Ezekiel 12 and 13

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The prophet Ezekiel has telegraphed the doom of Jerusalem in a series of visual re-enactment signs, visions, and prophetic oracles. Chapters 12-13 continue with more sign acts, but shifts to God’s assessment of objections by the exiles as to the certainty of Jerusalem’s fate. God therefore directs Ezekiel to demolish the idea that “We have heard all this doom and gloom before, but nothing ever happens.”

New Section

All right... 12 and 13 here. We're actually starting a new section. If you remember way, way, way back at the beginning of Ezekiel we talked about how the book broke down in sections. A lot of commentators will have one of those sections be 12 through 24. So here we are in chapter 12, and I want to read a little excerpt from Taylor's short Tyndale Old Testament Commentary on Ezekiel. He kind of summarizes the section here. I think it it'll be a good framework for us. So he writes:
The argument of the book so far has consisted mainly of the iteration of Ezekiel’s message that Jerusalem is doomed. He has demonstrated this by symbolic action, in vision and by spoken oracle. He has given adequate justification for such a fate by describing the iniquities, religious and moral, which have brought it on. Now a new series of actions and oracles attempts to deal with objections that people raise to this horrifying prospect. The section could, in today’s idiom, be entitled ‘Objections to Judgment’, as long as it is understood that the objections are raised only to be demolished. They are the objections of those who say, ‘We have heard all these threats before, but nothing has ever come of them.’ Or of the false prophets who claim equal authority for oracles which promise peace and safety. Or of those who think that it is impossible for the Lord to cast away his people: they must be delivered, either for the sake of the righteousness of the few, or on the ground of God’s covenant-mercies in time past. However, before he deals with all these varying viewpoints, the prophet has some more symbolical acts to perform.
So that's the end of Taylor's summary. And we're going to see all those elements, really, in these two chapters—these objection scenarios and Ezekiel having to respond to them and, of course, God anticipating them, basically, and then giving Ezekiel the response. But we're also going to get some more symbolic acts mixed in here.
So when it comes to chapter 12, that breaks down into two more sign-acts—two more symbolic actions, illustrative actions that Ezekiel is going to be asked to do that are going to vividly display something. We've seen a bunch of these already but we're going to get two here. The first seven verses we're going to get the sign act described, and then we're going to get it explained in verses 8 through 16. And then the second sign act we'll pick up in verse 17.
So let's just start here right in the first verse. I'll read the first seven verses here.
Ezekiel 12:1–7 ESV
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house. As for you, son of man, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight. You shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house. You shall bring out your baggage by day in their sight, as baggage for exile, and you shall go out yourself at evening in their sight, as those do who must go into exile. In their sight dig through the wall, and bring your baggage out through it. In their sight you shall lift the baggage upon your shoulder and carry it out at dusk. You shall cover your face that you may not see the land, for I have made you a sign for the house of Israel.” And I did as I was commanded. I brought out my baggage by day, as baggage for exile, and in the evening I dug through the wall with my own hands. I brought out my baggage at dusk, carrying it on my shoulder in their sight.
So those are the first 7 verses. The sign act is pretty self-explanatory, but there are a few things I want to say about it. In essence, during the daytime Ezekiel is supposed to gather the bare essentials—what he's going to need, or what an exile would need for the long journey into exile. And then by night—after that stuff's been gathered and packed away—by night he's supposed to dig through the wall of his house to mime (or act out) a getaway, carrying his belongings with him. There are a couple things to say here. The main point is that the sign act is supposed to be performed in full view of Ezekiel's countrymen—his fellow exiles there in Babylon—just like some of the other things he did were carried out in full view: living life, lying on the ground with his hands tied… That was chapter 4. In chapter 4 we also had eating the exiles rations, that sort of thing. He's supposed to be doing this so that everyone can see and hopefully get the message. I think that's generally clear, but let's just comment on a few things as we go here.
