COMMENTARY ON EZEKIEL,
(c) Copyright 1996 by Wm. G. Most
Jeremiah had had the task of trying to keep the true faith in
Jerusalem. Yet even after the first invasion, by Nebuchadnezzar in
596, people did not seem to understand that it was the hand of
God. They still sinned, and even had idols in the temple. The had
a really superstitious faith in having the temple.
Ezekiel wrote from exile between the first and second invasions
(586). Even then it was a task to keep people from sin and even
false worship. They even went so far as to accuse God of charging
them with the sins of their ancestors (18.2).And they felt they
were safe as long as they had the temple Inn exile they cherished
hopes, aided by false prophets, of a quick return from exile.
When Solomon dedicated the great temple, God told him if he was
faithful He would keep His presence there forever- if not, He
would scatter them over the face of the earth. More recently, God
gave the same warning through Jeremiah 9.12-16. But they were
still too rebellious to understand.
Acceptance of this book by Jews was not immediate. Chapter 1 at
first was banned from reading in the synagogue and from study in
the schools. It had sparked the unfortunate Merkabah (chariot)
mysticism that ran for centuries. The strenuous accusations of
hardness made the Rabbis unhappy, and they feared it would provide
ammunition for the christians. We note especially 5.5, saying
Jerusalem "has rebelled against God's commands more than the pagan
The rabbis also noticed that some things in the future temple
prescriptions in 40-48 contradicted those of Mosaic law. Efforts
to reconcile the two led even to saying Elijah would come to
explain it, or to simply admitting hopeless contradictions. (We
will examine these points in detail later).
There were other serious problems: it seemed God was about to
restore Israel gratis, or that God acts not because of repentance
but because of His own prior Holiness and
St. Jerome reports that the rabbis did not allow anyone under age
30 to read the book. (Epistle 53. 7,.To Paulina).
The picture of the activities of Ezekiel is often unclear, so much
that a few commentators have said he did not go to Jerusalem
physically at all, only in visions.
Chapter 1: In the 30th year--- we do not know the starting point
for the computation. But it must have been between the two
invasions by Nebuchednezzar, in 596 and 586 - Ezekiel was in
exile, living near the River Chebar when he saw a vision. A great
wind came from the north and a storm cloud, with brightness and
fire flashing about it. In the middle were the likenesses of four
living creatures. The description is unclear. The creatures had
the likeness of men but each had four faces and four wings. The
wings touched one another. They went straight forward without
turning or coming back. Each had the face of a man in front, the
face of a lion on the right, the face of an ox on the left, and
the face of an eagle on the back.
The Fathers of the Church liked to see these as standing for the
four Evangelists. The face of a man stood for Matthew, with his
opening genealogy on the humanity of Jesus. The face of the lion
stood for Mark, whose Gospel opens with John in the desert. The
fact of the ox stood for Luke whose Gospel opens with sacrifice in
the temple. The face of the eagle stood for John's Gospel; with
its soaring vision of the Divine Word. The fact that they always
went forward without taking anything back stood for the inerrancy
of the Gospels. They went wherever the Spirit went-- inspiration,
said the Fathers.
Ezekiel further saw wheels besides the creatures, one for each.
The wheels gleamed like chrysolite. There were wheels within
wheels -unclear what is meant. Whenever the creatures went, the
wheels went and could rise from the earth, for the spirit was in
Over the heads of the creatures was a firmament, like crystal.
When they went, the sound was like that of many waters. Above the
firmament was a throne, like sapphire. He who sat on it seemed to
have human form, but from his loins and up there was an appearance
of gleaming bronze. His lower part was like fire. There was a
brightness like a rainbow over Him.
Naturally, Ezekiel fell on his face. Then he heard a voice
Chapter 2: His call as a prophet: The vision told Ez to stand on
his feet. Son of man, it said, I am sending you to Israel, a
nation of rebels. The picture is dismal. Already in Dt. 8.4-6:"Do
not say to yourselves....'It is because of my righteousness that
God has brought me to possess the land...it is because of the
wickedness of these nations that God is going to drive them out
before you....you are a stubborn people." And yet, in Dt 7.8:
"...it is because the Lord loves you" that He will give you this
The first thing to notice is that the Lord loves them in spite of
their being so rebellious. He will soon speak at more length of
their rebelliousness. How then can He love them?. The answer is
that love is not a feeling, it is to will good to another for the
other's sake. He therefore willed them good, which is first
described as the land. Later, near the end of the OT period it
will be reinterpreted as eternal salvation.
There is something somewhat similar in the NT. In 1 Cor St. Paul
argued at length to try to get them out of their pride in being in
a special faction within the church, and, we may assume, pride in
getting into the Church--unlike those pagans! So Paul at the end
of 1 Cor 1 tells them, in effect: Look at your community! Not many
rich, not many noble, not many wise or learned. Rather, God has
chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong. Then
it will be clear it is His power and goodness, not their good
qualities - though Paul does not accuse them of being as
rebellious as Israel.
In the book of Jonah we find a similar thought. Jonah was sent to
the pagan city of Nineveh. If a prophet was sent in OT times to
Israel, he was lucky to get out alive. But the pagan Assyrians
welcomed the prophet, did penance at once. In a fourth century
(tr. J. Lauterbach, Jewish Publication
Society I.p.7) Jonah is pictured as saying to himself: "Since the
gentiles are more inclined to repent, I might be causing Israel to
be condemned [by going to Nineveh]." They knew they were worse
than the pagans.
In the NT we see he same sort of picture. In the parable of the
goods Samaritan (Lk 10.30-37) two officers of the People of God
coldly pass by the wounded man. But a Samaritan takes care of him
Similarly, when ten lepers were healed by Jesus, only one came
back to say thanks--and he was a Samaritan. In Mt.11.21 Jesus is
vexed at the hardness of Chorozain and Bethsaida: "If the wonders
done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have
repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."
Is there a hint in all of this that the holy people of God are in
general less open to God's graces than pagans?
In a large family, if most of the children have normal health, but
one is sickly, it is the sickly one who gets the extra care. He
needs it so much more.
