The scope of these verses is to show,
I. That national sins bring national judgments. When virtue is ruined and laid waste every thing else will soon be ruined and laid waste too (Ezek. 14:13): When the land sins against me, when vice and wickedness become epidemical, when the land sins by trespassing grievously, when the sinners have become very numerous and their sins very heinous, when gross impieties and immoralities universally prevail, then will I stretch forth my hand upon it, for the punishment of it. The divine power shall be vigorously and openly exerted; the judgments shall be extended and stretched forth to all the corners of the land, to all the concerns and interests of the nation. Grievous sins bring grievous plagues.
II. That God has a variety of sore judgments wherewith to punish sinful nations, and he has them all at command and inflicts which he pleases. He did indeed give David his choice what judgment he would be punished with for his sin in numbering the people; for any of them would serve to answer the end, which was to lessen the numbers he was proud of; but David, in effect, referred it to God again: “Let us fall into the hands of the Lord; let him choose with what rod we shall be beaten.” But he uses a variety of judgments that it may appear he has a universal dominion, and that in all our concerns we may see our dependence on him. Four sore judgments are here specified:—1. Famine, Ezek. 14:13. The denying and withholding of common mercies is itself judgment enough, there needs no more to make a people miserable. God needs not bring the staff of oppression, it is but breaking the staff of bread and the work is soon done; he cuts off man and beast by cutting off the provisions which nature makes for both in the annual products of the earth. God breaks the staff of bread when, though we have bread, yet we are not nourished and strengthened by it. Hag. 1:6; You eat, but you have not enough. 2. Hurtful beasts, noisome and noxious, either as poisonous or as ravenous. God can make these to pass through the land (Ezek. 14:15), to increase in all parts of it, and to bereave it, not only of the tame cattle, preying upon their flocks and herds, but of their people, devouring men, women, and children, so that no man may pass through because of the beasts; none dare travel even in the high roads for fear of being pulled in pieces by lions, or other beasts of prey, as the children of Beth-el by two bears. Note, When men revolt from their allegiance to God, and rebel against him, it is just with God that the inferior creatures should rise up in arms against men, Lev. 26:22. 3. War. God often chastises sinful nations by bringing a sword upon them, the sword of a foreign enemy, and he gives it its commission and orders what execution it shall do (Ezek. 14:17): he says, Sword, go through the land. It is bad enough if the sword do but enter into the borders of a land, but much worse when it goes through the bowels of a land. By it God cuts off man and beast, horse and foot. What execution the sword does God does by it; for it is his sword, and it acts as he directs. 4. Pestilence (Ezek. 14:19), a dreadful disease, which has sometimes depopulated cities; by it God pours out his fury in blood (that is, in death); the pestilence kills as effectually as if the blood were shed by the sword, for it is poisoned by the disease, the sickness we call it. See how miserable the case of mankind is that lies thus exposed to deaths in various shapes. See how dangerous the case of sinners is against whom God has so many ways of fighting, so that, though they escape one judgment, God has another waiting for them.
III. That when God’s professing people revolt from him, and rebel against him, they may justly expect a complication of judgments to fall upon them. God has various ways of contending with a sinful nation; but if Jerusalem, the holy city, become a harlot, God will send upon her all his four sore judgments (Ezek. 14:21); for the nearer any are to God in name and profession the more severely will he reckon with them if they reproach that worthy name by which they are called and give the lie to that profession. They shall be punished seven times more.
IV. That there may be, and commonly are, some few very good men, even in those places that by sin are ripened for ruin. It is no foreign supposition that, even in a land that has trespassed grievously, there may be three such men as Noah, Daniel, and Job. Daniel was now living, and at this time had scarcely arrived at the prime of his eminency, but he was already famous (at least this word of God concerning him would without fail make him so); yet he was carried away into captivity with the first of all, Dan. 1:6. Some of the better sort of people in Jerusalem might perhaps think that, if Daniel (of whose fame in the king of Babylon’s court they had heard much) had but continued in Jerusalem, it would have been spared for his sake, as the magicians in Babylon were. “No,” says God, “though you had him, who was as eminently good in bad times and places as Noah in the old world and Job in the land of Uz, yet a reprieve should not be obtained.” In the places that are most c 2250 orrupt, and in the ages that are most degenerate, there is a remnant which God reserves to himself, and which still hold fast their integrity and stand fair for the honour of delivering the land, as the innocent are said to do, Job 22:30.
V. That God often spares very wicked places for the sake of a few godly people in them. This is implied here as the expectation of Jerusalem’s friends in the day of its distress: “Surely God will stay his controversy with us; for are there not some among us that are emptying the measure of national guilt by their prayers, as others are filling it by their sins? And, rather than God will destroy the righteous with the wicked, he will preserve the wicked with the righteous. If Sodom might have been spared for the sake of ten good men, surely Jerusalem may.”
