These verses conclude what we have been upon all along from the beginning of this book, to wit, Ezekiel’s prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem; for after this, though he prophesied much concerning other nations, he said no more concerning Jerusalem, till he heard of the destruction of it, almost three years after, Ezek. 33:21. He had assured them, in the former part of this chapter, that there was no hope at all of the preventing of the trouble; here he assures them that they should not have the ease of weeping for it. Observe here,
I. The sign by which this was represented to them, and it was a sign that cost the prophet very dear; the more shame for them that when he, by a divine appointment, was at such an expense to affect them with what he had to deliver, yet they were not affected by it.
1. He must lose a good wife, that should suddenly be taken from him by death. God gave him notice of it before, that it might be the less surprise to him (Ezek. 24:16): Behold, I take away from thee the desire of thy eyes with a stroke. Note, (1.) A married state may very well agree with the prophetical office; it is honourable in all, and therefore not sinful in ministers. (2.) Much of the comfort of human life lies in agreeable relations. No doubt Ezekiel found a prudent tender yoke-fellow, that shared with him in his griefs and cares, to be a happy companion in his captivity. (3.) Those in the conjugal relation must be to each other not only a covering of the eyes (Gen. 20:16), to restrain wandering looks after others; but a desire of the eyes, to engage pleasing looks on one another. A beloved wife is the desire of the eyes, which find not any object more grateful. (4.) That is least safe which is most dear; we know not how soon the desire of our eyes may be removed from us and may become the sorrow of our hearts, which is a good reason why those that have wives should be as though they had none, and those who rejoice in them as though they rejoiced not, 1 Cor. 7:29, 30. Death is a stroke which the most pious, the most useful, the most amiable, are not exempted from. (5.) When the desire of our eyes is taken away with a stroke we must see and own the hand of God in it: I take away the desire of thy eyes. He takes our creature-comforts from us when and how he pleases; he gave them to us, but reserved to himself a property in them; and may he not do what he will with his own? (6.) Under afflictions of this kind it is good for us to remember that we are sons of men; for so God calls the prophet here. If thou art a son of Adam, thy wife is a daughter of Eve, and therefore a dying creature. It is an affliction which the children of men are liable to; and shall the earth be forsaken for us? According to this prediction, he tells us (Ezek. 24:18), I spoke unto the people in the morning; for God sent his prophets, rising up early and sending them; then he thought, if ever, they would be disposed to hearken to him. Observe, [1.] Though God had given Ezekiel a certain prospect of this affliction coming upon him, yet it did not take him off from his work, but he resolved to go on in that. [2.] We may the more easily bear an affliction if it find us in the way of our duty; for nothing can hurt us, nothing come amiss to us, while we keep ourselves in the love of God.
2. He must deny himself the satisfaction of mourning for his wife, which would have been both an honour to her and an ease to the oppression of his own spirit. He must not use the natural expressions of sorrow, Ezek. 24:16. He must not give vent to his passion by weeping, or letting his tears run down, though tears are a tribute due to the dead, and, when the body is sown, it is fit that it should thus be watered. But Ezekiel is not allowed to do this, though he thought he had as much reason to do it as any man and would perhaps be ill thought of by the people if he did it not. Much less might he use the customary formalities of mourners. He must dress himself in his usual attire, must bind his turban on him, here called the tire of his head, must put on his shoes, and not go barefoot, as was usual in such cases; he must not cover his lips, not throw a veil over his face (as mourners were wont to do, Lev. 13:45), must not be of a sorrowful countenance, appearing unto men to fast, Matt. 6:18. He must not eat the bread of men, nor expect that his neighbours and friends should send him in provisions, as usually they did in such cases, presuming the mourners had no heart to provide meat for themselves; but, if it were sent, he must not eat of it, but go on in his business as at other times. It could not but be greatly against the grain to flesh and blood not to lament the death of one he loved so dearly, but so God commands; and I did in the morning as I was commanded. He appeared in public, in his usual habit, and looked as he used to do, without any signs of mourning. (1.) Here there was something peculiar, and Ezekiel, to make himself a sign to the people, must put a force upon himself and exercise an extraordinary piece of self-denial. Note, Our dispositions must always submit to God’s directions, and his command must be obeyed even in that which is most difficult and displeasing to us. (2.) Though mourning for the dead be a duty, yet it must always be kept under the government of religion and right reason, and we must not sorrow as those that have no hope, nor lament the loss of any creature, even the most valuable, and that which we could worst spare, as if we had lost our God, or as if all our happiness were gone with it; and, of this moderation in mourning, ministers, when it is their case, ought to be examples. We must at such a time study to improve the affliction, to accommodate ourselves to it, and to get our acquaintance with the other world increased, by the removal of our dear relations, and learn with holy Job to bless the name of the Lord even when he takes as well as when he gives.