So God told Ezekiel not to be rebellious. He would give Ezekiel a
scroll with lamentations and woe written on it to eat. He must eat
Did Ezekiel physically eat a scroll? Much harder to do than for a
modern book--and even if Ezekiel had a lot of Taco sauce. Most
likely this is a symbolic way of saying: God is now filling you
with His spirit and His thoughts, with the result that later, even
if Ezekiel did not have a special vision each time, he could
rightly say: Thus says the Lord!
Chapter 3: The watchman
Again God told Ezekiel he was being sent to a rebellious people.
This is said so many times over in this book -- no wonder the
rabbis were uneasy. Foreign people would listen, but not Israel--
cf. the other texts cited just above this point.
Where is Ezekiel at this point? It surely seems he has been
transported to Jerusalem, even though that trip is not mentioned
before this line. He should go to the exiles at the River Chebar.
Ezekiel was so overwhelmed by the experience he sat overwhelmed
for seven days.
After 7 days God told him He was appointing him as a watchman. If
they listened to him, they would be saved; otherwise not. The past
righteous deeds of the righteous man will not be remembered if he
sins. The other side of the same picture comes in 18.21 saying
that if the wicked man turns, none of his sins will be remembered.
(More comment on this point later in notes on chapter 18).
Then God told him to go out on the plain. There he saw the glory
of the Lord, but was told to go into his house where he would be
bound with cords and in general unable to speak. Yet when God
would so order, he could reprove them. -- Was he literally bound
with cords, or was it that God in some other way rendered him
immobile. We cannot say: It could well be part of the pattern of
acting out a prophecy, such as we shall see soon in other
Chapter 4: God next told him to make on a clay tablet a model of a
city in siege as a sign of what was to happen to the house of
Israel. The others in exile with him would see this, and wonder
what it meant. He at least seemed like a prophet. The fact that he
was a priest would lend weight to his words. Yet they strongly
opposed any prophecy other than quick return from exile.
Next, God ordered Ezekiel to lie on his left side 190 days to
expiate the same number of years of the iniquity of the northern
kingdom. Samaria fell in 721. Ezekiel at this time was in between
596 and 586. The calculation is of course round. Then he was to
lie on his right side for 40 days, again a round number, to
expiate for the house of Juda---right stood for south, left for
We read 190 days for the north. That is the number given in the
Septuagint (LXX). The Masoretic Hebrew text gives 390. The text of
Ezekiel is in uncertain condition. It seems likely that the LXX is
a more careful translation at this point, for it is likely to be
based on a Hebrew text earlier than the LXX. From the Dead Sea
Scrolls we know that the LXX at times does follow earlier Hebrew
texts, and that the text as a whole had not been stabilized at the
time when the LXX was made.
Next God ordered him to take wheat, barley, beans and lentils,
millet and spelt and put all into one vessel and make bread of
them. Lev.19.19 and Dt.22.9-10 prohibited mixing these grains or
even planting all in one field. But now to show the extremity, God
positively ordered an exception. Ezekiel could eat only 20 shekels
of this bread along with 1/6 of a hin, that is, about 6.55 liters
of water per day. This was about half the normal diet. At first
God ordered him to cook the grains over a fire of human dung, but
when Ezekiel protested, God allowed him to cook on cow's dung. All
this was to be a sign of the famine to come in the city.
Chapter 5: God orders Ezekiel to take a very sharp sword and to
use it as a razor to cut off the hair of his head and his beard.
He was told to weigh in a balance the hair, so as to divide it
into three parts. He was to burn one third in the midst of the
city, perhaps on the clay tablet on which he had mad a map of the
city in chapter 4. Another third he should strike with the sword
around the city, and the remaining third he was to scatter to the
wind. Then God will unsheath His sword against Jerusalem. The
symbolism is clear. Shaving off hair and beard were a disgrace. In
Isaiah 7.20 God says He will use the king of Assyria as a razor on
Oddly Ezekiel was told to take some of the hair from the skirt of
his robe, and burn it as a sign of the fire of God which would
God said He had set Jerusalem in the center of the nations--
geographically it was in a middle zone between the spheres of
influence of Egypt and of Mesopotmia, He says, frightfully ,that
Jerusalem has rebelled against God's ordinances more than the
gentiles, had become worse than the gentiles. Therefore God will
execute judgment against Jerusalem. There will even be
cannibalism. They have defiled God's sanctuary with idols.- cf
later, chapters 7- 8 ,will give details. God will unleash His
fury. They will be an object of reproach and a warning to the
nations round about them.
Chapter 6: Precisely because God has shown such favor to
Jerusalem, even giving explicitly His commands - or that reason
they deserve all the more to be punished.
God will make desolate their altars, their high places of false
worship. He will break their idols and incense altars.
And even those far off shall die of pestilence, and those in the
city will fall by the sword and those left shall die of famine,
though He will finally save a remnant.
There shall be desolation from the wilderness even to Riblah on
the Orontes river.
Chapter 7: God sternly threatens punishment, without pity. He
speaks of the Day of the Lord. It can mean either the day when
finally at the end all will be set right, or at an intermediate
point. Neither buyer nor seller will benefit from the ruin.
The trumpet has blown for war, but no defender comes. The sword is
outside, famine and pestilence inside. A few who might escape will
be like moaning doves. They will seek in vain for advice from the
prophets, the priests, the elders. It reminds us of the threat of
Isaiah 29.13-14 -.Because they did not worship God as they should,
He said, wisdom would perish from the wise.
Chapter 8: This vision took place in 592, one year after Ezekiel's
great inaugural vision by the river Chebar. The hand of God was
upon him. So, was this transport physical or only in a vision? We
cannot be sure. In His temptation after 40 days fast, Jesus was
taken by satan to a place where He could see all kingdoms of the
earth- clearly a vision, in spite of the language There is no such
a place on the earth.
Ezekiel was taken in the vision first to the interior gate of the
temple, on the north, the left, of the altar of holocausts. There
he saw worship of the idol that provokes zeal, probably meaning
Astarte, the Assyrian Venus or the Ashera which the impious king
Manassas had erected .
Then he was taken to the door of the court. There he saw a hole in
the wall, and was told to dig in the wall. When he did so, he saw
a door, and went in. He saws idolatrous images of creeping things
and beasts. Seventy men of the house of Israel were before them,
with censers and incense. They were with Jazaniah, son of Saphan -
- whom we do not know otherwise. These idols were probably
Egyptian gods, the such as the bull Apis. Political alliances led
to introducing such things into the temple.
