Perhaps Ezekiel reflected with so much pleasure upon the vision he had had of the glory of God that often, since it went up from him, he was wishing it might come down to him again, and, having seen it once and a second time, he was willing to hope he might be a third time so favoured; but we do not find that he ever saw it any more, and yet the word of the Lord comes to him; for God did in divers manners speak to the fathers (Heb. 1:1) and they often heard the words of God when they did not see the visions of the Almighty. Faith comes by hearing that word of prophecy which is more sure than vision. We may keep up our communion with God without raptures and ecstasies. In these verses the prophet is directed,
I. By what signs and actions to express the approaching captivity of Zedekiah king of Judah; that was the thing to be foretold, and it is foretold to those that are already in captivity, because as long as Zedekiah was upon the throne they flattered themselves with hopes that he would make his part good with the king of Babylon, whose yoke he was now projecting to shake off, from which, it is probable, these poor captives promised themselves great things; and it may be, when he was forming that design, he privately sent encouragement to them to hope that he would rescue them shortly, or procure their liberty by exchange of prisoners. While they were fed with these vain hopes they could not set themselves either to submit to their affliction or to get good by their affliction. It was therefore necessary, but very difficult, to convince them that Zedekiah, instead of being their deliverer, should very shortly be their fellow-suffered. Now, one would think it might have been sufficient if the prophet had only told them this in God’s name, as he does afterwards (Ezek. 12:10); but, to prepare them for the prophecy of it, he must first give them a sign of it, must speak it to their eyes first and then to their ears: and here we have, 1. The reason why he must take this method (Ezek. 12:2): It is because they are a stupid, dull, unthinking people, that will not heed or will soon forget what they only hear of, or at least will not be at all affected with it; it will make no impression at all upon them: Thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, whom it is next to impossible to work any good upon. They have eyes and ears, they have intellectual powers and faculties, but they see not, they hear not. They were idolaters, whose character it was that they were like the idols they worshipped, which have eyes and see not, ears and hear not, Ps. 115:5, 6, 8. Note, Those are to be reckoned rebellious that shut their eyes against the divine light and stop their ears to the divine law. The ignorance of those that are wilfully ignorant, that have faculties and means and will not use them, is so far from being their excuse that it adds rebellion to their sin. None so blind, so deaf, as those that will not see, that will not hear. They see not, they hear not; for they are a rebellious house. The cause is all from themselves: the darkness of the understanding is owing to the stubbornness of the will. Now this is the reason why he must speak to them by signs, as deaf people are taught, that they might be either instructed or ashamed. Note, Ministers must accommodate themselves not only to the weakness, but to the wilfulness of those they deal with, and deal with them accordingly: if they dwell among those that are rebellious they must speak to them the more plainly and pressingly, and take that course that is most likely to work upon them, that they may be left inexcusable. 