Prophecy was designed to exalt every valley as well as to bring low every mountain and hill (Isa. 40:4), and prophets were to speak not only conviction to the presumptuous and secure, but comfort to the despised and desponding that trembled at God’s word. The prophet Ezekiel, having in the former part of this chapter received instructions for the awakening of those that were at ease in Zion, is in these verses furnished with comfortable words for those that mourned in Babylon and by the rivers there sat weeping when they remembered Zion. Observe,
I. How the pious captives were trampled upon and insulted over by those who continued in Jerusalem, Ezek. 11:15. God tells the prophet what the inhabitants of Jerusalem said of him and the rest of them that were already carried away to Babylon. God had owned them as good figs, and declared it was for their good that he had sent them into Babylon; but the inhabitants of Jerusalem abandoned them, supposing those that were really the best saints to be the greatest sinners of all men that dwelt in Jerusalem. Observe, 1. How they are described: They are thy brethren (says God to the prophet), whom thou hast a concern and affection for; they are the men of thy kindred (the men of thy redemption, so the word is), thy next of kin, to whom the right of redeeming the alienated possession belongs, but who are so far from being able to do it that they have themselves gone into captivity. They are the whole house of Israel; God so accounts of them because they only have retained their integrity, and are bettered by their captivity. They were not only of the same family and nation with Ezekiel, but of the same spirit; they were his hearers, and he had communion with them in holy ordinances; and perhaps upon that account they are called his brethren and the men of his kindred. 2. How they were disowned by the inhabitants of Jerusalem; they said of them, Get you far from the Lord. Those that were at ease and proud themselves scorned their brethren that were humbled and under humbling providences. (1.) They cut them off from being members of their church. Because they had separated themselves from their rulers and in compliance with the will of God had surrendered themselves to the king of Babylon, they excommunicated them, and said, “Get you far from the Lord; we will have nothing to do with you.” Those that were superstitious were very willing to shake off those that were conscientious, and were severe in their censures of them and sentences against them, as if they were forsaken and forgotten of the Lord and were cut off from the communion of the faithful. (2.) They cut them off from being members of the commonwealth too, as if they had no longer any part or lot in the matter: “Unto us is this land given in possession, and you have forfeited your estates by surrendering to the king of Babylon, and we have thereby become entitled to them.” God takes notice of, and is much displeased with, the contempt which those that are in prosperity put upon their brethren that are in affliction.
II. The gracious promises which God made to them in consideration of the insolent conduct of their brethren towards them. Those that hated them and cast them out said, Let the Lord be glorified; but he shall appear to their joy, Isa. 66:5. God owns that his hand had gone out against them, which had given occasion to their brethren to triumph over them (Ezek. 11:16): “It is true I have cast them far off among the heathen and scattered them among the countries; they look as if they were an abandoned people, and so mingled with the nations that they will be lost among them; but I have mercy in store for them.” Note, God takes occasion from the contempts which are put upon his people to speak comfort to them, as David hoped God would reward him good for Shimei’s cursing. His time to support his people’s hopes is when their enemies are endeavouring to drive them to despair. Now God promises,
1. That he will make up to them the want of the temple and the privileges of it (Ezek. 11:16): I will be to them as a little sanctuary, in the countries where they shall come. Those at Jerusalem have the temple, but without God; those in Babylon have God, though without the temple. (1.) God will be a sanctuary to them; that is, a place of refuge; to him they shall flee, and in him they shall be safe, as he was that took hold on the horns of the altar. Or, rather, they shall have such communion with God in the land of their captivity as it was thought could be had nowhere but in the temple. They shall there see God’s power and his glory, as they used to see them in the sanctuary; they shall have the tokens of God’s presence with them, and his grace in their hearts shall sanctify their prayers and praises, as well as ever the altar sanctified the gift, so that they shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock. (2.) He will be a little sanctuary, not seen or observed by their enemies, who looked with an evil and an envious eye upon that house at Jerusalem which was high and great, 1 Kgs. 9:8. They were but few and mean, and a little sanctuary was fittest for them. God regards the low estate of his people, and suits his favours to their circumstances. Observe the condescensions of divine grace. The great God will be to his people a little sanctuary. Note, Those that are deprived of the benefit of public ordinances, if it be not their own fault, may have the want of them abundantly made up in the immediate communications of divine grace and comforts.
