Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
In the first half of his book, Ezekiel has predicted severe judgments, both to the covenant nation and to the heathen nations. But to the people of Israel he has also promised the turning of its captivity, after the judgment of the destruction of the kingdom and the dispersion of the refractory generation in the heathen lands; not merely their restoration to their own land, but the setting up of the covenant made with the fathers, and the renewing of the restored nation by the Spirit of God, so that it will serve the Lord upon His holy mountain with offerings acceptable to Him (compare Ezekiel 11:16-21; Ezekiel 16:60, and Ezekiel 20:40.). On the other hand, he has threatened the heathenish peoples and kingdoms of the world with devastation and everlasting destruction, so that they will be remembered no more (compare Ezekiel 21:36-37; Ezekiel 25:7, Ezekiel 25:10; Ezekiel 25:16; Ezekiel 26:21; Ezekiel 27:36, and Ezekiel 28:19), or rather with the lasting humiliation and overthrow of their glory in the nether world (compare Ezekiel 29:13., Ezekiel 31:15., and Ezekiel 32:17.); whilst God will create a glorious thing in the land of the living, gather Israel from its dispersion, cause it to dwell safely and happily in the land given to His servant Jacob, and a horn to grow thereto (Ezekiel 26:20; Ezekiel 28:25., and Ezekiel 29:21). - This announcement is carried out still further in the second half of the book, where first of all the pardon, blessing, and glorification promised to the covenant nation, after its sifting by the judgment of exile, are unfolded according to their leading features, and the destruction of its foes is foretold (Ezekiel 34-39); and then, secondly, there is depicted the establishment of the renovated kingdom of God for everlasting continuance (Ezekiel 40-48). The prophet's mouth was opened to make the announcement when a fugitive brought the tidings of the destruction both of Jerusalem and of the kingdom to the captives by the Chaboras; and this constitutes the second half of the prophetic ministry of Ezekiel. The introduction to this is contained in Ezekiel 33, whilst the announcement itself is divisible into two parts, according to its contents, as just indicated, - namely, first, the promise of the restoration and glorification of Israel (Ezekiel 34-39); and secondly, the apocalyptic picture of the new constitution of the kingdom of God (Ezekiel 40-48).
The Calling of the Prophet, and His Future Attitude towards the People - Ezekiel 33
This chapter is divided into two words of God of an introductory character, which are separated by the historical statement in Ezekiel 33:21 and Ezekiel 33:22, though substantially they are one. The first (vv. 1-20) exhibits the calling of the prophet for the time to come; the second (Ezekiel 33:23-33) sets before him his own attitude towards the people, and the attitude of the people towards his further announcement. The first precedes the arrival of the messenger, who brought to the prophet and the exiles the tidings of the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (Ezekiel 33:21). The second was uttered afterwards. The fall of the holy city formed a turning-point in the prophetic work of Ezekiel. Previous to this catastrophe, God had appointed him to be a watchman over Israel: to show the people their sins, and to proclaim the consequent punishment, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah, together with the dispersion of the people among the heathen. But after the city had fallen, and the judgment predicted by him had taken place, the object to be aimed at was to inspire those who were desponding and despairing of salvation with confidence and consolation, by predicting the restoration of the fallen kingdom of God in a new and glorious form, to show them the way to new life, and to open the door for their entrance into the new kingdom of God. The two divisions of our chapter correspond to this, which was to be henceforth the task imposed upon the prophet. In the first (vv. 1-20), his calling to be the spiritual watchman over the house of Israel is renewed (Ezekiel 33:2-9), with special instructions to announce to the people, who are inclined to despair under the burden of their sins, that the Lord has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but will give life to him who turns from his iniquity (Ezekiel 33:10-20). The kernel and central point of this word of God are found in the lamentation of the people: “Our transgressions and sins lie upon us, and we are pining away through them; how then can we live?” (Ezekiel 33:10), together with the reply given by the Lord: “By my life, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked turn ye, turn yourselves; why do ye wish to die?” (Ezekiel 33:11). The way is prepared for this by Ezekiel 33:2-9, whilst Ezekiel 33:12-20 carry out this promise of God still further, and assign the reason for it. - The thoughts with which the promise of the Lord, thus presented as an antidote to despair, is introduced and explained are not new, however, but repetitions of earlier words of God. The preparatory introduction in Ezekiel 33:2-9 is essentially a return to the word in Ezekiel 3:17-21, with which the Lord closes the prophet's call by pointing out to him the duty and responsibility connected with his vocation. And the reason assigned in Ezekiel 33:12-20, together with the divine promise in Ezekiel 33:11, is taken from Ezekiel 18, where the prophet unfolds the working of the righteousness of God; and more precisely from Ezekiel 18:20-32 of that chapter, where the thought is more fully expanded, that the judgments of God can be averted by repentance and conversion. From all this it is indisputably evident that the first section of this chapter contains an introduction to the second half of the prophecies of Ezekiel; and this also explains the absence of any date at the head of the section, or the “remarkable” fact that the date (Ezekiel 33:21 and Ezekiel 33:22) is not given till the middle of the chapter, where it stands between the first and second of the words of God contained therein. - The word of God in Ezekiel 33:23. was no doubt addressed to the prophet after the fugitive had arrived with the tidings of the fall of Jerusalem; whereas the word by which the prophet was prepared for his further labours (vv. 1-20) preceded that event, and coincided in point of time with the working of God upon the prophet on the evening preceding the arrival of the fugitive, through which his mouth was opened for further speaking (Ezekiel 33:22); and it is placed before this historical statement because it was a renewal of his call.