But the vision told him there was still worse. He was taken to the
entrance of the north gate. Then he saws women weeping for Tammuz
This was a vegetation divinity which died at the end of the
growing season. They were weeping to bring him back, for the
crops. There was a similar cult in Phoenicia dedicated to Adonis,
the Phoenician version of Tammuz.
Further, the vision took him to the inner court, and between the
porch and the altar were about 25 men with their backs to the
temple, worshipping the sun. The expression about putting the
branch to the nose most likely referred to a Persian custom of
holding a branch of dates, to avoid contaminating the rays of the
Therefore God told Ezekiel that even if they would cry to Him, He
would not hear them -- their cry would not really mean obedience
to His law.
Chapter 9: Next Ezekiel heard a loud voice in the vision crying
out to six angels in human form, and a man clothed in linen with
them. They came from the north, the direction from which invasion
was to come. They went in and stood beside the bronze altar. The
majesty of the Lord spoke, and ordered a man clothed in linen to
go through Jerusalem, and write a tau, a sort of cross, on the
foreheads of those who sigh over the abominations Ezekiel saw in
Then the Majesty of God ordered those with the man clothed in
linen, like the priests, to smite all those on whom the tau was
not marked. The Fathers of the Church liked to see the tau as a
prefiguration of the baptismal seal. They were to smite all, even
little children. They were to begin at the sanctuary and thus
defile the temple-- a horrendous thought for an Israelite. This
all stood for the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar. God told Ezekiel
that He had forsaken the city and would not spare.
The man in linen came back and reported all had been done.
Chapter 10: Then God spoke from the throne above the cherubim to
the man dressed in linen, and told him to take fiery coals from
among the whirling wheels, which were beneath the cherubim, and
fill his hands with the coals and scatter them all over the city--
an image of the burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchednezzar. The man
clothed in linen, like a priest, took fire from between the
whirling wheels beneath the cherubim. Ezekiel saw four wheels, one
beside each cherub --the image he saw earlier in chapter 1. The
rims and spokes and wheels were full of eyes --God sees
everything. When the cherubim went up, the wheels went with them.
Then the glory of the Lord went forth from the threshold-- a sign
that the presence of God was leaving His people.
Chapter 11: Ezekiel is taken by the spirit to the east gate of the
temple, where the glory of the Lord stopped before totally
abandoning the sanctuary. There he finds 25 men. Two of them are
named, but we do not know anything specific about them. They give
bad advice to the city - Ezekiel had said it is a smaller evil to
not resist Nebuchadnezzar. But the vision takes their comparison
of feeling safe within the walls, after the invasion of 597,and
uses it to say: You have multiplied the slain in the city. God
said they have feared the sword- and it will come upon them, for
they have been a rebellious house.
God adds: He has taken them far away from their city. But the time
will come when He will bring them back Then they will remove all
detestable things from there. Then the vision of God in His
chariot leaves. The spirit lifted Ezekiel and put him down among
the exiles. He told them all that he had seen and heard.
Chapter 12: chapters 12-19 are a different series about he fate of
Jerusalem; the flight of the king; the misery of those in the
First there is another prophetic action. God ordered Ezekiel to
prepare for himself an exile's baggage, and then at night to dig
through the wall of his house and go out, with covered face.
The next morning, God asked: Has not the rebellious house asked
you what you are doing? Then explain that it is an image of going
into exile. Even the prince shall go out thus, and go to Babylon,
but will not see it-- he will die there. But the people were.
listening to false prophets, who told them of the imminent end of
exile. So the people were reluctant to believe the evil that was
coming: This was to be a vivid prophecy to them.
God added He would let a few escape death, so they might tell of
His power in other lands.
Ezekiel ate his bread in quaking, as a sign to them. But most of
them still did not believe: They said that Ezekiel's vision must
refer to something far off. But God told Ezekiel: the vision will
quickly come true.
Chapter 13: The vision told Ezekiel that there were false
prophets, who prophesied out of their own minds, that is, not from
a true vision sent by God. In place of telling the truth they have
told lies, about "thus says the Lord" when the Lord has not
spoken. They make imaginary
defenses for Jerusalem, which God will scorn.
Yes, there had been in the past women who were true prophets, like
Debora (Judges 4.4) But now there are false visions, given for a
handful of barley. They hunt for people like those who trap birds.
But the Lord will deliver His people out of their hands. The women
used magic means.
Chapter 14: Some Elders came to Ezekiel The vision told him these
men have taken their idols into their hearts. I myself will answer
them. I will cut them off from my people. And if a false prophet
comes to me, I myself will deceive him.---We think of God in Amos
3.6: "Is there an evil in the city which I have not caused?" This
was the Hebrew pattern of attributing to direct action of God what
He only permitted.
The vision added: "Even if Noah, Job and Daniel pleaded for them,
I will not hear them." Yet if Ezekiel would see any faithful ones,
God would protect just them. These three were legendary for their
holiness. We note that Job was not even a member of the people of
God, Yet God takes care of all: cf.Rom.3.29. As to Daniel, there
was a legendary figure in Phoenicia mentioned in texts of 15-14
century, but probably reporting earlier things. Yet the Daniel
here could be the same as the Daniel in Ezekiel 28.3. We note he
is spoken of as a model of virtue, even though he may not have
been of the people of God, along with Job-- so Israel thought some
could be saved and holy outside that people, it seems. St.
Augustine, in 18.47 speaks of Job and others as even
members of the line of the City of God. Cf. Wm. Most, , appendix.
Chapter 15: The vision told Ezekiel that the wood of the vine is
useful for nothing if it does not bear fruit, unlike other woods
from which useful things can be made.
Israel is the vine (cf. the development in Isaiah 5), When it was
whole it was used for nothing- how much less is it useful now that
fire has consumed it.
