Various methods had been used to awaken this secure and careless people to an expectation of the judgments coming, that they might be stirred up, by repentance and reformation, to prevent them. The prophecies of their ruin were confirmed by visions, and illustrated by signs, and all with such evidence and power that one would think they must needs be wrought upon; but here we are told how they evaded the conviction, and guarded against it, namely, by telling themselves, and one another, that though these judgments threatened should come at last yet they would not come of a long time. This suggestion, with which they bolstered themselves up in their security, is here answered, and shown to be vain and groundless, in two separate messages which God sent to them by the prophet at different times, both to the same purport; such care, such pains, must the prophet take to undeceive them, Ezek. 12:21, 26. Observe,
I. How they flattered themselves with hopes that the judgments should be delayed. One saying they had, which had become proverbial in the land of Israel, Ezek. 12:22. They said, “The days are prolonged; the judgments have not come when they were expected to come, but seem to be still put off de die in diem—from day to day, and therefore we may conclude that every vision fails, because it should seem that some do, that because the destruction has not come yet it will never come; we will never trust a prophet again, for we have been more frightened than hurt.” And another saying they had which, if it would not conquer their convictions, yet would cool their affections and abate their concern, and that was, “The vision is for a great while to come; it refers to events at a vast distance, and he prophesies of things which, though they may be true, are yet very far off, so that we need not trouble our heads 2a69 about them (Ezek. 12:27); we may die in honour and peace before these troubles come.” And, if indeed the troubles had been thus adjourned, they might have made themselves easy, as Hezekiah did. Isa. it not well if peace and truth shall be in my days? But it was a great mistake, and they did but deceive themselves into their own ruin; and God is here much displeased at it; for, 1. It was a wretched abuse of the patience of God, who, because for a time he kept silence, was thought to be altogether such a one as themselves, Ps. 50:21. That forbearance of God which should have led them to repentance hardened them in sin. They were willing to think their works were not evil because sentence against them was not executed speedily; and therefore concluded the vision itself failed, because the days were prolonged. 2. It received countenance form the false prophets that were among them, as should seem from the notice God takes (Ezek. 12:24) of the vain visions, and flattering divinations, even within the house of Israel, to whom were committed the oracles of God. No marvel if those that deceived themselves by worshipping pretended deities deceived themselves also by crediting pretended prophecies, to which strong delusions God justly gave them up for their idolatries. 3. These sayings had become proverbial; they were industriously spread among the people, so that they had got into very one’s mouth, and not only so, but were generally assented to, as proverbs usually are, not only the proverbs of the ancients, but those of the moderns too. Note, It is a token of universal degeneracy in a nation when corrupt and wicked sayings have grown proverbial; and it is an artifice of Satan by them to confirm men in their prejudices against the word and ways of God, and a great offence to the God of heaven. It will not serve for an excuse, in saying ill, to plead that it is a common saying.
II. How they are assured that they do but deceive themselves, for the judgments shall be hastened, these profane proverbs shall be confronted: Tell them, therefore, The days are at hand (Ezek. 12:23), and again, There shall none of my words be prolonged any more, Ezek. 12:28. Their putting the evil day far from them does but provoke God to bring it the sooner upon them; and it will be so much the sorer, so much the heavier, so much the more a surprise and terror to them when it does come. He must tell them,
1. That God will certainly silence the lying proverbs, and the lying prophecies, with which they buoyed up their vain hopes, and will make them ashamed of both: (1.) I will make this proverb to cease; for when they find the days of vengeance have come, and not one iota or tittle of the prediction falls to the ground, they will be ashamed to use it as a proverb in Israel, The days are prolonged, and the vision fails. Note, Those that will not have their eyes opened and their mistakes rectified, by the word of God, shall be undeceived by his judgments: for every mouth that speaks perverse things shall be stopped. (2.) There shall be no more any vain vision, Ezek. 12:24. The false prophets, who told the people they should have peace and should soon see an end of their troubles, shall be disproved by the event, and then shall be ashamed of their pretensions, and shall hide their heads and impose silence upon themselves. Note, As truth was older than error, so it will survive it; it got the start, and it will get the race. The true prophets’ visions and predictions stand, and are in full force, power, and virtue; they give law, and receive credit, when the vain visions, and the flattering divinations, are lost and forgotten, and shall be no more in the house of Israel; for great is the truth, and will prevail.
2. That God will certainly, and very shortly, accomplish every word that he has spoken. With what majesty does he say it (Ezek. 12:25): I am the LORD! I am Jehovah! That glorious name of his speaks him a God giving being to his word by the performance of it, and therefore to the patriarchs, who lived by faith in a promise not yet performed, he was not known by his name Jehovah, Exod. 6:3. But, as he is Jehovah in making good his promise, so he is in making good his threatenings. Let them know then that God, with whom they have to do, is the great Jehovah, and therefore, (1.) He will speak, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear: I am the Lord, I will speak. God will have his saying, whoever gainsays it. God’s oracles are called lively ones, for they still speak when the pagan oracles are long ago struck dumb. There has been, and shall be, a succession of God’s ministers to the end of the world, by whom he will speak; and, though contempt may be put upon them, that shall not put a period to their ministration: In your days, O rebellious house! will I say the word. Even in the worst ages of the church God left not himself without witness, but raised up men that spoke for him, that spoke from him. I will say the word, the word that shall stand. (2.) The word that he speaks shall come to pass; it shall infallibly be accomplished according to the true intent and meaning of it, and according to the full extent and compass of it: I will say the word and will perform it (Ezek. 12:25), for his mind is never changed, nor his arm shortened, nor is Infinite Wisdom ever nonplussed. With men saying and doing are two things, but they are not so with God; with him it is dictum, factum—said, and done. In the works of providence, as in those of creation, he speaks and it is done; for he said, Let there be light, and there was light—Let there be a firmament, and there was a firmament, Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29. Whereas they had said, Every vision fails (Ezek. 12:22), God says, “No, there shall be the effect of every vision (Ezek. 12:23); it shall not return void, but every sign shall be answered by the thing signified.” Those that see the visions of the Almighty do not see vain visions; God confirms the word of his servants by performing it. (3.) It shall be accomplished very shortly: “The days are at hand when you shall see the effect of every vision, Ezek. 12:23. It is said, it is sworn, that delay shall be no longer (Rev. 10:6); the year of God’s patience has now just expired, and he will no longer defer the execution of the sentence. It shall be no more prolonged (Ezek. 12:25); he has borne with you a great while, but he will not bear always. In your days, O rebellious house! shall the word that is said be performed, and you shall see the threatened judgments and share in them. Behold, the Judge stands at the door. The righteous are taken away from the evil to come, but this rebellious house shall not be so quietly taken away; no, they shall live to be hurried away, to be chased out of the world.” This is repeated (Ezek. 12:28): “There shall none of my words be prolonged any more, but judgment shall now hasten on apace; and the longer the bow has been in the drawing the deeper shall the arrow pierce.” When we tell sinners of death and judgment, heaven and hell, and think by them to persuade them to a holy life, though we do not find them downright infidels (they will own that they do believe there is a state of rewards and punishments in the other world), yet they put by the force of those great truths, and void the impressions of them, by looking upon the things of the other world as very remote; they tell us, “The vision you see is for many days to come, and you prophesy of the times that are very far off; it will be time enough to think of them when they come nearer,” whereas really there is but a step between us and death, between us and an awful eternity; yet a little while and the vision shall speak and not lie, and therefore it concerns us to redeem time, and get ready with all speed for a future state; for, though it is future, it is very near, and while impenitent sinners slumber their damnation slumbers not.