We have here a prophecy of wrath against Judah and Jerusalem, which would more fitly have begun the next chapter than conclude this; for it has no dependence on what goes before, but that which follows in the beginning of the next chapter is the explication of it, when the people complained that this was a parable which they understood not. In this parable, 1. It is a forest that is prophesied against, the forest of the south field, Judah and Jerusalem. These lay south from Babylon, where Ezekiel now was, and therefore he is directed to set his face towards the south (Ezek. 20:46), to intimate to them that God had set his face against them, was displeased with them, and determined to destroy them. But, though it be a message of wrath which he has to deliver, he must deliver it with mildness and tenderness; he must drop his word towards the south; his doctrine must distil as the rain (Deut. 32:2), that people’s hearts might be softened by it, as the earth by the river of God, which drops upon the pastures of the wilderness (Ps. 65:12) and which a south land more especially calls for, Josh. 15:19. Judah and Jerusalem are called forests, not only because they had been full of people, as a wood of trees, but because they had been empty of fruit, for fruit-trees grow not in a forest; and a forest is put in opposition to a fruitful field, Isa. 32:15. Those that should have been as the garden of the Lord, and his vineyard, had become like a forest, all overgrown with briers and thorns; and those that are so, that bring not forth the fruits of righteousness, God’s word prophesies against. 2. It is a fire kindled in his forest that is prophesied of, Ezek. 20:47. All those judgments which wasted and consumed both the city and the country-sword, famine, pestilence, and captivity, are signified by this fire. (1.) It is a fire of God’s own kindling: I will kindle a fire in thee; the breath of the Lord is not as a drop, but as a stream, of brimstone to set it on fire, Isa. 30:33. He that had been himself a protecting fire about Jerusalem is now a consuming fire in it. All flesh shall see by the fury of this fire, and the desolations it shall make, especially when they compare it with the sins which had made them fuel for this fire, that it is the Lord that has kindled it (Ezek. 20:48), as a just avenger of his own injured honour. (2.) This conflagration shall be general: all orders and degrees of men shall be devoured by it—young and old, rich and poor, high and low. Even green trees, which the fire does not easily fasten upon, shall be devoured by this fire; even good people shall some of them be involved in these calamities; and if this be done in the green trees, what shall be done in the dry? The dry trees shall be as tinder and touch-wood to this fire. All faces (that is, all that covers the face of the earth) from the south of Canaan to the north, from Beer-sheba to Dan, shall be burnt therein. (3.) The fire shall not be quenched; no attempts to give check to the dissolution shall prevail. When God will ruin a nation, who or what can save it?
Now observe, 1. The people’s reflection upon the prophet on occasion of this discourse. They said, Does he not speak parables? This was the language either of their ignorance or infidelity (the plainest truths were as parables to them), or of their malice and ill-will to the prophet. Note. It is common for those who will not be wrought upon by the word to pick quarrels with it; it is either too plain or too obscure, too fine or too homely, too common or too singular; something or other is amiss in it. 2. The prophet’s complaint to God: Ah, Lord God! they say so and so of me. Note, It is a comfort to us, when people speak ill of us unjustly, that we have a God to complain to.