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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 22

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 22 God’s Indictment on Jerusalem.

This chapter consists of three oracles spoken against Jerusalem possibly at different times (Ezekiel 22:1; Ezekiel 22:17; Ezekiel 22:23). They are united by their message as they depict the extreme sinfulness of Jerusalem. They also act as a warning to others of what happens to those who behave in such a way.


Verse 1-2

Jerusalem, the City of Blood.

‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge, the bloody city? Then cause her to know all her abominations.” ’

Ezekiel continues in his silent vigil, speaking only when the word of Yahweh comes to him. God asks him whether he is prepared to pass act as prosecutor to a city filled with the spilling of blood. For the double rendering which intensifies the question compare Ezekiel 20:4.

‘The bloody city.’ This section repeats the word blood a number of times (Ezekiel 22:2-4; Ezekiel 22:6; Ezekiel 22:9; Ezekiel 22:12-13). Its streets were stained with blood. ‘Blood’ often indicates physical violence and deliberate harm, and vileness, as well as death.


Verses 3-5

‘And you will say, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, A city that sheds blood in the midst of her, that her time may come, and that makes idols against herself to defile her. You are become guilty in your blood that you have shed, and are defiled in your idols that you have made, and you have caused your days to draw near, and are come even to your years. Therefore have I made you a reproach to the nations, and a mocking to all the countries. Those that are near, and those that are far from you, will mock you, you who are defiled of name (and therefore ‘infamous’) and full of tumult.”

Ezekiel’s charge against Jerusalem is to be that they continue to shed blood freely, and to make the idols that defile her, bringing the time of their judgment on themselves. It was clearly a violent time. Blood was shed in the offering of their sons to Molech, and in courts that were prejudiced and hostile against those who were not in favour of the regime. Charges were probably brought against innocent men, and accepted, simply for political reasons or to destroy their influence and obtain their wealth (compare 1 Kings 21:1-16; 2 Kings 21:16; 2 Kings 24:4). Even Jeremiah found himself in danger of such a death (Jeremiah 38:4; Jeremiah 38:6). There was probably a split in views between those who followed Jeremiah in his teaching that they should submit to Nebuchadnezzar, and those who favoured the rebellion. When such ideas become white hot, violence always results. Thus were they guilty.

Furthermore the intensity of feeling multiplied idol worship, and probably also child sacrifice. They were desperate to obtain victory from the gods. What better way than to offer their dearest possessions? Possibly it had been introduced into the city from the valley of Hinnom, although that valley could be seen as part of ‘Jerusalem’. If so their idols had polluted the city even more than before. Thus were they even more defiled.

So by their behaviour they had ‘caused their days to draw near’, the days when they had to give account, and had ‘come to their years’, the time when they would have judgment passed on them. Both had been hastened by their evil behaviour. They had no one to blame but themselves. And that is why God was making them a reproach in the eyes of the nations, a mockery to many countries, for these would mock at the desolation of Jerusalem and of Judah. Countries both near and far would mock because she had defiled her name and was full of violence and tumult, and had brought judgment on herself.


Verses 6-8

“Behold the princes of Israel, every one according to his power, have been in you to shed blood. In you have they treated dismissively the authority of father and mother. In the midst of you they have dealt with the stranger by oppression. In you they have wronged the fatherless and the widow. You have despised my holy things and have profaned my sabbaths.”

Notice the ‘in you’ which is continually repeated in the following verses. God is speaking to Jerusalem and depicting why it is a condemned city because it shares in the sins of its inhabitants.

In it God’s commandments have been set at nought, and God’s law in Leviticus ignored. Murder was rife, with even their princes vying to demonstrate the level of their authority in terms of blood shed. The authority of parents (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3; Leviticus 20:9), advocating restraint, has been set aside. Those on whom God called special favour, the stranger (Leviticus 19:33-34), the widows and the orphans (Exodus 22:21-24), the defenceless, have been wronged and ill-treated. God’s holy things have been despised and treated as of little account. The sabbaths have been neglected and profaned (compare Leviticus 19:3). This was the condition of Jerusalem egged on by their leaders. No wonder it was ripe for judgment.


Verses 9-11

“Slanderous men have been in you to shed blood, and in you they have eaten on the mountains. In the midst of you they have committed lewdness. In you they have discovered their fathers’ nakedness, in you they have humbled her who was unclean in her separation. And one has committed abomination with his neighbour’s wife, and another has lewdly defiled his daughter in law, and another in you has humbled his sister, his father’s daughter.”

The catalogue of sins continues. And this was in what they called ‘the holy city’. Men had brought about the deaths of others by slander and lies (see Exodus 20:16; Leviticus 19:16); idolatrous, licentious feasts had been celebrated within the city on its mountains; and sexual misbehaviour which it is even a shame to speak about had been practised widely (see Leviticus 18:7; Leviticus 18:19-20; Leviticus 20:10, Leviticus 21:17).


