Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Departure of the King and People; and Bread of Tears
The words of God which follow in Ezekiel 12-19 do not contain any chronological data defining the exact period at which they were communicated to the prophet and reported by him. But so far as their contents are concerned, they are closely connected with the foregoing announcements of judgment; and this renders the assumption a very probable one, that they were not far removed from them in time, but fell within the space of eleven months intervening between Eze 8:1 and Eze 20:1, and were designed to carry out still further the announcement of judgment in Ezekiel 8-11. This is done more especially in the light thrown upon all the circumstances, on which the impenitent people rested their hope of the preservation of the kingdom and Jerusalem, and of their speedy liberation from the Babylonian yoke. The purpose of the whole is to show the worthlessness of this false confidence, and to affirm the certainty and irresistibility of the predicted destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, in the hope of awakening the rebellious and hardened generation to that thorough repentance, without which it was impossible that peace and prosperity could ever be enjoyed. This definite purpose in the prophecies which follow is clearly indicated in the introductory remarks in Eze 12:2; Eze 14:1, and Eze 20:1. In the first of these passages the hardness of Israel is mentioned as the motive for the ensuing prophecy; whilst in the other two, the visit of certain elders of Israel to the prophet, to seek the Lord and to inquire through him, is given as the circumstance which occasioned the further prophetic declarations. It is evident from this that the previous words of God had already made some impression upon the hearers, but that their hard heart had not yet been broken by them.
In Ezekiel 12, Ezekiel receives instructions to depict, by means of a symbolical action, the departure of the king and people from Jerusalem (Eze 12:3-7), and to explain the action to the refractory generation (Eze 12:8-16). After this he is to exhibit, by another symbolical sign, the want and distress to which the people will be reduced (Eze 12:17-20). And lastly, he is to rebut the frivolous sayings of the people, to the effect that what is predicted will either never take place at all, or not till a very distant time (Eze 12:21-28).
Symbol of the Emigration
Eze 12:1. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Eze 12:2. Son of man, thou dwellest amidst the refractory generation, who have eyes to see, and see not; and have ears to hear, and hear not; for they are a refractory generation. Eze 12:3. And thou, son of man, make thyself an outfit for exile, and depart by day before their eyes; and depart from thy place to another place before their eyes: perhaps they might see, for they are a refractory generation. Eze 12:4. And carry out thy things like an outfit for exile by day before their eyes; but do thou go out in the evening before their eyes, as when going out to exile. Eze 12:5. Before their eyes break through the wall, and carry it out there. Eze 12:6. Before their eyes take it upon thy shoulder, carry it out in the darkness; cover thy face, and look not upon the land; for I have set thee as a sign to the house of Israel. Eze 12:7. And I did so as I was commanded: I carried out my things like an outfit for exile by day, and in the evening I broke through the wall with my hand; I carried it out in the darkness; I took it upon my shoulder before their eyes. - In Eze 12:2 the reason is assigned for the command to perform the symbolical action, namely, the hard-heartedness of the people. Because the generation in the midst of which Ezekiel dwelt was blind, with seeing eyes, and deaf, with hearing ears, the prophet was to depict before its eyes, by means of the sign that followed, the judgment which was approaching; in the hope, as is added in Eze 12:3, that they might possibly observe and lay the sign to heart. The refractoriness (בּית מרי, as in Eze 2:5-6; Eze 3:26, etc.) is described as obduracy, viz., having eyes, and not seeing; having ears, and not hearing, after Deu 29:3 (cf. Jer 5:21; Isa 6:9; Mat 13:14-15). The root of this mental blindness and deafness was to be found in obstinacy, i.e., in not willing; "in that presumptuous insolence," as Michaelis says, "through which divine light can obtain no admission." כּלי גולה, the goods (or outfit) of exile, were a pilgrim's staff and traveller's wallet, with the provisions and utensils necessary for a journey. Ezekiel was to carry these out of the house into the street in the day-time, that the people might see them and have their attention called to them. Then in the evening, after dark, he was to go out himself, not by the door of the house, but through a hole which he had broken in the wall. He was also to take the travelling outfit upon his shoulder and carry it through the hole and out of the place, covering his face all the while, that he might not see the land to which he was going. "Thy place" is thy dwelling-place. כּמוצאי : as the