In verse 3, one of the things that might grab someone's attention is God telling Ezekiel, "I want you to do this: go like an exile from your place to another place, get the baggage..." and all that. And he says, "Perhaps they will understand, thought they are a rebellious house." And that might cause someone to ask, "Well, doesn't God know the outcome? Is this some sort of indication that God doesn't foreknow the future, or something like that? Doesn't he know the outcome?" Well he does, and we've seen up to this point in the same book—in
Ezekiel—where God knows quite well how this is going to play out. He's telling Ezekiel to tell the people how this is going to play out. He does know the outcome, so that isn't the point of the language. So what might this mean? I think (and this isn't just me, this is a pretty standard way of approaching it) the wording here is meant to convey God's desire, not his uncertainty, about what will happen. God has already said a) the exile is certain, and b) there's going to be a remnant. So God knows both of those things. He's not looking for information here. Frankly, the readers know both of those things. So the wording here, perhaps they'll understand: it reflects God's desire, his heart, that he wishes people would turn around. He wishes this were the case. It's not that he doesn't know that most of them won't and only a handful will. He does know that already because he's telegraphed that through a whole series of sign acts for Ezekiel and oracles and what-not. So I don't think we need to get hung up on the language here. There is a way to look at it that's quite consistent with what Ezekiel has already said and what we've already covered.
So the sign act is not very hard to understand... the part about digging through the wall at night. It's worth commenting that the word here for wall is qirand not homah. The difference between them is homah is typically used, like, of a city wall or something like that. Qir is often used to refer to the wall of a dwelling—a smaller structure. So Ezekiel basically has to basically tunnel through the wall in his house. Typically, it's going to be made up of clay or dry bricks. I point it out because it's not a trivial task. This would have taken him a little while. It would have been something that he does, again, in full view of everyone that would have denoted desperation. "Why don't you just use the door?" "Because I'm surrounded." You create this set of circumstances where normal activity isn't going to work, normal escape isn't going to work. We have to go through the wall because we have to do exit the building where people aren't expecting us to exit the building. It just conveys this sense of urgency that the people are supposed to be watching this and thinking, "Wow, that's what's going to happen. The people back in Jerusalem are going to be in this situation where they have to do this. They have to try to get away unseen because of the threat." So that's just a point of interest. I think the sign act that he's told to do is pretty self-explanatory.
Ezekiel 12:8–16 ESV
In the morning the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, has not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said to you, ‘What are you doing?’ Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel who are in it.’ Say, ‘I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them. They shall go into exile, into captivity.’ And the prince who is among them shall lift his baggage upon his shoulder at dusk, and shall go out. They shall dig through the wall to bring him out through it. He shall cover his face, that he may not see the land with his eyes. And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there. And I will scatter toward every wind all who are around him, his helpers and all his troops, and I will unsheathe the sword after them. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I disperse them among the nations and scatter them among the countries. But I will let a few of them escape from the sword, from famine and pestilence, that they may declare all their abominations among the nations where they go, and may know that I am the Lord.”
So that was verse 8 through 16. A few comments here. What God told him to do in the first 7 verses (get your stuff together—baggage like an exile—and in the evening dig through your wall and then escape)... Verse 8 says that it was explained to Ezekiel in the morning. So apparently Ezekiel didn't quite know what it all meant, either, at least on the surface when it was originally given to him. And the one detail that is revelatory is this focus on the prince. Now most scholars (and I would be among this group; I think this makes sense) feel that the prince is Zedekiah and that this whole description is a reference to what happened to King Zedekiah at the end of the history of Judah, at the end of Judah's existence, where Nebuchadnezzar takes the city. The "prince" language, interestingly enough, is used by Ezekiel later on elsewhere to refer to the Davidic descendant. For instance, in Ezekiel 37:25 we read:
Ezekiel 37:25 ESV
They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever.
So Ezekiel 37 (that's the chapter where the vision of the dry bones is at), so this is perspective about the nation being resurrected, being made alive again, brought back to the land, so on and so forth. And here we have "David my servant.” So again, this is Ezekiel, so it's not King David but it's a reference to the Davidic king. The Davidic descendant is called a prince. It's the same word that's used here in Ezekiel chapter 12. So it's a reference to the person's who's in David's line. And again, if you actually looked at the circumstances, this is the sort of thing that happened to Zedekiah. Taylor, I think has a nice summary of this. He says:
[Ezekiel’s] actions were prophetic of what was to happen to King Zedekiah, the prince in Jerusalem (10). He would flee the city unceremoniously at dead of night. The phrase he shall cover his face(12) may refer to his being disguised, in which case Ezekiel would probably have worn some head-covering to represent it, or it may be a forward look to his being blinded by his captors at Riblah [ remember, Zedekiah was blinded] (referred to clearly in verse 13, yet he shall not see it)…
Again, specifically, the land. I’ll just read the verse:
Ezekiel 12:13 ESV
And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there.