Verse 12

“In you have they taken bribes to shed blood, you have taken usury and increase, and you have greedily gained from your neighbours by oppression, and have forgotten me, says the Lord Yahweh.”

In Jerusalem the love of money has made men forget God, a common problem through the ages. Here men take bribes so as to bring about another’s death (compare Exodus 23:8; Isaiah 1:23; Amos 5:12; Micah 3:11), they take high interest from the poor, they take a high percentage of what the poor earn to cover their own loans, they oppress others so as to gain from them (Exodus 22:21-24; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33; Deuteronomy 24:17), and all because they have forgotten God. We must all remember that the way we live ever demonstrates whether we remember God or not.

They would, of course, have protested that they had not forgotten God. That the daily sacrifices were still offered, that they still gave some recognition to the God of Israel. But God’s point was that they had not remembered Him as He was, a holy and righteous God. The Yahweh they ‘worshipped’ was but a pale, undemanding shadow of what He really was. And that applied to Ezekiel’s listeners as well.


Verse 13

“Behold therefore I have smitten my hand at your dishonest gain which you have made, and at your blood which has been in the midst of you.”

What has happened in Jerusalem has made God ‘smite his hand’, in anger and determination to do something. Two sins stand out, those of dishonest business dealings and especially of treating the poor and defenceless dishonestly, and that of murder by various means. both violent and judicial.


Verse 14

“Can your heart endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I will deal with you? I, Yahweh, have spoken it and will do it.”

God’s warning comes loud and clear. Those who disobey His commandments will have to face His judgment. And do they think that they will then be able to endure or be strong in the face of God’s enmity and anger? And they can be sure that it will happen, because God has said it.


Verse 15-16

“And I will scatter you among the nations, and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your filthiness out of you, and you will be profaned in yourself in the sight of the nations, and you will know that I am Yahweh.”

God will deal with them by scattering them among the nations and dispersing them through many countries. They knew what this would involve, either being led in chains to a foreign land, or fleeing as refugees to places where life would be hard and they might well find themselves unwelcome. Their wealth, such as it was, would be eaten up, and they would often face degradation. Furthermore it would tend to destroy their identity, and to make them a byword to those among whom they settled. And they would be away from the land of their inheritance.

But the purpose of all this was so as to make them face up to their sinfulness, was so that their filthiness might be taken out of them, burned out by their humiliating experiences, and so that they might recognise by what they underwent that they had diminished themselves by ceasing to be what God had intended for them, to be witnesses to the nations, they had ‘profaned’ themselves, thus hopefully bringing them to consider how they could restore themselves to their proper purpose as they came to recognise Who and What Yahweh really was.

‘And you will know that I am Yahweh.’ This is a constant theme in Ezekiel. This in the end was God’s purpose.


Verse 17-18

The House of Israel Who Are Full of Impurity.

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, the house of Israel is become dross to me, all of them are brass and tin and iron and lead in the midst of the furnace. They are the dross of silver.”

In this second oracle ‘the house of Israel’ are described as dross, the impurities that are left when the silver is purified. And while the main idea is of ‘the house of Israel’ in Jerusalem and Judah, there is an implication in the use of the term that it also includes much of Israel far and wide. They are impure and unworthy.

We may here see it as meaning that brass, tin, iron and lead, which were of a lesser value in themselves, were to silver as comparative dross, for Ezekiel is not speaking as a metallurgist. To him compared with silver they are nothing. They are equal to the dross of silver. On the other hand some see it as meaning that Israel are as the dross of all these impure metals when they are refined.

It is important to see that, unlike other Old Testament passages, the idea here is not that they will be refined, but that they will be destroyed as worthless dross.


Verse 19-20

“Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, Because you are all become dross, behold therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem, as they gather silver and brass and iron and lead and tin into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire on it to melt it. So will I gather you in my anger and in my fury, and I will lay you there and melt you.”

Ezekiel as a non-expert had no doubt witnessed the pouring of all these metals in their impure form into the furnace where the bellows blew them to white heat and they melted, and there they turned into purified metal and into dross. God showed him in it a picture of His wrath revealed against Jerusalem/Judah removing anything pure and leaving them as dross.

The gathering of them all ‘into the midst of Jerusalem’ was itself a vivid picture. As the invading armies drew nearer the defenceless people would stream into Jerusalem to take advantage of her strong walls. But they would not realise, until Ezekiel revealed it, that they were being gathered into a furnace where they would be melted down and revealed as dross in the light of God’s anger.


