In these verses the prophet by a commission from Heaven sits as a judge upon the bench, and Jerusalem is made to hold up her hand as a prisoner at the bar; and, if prophets were set over other nations, much more over God’s nation, Jer. 1:10. This prophet is authorized to judge the bloody city, the city of bloods. Jerusalem is so called, not only because she had been guilty of the particular sin of blood-shed, but because her crimes in general were bloody crimes (Ezek. 7:23), such as polluted her in her blood, and for which she deserved to have blood given her to drink. Now the business of a judge with a malefactor is to convict him of his crimes, and then to pass sentence upon him for them. These two things Ezekiel is to do here.
I. He is to find Jerusalem guilty of many heinous crimes here enumerated in a long bill of indictment, and it is billa vera—a true bill; so he writes upon it whose judgment we are sure is according to truth. He must show her all her abominations (Ezek. 22:2), that God may be justified in all the desolations brought upon her. Let us take a view of all the particular sins which Jerusalem here stands charged with; and they are all exceedingly sinful.
1. Murder: The city sheds blood, not only in the suburbs, where the strangers dwell, but in the midst of it, where, one would think, the magistrates would, if any where, be vigilant. Even there people were murdered either in duels or by secret assassinations and poisonings, or in the courts of justice under colour of law, and there was no care taken to discover and punish the murderers according to the law (Gen. 9:6), no, nor so much as the ceremony used to expiate an uncertain murder (Deut. 21:1), and so the guilt and pollution remains upon the city. Thus thou hast become guilty in thy blood that thou hast shed, Ezek. 22:4. This crime is insisted most upon, for it was Jerusalem’s measure-filling sin more than any; it is said to be that which the Lord would not pardon, 2 Kgs. 24:4. (1.) The princes of Israel, who should have been the protectors of injured innocence, every one were to their power to shed blood, Ezek. 22:6. They thirsted for it, and delighted in it, and whoever came within their power were sure to feel it; whoever lay at their mercy were sure to find none. (2.) There were those who carried tales to shed blood, Ezek. 22:9. They told lies of men to the princes, to whom they knew it would be pleasing, to incense them against them; or they betrayed what passed in private conversation, to make mischief among neighbours, and set them together by the ears, to bite, and devour, and worry one another, even to death. Note, Those who, by giving invidious characters and telling ill-natured stories of their neighbours, sow discord among brethren, will be accountable for all the mischief that follows upon it; as he that kindles a fire will be accountable for all the hurt it does. (3.) There were those who took gifts to shed blood (Ezek. 22:12), who would be hired with money to swear a man out of his life, or, if they were upon a jury, would be bribed to find an innocent man guilty. When so much barbarous bloody work of this kind was done in Jerusalem we may well conclude, [1.] That men’s consciences had become wretchedly profligate and seared and their hearts hardened; for those would stick at no wickedness who would not stick at this. [2.] That abundance of quiet, harmless, good people were made away with, whereby, as the guilt of the city was increased, so the number of those that should have stood in the gap to turn away the wrath of God was diminished.
2. Idolatry: She makes idols against herself to destroy herself, Ezek. 22:3. And again (Ezek. 22:4), Thou hast defiled thyself in thy idols which thou hast made. Note, Those who make idols for themselves will be found to have made them against themselves, for idolaters put a cheat upon themselves and prepare destruction for themselves; besides that thereby they pollute themselves, they render themselves odious in the eyes of the just and jealous God, and even their mind and conscience are defiled, so that to them nothing is pure. Those who did not make idols themselves were yet found guilty of eating upon the mountains, or high places (Ezek. 22:9), in honour of the idols and in communion with idolaters.
3. Disobedience to parents (Ezek. 22:7): In thee have the children set light by their father and mother, mocked them, cursed them, and despised to obey them, which was a sign of a more than ordinary corruption of nature as well as manners, and a disposition to all manner of disorder, Isa. 3:5. Those that set light by their parents are in the highway to all wickedness. God had made many wholesome laws for the support of the paternal authority, but no care was taken to put them in execution; nay, the Pharisees in their day taught children, under pretence of respect to the Corban, to set light by their parents and refuse to maintain them, Matt. 15:5.