(Note: It is incomprehensible how Kliefoth could find “no sign of introductory thoughts” in this section, or could connect it with the preceding oracles against the foreign nations, for no other reason than to secure fourteen words of God for that portion of the book which contains the prophecies against the foreign nations. For there is no force in the other arguments which he adduces in support of this combination; and the assertion that “the section, Ezekiel 33:1-20, speaks of threatenings and warnings, and of the faithfulness with which Ezekiel is to utter them, and of the manner in which Israel is to receive them,” simply shows that he has neither correctly nor perfectly understood the contents of this section and its train of thought.)
Calling of the Prophet for the Future - Ezekiel 33:1-20
The prophet's office of watchman. Ezekiel 33:1. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Ezekiel 33:2. Son of man, speak to the sons of thy people, and say to them, When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their company and set him for a watchman, Ezekiel 33:3. And he seeth the sword come upon the land, and bloweth the trumpet, and warneth the people; Ezekiel 33:4. If, then, one should hear the blast of the trumpet and not take warning, so that the sword should come and take him away, his blood would come upon his own head. Ezekiel 33:5. He heard the blast of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood will come upon him: whereas, if he had taken warning, he would have delivered his soul. Ezekiel 33:6. But if the watchman seeth the sword come, and bloweth not the trumpet, and the people is not warned; and the sword should come and take away a soul from them, he is taken away through his guilt; but his blood will I demand from the watchman's hand. Ezekiel 33:7. Thou, then, son of man, I have set thee for the watchman to the house of Israel; thou shalt hear the word from my mouth, and warn them for me. Ezekiel 33:8. If I say to the sinner, Sinner, thou wilt die the death; and thou speakest not to warn the sinner from his way, he, the sinner, will die for his iniquity, and his blood I will demand from thy hand. Ezekiel 33:9. But if thou hast warned the sinner from his way, to turn from it, and he does not turn from his way, he will die for his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. - Ezekiel 33:7-9, with the exception of slight deviations which have little influence upon the sense, are repeated verbatim from Ezekiel 3:17-19. The repetition of the duty binding upon the prophet, and of the responsibility connected therewith, is introduced, however, in Ezekiel 33:2-6, by an example taken from life, and made so plain that every one who heard the words must see that Ezekiel was obliged to call the attention of the people to the judgment awaiting them, and to warn them of the threatening danger, and that this obligation rested upon him still. In this respect the expansion, which is wanting in Ezekiel 3, serves to connect the following prophecies of Ezekiel with the threats of judgment contained in the first part. The meaning of it is the following: As it is the duty of the appointed watchman of a land to announce to the people the approach of the enemy, and if he fail to do this he is deserving of death; so Ezekiel also, as the watchman of Israel appointed by God, not only is bound to warn the people of the approaching judgment, in order to fulfil his duty, but has already warned them of it, so that whoever has not taken warning has been overtaken by the sword because of his sin. As, then, Ezekiel has only discharged his duty and obligation by so doing, so has he the same duty still further to perform. - In Ezekiel 33:2 ארץ is placed at the head in an absolute form; and 'כּי אביא וגו, “if I bring the sword upon a land,” is to be understood with this restriction: “so that the enemy is on the way and an attack may be expected” (Hitzig). מקציהם, from the end of the people of the land, i.e., one taken from the whole body of the people, as in Genesis 47:2 (see the comm. on Genesis 19:4). Blowing the trumpet is a signal of alarm on the approach of an enemy (compare Amos 3:6; Jeremiah 4:5). נזהר in Ezekiel 33:5 is a participle; on the other hand, both before and afterwards it is a perfect, pointed with Kametz on account of the tone. For Ezekiel 33:7-9, see the exposition of Ezekiel 3:17-19.