Verse 21-22

“Yes, I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you will be melted in its midst. As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so will you be melted in its midst. And you will know that I Yahweh have poured out my fury on you.”

It is now reiterated and emphasised that the house of Israel in Jerusalem/Judah are like the dross of metals in the midst of the furnace where the silver is purified. Ezekiel is thinking of them as impure, unrefined silver ore, indeed the dross within that silver.

All Levels of People Are Included in Jerusalem’s Condemnation.

In this oracle prophets, priests, princes and the people of the land are all indicted for their evil behaviour.


Verse 23

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, say to her, You are a land that is not cleansed nor rained on in the day of indignation.” ’

Ezekiel now declares his third oracle. It concentrates on the infiltration of evil into the whole of society. Its first warning is that there will be no renewal of the land by rain because of God’s anger against them.

In it God gives warning that the rains which were the lifeblood of the land will fail in ‘the day of indignation’, the day of His anger (compare Isaiah 5:6; Zechariah 14:17). Notice the comparison of the falling of rain with the cleansing of the land. This will be taken up in Ezekiel 36:25. As the rain fell and life was renewed it was seen as a purification and a regeneration. (This would later be central in the teaching of John the Baptiser). But for this land in its evil there was to be no purification, no regeneration. It is in direct contrast with the ‘showers of blessing’ in Ezekiel 34:26 producing great fruitfulness.

(There is absolutely no reason for changing the Hebrew text from ‘cleansed’ to ‘rained on’. LXX, which does so, may well have been by interpretative translation rather than as indication of a different text and Ezekiel 36:25 demonstrates that Ezekiel links cleansing with rain).


Verse 25

“There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst of her, like a roaring lion ravening the prey. They have devoured people. They take treasure and precious things. They have made her widows many in her midst.”

As the text stands it declares that the prophets, who should have been such a force for good as they brought the word of Yahweh to His people, had instead become like ravening lions, using their position to ‘raven their prey’. The word ‘conspiracy’ is telling. This must signify that they had formed a conspiracy together to prophesy to the leaders, in Yahweh’s name, what they wanted to hear, enabling them ‘in His name’ to ‘devour people’, steal their possessions, and dispose of many who got in their way, leaving their distressed widows behind (compare Jeremiah 15:8). It was an ungodly combination of false preachers and evil leadership.

It is possible, however, that we are to read here rather ‘whose princes in the midst of her’ (which would be ’aser nesi’eha) as in LXX rather than ‘a conspiracy of her prophets (qeser nebi’eha). I never like altering the text without very solid reasons but this change could be supported by two factors. It would mean that we have five separate classes condemned, royal princes (nasi), priests, prophets, aristocracy (sarim) and landed gentry (people of the land, which would include all full citizens), rather than prophets being mentioned twice (Ezekiel 22:28). Furthermore the activities mentioned fit better with princes than with prophets.

But against this change is the question as to how such a distinctive change would take place and not be spotted. The fact is that God may have had the princes in mind but have been more angry that His prophets had misused their status in assisting them by prophesying falsely in their favour. LXX may again have been interpretative rather than literal. And it is difficult to see why the Hebrew text would have been changed in this way by a scribe, even by accident.

But in either case we are to see here the leadership, possibly assisted by the official prophets, misusing their authority and status for selfish and evil purposes, like roaring lions devouring the weak, by dispossessing people, by heavy taxes, by wrong confiscation of goods, by false penalties and by general dishonesty.


Verse 26

“Her priests have done violence to my law, and have profaned my holy things. They have put no difference between the holy and the common, nor have they caused men to distinguish between the clean and the unclean, and they have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.”

The priests also come under heavy criticism. Doing violence to the Law may suggest that they have distorted it in their teaching (as the Pharisees would later) or it may signify that that they have done violence to it by repressing it and not teaching it at all. The profaning of holy things suggests carelessness in their approach to them, and a tendency to treat them lightly. This is amplified by pointing out that they did not distinguish what was holy according to the Law from what was common, and that they failed to teach the people what was ritually ‘clean’ and what was ‘unclean’. This failure would go along with idol worship.

They failed further in not teaching and requiring the keeping of sabbaths, even ignoring the requirements themselves. Thus God Himself was (from their point of view, and from Ezekiel’s) being ‘profaned’ by ‘contact’ with the unclean and by having His feasts ignored. God’s demands were no longer being considered as important. It all went with the lax attitude towards His commandments.


Verse 31

“Therefore have I poured out my indignation on them, I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. Their own way have I brought on their heads, says the Lord Yahweh.”

It was because of this total lack of worthiness among the ‘cream’ of the land that God brought on them His final judgment. Here He sees it as though it were already fulfilled. He has now purposed it, the future will outwork those purposes.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 22:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-22.html. 2013.

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