We have here,
I. The great security of the prince’s of Jerusalem, notwithstanding the judgments of God that were upon them, The prophet was brought, in vision, to the gate of the temple where these princes sat in council upon the present arduous affairs of the city: The Spirit lifted me up, and brought me to the east gate of the Lord’s house, and behold twenty-five men were there. See how obsequious the prophet was to the Spirit’s orders and how observant of all the discoveries that were made to him. It should seem, these twenty-five men were not the same with those twenty-five whom we saw at the door of the temple, worshipping towards the east (Ezek. 8:16); those seen to have been priests or Levites, for they were between the porch and the altar, but these were princes sitting in the gate of the Lord’s house, to try causes (Jer. 26:10), and they are here charged, not with corruptions in worship, but with mal-administration in the government; two of them are named, because they were the most active leading men, and perhaps because the prophet knew them, though he had been some years absent—Pelatiah and Jaazaniah, not that mentioned Ezek. 8:11; for he was the son of Shaphan, this is the son of Azur. Some tell us that Jerusalem was divided into twenty-four wards, and that these were the governors or aldermen of those wards, with their mayor or president. Now observe, 1. The general character which God gives of these men to the prophet (Ezek. 11:2): “These are the men that devise mischief; under pretence of concerting measures for the public safety they harden people in their sins, and take off their fear of God’s judgments which they are threatened with by the prophets; they gave wicked counsel in this city, counselling them to restrain and silence the prophets, to rebel against the king of Babylon, and to resolve upon holding the city out to the last extremity.” Note, It is bad with a people when the things that belong to their peace are hidden from the eyes of those who are entrusted with their counsels. And, when mischief is done, God knows at whose door to lay it, and, in the day of discovery and recompence, will be sure to lay it at the right door, and will say, These are the men that devised it, though they are great men, and pass for wise men, and must not now be contradicted or controlled. 2. The particular charge exhibited against them in proof of this character. They are indicted for words spoken at their council-board, which he that stands in the congregation of the mighty would take cognizance of (Ezek. 11:3); they said to this effect, “It is not near; the destruction of our city, that has been so often threatened by the prophets, is not near, not so near as they talk of.” They are conscious to themselves of such an enmity to reformation that they cannot but conclude it will come at last; but they have such an opinion of God’s patience (though they have long abused it) that they are willing to hope it will not come this great while. Note, Where Satan cannot persuade men to look upon the judgment to come as a thing doubtful and uncertain, yet he gains his point by persuading them to look upon it as a thing at a distance, so that it loses its force: if it be sure, yet it is not near; whereas, in truth, the Judge stands before the door. Now, if the destruction is not near, they conclude, Let us build houses; let us count upon a continuance, for this city is the caldron and we are the flesh. This seems to be a proverbial expression, signifying no more than this, “We are as safe in this city as flesh in a boiling pot; the walls of the city shall be to us as walls of brass, and shall receive no more damage from the besiegers about it than the cauldron does from the fire under it. Those that think to force us out of our city into captivity shall find it to be as much at their peril as it would be to take the flesh out of a boiling pot with their hands.” This appears to be the meaning of it, by the answer God gives to it (Ezek. 11:9): “I will bring you out of the midst of the city, where you think yourselves safe, and then it will appear (Ezek. 11:11) that this is not your caldron, neither are you the flesh.” Perhaps it has a particular reference to the flesh of the peace-offerings, which it was so great an offence for the priests themselves to take out of the caldron while it was in seething (as we find 1 Sam. 2:13, 14), and then it intimates that they were the more secure because Jerusalem was the holy city, and they thought themselves a holy people in it, not to be meddled with. Some think this was a banter upon Jeremiah, who in one of his first visions saw Jerusalem represented by a seething pot, Jer. 1:13. “Now,” say they, in a way of jest and ridicule, “if it be a seething pot, we are as the flesh in it, and who dares meddle with us?” Thus they continued mocking the messengers of the Lord, even while they suffered for so doing; but be you not mockers, lest your bands be made strong. Those hearts are indeed which are made more secure by those words of God which were designed for warning to them.