Chapter 16: Here at great length and in much detail Israel is
compared to the bride of God, but she has been unfaithful, has
played the harlot to many other nations (cf. the bride comparison
in Hosea). The mission of Israel was to bring down to the time of
the Christ true doctrine -- in this sense it was a priestly nation
(cf. Ex 19.6), but she has failed, has given away her true God for
false gods-- a thing other nations do not do, they do not give up
their false gods. Israel even sacrificed children to Moloch, and
brought idols of other nations into the temple; chiefly King
Manasses, brought outside gods even into the temple. The
Babylonians, a chief "lover", will tear down the stones of
Your mother was a Hittite, your father an Amorite -Abraham came
from the Arameans, who also, since they changed their locations,
included the Hittites. Your younger sister was Sodom. This does
not mean the sin of Sodomy, though that may have been present. It
refers to infidelity to God, the husband of Israel. But Israel has
Yet God promises to restore all, even Israel. And He will make a
new covenant (cf. Jer. 31.31 ff).
Chapter 17: The vision gives a comparison of two eagles. The first
was Nebuchadnezzar who installed Sedecias to rule in Jerusalem.
But Sedecias thought to get help from the Pharaoh, Hophra the
second eagle and negotiated with him. Then the first eagle,
Babylon, came in a second invasion and ruined Jerusalem.
Then Ezekiel explains the parable to the rebellious house.
Nebuchadnezzar had thought Israel in Jerusalem would be faithful,
for Sedecias took an oath calling God to witness. That very fact,
the broken oath, was dishonor to God in whose name Sedecias had
sworn. So Sedecias was taken to Babylon, blinded, and his sons
were killed before him.
Even so, God promised to take back a remnant, the sprig of the
cedar, and in the future, make it flourish in its own land For
there would be later on a davidic king, Christ,
Chapter 18: Here God rejects punishment of children for the sins
of their parents. There is a problem with Exodus 34.7 where God
told Moses He would visit the iniquity of parents to children even
to 3rd or 4th generation.
In Exodus: sins of fathers affect children in two ways: 1)
children may inherit, via poor somatic resonance, warped
tendencies; 2)living with bad parents tends of make children
imitate what they have seen at home. But neither of these is
In cases of total destruction of a city and its people,
the matter is different. God ordered this a as a punishment for
the sins of adults. In Gen 15.16 God told Abraham He would give
the land to him and his seed, but not at once: the sins of the
Amorites who then lived there, had not reached their fullness. But
in the day of Joshua, the sins had reached fullness, and so
punishment of adults was called for. As to innocent children -- we
must recall that life is a moment to moment gift. We are not
comparable to robots, into which the maker can put a battery and
then walk away or even die. The robot runs as long as the battery
has power. But with us, each instant is a fresh gift. In
Aristotelian terms, it involves rises from potency to actuality,
each of which needs the power of the First Cause. Therefore as to
infants if God for His own reasons simply decides to stop giving
life--He is the Lord of life.
We note too that when a sinner repents, God will forgive. There is
no mention of perfect contrition. What then of a pagan or
protestant who had reached the state of grace, but fell into
mortal sin and had never heard of perfect contrition?. May we
speculate a bit. All God's attributes are identified with Him and
with each other. So sorrow because one has offended God who is
good in Himself seems to be the same as sorrow because one sees
that a sin is wrong in itself, not merely that it could bring
punishment. Thus there is regret for acting against goodness in
itself, which is God.
Chapter 19: The kingdom of Juda is the lioness. Its mother taught
it to catch prey. But really,. it was too weak to deal with the
great lions: Babylon and Egypt. Now it is taken captive in
Babylon, where it is pictured not as a lion but as a withered
vine, too frail to make even a scepter for a ruler.
Chapter 20: The time is the 5th month of the year 591, between the
two invasions. God announces the further punishment and ruin of
Jerusalem, in the coming second invasion. After the golden calf
sin, God considered destroying the people: they deserved it. Yet
He remembered the oath He had sworn by Himself. The gentiles would
say He was too weak or too unfaithful to His promise.
He gave them the sabbath, as a sign they were His people. He gave
them laws and customs "which were not good "--this puzzling
expression does not of course mean He commanded things that were
wrong. Rather, He permitted them to do things that were wrong,
even to sacrificing their children in the fire to Moloch. They
poured libations to idols in the high places, considered as a sort
of shrine to the Baals. In spite of all these things, God promised
to bring them out of the wilderness of the peoples. But He will
not listen to them when they offer such prayers.
Yet when they return to God's holy mountain, Sion, and obey Him,
then He will defend them. We note too the shift of tone, from
threat to promise of a better future. Isaiah too many times spoke
in such way.
Chapter 21: Ezekiel is told to prophecy towards the south, the
Negev territory -- for he is now north of it in Babylon. He
predicts the destruction of all flesh. The rebellious people of
Israel asked in irony: Is not this man the maker of parables? They
did not want to believe God would strike. The devastation will be
total, against the just and the unjust. Yet there will be a
remnant, of the just, to form a people that will return. The
vision said that Nebuchadnezzar was using divination to decide
which way to come. The sword will strike Judah, and also the land
of the Ammonites., who at first rejoiced at the fate of Judah, but
then were struck themselves -- according to Josephus they were hit
in 587 BC. In v.30 God tells the last King, Sedecias, to take off
his crown: ruin, ruin, ruin. Until the day comes when He come to
whom God will give it (v.27). This verse 27 mirrors Gen 49.10:
there will be a ruler from Judah until He comes to whom it is
given: the Messiah.
Chapter 22: The prophet speaks of the two kingdoms, North and
South, by the names Ohala (tent) and Ohalibah. Ohalibah means my
tent in her. Both were daughters of the one mother, both came from
Jacob. Ohalah had indulged in harlotry even when in Egypt. So God
gave her over to the Assyrians, warriors clothed in purple,
governors and commanders, riding on horses. This means the
Asyrians captured Samaria, head of the northern kingdom. She
copied their idols, Asshur-- a thing that was commonly considered
part of an alliance.
Her sister Ohalibah should have learned from her sister's fate,
but did not. She became even worse in harlotry to the Assyrians.
She also doted on the Babylonians. Therefore God sent her lovers,
Assyria and the Chaldeans, against both sisters.