As watchman over Israel, Ezekiel is to announce to those who are despairing of the mercy of God, that the Lord will preserve from destruction those who turn from their sin, and lead them into life. - Ezekiel 33:10. Thou then, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Ye rightly say, Our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and in them we vanish away; how, then, can we live? Ezekiel 33:11. Say to them, As truly as I live, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the sinner; but when the sinner turneth from his way, he shall live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways! for why will ye die, O house of Israel? Ezekiel 33:12. And thou, son of man, say to the sons of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, and the sinner will not fall through his sin in the day that he turneth from his sin, and the righteous man will not be able to live thereby in the day that he sinneth. Ezekiel 33:13. If I say to the righteous man that he shall live, and he relies upon his righteousness and does wrong, all his righteousnesses will not be remembered; and for his wrong that he has done, he will die. Ezekiel 33:14. If I say to the sinner, Thou shalt die, and he turns from his sin, and does justice and righteousness, Ezekiel 33:15. So that the wicked returns the pledge, restores what has been robbed, walks in the statutes of life without doing wrong, he will live, not die. Ezekiel 33:16. All his sins which he has committed shall not be remembered against him; he has done justice and righteousness, he will live. Ezekiel 33:17. And the sons of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not right; but they - their way is not right. Ezekiel 33:18. If the righteous man turneth from his righteousness and doeth wrong, he shall die thereby; Ezekiel 33:19. But if the wicked man turneth from his wickedness and doeth right and righteousness, he will live thereby. Ezekiel 33:20. And yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not right. I will judge you every one according to his ways, O house of Israel. - In Ezekiel 33:10 and Ezekiel 33:11 the prophet's calling for the future is set before him, inasmuch as God instructs him to announce to those who are in despair on account of their sins the gracious will of the Lord. The threat contained in the law (Leviticus 26:39), ימּקּוּ בּעונם, of which Ezekiel had repeatedly reminded the people with warning, and, last of all, when predicting the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (compare Ezekiel 4:17 and Ezekiel 24:23), had pressed heavily upon their heart, when the threatened judgment took place, so that they quote the words, not “in self-defence,” as Hävernick erroneously supposes, but in despair of any deliverance. Ezekiel is to meet this despair of little faith by the announcement that the Lord has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but desires his conversion and his life. Ezekiel had already set this word of grave before the people in Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32, accompanied with the summons to salvation for them to lay to heart: there, it was done to overthrow the delusion that the present generation had to atone for the sins of the fathers; but here, to lift up the hearts of those who were despairing of salvation; and for this reason it is accompanied with the asseveration (wanting in Ezekiel 18:23 and Ezekiel 18:32): “as truly as I live, saith the Lord,” and with the urgent appeal to repent and turn. But in order to preclude the abuse of this word of consolation by making it a ground of false confidence in their own righteousness, Ezekiel repeats in Ezekiel 33:12-20 the principal thoughts contained in that announcement (Ezekiel 18:20-32) - namely, first of all, in Ezekiel 33:12-16, the thought that the righteousness of the righteous is of no avail to him if he gives himself up to the unrighteousness, and that the sinner will not perish on account of his sin if he turns from his wickedness and strives after righteousness (יכּשׁל, Ezekiel 33:12, as in Hosea 5:5; Jeremiah 6:15; compare Ezekiel 18:24-25, and Ezekiel 18:21, Ezekiel 18:22; and for Ezekiel 33:14 and Ezekiel 33:15, more especially Ezekiel 18:5 and Ezekiel 18:7); and then, secondly, in Ezekiel 33:17-20, the reproof of those who find fault with the way of the Lord (compare Ezekiel 18:25, Ezekiel 18:27, Ezekiel 18:29-30).
