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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
[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:
So that very clearly is something that happened to Zedekiah.