which He would one day return (Zechariah 14:4). Jewish tradition later saw Him as waiting there to see if the city would repent, but again there is no hint of it in the passage. We are probably best to see it as simply indicating that the glory of Yahweh then disappeared for the last time having abandoned the city to its fate. The central idea was that Yahweh and the city were no longer associated.

It may well be significant that Jesus too ascended from the mount of Olives, by Bethany, (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:6-11) and disappeared heavenward, as Jerusalem and the temple were again abandoned by God.


Verse 24

‘And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God to Chaldea, to those of the captivity. So the vision that I had seen went up from me. Then I spoke to those of the captivity all the things that Yahweh had shown me.’

Ezekiel’s vision was now coming to an end and he was transported by the Spirit back to his fellow-captives in Babylonia. Then the vision ceased and he reported all that he had seen and heard to his fellow-captives. ‘So the vision that I had seen went up from me.’ A vivid way of depicting the fact that the vision was not just in his mind. It had come from God and returned to God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-11.html. 2013.

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