2. The method he just take to awaken and affect them; he must furnish himself with all necessaries for removing (Ezek. 12:3), provide for a journey clothes and money; he must remove from one place to another, as one unsettled and forced to shift; this he must do by day, in the sight of the people; he must bring out all his household goods, to be packed up and sent away (Ezek. 12:4); and, because all the doors and gates were either locked up that they could not pass through them or so guarded by the enemy that they durst not, he must therefore dig through the wall, and convey his goods away clandestinely through that breach in the wall, Ezek. 12:5. He must carry his goods away himself upon his own shoulders, for want of a servant to attend him; he must do this in the twilight, that he might not be discovered; and, when he has made what shift he can to secure some of the best of his effects, he must himself steal away at evening in their sight, with fear and trembling, and must go as those that go forth into captivity (Ezek. 12:4); that is, he must cover his face (Ezek. 12:6) as being ashamed to be seen and afraid to be known, or in token of very great sorrow and concern; he must go away as a poor broken tradesman, who, when he is forced to shut up shop, hides his head, or quits his country. Thus Ezekiel must be himself a sign to them; and when perhaps he seemed somewhat backward to put himself to all this trouble, and to expose himself to be bantered and ridiculed for it, to reconcile him to it God says (Ezek. 12:3) “It may be they will consider, and will by it be taken off from their vain confidence, though they be a rebellious house.” Note, We must not despair even of the worst, but that yet they may be brought to bethink themselves and repent; and therefore we must continue the use of proper means for their conviction and conversion, because, while there is life, there is hope. And ministers must be willing to go through the most difficult and inconvenient offices (for such was this of Ezekiel’s removing), though there be but the it may be of success. If but one soul be awakened to consider, our care and pains will be well bestowed. 3. Ezekiel’s ready and punctual obedience to the orders God gave him (Ezek. 12:7): I did so as I was commanded. Hereby he teaches us all, and ministers especially, (1.) To obey with cheerfulness every command of God, even the most difficult. Christ himself learned obedience, and so we must all. (2.) To do all we can for the good of the souls of others, to put ourselves to any trouble or pains for the conviction of those that are unconvinced. We do all things (that is, we are willing to do any thing), dearly beloved, for your edifying. (3.) To be ourselves affected with those things wherewith we desire to affect others. When Ezekiel would give his hearers a melancholy prospect he does himself put on a melancholy aspect. (4.) To sit loose to this world, and prepare to leave it, to carry out our stuff for removing, because we have here no continuing city. Arise, depart, this it not your rest, for it is polluted. Thou dwellest in a rebellious house, therefore prepare for removing; for who would not be willing to leave such a house, such a wicked world as this is?
II. He is directed by what words to explain those signs and actions, as Agabus, when he bound his own hands and feet, told whose binding was thereby signified. But observe, It was not till morning that God gave him an exposition of the sign, till the next morning, to keep up in him a continual dependence upon God for instruction. As what God does, so what he directs us to do, perhaps we know not now, but shall know hereafter.
1. It was supposed that the people would ask the meaning of this sing, or at least they should (Ezek. 12:9): “Hath not the house of Israel said unto thee, What doest thou? Yes, I know they have. Though they are a rebellious house, yet they are inquisitive concerning the mind of God,” as those (Isa. 58:2) who sought God daily. Therefore the prophet must do such a strange uncouth thing, that they might enquire what it meant; and then, it may be hoped, people will take notice of what is told them, and profit by it, when it comes to them in answer to their enquiries. But some understand it as an intimation that they had not made any such enquiries: “Hath not this rebellious house so much as asked thee, What doest thou? No; they take no notice of it; but tell them the meaning of it, though they do not ask.” Note, When God sends to us by his ministers he observes what entertainment we give to the messages he sends us; he hearkens and hears what we say to them, and what enquiries we make upon them, and is much displeased if we pass them by without taking any notice of them. When we have heard the word we should apply to our ministers for further instruction; and then we shall know if we thus follow on to know.
