After Ezekiel’s prophecies concerning the heathen neighbors of Israel, an entirely new department of his ministry begins here. Hitherto it was chiefly the labor of condemnation that he had fulfilled, but now it was to be the labor of comfort. He had labored in vain to avert the stroke of Jerusalem’s overthrow and utter downfall. The calamity that had been so often foretold and warned against had come at last; and now he was to address himself to the more agreeable task of reviving the hopes of the fallen, by opening up to them the prospect of a glorious future. For judgment cannot rest upon the house of God forever; the night of sorrow must eventually give way to the morning of joy; and when the period of lowest depression has been reached, the moment has assuredly come for the commencement of a new and better position.
At the close of chapter 24, Ezekiel was instructed to remain silent; for until the city of Jerusalem had fallen, the people were not ready to receive the Lord’s words of comfort and encouragement. The prophet was not to open his mouth in prophecy to Israel again, until the escaped remnant from Jerusalem’s desolations came to him there in Babylon – as a witness that the work of judgment was completed, and that the false foundations were thoroughly swept away (chapter 24:26-27). And in verses 21 and 22 of this chapter, Ezekiel states the fact of such persons having actually arrived in Babylon – along with the additional intelligence that on the previous evening, the hand of God had already begun to operate on the prophet’s soul and reopen his closed lips.
The first part of the communication (verses 1-20) that was likely made to the prophet on the preceding evening before the arrival of the escaped Jewish exiles consists of representations which we have already met with in our study of this Book. The first nine verses exhibit afresh the prophet’s calling and office, under the same character in which it was presented at the outset in chapter 3:16-21 – namely, that of a spiritual watchman. A watchman must have his eye focused simply upon the realities of things – whether or not these are agreeable to people’s feelings. For such a man to slumber at his post, or to conceal known danger, is to incur the highest guilt; just as, on the other hand, for the people to neglect the watchman’s faithful warning is to exhibit the most reckless folly.
Ezekiel had most zealously and devotedly played the part of the spiritual watchman. He had sounded the trumpet of alarm over every appearance of danger; but sadly, it was only to deaf ears and unbelieving hearts. The dreaded calamities had come upon Jerusalem – sending multitudes to destruction, and involving all in the deep waters of affliction and sorrow. But now that the worst has come, was there nothing else to be done? Has the office of heaven’s watchman ceased, when the cloud of heaven’s vengeance has burst upon the guilty? Does he have no commission to speak to those who are sinking under the stroke of judgment – the miserable remnant that have escaped absolute destruction, but are still shivering on the brink of ruin? Yes! And it is here that a new sphere of labor presents itself to the prophet, and a new call comes to him to enter upon it. “Say to them, As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; and wherefore will ye die, O house of Israel?” (verses 10-11) A yearning tenderness here manifests itself; but even with that tenderness, Jehovah must still maintain His unflinching holiness. Only if sinful humans turn from their wicked ways can the Lord turn from His fierce displeasure. Here, therefore, stands the one doorway of escape; and the prophet, in entering upon this second phase of his ministry, must begin by reiterating that message with which he began that ministry. The Lord’s servant has no other terms of peace to offer; and if they are not concurred in, recovery is impossible. But every encouragement is here held out to those who repent and return to the Lord; they are assured that it will go well with them, and that they will experience His lovingkindness.
This, then, was the essence of the first communication which the prophet received from the Lord, immediately before the arrival of the escaped refugees from Jerusalem. And that which came immediately afterwards, and fills up the concluding part of the chapter, is a kind of application of the former part; for it shows how opposed most of the Lord’s people still were to the righteousness of God – and consequently, how far they were from salvation. At this point, the people – generally speaking – could be classed into two distinct groups. The first group was those who remained in Judea – the miserable fraction who dwelt among its desolations. Notwithstanding all they had seen and suffered of all the righteous judgments of God, they were still wedded to their sinful ways, and cherishing the most groundless hopes. And as for the great majority of the Jewish exiles on the banks of the Chebar River, they were motivated at heart by the same wayward and refractory spirit. But the Lord’s Word shall be found to be true, and every person who attempts to set its counsel at nought shall be found to be a liar. Let us pray that we may always reverently hear it, and cheerfully bow to its requirements with child-like submission.
Lord, we pray for the pastors and spiritual watchmen whom You have set upon the walls of Your Church! We beseech You to give them grace so that they may be faithful to You, and to people’s souls. Amen.
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illustration taken from The Art Bible, 1896