Chapter 24: The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel in the 9th year,
in the 10th month. It was the day that Nebuchaznezzar laid siege
to Jerusalem, i.e, the beginning of January 588. He was told to
put into a pot of water, select pieces of flesh, thigh, shoulder
and bones. He put logs under it and boiled the pieces.
So the Lord said: Woe to the bloody city, to the pot (the city)
whose rust has not gone out of it He was to put the pieces of
flesh on bare rock, so as not to cover the blood of the bloody
city But the hot fire did not take out the rust even when the
prophet put the pot again on the fire. The rust is the filthy
lewdness of the city.
The word of the Lord then said He would take away the delight of
his eyes, his wife. He should not mourn, or weep or shed tears. He
was to make no mourning for the dead, but put on his turban, and
shoes on his feet. He should not cover his lips or eat the bread
The next morning the people were greatly amazed and asked him
about it. He replied: the word of the Lord says: Behold, I will
profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your
eyes. Your sons and daughters who are left behind shall all fall
by the sword., Then on that day a messenger would come, reporting
it all. His mouth then would be open, and he would tell them he
was a sign to them.
Chapter 25: God said to the Ammonites: Because you rejoiced over
the profanation of my sanctuary by Babylon, I am handing you over
to the peoples of the East. In the 9th- 8th centuries Ammon was
under Assyria. In 601 they joined with Moab against Jerusalem.
Later, in 594 they tried to convince King Sedecias of Juda to join
with them and Edom, Moab, Tyre and Sidon against Assyria,. For
their hostility to Judah God would send them under the peoples of
the East, especially the Bedouins. But after that would come a
more terrible invasion, probably by the Chaldeans. Ammon was to
disappear from among the nations.
Similarly Moab and Edom rejoiced over the invasion of Judah. God
would therefore give them along with Ammon to the peoples of the
Again because of the rejoicing of the Philistines and their
unending enmity, God was going to punish them and also the
Cerethites on the sea coast.
Chapter 26: Tyre was immensely wealthy from international trade.
Workmen from there had labored on Solomon's temple. The wicked
Jezabel, wife of Achab, came from there. God wills to punish its
pride, and its rejoicing over the fall of Jerusalem. So He sends
Nebuchadnezzar. The devastation is to be total. Really that was
semitic exaggeration and the result of the prophet's vision taking
in a vast period of time. The island part of Tyre was not really
taken until Alexander the Great built an artificial dike out to it
- for it was on an island, in 332 BC. The prophet's description of
the attack on Tyre follows the usual picture of such things. The
part of Tyre on the mainland and the related cities of course
could be attacked.
Chapter 27: This chapter is simply a poetically beautiful
lamentation over Tyre, giving details of the goods it traded and
the places with which she traded.
Chapter 28: Tyre considered itself as founded by the god Melkart,
and as the abode of gods--hence the pride of the king. In v.3 the
king thinks self wiser than Danel.--Danel or Daniel--both forms
are found--may be identified with a mythological hero of Egypt.
Texts from Ugarit ,from 20-19 centuries, speak of him. We are not
sure if this is the same as the historical Daniel of the book of
Daniel. Daniel is mentioned too in Ezekiel 14.14 as a model of
virtue, even though he was not of the people of God., cf. notes
In vv.14-16 the mention of the cherubs recalls those spoken of in
Genesis as blocking the way for Adam and Eve to get back into the
garden. The "stones of fire" stand for the Holiness of God. In Mal
3.2. God is spoken of as a refiner's fire. In passing; How could a
totally corrupt soul join itself to the Refiner's Fire. (Contrast:
Luther saying even if we commit murder and fornication 1000 times
a day it will not separate us from the Lamb: Epistle to
Melanchthon in 48.282
In v.20-28 God speaks against Sidon the great commercial rival of
Tyre. It grew in importance after the siege of Tyre. God says He
will punish Tyre and "show Himself holy" in doing do (- Cf. Is 5.15-16) The concept is this: in the covenant it is a
matter of moral rightness for God to give good. when people
fulfill His demands, and punishment when they violate His orders).
The whole concept is that sin is a , which the of
God wants repaid: cf. Wm. Most, ,
appendix on ). For the same in the opposite
sense, holiness in rewarding cf. below 28.25.
Chapter 29: The date is 587 BC. between first and second attacks
by Nebuchadnezzar. Those in Jerusalem were hoping for help from
Egypt. The prophet with fine contempt speaks against the Pharaoh
who as it were says: The Nile is my own. Really, the courtiers of
Pharaoh did speak of him as even making natural phenomena happen.
The prophet calls the Pharaoh a giant crocodile. (Popular
imagination invented sea monsters, the Hebrew : cf. Is
27.1-2; Ez32.1-8. God was so much more powerful than these
monsters that He could play with the Leviathan.). So God says He
will put hooks into the jaws of Pharaoh and the fish of the Nile
will stick to his scales. He will die, and will not have proper
burial- a terrible thought in Egypt, where preservation of the
body was thought necessary for survival in the afterlife. So the
Pharaoh was only a staff of reed-- which will support nothing. and
will even pierce the hand that leans on it. God will make Egypt
desolate for 40 years, then will restore the fortunes of Egypt,
but it will be a lowly kingdom, not like the grand power of the
Then God tells Nebuchadnezzar that since he had labored hard to
take the island of Tyre, in vain, he would be given Egypt as a
recompense. We have some Babylonian fragments that seem to speak
of an expedition to Egypt in 568, but the text is unclear and
meaning debated. There was a substantial fulfillment of the
prophecy parallel to that of Jeremiah 43.8-13 In 29.221 the words
"in that day" may refer merely to the fall of Egypt, but could
equally well look ahead to the Messiah who is to come.
Chapter 30: This chapter really repeats the substance of chapter
29, with much detail on the destruction of the country in verses1-
19, while verses 20-26 are an oracle against Pharaoh. This
repetition has led some commentators to think this chapter is an
addition by a later hand --such a thing would be possible with the
freedom about literary rights in that age. But there is no need to
have recourse to that. Prophets often repeated their messages,
which later were gathered together.