4. Oppression and extortion. To enrich themselves they wronged the poor (Ezek. 22:7): They dealt by oppression and deceit with the stranger, taking advantage of his necessities, and his ignorance of the laws and customs of the country. In Jerusalem, that should have been a sanctuary to the oppressed, they vexed the fatherless and widows by unreasonable demands and inquisitions, or troublesome law-suits, in which might prevails against right. “Thou hast taken usury and increase (Ezek. 22:12); not only there are those in thee that do it, but thou hast done it.” It was an act of the city or community; the public money, which should have been employed in public charity, was put out to usury, with extortion. Thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbours by violence and wrong. For neighbours to gain by one another in a way of fair trading is well, but those who are greedy of gain will not be held within the rules of equity.
5. Profanation of the sabbath and other holy things. This commonly goes along with the other sins for which they here stand indicted (Ezek. 22:8): Thou hast despised my holy things, holy oracles, holy ordinances. The rites which God appointed were thought too plain, too ordinary; they despised them, and therefore were fond of the customs of the heathen. Note, Immorality and dishonesty are commonly attended with a contempt of religion and the worship of God. Thou hast profaned my sabbaths. There was not in Jerusalem that face of sabbath-sanctification that one would have expected in the holy city. Sabbath-breaking is an iniquity that is an inlet to all iniquity. Many have owned it to contribute as much to their ruin as any thing.
6. Uncleanness and all manner of seventh-commandment sins, fruits of those vile affections to which God in a way of righteous judgment gives men up, to punish them for their idolatry and profanation of holy things. Jerusalem had been famous for its purity, but now in the midst of thee they commit lewdness (Ezek. 22:9); lewdness goes bare-faced, though in the most scandalous instances, as that of a man’s having his father’s wife, which is the discovery of the father’s nakedness (Ezek. 22:10) and is a sin not to be named among Christians without the utmost detestation (1 Cor. 5:1), and was made a capital crime by the law of Moses, Lev. 20:11. The time to refrain from embracing has not been observed (Eccl. 3:6), for they have humbled her that was set apart for her pollution. They made nothing of committing lewdness with a neighbour’s wife, with a daughter-in-law, or a sister, Ezek. 22:11. And shall not God visit for these things?
7. Unmindfulness of God was at the bottom of all this wickedness (Ezek. 22:12): “Thou hast forgotten me, else thou wouldst not have done thus.” Note, Sinners do that which provokes God because they forget him; they forget their descent from him, dependence on him, and obligations to him; they forget how valuable his favour is, which they make themselves unfit for, and how formidable his wrath, which they make themselves obnoxious to. Those that pervert their ways forget the Lord their God, Jer. 3:21.
II. He is to pass sentence upon Jerusalem for these crimes.
1. Let her know that she has filled up the measure of her iniquity, and that her sins are such as forbid delays and call for speedy vengeance. She has made her time to come (Ezek. 22:3), her days to draw near; and she has come to her years of maturity for punishment (Ezek. 22:4), as an heir that has come to age and is ready for his inheritance. God would have borne longer with them, but they had arrived at such a pitch of impudence in sin that God could not in honour give them a further day. Note, Abused patience will at last be weary of forbearing. And, when sinners (as Solomon speaks) grow overmuch wicked, they die before their time (Eccl. 7:17) and shorten their reprieves.
