The prophet had faithfully delivered the message he was entrusted with, in the close of the foregoing chapter, in the terms wherein he received it, not daring to add his own comment upon it; but, when he complained that the people found fault with him for speaking parables, the word of the Lord came to him again, and gave him a key to that figurative discourse, that with it he might let the people into the meaning of it and so silence that objection. For all men shall be rendered inexcusable at God’s bar and every mouth shall be stopped. Note, He that speaks with tongues should pray that he may interpret, 1 Cor. 14:13. When we speak to people about their souls we should study plainness, and express ourselves as we may be the best understood. Christ expounded his parables to his disciples, Mark 4:34. 1. The prophet is here more plainly directed against whom to level the arrow of this prophecy. He must drop his word towards the holy places (Ezek. 21:2), towards Canaan the holy land, Jerusalem the holy city, the temple the holy house. These were highly dignified above other places; but, when they polluted them, that word which used to drop in the holy places shall now drop against them: Prophesy against the land of Israel. It was the honour of Israel that it had prophets and prophecy; but these, being despised by them, are turned against them. And justly is Zion battered with her own artillery, which used to be employed against her adversaries, seeing she knew not how to value it. 2. He is instructed, and is to instruct the people, in the meaning of the fire that was threatened to consume the forest of the south: it signified a sword drawn, the sword of war which should make the land desolate (Ezek. 21:3): Behold, I am against thee, O land of Israel! There needs no more to make a people miserable than to have God against them; for as, if he be for us, we need not fear, whoever are against us, so, if he be against us, we cannot hope, whoever are for us. And God’s professing people, when they revolt from him, set him against them, who used to be for them. Was the fire there of God’s kindling? The sword here is his sword, which he has prepared, and which he will give commission to; it is he that will draw it out of its sheath, where it had laid quiet and threatened no harm. Note, When the sword is unsheathed among the nations God’s hand must be eyed and owned in it. Did the fire devour every green tree and every dry tree? The sword in like manner shall cut off the righteous and the wicked. Good and bad were involved in the common calamities of the nation; the righteous were cut off from the land of Israel when they were sent captives in Babylon, though perhaps few or none of them were cut off from the land of the living; and it was a threatening omen to the land of Israel that in the beginning of its troubles such excellent men as Daniel and his fellows, and Ezekiel, were cut off from it and conveyed to Babylon. But though the sword cut off the righteous and the wicked (for it devours one as well as another, 2 Sam. 11:25), yet far be it from us to think that the righteous are as the wicked, Gen. 18:25. No; God’s graces and comforts make a great difference when his providence seems to make none. The good figs are sent into Babylon for their good, Jer. 24:5, 6. It is only in outward appearance that there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked, Eccl. 9:2. But it speaks the greatness of God’s displeasure against the land of Israel. Well might it be said, His eye shall not spare, when it shall not spare, no, not the righteous in it. Since there are not righteous men sufficient to save the land, to make the justice of God the more illustrious the few that there are shall suffer with it, and God’s mercy shall make it up to them some other way. Did the fire burn up all faces from the south to the north? The sword shall go forth against all flesh from the south to the north, shall go forth, as God’s sword, with a commission that cannot be contested, with a force that cannot be resisted. Were all flesh made to know that God kindled the fire? They shall be made to know that he has drawn forth the sword, Ezek. 21:5. And, lastly, Shall the fire that is kindled never be quenched? So when this sword of the Lord is drawn against Judah and Jerusalem the scabbard is thrown away, and it shall never be sheathed: It shall not return any more, till it has made a full end. 3. The prophet is ordered, by expressions of his own grief and concern for these calamities that were coming on, to try to make impressions of the like upon the people. When he has delivered his message he must sigh (Ezek. 21:6), must fetch many deep sighs, with the breaking of his loins; he must sign as if his heart would burst, sigh with bitterness, with other expressions of bitter sorrow, and this publicly, in the sight of those to whom he delivered the foregoing message, that this might be a sermon to their eyes as that was to their ears; and it was well if both would work upon them. The prophet must sign, though it was painful to himself and made his breast sore, and though it is probable that the profane among the people would ridicule him for it and call him a whining canting preacher. But, if we be beside ourselves it is to God; and, if this be to be vile, we will be yet more so. Note, Ministers, if they would affect others with the things they speak of, must show that they are themselves in the greatest sincerity affected with them, and must submit to that which may create uneasiness to themselves, so that it will promote the ends of their ministry. The people, observing the prophet to sigh so much and seeing no visible occasion for it, would ask, “Wherefore sighest thou? These sighs have some mystical meaning; let us know what it is.” And he must answer them (Ezek. 21:7): “It is for the tidings, the heavy tidings, that we shall hear shortly; the tidings come (the judgments come which we hear the tidings of), they come apace, and then you will all sigh; nay, that will not serve. every heart shall melt and every spirit fail; your courage will all be gone and you will have no animating considerations to support yourselves with. And, when heart and spirit fail, it will follow of course that all hands will be feeble and unable to fight, and all knees will be weak as water and unable to flee or to stand their ground.” Those who have God for them when flesh and heart fail have him to be the strength of their heart; but those who have God against them have no cordial for a fainting spirit, but are as Belshazzar when his thoughts troubled him, Dan. 5:6. But some people are worse frightened than hurt; may not the case be so here and the event prove better than likely? No: Behold it cometh, and shall be brought to pass. It is not a bugbear that they are frightened with, but according to the fear so is the wrath, and more grievous than is feared.