Here is, I. A general idea given of the land of Israel, how well it deserved the judgments coming to destroy it and how much it needed these judgments to refine it. Let the prophet tell her plainly, “Thou art the land that is not cleansed, not refined as metal is, and therefore needest to be again put into the furnace. Means and methods of reformation have been ineffectual; thou art not rained upon in the day of indignation.” This was one of the judgments which God brought upon them in the day of his wrath, he withheld the rain from them, Jer. 14:4. Or, “When thou art under the tokens of God’s displeasure, even in the day of indignation thou art not rained upon; thou hast not received instruction by the prophets, whose doctrine is said to descend as the rain.” Or, “When thou art corrected thou art not cleansed; thy filth is not carried away as that in the streets is by a sweeping rain. Nay, though it be a day of indignation with thee, yet thy filthiness, which should be done away, has become more offensive, as that of a city is in dry weather, when it is not rained upon.” Or, “Thou hast nothing to refresh and comfort thyself with in the day of indignation; thou art not rained upon by divine consolations.” So the rich man in torment had not a drop of water, or rain, to cool his tongue.
II. A particular charge drawn up against the several orders and degrees of men among them, which shows that they had all helped to fill the measure of the nation’s guilt, but none had done any thing towards the emptying of it; they are therefore all alike.
1. They have every one corrupted his way, and those who should have been the brightest examples of virtue were ringleaders in iniquity and patterns of vice.
(1.) The prophets, who pretended to make known the mind of God to them, were not only deceivers, but devourers (Ezek. 22:25), and hardened them in their wickedness both by their preaching, wherein they promised them impunity and prosperity, and by their conversation, in which they were as profligate as any. There is a conspiracy of her prophets against God and religion, against the true prophets and all good men; they conspired together to be all in one song, as Ahab’s prophets were, to assure them of peace in their sinful ways. Note, The unity which is found among pretenders to infallibility, and which they so much boast of, is only the result of a secret conspiracy against the truth. Satan is not divided against himself. The prophets are in conspiracy with the murderers and oppressors, to patronise and protect them in their wickedness, and justify what they did with their false prophecies, provided they may come in sharers with them in the profits of it. They are like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they thunder out threats against those whose ruin is aimed at, terrify them, or make them odious to the people, and so make themselves masters, [1.] Of their lives: They have devoured souls, have been accessory to the shedding of the blood of many an innocent person, and so have made many to become sorrowful widows who were comfortable wives. They have persecuted those to death who witnessed against their pretensions to prophecy and would not be imposed upon by their counterfeit commission. Or, They devoured souls by flattering sinners into a false peace and a vain hope, and seducing them into the paths of sin, which would be their eternal ruin. Note, Those who draw men to wickedness, and encourage them in it, are the devourers and murderers of their souls. [2.] Of their estates. When Naboth is slain they take possession of his vineyard; They have seized the treasure and precious things, as forfeited; some way or other they had of devouring the widows’ houses, as the Pharisees, Matt. 23:14. Or, They got this treasure, and all these precious things, as fees for false and flattering prophecies; for he that puts not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him, Mic. 3:5. It was said with Jerusalem when such men as these passed for prophets.
(2.) The priests, who were teachers by office, and had the custody of the sacred things, and should have called the false prophets to account, were as bad as they, Ezek. 22:26. [1.] They violated the law of God, which they should have observed and taught others to observe. They made no conscience of the law of the priesthood, but openly broke it, and with contempt, as Hophni and Phinehas. They did what they had a mind, with an express non obstante—notwithstanding to the word of God. And how should those teach the people their duty who lived in contradiction to their own? [2.] They profaned God’s holy things, about which they were to minister, and which they ought to have restrained others from the profanation of. They suffered those to eat of the holy things who were unqualified by the law. The table of the Lord was contemptible with them. By dealing in holy things with such unhallowed hands they did themselves profane them. [3.] They did not themselves put a difference, nor did they show the people how to put a difference, between the holy and profane, the clean and the unclean, according to the directions and distinctions of the law. They did not exclude those from God’s courts who were excluded by the law, nor teach the people to observe the difference the law had made between food clean and unclean, between times and places holy and common; but they lived at large themselves and encouraged the people to do so too. [4.] They hid their eyes from God’s sabbaths; they took no care about them; it was all one to them whether God’s sabbaths were kept holy or no; they neither gave countenance to those who observed them nor check to those who profaned them, nor did they themselves show any regard to them or veneration for them. They winked at those who did servile works on that day, and looked another way when they should have inspected the behaviour of the people on sabbath days. God’s sabbaths have such a beauty and glory put upon them by the divine institution as may command respect; but they hid their eyes from them and would not see that excellency in them. [5.] By all this God himself was profaned among them; his authority was slighted, his goodness made light of, and the highest affront and contempt imaginable were put upon his holiness. Note, The profanation of the honour of the scriptures, of sabbaths and sacred things, is a profanation of the honour of God himself, who is interested in them.