II. The method taken to awaken them out of their security. One would think that the providences of God which related to them were enough to startle them; but, to help them to understand and improve those, the word of God is sent to them to give them warning (Ezek. 11:4): Therefore prophesy against them, and try to undeceive them; prophesy, O son of man! upon these dead and dry bones. Note, The greatest kindness ministers can do to secure sinners is to preach against them, and to show them their misery and danger, though they are ever so unwilling to see them. We then act most for them when we appear most against them. But the prophet, being at a loss what to say to men that were hardened in sin, and that bade defiance to the judgments of God, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon him, to make him full of power and courage, and said unto him, Speak. Note, When sinners are flattering themselves into their own ruin it is time to speak, and to tell them that they shall have no peace if they go on. Ministers are sometimes so bashful and timorous, and so much at a loss, that they must be put on to speak, and to speak boldly. But he that commands the prophet to speak gives him instructions what to say; and he must address himself to them as the house of Israel (Ezek. 11:5), for not the princes only, but all the people, were concerned to know the truth of their cause, to know the worst of it. They are the house of Israel, and therefore the God of Israel is concerned, in kindness to them, to give them warning; and they are concerned in duty to him to take the warning. And what is it that the must say to them in God’s name? 1. Let them know that the God of heaven takes notice of the vain confidences with which they support themselves (Ezek. 11:5): “I know the things which come into your minds every one of them, what secret reasons you have for these resolutions, and what you aim at in putting so good a face upon a matter you know to be bad.” Note, God perfectly knows not only the things that come out of our mouths, but the things that come into our minds, not only all we say, but all we think; even those thoughts that are most suddenly darted into our minds, and that as suddenly slip out of them again, so that we ourselves are scarcely aware of them, yet God knows them. He knows us better than we know ourselves; he understands our thoughts afar off. The consideration of this should oblige us to keep our hearts with all diligence, that no vain thoughts come into them or lodge within them. 2. Let them know that those who advised the people to stand it out should be accounted before God the murderers of all who had fallen, or should yet fall, in Jerusalem, by the sword of the Chaldeans; and those slain were the only ones that should remain in the city, as the flesh in the caldron. “You have multiplied your slain in the city, not only those whom you have by the sword of justice unjustly put to death under colour of law, but those whom you have by your wilfulness and pride unwisely exposed to the sword of war, though you were told by the prophets that you should certainly go by the worst. Thus you, with your stubborn humour, have filled the streets of Jerusalem with the slain,” Ezek. 11:6. Note, Those who are either unrighteous or imprudent in beginning or carrying on a war bring upon themselves a great deal of the guilt of blood; and those who are slain in the battles or sieges which they, by such a reasonable peace as the war aimed at, might have prevented, will be called their slain. Now these slain are the only flesh that shall be left in this caldron, Ezek. 11:7. There shall none remain to keep possession of the city but those that are buried in it. There shall be no inhabitants of Jerusalem but the inhabitants of the graves there, no freemen of the city but the free among the dead. 3. Let them know that, how impregnable soever they thought their city to be, they should be forced out of it, either driven to flight or dragged into captivity: I will bring you forth out of the midst of it, whether you will or no, Ezek. 11:7, 9. They had provoked God to forsake the city, and thought they should do well enough by their own policy and strength when he was gone; but God will make them know that there is no peace to those that have left their God. If they have by their sins driven God from his house, he will soon by his judgments drive them from theirs; and it will be found that those are least safe that are most secure: “This city shall not be your caldron, neither shall you be the flesh; you shall not soak away in it as you promise yourselves, and die in your nest; you think yourself safe in the midst thereof, but you shall not be long there.” 