2. The prophet is to tell them the meaning of it. In general (Ezek. 12:10), This burden concerns the prince in Jerusalem; they knew who that was, and gloried in it now that they were in captivity that they had a prince of their own in Jerusalem, and that the house of Israel was yet entire there, and therefore doubted not but in time to do well enough. “But tell them,” says God, “that in what thou hast done they may read the doom of their friends at Jerusalem. Say, I am your sign,” Ezek. 12:11. As the conversation of ministers should teach the people what they should do, so the providences of God concerning them are sometimes intended to tell them what they must expect. The unsettled state and removals of ministers give warning to people what they must expect in this world, no continuance, but constant changes. When times of trouble are coming on Christ tells his disciples, They shall first lay their hands on you, Luke 21:12. (1.) The people shall be led away into captivity (Ezek. 12:11): As I have done, so shall it be done unto them; they shall be forced away from their own houses, no more to return to them, neither shall their place know them any more. We cannot say concerning our dwelling-place that it is our resting-place; for how far we may be tossed from it before we die we cannot foresee. (2.) The prince shall in vain attempt to make his escape; for he also shall go into captivity. Jeremiah had told Zedekiah the same to his face (Jer. 34:3): Thou shalt not escape, but shalt surely be taken. Ezekiel here foretels it to those who made him their confidence and promised themselves relief from him. [1.] That he shall himself carry away his own goods: He shall bear upon his shoulder some of his most valuable effects. Note, The judgments of God can turn a prince into a porter. He that was wont to have the regalia carried before him, and to march through the city at noon-day, shall now himself carry his goods on his back and steal away out of the city in the twilight. See what a change sin makes with men! All the avenues to the palace being carefully watched by the enemy, they shall dig through the wall to carry out thereby. Men shall be their own house-breakers, and steal away their own goods; so it is when the sword of war has cancelled all right and property. [2.] That he shall attempt to escape in a disguise, with a mask or a visor on, which shall cover his face, so that he shall be able only to look before him, and shall not see the ground with his eyes. He who, when he was in pomp, affected to be seen, now that he is in his flight is afraid to be seen; let none therefore either be proud of being looked at or over-much pleased with looking about them, when they see a king with his face covered, that he cannot see the ground. [3.] That he shall be made a prisoner and carried captive into Babylon (Ezek. 12:13): My net will I spread upon him and he shall be taken in my snare. It seemed to be the Chaldeans’ net and their snare, but God owns them for his. Those that think to escape the sword of the Lord will find themselves taken in his net. Jeremiah had said that king Zedekiah should see the king of Babylon and that he should go to Babylon; Ezekiel says, He shall be brought to Babylon, yet he shall not see it, though he shall die there. Those that were disposed to cavil would perhaps object that these two prophets contradicted one another; for one said, He shall see the king of Babylon, the other said, He shall not see Babylon; and yet both proved true: he did see the king of Babylon at Riblah, where he passed sentence upon him for his rebellion, but there he had his eyes put out, so that he did not see Babylon when he was brought thither. These captives expected to see their prince come to Babylon as a conqueror, to bring them out of their trouble; but he shall come thither a prisoner, and his disgrace will be a great addition to their troubles. Little joy could they have in seeing him when he could not see them. [4.] That all his guards should be dispersed and utterly disabled for doing him any service (Ezek. 12:14): I will scatter all that are about him to help him, so that he shall be left helpless; I will scatter them among the nations and disperse them in the countries (Ezek. 12:15), to be monuments of divine justice wherever they go. But are there not hopes that they may rally again? (he that flies one time may fight another time); no: I will draw out the sword after them, which shall cut them off wherever if finds them; for the sword that God draws out will be sure to do the execution designed. Yet of Zedekiah’s scattered troops some shall escape (Ezek. 12:16): I will leave a few men of them. Though they shall all be scattered, yet they shall not all be cut off; some shall have their lives given them for a prey. And the end for which they are thus remarkably spared is very observable: That they may declare all their abominations among the heathen whither they come; the troubles they are brought into will bring them to themselves and to their right mind, and then they will acknowledge the justice of God in all that is brought upon them and will make an ingenuous confession of their sins, which provoked God thus to contend with them; and, as by this it shall appear that they were spared in mercy, so hereby they will make a suitable grateful return to God for his favours to them in sparing them. Note, When God has remarkably delivered us from the deaths wherewith we were surrounded we must look upon it that for this end, among others, we were spared, that we might glorify God and edify others by making a penitent acknowledgment of our sins. Those that by their afflictions are brought to this are then made to know that God is the Lord and may help to bring others to the knowledge of him. See how God brings good out of evil. The dispersion of sinners, who had done God much dishonour and disservice in their own country, proves the dispersion of penitents, who shall do him much honour and service in others countries. The Levites are by a curse divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel, yet it is turned into a blessing, for thereby they have the fairest opportunity to teach Jacob God’s laws.