(3.) The princes, who should have interposed with their authority to redress these grievances, were as daring transgressors of the law as any (Ezek. 22:27): They are like wolves ravening the prey; for such is power without justice and goodness to direct it. All their business was to gratify, [1.] Their own pride and ambition, by making themselves arbitrary and formidable. [2.] Their own malice and revenge, by shedding blood and destroying souls, sacrificing to their cruelty all those that stood in their way or had in any thing disobliged them. [3.] Their own avarice; all they aim at is to get dishonest gain, by crushing and oppressing their subject. Lucri bonus est odor ex re qualibet. Rem, rem, quocunque modo rem—Sweet is the odour of gain, from whatever substance it ascends. Money, money, by fairness or by fraud, get money. But, though they had power sufficient to carry them on in their oppressive courses, yet how could they answer it both to their credit and to their consciences? We are told how (Ezek. 22:28): The prophets daubed them with untempered mortar, told them in God’s name (horrid wickedness!) that there was no harm in what they did, that they might dispose of the lives and estates of their subjects as they pleased, and could do no wrong, nay, that in prosecuting such and such whom they had marked out they did God service; and thus they stopped the mouth of their consciences. They also justified what they did, to the people, nay, and magnified it as if it were all for the public good, and so saved their reputation, and kept their oppressed subjects from murmuring. Note, Daubing prophets are the great supporters of ravening princes, but will prove at last their great deceivers, for they daub with untempered mortar which will not hold, nor will the wall stand long that is built up with it. They pretend to be seers, but they see vanity; they pretend to be diviners, but they divine lies; they pretend a warrant from Heaven for what they say, and that it is all as true as gospel; they say, Thus saith the Lord God, but it is all a sham, for the Lord has not spoken any such thing.
(4.) The people that had any power in their hands learned of their princes to abuse it, Ezek. 22:29. Those that should have complained of the oppression of the subject, and have put in a claim of rights on behalf of the injured, that should have stood up for liberty and property, were themselves invaders of them: The people of the land have used oppression and exercised robbery. The rich oppress the poor, masters their servants, landlords their tenants, and even parents their own children; nay, the buyers and sellers will find some way to oppress one another. This is such a sin as, when it is national, is indeed a national judgment, and is threatened as such. Isa. 3:5; The people shall be oppressed every one by his neighbour. It is an aggravation of the sin that they have vexed the poor and needy, whom they should have relieved, and have oppressed the stranger and deprived him of his right, to whom they ought to have been not only just, but kind. Thus was the apostasy universal and the disease epidemical.
2. There is none that appears as an intercessor for them (Ezek. 22:30): I sought for a man among them that should stand in the gap, but I found none. Note, (1.) Sin makes a gap in the hedge of protection that is about a people at which good things run out from them and evil things pour in upon them, a gap by which God enters to destroy them. (2.) There is a way of standing in the gap, and making up the breach against the judgments of God, by repentance, and prayer, and reformation. Moses stood in the gap when he made intercession for Israel to turn away the wrath of God, Ps. 106:23. (3.) When God is coming forth against a sinful people to destroy them he expects some to intercede for them, and enquires if there be but one that does; so much is it his desire and delight to show mercy. If there be but a man that stands in the gap, as Abraham for Sodom, he will discover him and be well pleased with him. (4.) It bodes ill to a people when judgments are breaking in upon them, and the spirit of prayer is restrained, so that not one is found that will either give them a good word or speak a good word for them. (5.) When it is so, what can be expected but utter ruin? Therefore have I poured out my indignation upon them (Ezek. 22:31), have given it full scope, that it may come upon them in a full stream; yet, whatever God’s wrath inflicts upon a people, it is their own way that is therein recompensed upon their heads, and God deals with them no worse, but even much better, than their iniquity deserves.