4. Let them know that when God has got them out of the midst of Jerusalem he will pursue them with his judgments wherever he finds them, the judgments which they thought to shelter themselves from by keeping close in Jerusalem. They feared the sword if they should go out to the Chaldeans, and therefore would abide in their caldron, but, says God, I will bring a sword upon you (Ezek. 11:8) and you shall fall by the sword, Ezek. 11:10. Note, The fear of the wicked shall come upon him. And there is no fence against the judgments of God when they come with commission, no, not in walls of brass. They were afraid of trusting to the mercy of strangers. “But,” says God, “I will deliver you into the hands of strangers, whose resentments you shall feel, since you were not willing to lie at their mercy.” See Jer. 38:17, 18. They thought to escape the judgments of God, but God says that he will execute judgments upon them; and whereas they resolved, if they must be judged, that it should be in Jerusalem, God tells them (Ezek. 11:10, 11) that he will judge them in the borders of Israel, which was fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar slew all the nobles of Judah at Riblah in the land of Hamath, on the utmost border of the land of Canaan. Note, Those who have taken ever so deep root in the place where they live cannot be sure that in that place they shall die. 5. Let them know that all this is the due punishment of their sin, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God against them: You shall know that I am the Lord, Ezek. 11:10, 12. Those shall be made to know by the sword of the Lord who would not be taught by his word what a hatred he has to sin, and what a fearful thing it is for impenitent sinners to fall into his hands. I will execute judgments, and then you shall know that I am the Lord, for the Lord is known by the judgments which he executes upon those that have not walked in his statutes. Hereby it is known that he made the law, because he punishes the breach of it. I will execute judgments among you (says God) because you have not executed my judgments, Ezek. 11:12. Note, The executing of the judgments of God’s mouth by us, in a uniform steady course of obedience to his law, is the only way to prevent the executing of the judgments of his hand upon us in our ruin and confusion. One way or other. God’s judgments will be executed; the law will take place either in its precept or in its penalty. If we do not give honour to God by executing his judgments as he has commanded, he will get him honour upon us by executing his judgments as he has threatened; and thus we shall know that he is the Lord, the sovereign Lord of all, that will not be mocked. And observe, When they cast off God’s statutes, and walked not in them, they did after the manners of the heathen that were round about them, and introduced into their worship all their impure, ridiculous, and barbarous usages. When men leave the settled rule of divine institutions, they wander endlessly. Justly therefore was this made the reason why they should keep God’s ordinances, that they might not commit the abominable customs of the heathen, Lev. 18:30.
III. This awakening word is here immediately followed by an awakening providence, Ezek. 11:13. Here we may observe, 1. With what power Ezekiel prophesied, or, rather, what a divine power went along with it: It came to pass, when I prophesied, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died; he was mentioned (Ezek. 11:1) as a principal man among the twenty-five princes that made all the mischief in Jerusalem. It should seem, this was done in vision now, as the slaying of the ancient men (Ezek. 9:6) upon occasion of which Ezekiel prayed (Ezek. 11:8) as he did here; but it was an assurance that when this prophecy should be published it should be done in fact. The death of Pelatiah was an earnest of the complete accomplishment of this prophecy. Note, God is pleased often-times to single out some sinners, and to make them monuments of his justice, for warning to others of what is coming; and some that thought themselves very safe and snatched away suddenly, and drop down dead in an instant, as Ananias and Sapphira at Peter’s feet when he prophesied. 2. With what pity Ezekiel prayed. Thought the sudden death of Pelatiah was a confirmation of Ezekiel’s prophecy, and really an honour to him, yet he was in deep concern about it, and laid it to heart as if he had been his relation or friend: He fell on his face and cried with a loud voice, as one in earnest, “Ah! Lord God, wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel? Many are swept away by the judgments we have been under; and shall the remnant which have escaped the sword die thus by the immediate hand of heaven? Then thou wilt indeed make a full end.” Perhaps it was Ezekiel’s infirmity to bewail the death of this wicked prince thus, as it was Samuel’s to mourn so long for Saul; but thus he showed how far he was from desiring the woeful day he foretold. David lamented the sickness of those that hated and persecuted him. And we ought to be much affected with the sudden death of others, yea, though they are wicked.