II. The explication and application of this sign. The people enquired the meaning of it (Ezek. 24:19): Wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us that thou doest so? They knew that Ezekiel was an affectionate husband, that the death of his wife was a great affliction to him, and that he would not appear so unconcerned at it but for some good reason and for instruction to them; and perhaps they were in hopes that it had a favourable signification, and gave them an intimation that God would now comfort them again according to the time he had afflicted them, and make them look pleasant again. Note, When we are enquiring concerning the things of God our enquiry must be, “What are those thing to us? What are we concerned in them? What conviction, what counsel, what comfort, do they speak to us? Wherein do they reach our case?” Ezekiel gives them an answer verbatim—word for word as he had received it from the Lord, who had told him what he must speak to the house of Israel.
1. Let them know that as Ezekiel’s wife was taken from him by a stroke so would God take from them all that which was dearest to them, Ezek. 24:21. If this was done to the green tree, what shall be done to the dry? If a faithful servant of God was thus afflicted only for his trial, shall such a generation of rebels against God go unpunished? By this awakening providence God showed that he was in earnest in his threatenings, and inexorable. We may suppose that Ezekiel prayed that, if it were the will of God, his wife might be spared to him, but God would not hear him; and should he be heard then in his intercessions for this provoking people? No, it is determined: God will take away the desire of your eyes. Note, The removal of the comforts of others should awaken us to think of parting with ours too; for are we better than they? We know not how soon the same cup, or a more bitter one, may be put into our hands, and should therefore weep with those that weep, as being ourselves also in the body. God will take away that which their soul pities, that is, of which they say, What a pity is it that it should be cut off and destroyed! That for which your souls are afraid (so some read it); you shall lose that which you most dread the loss of. And what is that? (1.) That which was their public pride, the temple: “I will profane my sanctuary, by giving that into the enemy’s hand, to be plundered and burnt.” This was signified by the death of a wife, a dear wife, to teach us that God’s sanctuary should be dearer to us, and more the desire of our eyes, than any creature-comfort whatsoever. Christ’s church, that is his spouse, should be ours too. Though this people were very corrupt, and had themselves profaned the sanctuary, yet it is called the desire of their eyes. Note, Many that are destitute of the power of godliness are yet very fond of the form of it; and it is just with God to punish them for their hypocrisy by depriving them of that too. The sanctuary is here called the excellency of their strength; they had many strong-holds and places of defence, but the temple excelled them all. It was the pride of their strength; they prided in it as their strength that they were the temple of the Lord, Jer. 7:4. Note, The church-privileges that men are proud of are profaned by their sins, and it is just with God to profane them by his judgments. And with these God will take away, (2.) That which was their family-pleasure, which they looked upon with delight: “Your sons and your daughters (which are the dearer to you because they are but few left of many, the rest having perished by famine and pestilence) shall fall by the sword of the Chaldeans.” What a dreadful spectacle would it be to see their own children, pieces, pictures, of themselves, whom they had taken such care and pains to bring up, and whom they loved as their own souls, sacrificed to the rage of the merciless conquerors! This, this, was the punishment of sin.