The Pharoah in question was Hophra. In the month March-April of
586 there was a report given that the Pharaoh was coming, but in
vain. Jeremiah 37.5-10 mentions this return of the Pharaoh to
Chapter 31: Here the prophet proves the validity of his oracles
against the Nile by a parallel with Assyria. Assyria had been an
awesome empire. He compares Assyria to a cedar of Lebanon, which
has unfailing water since it reaches down to the abyss on which
the earth rests. Other lesser powers are watered by lesser
Ezekiel picked images suitable to each land --Tyre was like a
ship, as an eminently maritime power. Egypt is like a crocodile
(cf. remarks on the in chapter 29). Yet Assyria fell with
the disaster of Nineveh.
God says when Assyria goes down to Sheol He will cause the abyss
of water to mourn for it. He will clothe Lebanon with gloom, and
all the trees of the field will faint because of it. The
inhabitants of Sheol will rejoice over the one who had oppressed
them. (We notice the language of paradise, speaking of the trees
So too will Assyria go down, and Egypt similarly.
About six months after the fall of Jerusalem, on the first of the
month of Adar, in the 12th year = June-July 586, God told Ezekiel
to make an elegy over Pharaoh. He for a time was considered as a
great power, a lion of the nations. God told Pharaoh: your are
like a monster (-- cf. comments on chapter 29). Pharaoh
was to lack honorable burial - as we noted above, in Egypt proper
preservation of the body was needed to avoid annihilation. Verses
7 -8 say: When I blot your out, I will cover the skies and make
the stars dark. The sun will be covered and the moon will not give
light,. This of course is strongly apocalyptic language, not to be
taken at face value. Much the same language was used of the fall
of Babylon, in Isaiah 13.9-10, and in34.4 for the fall of Edom. It
appears again in Matthew 24. on the end of the world. the sword of
Babylon will strike Egypt.
Then again an elegy on the multitude of Egypt. They must go down
into the farthest parts of the Pit, Sheol, with the uncircumcised.
There they will be with other fallen nations, Assyria, Elam,
Meshech and Tubal (peoples of Armenia).Other great kings will have
with them their sword and shield, but not so Pharaoh.
It is interesting to compare Isaiah 14.112-20).
Chapter 33: The row of asterisks is to indicate that we have come
to a major division in this book of Ezekiel. There is a repetition
of his appointment in saying he is to be a watchman. There is a
repetition, with more detail, of the lines about individual
He had been predicting dire things for Jerusalem. Now he is in the
approach to a pleasant prediction First he will say things of the
period preparatory to the triumph. They have had bad shepherds but
now there will be a good shepherd (cap.33-34). The good shepherd
seems to be God Himself. "I, I " is repeated twice in cap 4--and
as we shall see in comments on that chapter 34 there are other
indications that God Himself will come, as the Messiah (cf.
comments con chapter 34).
Some foolish Israelites who were not deported were saying: Now the
land will be ours They attacked and killed Gedaliah, the authority
set up by the Babylonians.
Already at the end of chapter 33 the news arrives of the fall of
Jerusalem. Edom rejoiced over that, and took advantage to invade
the land. So in 35 the prophet foretells the destruction of Edom.
But Jerusalem was a ruin, even the temple. So Ezekiel was given a
vision of a field (cap37) of dry bones. He at God's order
prophesies over the bones, and flesh comes up on them. Then in a
second prophecy the breath of life returns. (We note: no mention
of a soul, that concept seems to have come only later, about the
time of the persecution by Antiochus of Syria, c.170 BC).
The prophet also announces there will be but one Israel, under
David. In cap.38 there will be a final invasion of enemies of
Israel, by Gog But God will destroy Gog's army.
After all this, to cheer hearts, Ezekiel foretells a new temple
and new theocracy. By this time we should be able to see that we
have been in a messianic section. The fullness of that section
comes in chapters 40-48. That will be the culmination, with all
expressed in material images--
In general in the OT God used material images to stand for
spiritual things. E.g., the covenant of Sinai promised special
favor, but it would have seemed then to mean getting the land and
special additional favors. In the late part of the OT period there
was a tendency to reinterpret these to stand for spiritual
realities, even final salvation. cf esp. Gal 3.15ss. Further, the
language used in especially in 40-48 is typical of predictions. of
the messianic age, with the lamb lying down with the lion. And in
the 40-48 stretch we note that some things disagree with earlier
Mosaic legislation, a thing that worried the rabbis who did not
really understand the nature of the messianic symbolism.
Especially there was to be no Yom Kippur, no ark of the covenant,
and no veil in the temple-- indications of the way this all was to
The rabbis had trouble especially with 40-48 since they did not
understand the messianic imagery.
We now come to the details of chapter 33.
In v.7ss therefore, if God sends the sword on a land, the watchman
should give warning. If he does and yet a man perishes, the
watchman is free of blame. But if the watchman does not warn, then
he is held guilty. Ezekiel realized deeply his responsibility--
like St. Paul: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel." Sirach
7.4.advises against desiring high office, for the same reason.
Similarly, Wisdom 6.5-8 says: "Severe judgment comes to those in
high places. The lowly man may receive mercy, but the mighty will
be mightily tested....a strict inquiry awaits the mighty".
Then comes a repeat of the thought we saw already in chapter 3. In
a note there we said it seems that God has promised a refuge for
so many sinners-- for it is one thing to show that God give a
means of reaching justification (so many magisterium texts, e.g,
LG 16 show this) But then suppose a man falls into mortal sin.
Granted, if he makes an act of perfect contrition the sin will be
forgiven. But what of the teeming millions who have little
explicit knowledge of God? Of course God is not bound to do more,
but in Romans 3.29 St. Paul reasons that if God made salvation
depend on keeping the mosaic law, He would seem not to care for
any other peoples. But He does care says St. Paul, and He does
that by justification by faith. As we said, we do not say He must
provide further opportunity, yet in view of the immeasurable power
of His salvific will and resultant generosity in acting, it would
seem likely He would provide a way to salvation for even those who
would fall into personal mortal sin. so numerous.
We can see this picture more clearly and fully with the help of
St. Justin Martyr, who in 1.46 said that in the past
there had been some, like Socrates, who were Christians since they
followed the divine Logos, the Word. In 2.10 Justin adds
that the Logos is within each man. What does He do there? A spirit
does not occupy space: He is present wherever He causes an effect.