So that very clearly is something that happened to Zedekiah. So Taylor continues:
…it may be a forward look to his being blinded by his captors at Riblah,… which could have been represented by the prophet either by a blindfold or by holding his hand over his eyes. [ There’s a little bit of variability as to how the description that God gives Ezekiel as to what he’s supposed to do at night might have been carried out or might have been supposed to signify.] The LXX follows
the former interpretation by rendering verse 12: ‘he shall cover his face, so that he may not be seen by eye.’
So the Septuagint translator thought this was referring to a disguise, but Taylor and other commentators tend to opt for a reference to Zedekiah. I think that makes sense because of the "prince" language… because "they shall not see it" and that sort of thing seems to be speaking of the king. So this would be a prophecy. I mean, it's all a prophecy. The sign acts, of course, are prophecies. But this one gets really specific. It's not just about what's going to happen to the people in Jerusalem but specifically what's going to happen to the prince—the guy in charge at the time when all of this comes down. Another note that I think is interesting in verse 13:
13 And I will spread my net over him [God says], and he shall be taken in my snare.
So basically, the king is going to try to get away, which historically turned out to be Zedekiah, and God says, "That ain't going to work. I will spread my net over him. He shall be taken in my snare." And this points to the fact that the Babylonian invasion and the capture of the Davidic king is under God's control. This isn't revelatory for us as listeners here. God's the one giving all this information. But this is another passage that points to the fact that when bad things happen, you can't assume that God isn't in control. He is! It's not like badness is just happening and God is up in heaven scrambling, "Oh, what do I do? Boy, I didn't expect this! This is getting out of hand here! I've got to get this under control!" It's always under control. This is an example of God judging apostasy, judging idolatry, judging evil. God gets to do that because he's God. The circumstances are not out of his control. He knows why he's doing it and he knows what's going to extend from it, as well. So we get this point of theology, I think, if we're reading carefully just in that little verse right there.
The second sign act in Ezekiel 12… The first one was to get the baggage together, dig through the wall of your house or hut (or whatever Ezekiel was living in—I think "house" is probably a better term) at night, make your escape, etc... Do this in front of everybody's eyes day and night. The second sign act really serves to try to illustrate the terror of the people in Jerusalem. So we read Ezekiel 12:17-20:
Ezekiel 12:17–20 ESV
And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, eat your bread with quaking, and drink water with trembling and with anxiety. And say to the people of the land, Thus says the Lord God concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the land of Israel: They shall eat their bread with anxiety, and drink water in dismay. In this way her land will be stripped of all it contains, on account of the violence of all those who dwell in it. And the inhabited cities shall be laid waste, and the land shall become a desolation; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
This is pretty clear. Ezekiel is told to get something to eat, something to drink, and sit there and consume it in fear… shake, quake, tremble. Do it with anxiety, like you're in a panic while you're doing it. That's to illustrate that this is what it's going to be like in Jerusalem when all this goes down. We've already had what he does eat and drink trimmed to exilic ration proportions, and we've already had in past chapters references to the land breaking out in pestilence and the water supply being cut off. This is the sort of thing that happens when a city is under siege.
Just take your mind back to siege warfare. This is the classic way of taking a city in the Ancient Near East. You go to the city with your army and you surround it. We've had all this already in previous episodes, with what's going to happen to the city. You remember when Ezekiel is supposed to sketch out the city and then array instruments of warfare around it to visually portray siege warfare. This is what's going to happen and this is what happens when a city is under siege. It's not a quick, constant battle. Typically, you surround the city, you burn the fields outside the city. You burn the crops. You cut off the water supply. If there's a water supply—a river or stream or whatever—flowing into the city, you build a dam. You stop it. You cut off the water supply in the city, so not only is there less to drink and it's going to run out, but also any washing that would have happened... They're not going to be sensitive to germ science and all that stuff, but sanitation is a huge problem. What was typically done is they would wash some things down—they did that—but they would also remove the excrement outside the city. You'd gather it and you'd remove it. You'd take it out. Well, they can't do that if the city is surrounded. Nobody waves a white flag or puts the "T" like "Time-out" here so we can carry the poop out the city. That's not happening. This is why in siege warfare that goes on for weeks and for months, disease becomes a real issue. Pestilence, rats, vermin—these become a real issue. People die and you can't dispose of their corpses. Siege warfare was an awful thing. If you’re surrounded, look how limited your options are. You can either surrender, basically resort to eating the dead (cannibalism—there are passages in the Old Testament that describe that happening both in the Northern Kingdom circumstance and the Southern Kingdom...it gets really bad)... You have that going on. You can try to wait it out or something. Or you can try to fight it out—just sort of a suicide kind of mission, that sort of thing. You break out and you either win the battle or you get what's coming to you, but it's a quick death. This was not something you'd ever want to have happen to your city. And so Ezekiel, through another sign act shows, "Here we go again. This is what it's going to be like. This is what's awaiting Jerusalem." Naturally, people are just going to be frightened out of their minds if an army surrounds their city because they understand what could be generated in terms of the hardship and the awfulness of it.