2. Let them know that as Ezekiel wept not for his affliction so neither should they weep for theirs. He must say, You shall do as I have done, Ezek. 24:22. You shall not mourn nor weep, Ezek. 24:23. Jeremiah had told them the same, that men shall not lament for the dead nor cut themselves (Jer. 16:6); not that there shall be any such merciful circumstance without, or any such degrees of wisdom and grace within, as shall mitigate and moderate the sorrow; but they shall not mourn, for, (1.) Their grief shall be so great that they shall be quite overwhelmed with it; their passions shall stifle them, and they shall have no power to ease themselves by giving vent to it. (2.) Their calamities shall come so fast upon them, one upon the neck of another, that by long custom they shall be hardened in their sorrows (Job 6:10) and perfectly stupefied, and moped (as we say), with them. (3.) They shall not dare to express their grief, for fear of being deemed disaffected to the conquerors, who would take their lamentations as an affront and disturbance to their triumphs. (4.) They shall not have hearts, nor time, nor money, wherewith to put themselves in mourning, and accommodate themselves with the ceremonies of grief: “You will be so entirely taken up with solid substantial grief that you will have no room for the shadow of it.” (5.) Particular mourners shall not need to distinguish themselves by covering their lips, and laying aside their ornaments, and going barefoot; for it is well known that every body is a mourner. (6.) There shall be none of that sense of their affliction and sorrow for it which would help to bring them to repentance, but that only which shall drive them to despair; so it follows: “You shall pine away for your iniquities, with seared consciences and reprobate minds, and you shall mourn, not to God in prayer and confession of sin, but one towards another,” murmuring, and fretting, and complaining of God, thus making their burden heavier and their wound more grievous, as impatient people do under their afflictions by mingling their own passions with them.
III. An appeal to the event, for the confirmation of all this (Ezek. 24:24): “When this comes, as it is foretold, when Jerusalem, which is this day besieged, is quite destroyed and laid waste, which now you cannot believe will ever be, then you shall know that I am the Lord God, who have given you this fair warning of it. Then you will remember that Ezekiel was to you a sign.” Note, Those who regard not the threatenings of the word when they are preached will be made to remember them when they are executed. Observe,
1. The great desolation which the siege of Jerusalem should end in (Ezek. 24:25): In that day, that terrible day, when the city shall be broken up, I will take from them, (1.) That which they depended on—their strength, their walls, their treasures, their fortifications, their men of war; none shall stand them in stead. (2.) That which they boasted of—the joy of their glory, that which they looked upon as most their glory, and which they most rejoiced in, the temple of their God and the palaces of their princes. (3.) That which they delighted in, which was the desire of their eyes, and on which they set their minds. Note, Carnal people set their minds upon that on which they can set their eyes; they look at, and dote upon, the things that are seen; and it is their folly to set their minds upon that which they have no assurance of and which may be taken from them in a moment, Prov. 23:5. Their sons and their daughters were all this—their strength, and joy, and glory; and these shall go into captivity.
2. The notice that should be brought to the prophet, not be revelation, as the notice of the siege was brought to him (Ezek. 24:2), but in an ordinary way (Ezek. 24:26): “He that escapes in that day shall, by a special direction of Providence, come to thee, to bring thee intelligence of it,” which we find was done, Ezek. 33:21. The ill-news came slowly, and yet to Ezekiel and his fellow-captives it came too soon.
3. The divine impression which he should be under upon receiving that notice, Ezek. 24:27. Whereas, from this time to that, Ezekiel was thus far dumb that he prophesied no more against the land of Israel, but against the neighbouring nations, as we shall find in the following chapters, then he shall have orders given him to speak again to the children of his people (Ezek. 33:2, 22); then his mouth shall be opened. He was suspended from prophesying against them in the mean time, because, Jerusalem being besieged, his prophecies could not be sent into the city,—because, when God was speaking so loudly by the rod, there was the less need of speaking by the word,—and because then the accomplishment of his prophecies would be the full confirmation of his mission, and would the more effectually clear the way for him to begin again. It being referred to that issue, that issue must be waited for. Thus Christ forbade his disciples to preach openly that he was Christ till after his resurrection, because that was to be the full proof of it. “But then thou shalt speak with the greater assurance, and the more effectually, either to their conviction or to their confusion.” Note, God’s prophets are never silenced but for wise and holy ends. And when God gives them the opening of the mouth again (as he will in due time, for even the witnesses that are slain shall arise) it shall appear to have been for his glory that they were for a while silent, that people may the more certainly and fully know that God is the Lord.