We learn of the effect from Romans 2.14-16. There Paul says these
people show the work of the law written on their hearts. The
Spirit writes, i.e., makes known to them interiorly what they
should do So St. Paul has 3 parts in faith: believe what God says,
have confidence in His promise, and especially, obey,
cf.Rom.1.5:"the obedience of faith", i.e., the obedience that is
faith. With Pauline faith, they are justified by faith. So
Socrates did read what the Spirit told him, he had confidence, he
obeyed. (Plato quotes Socrates several times as saying that the
man who seeks truth must have a little as possible to do with the
things of the body-- how far from homosexuality is this! So
Socrates was not homosexual.
In following the Spirit, the Logos, Socrates was a Christian, he
was justified by faith.(And even since from Rom 8.9 we learn that
if one has and follows that Spirit, He belongs to Christ, i.e, is
a member of Christ, which means a member of the Church, His Body.
- In passing, here we find the most solid reply to Feeney).
To return to our start, if someone is justified by faith, but
later commits a mortal sin: does God provide a way? If view of the
above, we are much inclined to think so. How? All God's attributes
are identical with Him and with each other. So He is love, He is
justice, He is mercy, He is holiness. So if the sinner comes to
say: I see that what I did was wrong. I wish I had not done it, No
more of that-- then this interior act is equivalent to turning to
obey (love: cf 2 John 6: This is love that we walk according to
His commandments "). God who is also moral rightness, Holiness and
Justice. Thus it would seem to be equivalent to contrition based
explicitly on love. So Ezekiel can hear God telling him that if
the sinner turns, he will live. No need to mention perfect
contrition, since this seems equivalent If the sinner merely
turned to fear, it would not be equivalent. But since he turns,
saying: This was wrong-- his attitude is based on Holiness, moral
rightness, which is identified with God.
The Magisterium seems to move in this direction. Pius IX in
,1863: "God in His supreme clemency
and goodness does not allow anyone to suffer eternal punishment if
he does not have the guilt of voluntary fault. LG 16 says that
those who without any fault of their own do not find the Church,
but follow the moral law written on their hearts, can really
attain salvation. John Paul II On the Missions #10 said that since
salvation is for all, it is in some way available, by a
"mysterious grace" which doe not make them FORMALLY a member of
the Church (by putting his name on a parish register) can be
We return to Chapter 33.21. In the month of Tebeth, January-
February, of 586 a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came crying
that the city had fallen. Then God opened the mouth of Ezekiel.
For some time, ever since the siege of Jerusalem, Ezekiel had
transmitted no major message to the people. But now God told him:
This people are now saying: Abraham was just one man -- shall we
not possess the land? Yet they had not been faithful to the
covenant. Therefore "Shall you then possess the land?" God will
make the land a desolation. People were gong to come to Ezekiel as
if to follow the word of the Lord. But they were not sincere. They
will have to learn by hard experience. Then they will realize that
a prophet had been among them.
Chapter 34: The word of the Lord says that the shepherds of Israel
are feeding themselves, not the sheep. Therefore, God says,
will search for my sheep and seek them out.
We note the repeated here as also in v.20. This could
easily mean that God Himself will come. And in v.23 his servant
David will take care of them. That last point is messianic, and in
view of the repeated I,I, it could be taken to mean that the
messiah is God Himself, which of course turned out to be true. The
Targum takes this as messianic. There are other OT lines on the
divinity of the Messiah. Clearly Isaiah 9.5-6 with ,
God the Mighty, is such. In Ps 80.15-18, Samson Levey, (), notes the Targum takes the
Messiah to be the Son of God --which Levey rejects, as "too
anthropomorphic". But he admits that later rabbis carefully
steered clear of the messianic sense here. The Targum saw Psalm
45.7-8 as messianic, even though current commentators do not
agree. Levey saw that , king in verses 4,6,12,15 and 16 is
to be understood as God. Also in Jer 23.3 God said: "And I myself
shall gather the remnant of my sheep. In v.5 "I will raise up a
righteous branch-" - the Targum usually takes branch to stand for
the Messiah. Also in Jer 30.11: "For I am with you. says the Lord,
to save you."--which fits easily with Ezek 34.11: "I, I". Here too
the Targum calls the passage messianic. --Of course, the Jews had
difficulty with the thought that the Messiah could be God. But Our
Lady, not being stiff-necked, or rebellious as they were, but
instead full of grace, must have understood this, and understood
also that the Holy One to be born will be called Son of the Most
High for the unique reason of being conceived by the overshadowing
of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 16 is a special problem, for in it God seems to say He will
slay the strong sheep. The Greek, Syriac Vulgate and Masoretic
texts all agree in that word . Modern versions in general
emend the Hebrew (slay) to (watch over).
V.25 reminds us of Jeremiah 31.31 ff on the new covenant.
Chapter 35: The word of God ordered Ezekiel to prophesy against
Mount Seir, which was the mountainous region south west of the
Dead Sea. When Israel were going to the promised land, Edom
refused them permission to pass through, even though Edom was
descended from Esau, brother of Jacob. After the fall of Jerusalem
in 596-86 some Edomites moved into the southern part of Judah.
Still more came during the Persian period. In the reign of John
Hyrcanus (135-05) Edom was incorporated into the Jewish nation and
even accepted circumcision.
God promised to make Seir desolate.
Chapter 36: Ezekiel is to prophecy to the of Israel---
he had spoken woe to the of Seir. Edom and neighboring
peoples thought that the ruin of Israel was final. God tells them
that He Himself will punish these outsiders. God will no longer
allow Israel to suffer the reproach of the nations.
Yet God recalls that when they did dwell in their own land they
God had concern for His holy name which the nations mocked. He
will then vindicate His holy name. (), that is He will
act out of concern for what is Holy, right. He is going to rescue
Israel not because they deserved it.- they did not, but He rescued
them to show His own moral rightness.
He says He will take away their heart of stone, and give them a
heart of flesh and will cause them to walk according to His
statutes. People will say this is like Eden (v.35). - An
indication of the idealistic - messianic character of the section.
Naturally we ask: Did the people really have such a change of
heart? Isaiah 65. speaking of the final period, still speaks of a
rebellious people, who sacrifice in gardens and sit in tombs and
spend the night in secret places, and after eating swine's flesh
say "Do not come near me, I am holy!" Yet not all were to be such.