2. Let her know that she has exposed herself, and therefore God has justly exposed her, to the contempt and scorn of all her neighbours (Ezek. 22:4): I have made thee a reproach to the heathen, both those who are near, who are eye-witnesses of Jerusalem’s apostasy and degeneracy, and those afar off, who, though at a distance, will think it worth taking notice of (Ezek. 22:5); they shall all mock thee. While they were reproached by their neighbours for their adherence to God it was their honour, and they might be sure that God would roll away their reproach. But, now that they are laughed at for their revolt from God, they must lie down in their shame, and must say, The Lord is righteous. They make a mock at Jerusalem, both because her sins had been very scandalous (she is infamous, polluted in name, and has quite lost her credit), and because her punishment is very grievous—she is much vexed and frets without measure at her troubles. Note, Those who fret most at their troubles have commonly those about them who will be so much the more apt to make a jest of them.
3. Let her know that God is displeased, highly displeased, at her wickedness, and does and will witness against it (Ezek. 22:13): I have smitten my hand at thy dishonest gain. God, both by his prophets and by his providence, revealed his wrath from heaven against their ungodliness and unrighteousness, the oppressions they were guilty of, though they got by them, and their murders (the blood which has been in the midst of thee), and all their other sins. Note, God has sufficiently discovered how angry he is at the wicked courses of his people; and, that they may not say that they have not had fair warning, he smites his hand against the sin before he lays his hand upon the sinner. And this is a good reason why we should despise dishonest gain, even the gain of oppressions, and shake our hands from holding bribes, because these are sins against which God shakes his hands, Isa. 33:15.
4. Let her know that, proud and secure as she is, she is no match for God’s judgments, Ezek. 22:14. (1.) She is assured that the destruction she has deserved will come: I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it. He that is true to his promises will be true to his threatenings too, for he is not a man that he should repent. (2.) It is supposed that she thinks herself able to contend with God, and so stand a siege against his judgments. She bade defiance to the day of the Lord, Isa. 5:19. But, (3.) She is convinced of her utter inability to make her part good with him: “Can thy heart endure, or can thy hand be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee? Thou thinkest thou hast to do only with men like thyself, but shalt be made to know that thou fallest into the hands of a living God.” Observe here, [1.] There is a day coming when God will deal with sinners, a day of visitation. He deals with some to bring them to repentance, and there is no resisting the force of convictions when he sets them on; he deals with others to bring them to ruin. He deals with sinners in this life, when he brings upon them his sore judgments; but the days of eternity are especially the days in which God will deal with them, when the full vials of God’s wrath will be poured out without mixture. [2.] The wrath of God against sinners, when he comes to deal with them, will be found both intolerable and irresistible. There is no heart stout enough to endure it; it is none of the infirmities which the spirit of a man will sustain. Damned sinners can neither forget nor despise their torments, nor have they any thing wherewith to support themselves under their torments. There are no hands strong enough either to ward off the strokes of God’s wrath or to break the chains with which sinners are bound over to the day of wrath. Who knows the power of God’s anger?
5. Let her know that, since she has walked in the way of the heathen, and learned their works, she shall have enough of them (Ezek. 22:15): “I will not only send thee among the heathen, out of thy own land, but I will scatter thee among them and disperse thee in the countries, to be abused and insulted over by strangers.” And since her filthiness and filthy ones continued in her, notwithstanding all the methods God had taken to refine her (she would not be made clean, Jer. 13:27), he will be his judgments consume her filthiness out of her; he will destroy those that are incurably bad and reform those that are inclined to be good.
6. Let her know that God has disowned her and cast her off. He had been her heritage and portion; but now (Ezek. 22:16), “Thou shalt take thy inheritance in thyself, shift for thyself, make the best hand thou canst for thyself, for God will no longer undertake for thee.” Note, Those that give up themselves to be ruled by their lusts will justly be given up to be portioned by them. Those that resolve to be their own masters, let them expect no other comfort and happiness than what their own hands can furnish them with, and a miserable portion it will prove. Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward. Thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things. These are the same with this, “Thou shalt take thy inheritance in thyself, and then, when it is too late, shalt own in the sight of the heathen that I am the Lord, who alone am a portion sufficient for my people.” Note, Those that have lost their interest in God will know how to value it.