2. That God would in due time put an end to their afflictions, bring them out of the land of their captivity, and settle them again, them or their children, in their own land (Ezek. 11:17): “I will gather even you that are thus dispersed, thus despised, and given over for lost by your own countrymen; 3a7b I will gather you from the people, distinguish you from those with whom you are mingled, deliver you from those by whom you are held captives, and assemble you in a body out of the countries where you have been scattered; you shall not come back one by one, but all together, which will make your return more honourable, safe, and comfortable; and then I will give you the land of Israel, which now your brethren look upon you as for ever shut out from.” Note, It is well for us that men’s severe censures cannot cut us off from God’s gracious promises. There are many that will be found to have a place in the holy land whom uncharitable men, by their monopolies of it to themselves, had secluded from it. I will give you the land of Israel, give it to you again by a new grant, and they shall come thither. If there be any thing in the change of the person from you to them, it may signify the posterity of those to whom the promise is made. “You shall have the title as the patriarchs had, and those that come after shall have the possession.”
3. That God by his grace would part between them and their sins, Ezek. 11:18. Their captivity shall effectually cure them of their idolatry: When they come thither to their own land again they shall take away all the detestable things thereof. Their idols, that had been their delectable things, should now be looked upon with detestation, not only the idols of Babylon, where they were captives, but the idols of Canaan, where they were natives; they should not only not worship them as they had done, but they should not suffer any monuments of them to remain: They shall take all the abominations thereof thence. Note, Then it is in mercy that we return to a prosperous estate, when we return not to the sins and follies of that state. What have I to do any more with idols?
4. That God would powerfully dispose them to their duty; they shall not only cease to do evil, but they shall learn to do well, because there shall be not only an end of their troubles, but a return to their peace.
(1.) God will plant good principles in them; he will make the tree good, Ezek. 11:19. This is a gospel promise, and is made good to all those whom God designs for the heavenly Canaan; for God prepares all for heaven whom he has prepared heaven for. It is promised, [1.] That God will give them one heart, a heart entire for the true God and not divided as it had been among many gods, a heart firmly fixed and resolved for God and not wavering, steady and uniform, and not inconstant with itself. One heart is a sincere and upright heart, its intentions of a piece with its professions. [2.] That he will put a new spirit within them, a temper of mind agreeable to the new circumstances into which God in his providence would bring them. All that are sanctified have a new spirit, quite different from what it was; they act from new principles, walk by new rules, and aim at new ends. A new name, or a new face, will not serve without a new spirit. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. [3.] That he will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, out of their corrupt nature. Their hearts shall no longer be, as they have been, dead and dry, and hard and heavy, as a stone, no longer incapable of bearing good fruit, so that the good seed is lost upon it, as it was on the stony ground. [4.] That he will give them a heart of flesh, not dead or proud flesh, but living flesh; he will make their hearts sensible of spiritual pains and spiritual pleasures, will make them tender, and apt to receive impressions. This is God’s work, it is his gift, his gift by promise; and a wonderful and happy change it is that is wrought by it, from death to life. This is promised to those whom God would bring back to their own land; for then such a change of the condition is for the better indeed when it is accompanied with such a change of the heart; and such a change must be wrought in all those that shall be brought to the better country, that is, the heavenly.
(2.) Their practices shall be consonant to those principles: I will give them a new spirit, not that they may be able to discourse well of religion and to dispute for it, but that they may walk in my statues in their whole conversation and keep my ordinances in all acts of religious worship, Ezek. 11:20. These two must go together; and those to whom God has given a new heart and a new spirit will make conscience of both; and then they shall be my people and I will be their God. The ancient covenant, which seemed to be broken and forgotten, shall be renewed. By their idolatry, it should seem, they had cast God off; by their captivity, it should seem, God had cast them off. But when they were cured of their idolatry, and delivered out of their captivity, God and his Israel own one another again. God, by his good work in them, will make them his people; and then, by the tokens of his good-will towards them, he will show that he is their God.
III. Here is a threatening of wrath against those who hated to be reformed. As, when judgments are threatened, the righteous are distinguished so as not to share in the evil of those judgments, so, when favours are promised, the wicked are distinguished so as not to share in the comfort of those favours; they have no part nor lot in the matter, Ezek. 11:21. But, as for those that have no grace, what have they to do with peace? Observe, 1. Their description. Their heart walks after the heart of their detestable things; they have as great a minds to worship devils as devils have to be worshipped. Or, in opposition to the new heart which God gives his people, which is a heart after his own heart, they have a heart after the heart of their idols; in their temper and practice they conformed to the characters and accounts given them of their idols, and the ideas they had of them, and of them they learned lewdness and cruelty. Here lies the root of all their wickedness, the corruption of the heart; as the root of their reformation is laid in the renovation of the heart. The heart has its walks, and according as those are the man is. 2. Their doom. It carries both justice and terror in it: I will recompense their way upon their own heads; I will deal with them as they deserve. There needs no more than this to speak God righteous, that he does but render to men according to their deserts: and yet such are the deserts of sin that there needs no more than this to speak the sinner miserable.