Tidings of the Fall of Jerusalem, and the Consequences with Regard to the Prophet
Ezekiel 33:21. And it came to pass in the twelfth year, in the tenth (month), on the fifth of the month after our being taken captive, there came to me a fugitive from Jerusalem, and said, The city is smitten. Ezekiel 33:22. And the hand of Jehovah had come upon me in the evening before the arrival of the fugitive, and He opened my mouth, till he came to me in the morning; and so was my mouth opened, and I was silent no more. - In these verses the fulfilment of the promise made by God to the prophet in Ezekiel 24:25-27, after the prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, is recorded. The chronological datum, as to the precise time at which the messenger arrived with the account of the destruction of Jerusalem, serves to mark with precision the point of time at which the obstacle was removed, and the prophet was able to speak and prophesy without restraint. - The fact that the tidings of the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in the fifth month of the eleventh year, are said to have only reached the exiles in the tenth month of the twelfth year, that is to say, nearly a year and a half after it occurred, does not warrant our following the Syriac, as Doederlein and Hitzig have done, calling in question the correctness of the text and substituting the eleventh year for the twelfth. With the distance at which Ezekiel was living, namely, in northern Mesopotamia, and with the fearful confusion which followed the catastrophe, a year and a half might very easily pass by before a fugitive arrived with the information. But Hitzig's assertion, that Ezekiel would contradict himself, inasmuch as, according to Ezekiel 26:1-2, he received intelligence of the affair in the eleventh year, is founded upon a misinterpretation of the passage quoted. It is not stated there that Ezekiel received this information through a fugitive or any man whatever, but simply that God had revealed to him the fall of Jerusalem even before it occurred. לגלוּתינוּ, after our being led away (Ezekiel 33:21 and Ezekiel 40:1), coincides with לגלוּת המּלך in Ezekiel 1:2. הכּתה, smitten, i.e., conquered and destroyed, exterminated. In the clause 'ויד יהוה, the verb היתה is a pluperfect, and אלי stands for עלי, according to the later usage. The formula indicates the translation of the prophet into an ecstatic state (see the comm. on Ezekiel 1:3), in which his mouth was opened to speak, that is to say, the silence imposed upon him was taken away. The words, “till he came to me in the morning,” etc., are not to be understood as signifying that the prophet's mouth had only been opened for the time from evening till morning; for this would be opposed to the following sentence. They simply affirm that the opening of the mouth took place before the arrival of the fugitive, the night before the morning of his arrival. ויּפּתח פּי, which follows, is an emphatic repetition, introduced as a link with which to connect the practically important statement that from that time forward he was not speechless any more. - It was in all probability shortly afterwards that Ezekiel was inspired with the word of God which follows in Ezekiel 33:23-33, as we may infer from the contents of the word itself, which laid the foundation for the prophet's further prophesying. But nothing can be gathered from Ezekiel 33:22 with regard to the time when this and the following words of God (as far as Ezekiel 39), of which no chronological data are given, were communicated to the prophet and uttered by him. His being “silent no more” by no means involves immediate or continuous speaking, but simply recalls the command to be speechless. There is no ground for the assumption that all these words of God were communicated to him in one night (Hävernick, Hengstenberg, and others), either in Ezekiel 33:22 or in the contents of these divine revelations.
Preaching of Repentance after the Fall of Jerusalem
The first word of God, which Ezekiel received after the arrival of the fugitive with the intelligence of the destruction of Jerusalem, was not of a consolatory, but of a rebuking nature, and directed against those who, while boasting in an impenitent state of mind of the promise given to the patriarchs of the everlasting possession of the Holy Land, fancied that they could still remain in possession of the promised land even after the destruction of Jerusalem and of the kingdom of Judah. This delusion the prophet overthrows by the announcement that the unrighteous are to have no share in the possession of the land of Israel, but are to perish miserably, and that the land is to be utterly waste and without inhabitants (Ezekiel 33:23-29). The Lord then shows him that his countrymen will indeed come to him and listen to his words, but will only do that which is pleasant to themselves; that they will still seek after gain, and not do his words; and that it will not be till after his words have been fulfilled that they will come to the knowledge of the fact that he really was a prophet (Ezekiel 33:30-33). We perceive from these last verses that the threat uttered in Ezekiel 33:24-29 was to form the basis for Ezekiel's further prophecies, so that the whole of this word of God has only the force of an introduction to his further labours. But however the two halves of this word of God may appear to differ, so far as their contents are concerned, they are nevertheless closely connected. The state of heart disclosed in the first half, with reference to the judgment that has already fallen upon the land and kingdom, is to preclude the illusion, that the fact of the people's coming to the prophet to hear his words is a sign of penitential humiliation under the punishing hand of God, and to bring out the truth, that the salvation which he is about to foretell to the people is only to be enjoyed by those who turn with sincerity to the Lord.