departures of exiles generally take place, i.e., as exiles are accustomed to depart, not "at the usual time of departure into exile," as Hהvernick proposes. For מוחא, see the comm. on Mic 5:1. בּעלטה differs from בּערב, and signifies the darkness of the depth of night (cf. Gen 15:17); not, however, "darkness artificially produced, equivalent to, with the eyes shut, or the face covered; so that the words which follow are simply explanatory of בּעלטה," as Schmieder imagines. Such an assumption would be at variance not only with Eze 12:7, but also with Eze 12:12, where the covering or concealing of the face is expressly distinguished from the carrying out "in the dark." The order was to be as follows: In the day-time Ezekiel was to take the travelling outfit and carry it out into the road; then in the evening he was to go out himself, having first of all broken a hole through the wall as evening was coming on; and in the darkness of night he was to place upon his shoulders whatever he was about to carry with him, and take his departure. This he was to do, because God had made him a mōphēth for Israel: in other words, by doing this he was to show himself to be a marvellous sign to Israel. For mōphēth, see the comm. on Exo 4:21. In Eze 12:7, the execution of the command, which evidently took place in the strictness of the letter, is fully described. There was nothing impracticable in the action, for breaking through the wall did not preclude the use of a hammer or some other tool.
Explanation of the Symbolical Action
Eze 12:8. And the word of Jehovah came to me in the morning, saying, Eze 12:9. Son of man, have they not said to thee, the house of Israel, the refractory generation, What art thou doing? Eze 12:10. Say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, This burden applies to the prince in Jerusalem, and to all the house of Israel to whom they belong. Eze 12:11. Say, I am your sign: as I have done, so shall it happen to them; into exile, into captivity, will they go. Eze 12:12. And the prince who is in the midst of them he will lift it upon his shoulder in the dark, and will go out: they will break through the wall, and carry it out thereby: he will cover his face, that he may not see the land with eyes. Eze 12:13. And I will spread my net over him, so that he will be caught in my snare: and I will take him to Babel, into the land of the Chaldeans; but he will not see it, and will die there. Eze 12:14. And all that is about him, his help and all his troops, I will scatter into all winds, and draw out the sword behind them. Eze 12:15. And they shall learn that I am Jehovah, when I scatter them among the nations, and winnow them in the lands. Eze 12:16. Yet I will leave of them a small number of men from the sword, from the famine, and from the pestilence; that they may relate all their abominations among the nations whither they have come; and learn that I am Jehovah. - As queries introduced with הלא have, as a rule, an affirmative sense, the words "have they not asked," etc., imply that the Israelites had asked the prophet what he was doing, though not in a proper state of mind, not in a penitential manner, as the epithet בּית plainly shows. The prophet is therefore to interpret the action which he had just been performing, and all its different stages. The words הנּשׂיא המּשּׂא הזּה, to which very different renderings have been given, are to be translated simply "the prince is this burden," i.e., the object of this burden. Hammassâ does not mean the carrying, but the burden, i.e., the threatening prophecy, the prophetic action of the prophet, as in the headings to the oracles (see the comm. on Nah 1:1). The "prince" is the king, as in Eze 21:30, though not Jehoiachin, who had been carried into exile, but Zedekiah. This is stated in the apposition "in Jerusalem," which belongs to "the prince," though it is not introduced till after the predicate, as in Gen 24:24. To this there is appended the further definition, "the whole house of Israel," which, being co-ordinated with הנּשׂיא, affirms that all Israel (the covenant nation) will share the fate of the prince. In the last clause of Eze 12:10 בּתוכם does not stand for בּתוכהּ, so that the suffix would refer to Jerusalem, "in the midst of which they (the house of Israel) are." אשׁר cannot be a nominative, because in that case המּה to be understood as referring to the persons addressed, i.e., to the Israelites in exile (Hitzig, Kliefoth): in the midst of whom they are, i.e., to whom they belong. The sentence explains the reason why the prophet was to announce to those in exile the fat of the prince and people in Jerusalem; namely, because the exiles formed a portion of the nation, and would be affected by the judgment which was about to burst upon the king and people in Jerusalem. In this sense Ezekiel was also able to say to the exiles (in Eze 12:11), "I am your sign;" inasmuch as his sign was also of importance for them, as those who were already banished would be so far affected by the departure of the king and people which Ezekiel depicted, that it would deprive them of all hope of a speedy return to their native land.
