Ezekiel 13

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Ezekiel 13

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?”

Have Seen Nothing

In the Old Testament the test of a true prophet was: Have you had a direct encounter with Yahweh? And then, of course, the evidence of that is what you say actually comes to pass. You have the track record to prove this, that sort of thing. This reference to "you have seen nothing" really refers to, "They haven't seen me. They haven't encountered me. I haven't come to them. I haven't brought them into my Council. I haven't called them." It's interesting that the text still calls them "prophets." Prophesying is basically preaching. I've made this comment before. We have a misconception of prophecy because of all the End-times interest and hubbub, really the End-times obsession. We tend to think that prophecy in the Old Testament (or anywhere in the Bible) refers to predicting the future. Very rarely it did that. It certainly does do that, but that's the minority. Most of the time it's a preacher. It's someone who is supposedly speaking for God, that sort of thing. So what he's saying is, "Okay, you're out there running around... these guys are running around claiming to speak for God and speaking as though they do speak for God, but they have seen nothing. I have not called them." And as proof of that you get verse 4, this phrase about, "Your prophets have been like jackals among the ruins." You know, they haven't gone up into the breaches to build a wall for the house of Israel. That's an idiomatic way, in the case of the Hebrew Bible, of saying that these people who claim to be prophets (claim to be speaking for the God of Israel) have no real concern for the people among whom they live. They're digging around, burrowing around the foundations, like little foxes or jackals, trying to hide themselves. Trying to get security for their own butts. They're not taking risks for the people. They're not telling the people what they need to hear. If they had done that 5, 10, 15 years ago—whatever it was—that they needed to repent, that the reason that this was happening and had happened (the first couple waves of exile) was because of their idolatry. They're not doing that.