False reliance upon God's Promises
Ezekiel 33:23. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Ezekiel 33:24. Son of man, the inhabitants of these ruins in the land of Israel speak thus: Abraham was one, and received the land for a possession; but we are many, the land is given to us for a possession. Ezekiel 33:25. Therefore say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Ye eat upon the blood, and lift up your eyes to your idols, and shed blood, and would ye possess the land? Ezekiel 33:26. Ye rely upon your sword, do abomination, and one defileth another's wife, and would ye possess the land? Ezekiel 33:27. Speak thus to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, By my life, those who are in the ruins shall fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field him do I give to the beasts to devour, and those who are in the fortresses and caves shall die of the pestilence. Ezekiel 33:28. And I make the land devastation and waste, and its proud might shall have an end, and the mountains of Israel shall be waste, so that no one passeth through. Ezekiel 33:29. And they shall know that I am Jehovah, when I make the land devastation and waste because of all the abominations which they have done. - This threat is directed against the people who remained behind in the land of Judah after the destruction of Jerusalem. ישׁבי are the Israelites who dwelt amidst the ruins of the Holy Land, the remnant of the people left behind in the land. For it is so evident as to need no proof that Kliefoth is wrong in asserting that by החרבות we are to understand the district bordering on the Chaboras, which was not properly cultivated; and by the inhabitants thereof, the exiles who surrounded Ezekiel. It is only by confounding אמר and דּבּר that Kliefoth is able to set aside the more precise definition of the inhabitants of these ruins contained in the words על אדמת ישׂראל, and to connect ישׂ 'על אד with אמרים, “they speak concerning the land of Israel;” and in Ezekiel 33:27 it is only in a forced manner that he can generalize החרבות and take it as referring to the waste places both in the Holy Land and on the Chaboras. The fact, moreover, that Ezekiel 33:30-33 treat of the Israelites by the Chaboras, is no proof whatever that they must also be referred to in Ezekiel 33:24-29. For the relation in which the two halves of this word of God stand to one another is not that “Ezekiel 33:30-33 depict the impression made upon the hearers by the words contained in Ezekiel 33:24-29,” so that “the persons alluded to in Ezekiel 33:30-33 must necessarily be the hearers of Ezekiel 33:24-29.” Ezekiel 33:30-33 treat in quite a general manner of the attitude which the prophet's countrymen would assume towards his words - that is to say, not merely to his threats, but also to his predictions of salvation; they would only attend to that which had a pleasant sound to them, but they would not do his words (Ezekiel 33:31, Ezekiel 33:32). It is quite in harmony with this, that in Ezekiel 33:23-29 these people should be told of the state of heart of those who had remained behind on the ruins of the Holy Land, and that it should be announced to them that the fixed belief in the permanent possession of the Holy Land, on which those who remained behind in the land relied, was a delusion, and that those who were victims of this delusion should be destroyed by sword and pestilence. Just as in the first part of this book Ezekiel uttered the threatened prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah in the presence of his countrymen by the Chaboras, and addressed them to these, because they stood in the same internal relation to the Lord as their brethren in Jerusalem and Judah; so here does he hold up this delusion before them as a warning, in order that he may disclose to them the worthlessness of such vain hope, and preach repentance and conversion as the only way to lie.
Behaviour of the People Towards the prophet
Ezekiel 33:30. And thou, son of man, the sons of thy people converse about thee by the walls and in the house-doors; one talketh to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come and let us hear what kind of word goeth out from Jehovah. Ezekiel 33:31. And they will come to thee, like an assembly of the people, and sit before thee as my people, and will hear thy words, but not do them; but that which is pleasant in their mouth they do; their heart goeth after their gain. Ezekiel 33:32. And, behold, thou art unto them like a pleasant singer, beautiful in voice and playing well; they will hear thy words, but they will not do them. Ezekiel 33:33. But when it cometh - behold, it cometh - they will know that a prophet was in the midst of them. - This addition to the preceding word of God, which is addressed to Ezekiel personally, applies to the whole of the second half of his ministry, and stands in obvious connection with the instructions given to the prophet on the occasion of his first call (Ezekiel 3:16.), and repeated, so far as their substance is concerned, in Ezekiel 33:7-9, as Kliefoth himself acknowledges, in opposition to his assumption that vv. 1-20 of this chapter belong to the prophecies directed against the foreign nations. As God had directed the prophet's attention, on the occasion of his call, to the difficulties connected with the discharge of the duties of a watchman with which he was entrusted, by setting before him the object and the responsibility of his vocation, and had warned him not to allow himself to be turned aside by the opposition of the people; so here in Ezekiel 33:30-33, at the commencement of the second section of his ministry, another word is addressed to him personally, in order that he may not be influenced in the further prosecution of his calling by either the pleasure or displeasure of men.
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