VI. That such men as Noah, Daniel, and Job, will prevail, if any can, to turn away the wrath of God from a sinful people. Noah was a perfect man, and kept his integrity when all flesh had corrupted their way; and, for his sake, his family, though one of them was wicked (Ham), was saved in the ark. Job was a great example of piety, and mighty in prayer for his children, for his friends; and God turned his captivity when he prayed. Those were very ancient examples, before Moses, that great intercessor; and therefore God mentions them, to intimate that he had some very peculiar favourites long before the Jewish nation was formed or founded, and would have such when it was ruined, for which reason, it should seem, those names were made use of, rather than Moses, Aaron, or Samuel; and yet, lest any should think that God was partial in his respects to the ancient days, here is a modern instance, a living one, placed between those two that were the glories of antiquity, and he now a captive, and that is Daniel, to teach us not to lessen the useful good men of our own day by over-magnifying the ancients. Let the children of the captivity know that Daniel, their neighbour, and companion in tribulation, being a man of great humility, piety, and zeal for God, and instant and constant in prayer, had as good an interest in heaven as Noah or Job had. Why may not God raise up as great and good men now as he did formerly, and do as much for them?
VII. That when the sin of a people has come to its height, and the decree has gone forth for their ruin, the piety and prayers of the best men shall not prevail to finish the controversy. This is here asserted again and again, that, though these three men were in Jerusalem at this time, yet they should deliver neither son nor daughter; not so much as the little ones should be spared for their sakes, as the little ones of Israel were upon the prayer of Moses, Num. 14:31. No; the land shall be desolate, and God would not hear their prayers for it, though Moses and Samuel stood before him, Jer. 15:1. Note, Abused patience will turn at last into inexorable wrath; and it should seem as if God would be more inexorable in Jerusalem’s case than in another (Ezek. 14:6), because, besides the divine patience, they had enjoyed greater privileges than any other people, which were the aggravations of their sin.
VIII. That, though pious praying men may not prevail to deliver others, yet they shall deliver their own souls by their righteousness, so that, though they may suffer in the common calamity, yet to them the property of it is altered; it is not to them what it is to the wicked; it is unstrung, and does them no hurt; it is sanctified, and does them good. Sometimes their souls (their lives) are remarkably delivered, and given them for a prey; at least their souls (their spiritual interests) are secured. If their bodies be not delivered, yet their souls are. Riches indeed profit not in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death, from so great a death, so many deaths as are here threatened. This should encourage us to keep our integrity in times of common apostasy, that, if we do so, we shall be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.
IX. That, even when God makes the greatest desolations by his judgments, he reserves some to be the monuments of his mercy, Ezek. 14:22, 23. In Jerusalem itself, though marked for utter ruin, yet there shall be left a remnant, who shall not be cut off by any of those sore judgments before mentioned, but shall be carried into captivity, both sons and daughters, who shall be the seed of a new generation. The young ones, who had not grown up to such an obstinacy in sin as their fathers had who were therefore cut off as incurable, these shall be brought forth out of the ruins of Jerusalem by the victorious enemy, and behold they shall come forth to you that are in captivity, they shall make a virtue of a necessity, and shall come the more willingly to Babylon because so many of their friends have gone thither before them and are there ready to receive them; and, when they come, you shall see their ways and their doing; you shall hear them make a free and ingenuous confession of the sins they had formerly been guilty of, and a humble profession of repentance for them, with promises of reformation; and you shall see instances of their reformation, shall see what good their affliction has done them, and how prudently and patiently they conduct themselves under it. Their narrow escape shall have a good effect upon them; it shall change their temper and conversation, and make them new men. And this will redound, 1. To the satisfaction of their brethren: They shall comfort you when you see their ways. Note, It is a very comfortable sight to see people, when they are under the rod, repenting and humbling themselves, justifying God and accepting the punishment of their iniquity. When we sorrow (as we ought to do) for the afflictions of others, it is a great comfort to us in our sorrow to see them improving their afflictions and making a good use of them. When those captives told their friends how bad they had been, and how righteous God was in bringing these judgments upon them, it made them very easy, and helped to reconcile them to the calamities of Jerusalem, to the justice of God in punishing his own people so, and to the goodness of God, which now appeared to have had kind intentions in all; and thus “You shall be comforted concerning all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and, when you better understand the thing, shall not have such direful apprehensions concerning it as you have had.” Note, It is a debt we owe to our brethren, if we have got good by our afflictions, to comfort them by letting them know it. 2. It will redound to the honour of God: “You shall know that I have not done without cause, not without a just provocation, and yet not without a gracious design, all that I have done in it.” Note, When afflictions have done their work, and have accomplished that for which they were sent, then will appear the wisdom and goodness of God in sending them, and God will be not only justified, but glorified in them.