False Security

Instead they're preaching false security and looking to protect themselves. They're looking for a place to hide instead of fulfilling their moral responsibility of telling people the hard truth. In the past you needed to repent; perhaps God will relent. In the present you need to repent because maybe you'll be spared and be part of the remnant. They're not saying any of that. They are just being false. They're telling people things that aren't true, and it's just self-interest. That is not what a prophet of God does. So that's why these thoughts are mixed here. We have this concatenation of thoughts in these phrases.
In verse 7, what they say is referred to as "lying divination." The word here for divination is miqsam. If any of you have read my paper on the Old Testament response to pagan divination, where I discuss a lot of these terms, I'll just quote a little bit from that. Miqsam is really a term that kind of casts a broad net for different practices that were prohibited in the Old Testament context. It refers to an attempt to illicit information from a deity (just generally) or from some supernatural source through reading something like entrails or the liver or whatever—different Ancient Near Eastern stuff they would do. Or interpreting natural events, natural resources, as meaning something. It's very broad. One of the more common practices that would fall under miqsam divination would be casting lots, that sort of thing. We're not told specifically which one of those things that these false prophets were doing, but God is aware, and basically he just says here through Ezekiel, "They've seen false visions. I don't care what they claim to have seen. It's bogus. And they've given lying divinations. They've done this that and the other thing and claimed that it means this or that." And God is saying, "Enough of this. This is a lie. All this is a lie. These are not my prophets. They have seen nothing at all.”
Ezekiel 13:8–16 ESV
Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord God. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord God. Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall! There will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind break out. And when the wall falls, will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’ Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end. And I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord. Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it, the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lord God.
Now when we get beyond verse 7 in Ezekiel 13, we get to verses 8 through 16. We sort of get a general denunciation of all of this. It's a bit of repetition here, but in chapter 13 verses 8 through 16, we just basically get a diatribe from God denouncing the practice of preaching false security—of trying to encourage people who need to repent of their idolatry... I'll read you a little bit of it because Ezekiel uses the metaphor of the wall and whitewashing the wall. Verse 8:
8 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions…
That's an interesting phrase. He doesn't deny they had a vision. He just said it was a lie. So again, it's either something self-willed... When I read stuff like this I think of a lot of the nonsense that goes on today either within the Church or outside the Church in pagan religions or New Age kind of stuff, where people have experiences and they can be self-induced or induced from another intelligence, another supernatural intelligence. So yeah, they had an experience, but it's a lie. So God says:
“Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord GOD. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
Well, if they're not going to enter the land, that tells you right away they're not going to be in the remnant because the remnant is going to be brought back. Ezekiel has talked about that, too in little places here and there. Why? Verse 10:
10 Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, 11 say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall!
Basically, they're encouraging people to do this or that to protect themselves, but it's all a mirage. None of it is going to matter, is basically the point of the idioms that we see here. So we get verses 8 through 16 are just one sort of slap in the face after another toward these false prophets. And then we get to verse 17 where there's something interesting. God says to Ezekiel in chapter 13, verse 17:
Ezekiel 13:17–23 ESV
“And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own hearts. Prophesy against them and say, Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls! Will you hunt down souls belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive? You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies. “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against your magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free, the souls like birds. Your veils also I will tear off and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand as prey, and you shall know that I am the Lord. Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life, therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you shall know that I am the Lord.”
Basically, you're not going to see any more because you're going to be dead. You're not part of the remnant. You are going to perish. This section (17-23, and that's the rest of chapter 13) is interesting because it's one of the handful of passages in the Old Testament that focus on female prophets (prophetesses). Taylor says (just a little statement he has here):
There are only a handful of passages in the Old Testament which are critical of a class of women, and this section keeps company with Isaiah 3:16–4:1; 32:9–13 and Amos 4:1–3. The only female prophets that are known to us are women like
Deborah (Judg. 4:4ff.) and Huldah (2 Kgs 22:14), though Moses’ sister, Miriam, merited the title (Exod. 15:20) and Nehemiah refers to ‘the prophetess Noadiah’ among his intimidators (Neh. 6:14). While recognizing therefore that prophecy was open to women as well as to men, there do not appear to have been many such women and it is probably a mistake to think of a class or order of prophetesses.
In other words, unlike the men who had schools of prophets, it probably wasn't the case with the women. But you do have women prophetesses. This is not something that's going to be revelatory in our context, but this is one of the few places where you get this. In this case, while those other references (at least some of them... some were positive, but there were a couple negative ones like the one in Nehemiah) this one is really negative. If you read (and we did) from verses 18 onward, you get the feeling that we're not dealing with normal female prophets, but something that would get filed in the drawer of witchcraft because of the way it's described: "sew magic bands upon the wrists; make veils for the heads of persons of every stature." It's very clear that they're entrapping the righteous. They're doing something to deceive the righteous into buying the message or maybe staying in the city or whatever. They don't need to repent if God's calling them righteous; these are the good people. But they're being convinced not to do practical things that could result in saving their own lives. But the reverse is true: the wicked are the ones that are being benefited here in some way. We don't really know... You have the reference to handfuls of barley, pieces of bread, so on and so forth. Maybe they're doing this for payment or they're taking stuff from the righteous and then the wicked are benefiting from it—we don't know the exact circumstances here. But it isn't good. It's calling evil good and good evil, essentially. Now Block has a quotation that I think is worth reading that sheds a little bit of light on this. It's not completely clear by any means, but he has a few interesting things to say here. He says:
It's impossible to arrive at a clear understanding of the women's methods because of the obscurity of the expressions used. Nevertheless, two specific activities appear to be involved. First, they are sewing something for people's arms. The terminology here (kĕsātôt) and (kĕsātôt) appears only here and in verse 20. Its meaning is uncertain. One's first impulse is to associate the term with the verb (kāsâ), which means "to cover," although the LXX translates the language here as (προσκεφάλαια), which is the word for "pillows," and that goes in a completely different direction. Since some form of magical power is involved here, it seems best to associate the terminology with the noun (keset), and that is built off the Akkadian verb (kasû) which means "to bind" and the noun (kasītu), which is "binding magic" in Akkadian. The reference being to magical bands worn on the wrists or arms by the women. However, some argue that these bands were also put on the wrists of their victims so these women could maintain control over them by some means of sympathetic magic [or cursing, or hexing, that sort of thing]. Second, the meaning of (hammispāḥôt) is equally uncertain [ again, this reference to the coverings here over the heads] and renderings vary. Greenberg translates it, "rags." [Another source] translates it "bonnet; mantle," etc. Most common is "veils" [and he lists a bunch of English translations that opt for that]. The last interpretation is based upon an alleged association with Akkadian (sapāḫu) "to loosen or scatter," however, the derivation of (mispāḥôt) may be much nearer home in the Hebrew root (spḥ), which means "to join or attach." Not only does this root suggest a better parallel with the bands around the wrists, it is also more easily associated with magical appurtenances, specifically amulets tied to a string and worn like a phylactery on the forehead, or more likely brought over the head and worn around the neck. [Whatever the nature of both of these], they appear to have been instruments of black magic, and their wielders may justifiably be designated sorceresses, evil magicians, or witches.
Whatever they're doing here, it could either be something they do to themselves, or they're doing it to the people that they're convincing that they need to listen to them or else something bad is going to happen to them (cursing or hexing). The terminology isn't common, and it has uncertain relationships back to Akkadian. But as Block's quote demonstrates, you can make a reasonable case here for certain practices that are known (especially the binding of the phylacteries, or binding something around your head, or pulling it over your head like a necklace and wearing it around your neck and your shoulders in the form of an amulet or talisman or something like that). Whatever it is, the effect of it was to deceive, to call good evil and evil good… to deceive the righteous. And because of that, some of these righteous are going to lose their lives, and whatever they're doing is somehow benefiting the wicked. Again, it's not good. It's one of the few sections in the Old Testament where some very specific female individuals who claim to be tapping into the other side (divine revelation)—where they're actually discussed here. And it's very plain in verses 19-23 that God says, "I'm against you."