Chapter 12 wraps up with... If you remember Taylor's summary of a few minutes ago, how part of 12 and 13 is dealing with objections. So chapter 12 gets into this objection kind of scenario, this objection thinking. So it wraps up with divine correction of popular thinking or false prophecy that the people had been hearing, to basically try to deny or rebut or refute or ignore what Ezekiel has been saying. Basically it addresses contrarian preaching. But it's not all just sort of imagining or seeing what's happening back in Jerusalem. Some of it, as we're going to see, is right on Ezekiel's doorstep, with the people with him in exile. So it's not just the people back in Jerusalem who are saying, "This is never going to happen. We're God's chosen," all this kind of stuff. We've had that up to this point in Ezekiel, where the emphasis has been in previous episodes (previous chapters) this kind of mentality, this inviolability of Zion. If you remember we talked about that in earlier episode, that this is God's home, God's house. He's not going to let it be destroyed. “We're his people. We're his family. We're his seed. He's not going to destroy us. We've had exile, but it's over. Too bad for the people that got taken away, but we're still here. We'll be okay.” We're dealing with some of that again, but as we're going to see, Ezekiel has some of it right at his own doorstep. So in verse 21 here in chapter 12, this is how the chapter ends. It says:
Ezekiel 12:21–28 ESV
And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, what is this proverb that you have about the land of Israel, saying, ‘The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing’? Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel.’ But say to them, The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision. For there shall be no more any false vision or flattering divination within the house of Israel. For I am the Lord; I will speak the word that I will speak, and it will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, but in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it, declares the Lord God.” And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, behold, they of the house of Israel say, ‘The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off.’ Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: None of my words will be delayed any longer, but the word that I speak will be performed, declares the Lord God.”
So that's the end of the chapter, verses 21 through 28. It's very transparent, what's going on here. In fact, it's kind of preparatory to what's going to happen in chapter 13. So we might as well just go into that. We can take the end of chapter 12 here with what we see in chapter 13 as we discuss the next sort of topic item in these two chapters, because they blend together. So chapter 13, right after we read that, we read this:
Ezekiel 13:1–7 ESV
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord. They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?”
That's the first 7 verses of chapter 13. So thematically it's the same thing. God is sort of going off on the people that say... A proverbial saying means that the people (and of course Ezekiel had been hearing this over and over and over again) are saying, "The days grow long and the vision comes to nothing. Nothing's going to happen. There shall be no more false..." and this sort of thing. They had just heard this over and over again. Ezekiel would go out and say something or do something and it's just like, "Ah, it's not going to happen... just not going to happen," or, "Thus says the Lord." In other words, "We'll tell you what's going to happen. God is speaking to us. We'll tell you what's going to happen." And God more or less says, "Enough of that. You're talking about how it hasn't happened. It's going to happen in your days. Basically, in your time frame. The very people who are hearing this now, you can be sure that this is what's going to take place—not just in your lifetime, but imminently. So enough of this buffoonery, trying to say, ‘We really know what's going to happen and Ezekiel doesn't.’”
Look what he says in 13: These proverbs, these prophecies that are contradictory to what Ezekiel is communicating are "from their own hearts, from their own minds." Verse 3: "they follow their own spirit." In other words, what they're telling the people, contrary to what Ezekiel is saying, has a private origin.
It comes from them, it doesn't come from God. This is characterized as foolish:
"Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit."
The word "foolish" here is nabal. We're used to thinking of that from the story of Nabal and Abigail and David. Nabal refers to more than just stupidity. The fool, ha nabal, isn't just stupid. It refers to sort of a spiritual and moral dullness or insensitivity. The fool was inclined to blasphemy. The fool would deny either that there was a God (like in Psalm 14:1) or that God is going to act or have any interest in this: "There might be a God but he's just sort of asleep or doesn't do anything." This is the fool. He's arrogant, full of himself, spiritually inept. Going further than that: spiritually stubborn or recalcitrant. He doesn't want to hear the words of Ezekiel or any of God's prophets, but is more interested in the words
that come out of his own mouth. That is the fool. So God says, "This is what you're dealing with." And these fools "have seen nothing" (verse 3).
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