In Isaiah 65.7 God says He will repay their father's sins and
theirs together. However, He will not destroy them all. 65,13 "My
servants will eat, while you shall be hungry. .Also in 66.3-4 the
strange words: "One who slaughter an ox is like him who kills a
man"--probably referring to merely externalistic sacrifices. By
the time of Christ externalism was great, and Pharisaism, though
it may have begun with good intentions, had decayed into legalism.
The book of Ezra, esp. cap 9 shows the lack of fidelity at first
in the returnees Many had married foreign wives. Ezra demanded
giving them up. Yet it seems that they did turn to fidelity and
gave up their idols. In the time of Antiochus IV, c.170, many Jews
gave up their faith under persecution.
Chapter 37: The vision of the field of dry bones, which Ezekiel
brought to life at God's command, shows that the hope of Israel
seems dead, but will come back to life.
Was this also a prophecy of the general resurrection? Hardly. It
refers to the restoration of Israel.
The symbolism of the two sticks forecasts the reunion of Israel
after the long split into two parts. It will be under God's
servant David-- which is messianic of course. We think of
Ephesians caps.1-3 which shows that in Christ all are to be one. -
The eternal sanctuary is that of the Church of Christ., where God
really will dwell forever.
Chapter 38: Gog the king of Magog attacks Israel in the final
assault before the messianic age. We do not know if Ezekiel just
coined the name, as a personification of the forces arrayed
against Israel. It has been noted that the name resembles 6th
century Gyges of Lydia in west Asia Minor. It could have been
suggested by Gug, in Sumerian meaning darkness. The language used
for the destruction of Gog seems apocalyptic. In Apoc./Rev. Gog
and Magog are allied with satan.
Chapter 39: This chapter develops further the threats against God
and Magog. It will be so great that Israel will need 6 and a half
years to bury the corpses of Gog. God's purpose is to show Himself
holy -- that is, He acts according to what is morally right. God
will bring Israel back from the lands to which they were
scattered. God will no longer leave any of them among the
nations.- . We
think of Daniel 12.7 in which the angel tells Daniel that the time
for all the things he has been shown will be when the shattering
of the power of the holy people ends. Also in 2 Mc 2.4-8 Jeremiah
after the fall of Jerusalem hid the ark. Later his followers tried
to find it. He said it would be hidden until God gathers His
people together again. However, 2 Mc says it is found in some
secular records, and so does not guarantee it of himself. The same
implication may underlie Lk 21.24 which says that Jerusalem will
be trodden by the gentiles "until the times of the gentiles are
Chapters 40-42: We have seen several indications that Ezekiel in
these chapters has in mind the messianic age. God will give them a
new heart, they will be one people, no longer two peoples. They
will not defile themselves any more. God will sprinkle clean water
on them, and take away their heart of stone, and give them a heart
of flesh (cf. Jeremiah cap31). God Himself in person will come to
shepherd them. He will bring them back from the many lands into
which He has scattered them. Now as part of the description of
that age, we read a most minute description of the temple that is
to be restored. As we noted earlier in these comments, the rabbis
had trouble accepting Ezekiel. One reason was the discrepancies
between these chapters 40-48 and the Mosaic law. Especially they
did not grasp the fact that we have here a picture of the
messianic age, which as usual is very idealized- compare Isaiah
11. As part of all this we note that the idealized temple has no
veil, no ark of the covenant, and no Yom Kippur. In reality, the
temple veil had been rent when Jesus died, and all atonement was
complete then, so no need of a Yom Kippur-- things Ezekiel
probably did not know unless he was given a special revelation.
Then the prophet saw a man whose appearance was like bronze. He
carefully measured the temple before Ezekiel All the dimensions
Chapter 43: In his inaugural vision, Ezekiel had seen the glory of
God leaving the temple. But now he sees the radiant return of that
glory. It came from the east, the direction from which it had
departed. He came with the cherubim, with a sound like that of
many waters. He describe how the Levitical Priests of the line of
Zadok were to consecrate the altar. In the past the dead kings had
been entered around the temple. That is to be done no more. And in
the future structure the house of the prince will be separated
from the temple. The zone that once had been occupied by the royal
palace was to be added to the sacred zone.
Chapter 44: Then Ezekiel's guide brought Ezekiel back to the east
gate: it was to remain closed, since God had entered by that
place. The early Fathers liked to see in this closure a
prefiguration of the perpetual virginity of Our Lady (St. Jerome
Theodoret, St, Ambrose). But the prince was to be permitted to sit
there to eat part of the victims sacrificed there, chiefly the
Levitical Priests were to minister in the temple, but not at the
altar: only those of the line of Zadok were permitted to do that.
They were to teach the people the difference between the holy and
the profane, and to serve as judges in those matters.
Chapters 45-46: There is to be a holy district of 25000 cubits on
a side. A square of 500 cubits on a side will be for the sanctuary
with 50 cubits for an open space around it. There is to be a holy
area for the Levites. Alongside of that area will be 5000 cubits
for the city and land outside that for the prince. The princes
must no more oppress the people. Details are given for proper
measures. There are specifications for animals for sacrifices.
Chapters 47-48: His guide takes Ezekiel to the entrance of the
temple, and he saw that waters were flowing out of the right side.
Ezekiel walked into the water, which at first was not deep, but
gradually came so deep that it was necessary to swim. .The water
flowed through the Arabah and down into the Dead Sea. It made all
the waters fresh to which it came. There were then many fish, of
very many kinds.
All sorts of trees grew along the banks. Their leaves never wither
but bear fresh fruit every month. since the water came from the
sanctuary. The leaves will be for healing.
Next the boundaries of the lands for the twelve tribes are
described. Even to aliens dwelling there land is to be given as an
The whole picture of course is fully idealized, as in the
messianic age. It was to make the return from exile seem idyllic-
though we know from the last chapters of Isaiah that conditions
found there were not at all inviting.
In the final chapter the territorial division among the twelve
tribes is given- without using anything in Transjordan as had been
done at first. The central part was for the temple and the prince,
and belonged to the tribe of Judah from which a ruler was to come
until the time of the messiah: Gen 49.10.
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