Bottom Line

So the bottom line here for Ezekiel 12 and 13 is that the people of Jerusalem were not being told the truth. As we transition later in the next episode in chapters 14 and 15, we're going to see that it's not just the people in Jerusalem, it's the people that are among the exiles right there with Ezekiel. They're the ones also trying to sort of cover their own butts in some cases, and obscure the truth of what's going to happen, what's going on. But the people, again, are not being told the truth. They're being deceived. And they're not going to escape. Though the city's preachers (those people doing this) are Israelites (in other words, they're elect), what they're saying is false, and God isn't in it.
Personally, I think just by way of something worth thinking about... You take a chapter like this and I think it's good fodder for what we see happening today under the name of Christianity, under the name of Jesus, under the name of the Gospel. There are lots of things—we could make a grocery list of them—that people who name the name of Christ or say that they have some position, ministry, or some spiritual authority in the Lord's work… they are doing or saying things that are just flat-out lies. Both of these chapters indicate that, "Well, that isn't the first time!" I think what we need to learn from it is that just because people link what they're saying and doing to the Gospel, to Jesus, does not mean that it is the Gospel or that Jesus is in it. It's very clear here from the Old Testament that people were doing that with the name of the God of Israel, and God says, "They have seen nothing. I have not called them. These are lies, and I'm going to put a stop to it. Don't listen to them."
So I think this is something that's pretty valuable for us. I've met people—good people, people who really want to do the right thing—and they'll say, "So and so said this and they're a preacher. I think I should listen to them," or, "They wouldn't lie to me or deceive me! They're speaking for the Lord. They're sincere. Their heart is in it." Yeah, well I'm willing to bet that the people back here in Jerusalem were serious—maybe not in the way you'd want them to be. Maybe they're serious about getting something out of it. Maybe they're serious about saving their own hides. I think there are a lot of people today—again, we could make the grocery list here—that are doing what they're doing in the name of Christ for personal benefit: building an audience, getting money… This doesn't take a whole lot of imagination. But the point is we have two chapters here where there is biblical precedent not only for that sin (and that's what it is, this is sin), but there's also biblical precedent for people being deceived by it, and we ought to take the lesson. We ought to take heed to what we're reading here in these two chapters in Ezekiel.
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