להם, in Eze 12:11, refers to the king and the house of Israel in Jerusalem. בּגולה is rendered more forcible by the addition of בּשּׁבי. The announcement that both king and people must go into exile, is carried out still further in Eze 12:12 and Eze 12:13 with reference to the king, and in Eze 12:14 with regard to the people. The king will experience all that Ezekiel has described. The literal occurrence of what is predicted here is related in Jer 39:1., Jer 52:4.; Kg2 25:4. When the Chaldeans forced their way into the city after a two years' siege, Zedekiah and his men of war fled by night out of the city through the gate between the two walls. It is not expressly stated, indeed, in the historical accounts that a breach was made in the wall; but the expression "through the gate between the two walls" (Jer 39:4; Jer 52:7; Kg2 25:4) renders this very probable, whether the gate had been walled up during the siege, or it was necessary to break through the wall at one particular spot in order to reach the gate. The king's attendants would naturally take care that a breach was made in the wall, to secure for him a way of escape; hence the expression, "they will break through." The covering of the face, also, is not mentioned in the historical accounts; but in itself it is by no means improbable, as a sign of the shame and grief with which Zedekiah left the city. The words, "that he may not see the land with eyes," do not appear to indicate anything more than the necessary consequence of covering the face, and refer primarily to the simple fact that the king fled in the deepest sorrow, and did not want to see the land; but, as Eze 12:13 clearly intimates, they were fulfilled in another way, namely, by the fact that Zedekiah did not see with his eyes the land of the Chaldeans into which he was led, because he had been blinded at Riblah (Jer 39:5; Jer 52:11; Kg2 25:7). לעין, by eye = with his eyes, is added to give prominence to the idea of seeing. For the same purpose, the subject, which is already implied in the verb, is rendered more emphatic by הוּא; and this הוּא is placed after the verb, so that it stands in contrast with הארץ. The capture of the king was not depicted by Ezekiel; so that in this respect the announcement (Eze 12:13) goes further than the symbolical action, and removes all doubt as to the credibility of the prophet's word, by a distinct prediction of the fate awaiting him. At the same time, his not seeing the land of Babylon is left so indefinite, that it cannot be regarded as a vaticinium post eventum. Zedekiah died in prison at Babylon (Jer 52:11). Along with the king, the whole of his military force will be scattered in all directions (Eze 12:14). עזרה, his help, i.e., the troops that break through with him. כּל־אגפּיו, all his wings (the wings of his army), i.e., all the rest of his forces. The word is peculiar to Ezekiel, and is rendered "wings" by Jos. Kimchi, like kenâphaim in Isa 8:8. For the rest of the verse compare Eze 5:2; and for the fulfilment, Jer 52:8; Jer 40:7, Jer 40:12. The greater part of the people will perish, and only a small number remain, that they may relate among the heathen, wherever they are led, all the abominations of Israel, in order that the heathen may learn that it is not from weakness, but simply to punish idolatry, that God has given up His people to them (cf. Jer 22:8).
Sign Depicting the Terrors and Consequences of the Conquest of Jerusalem
Eze 12:17. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Eze 12:18. Son of man, thou shalt eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and trouble; Eze 12:19. And say to the people of the land, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, in the land of Israel, They will eat their bread in trouble, and drink their water in amazement, because her land is laid waste of all its fulness for the wickedness of all who dwell therein. Eze 12:20. And the inhabited cities become desolate, and the land will be laid waste; that ye may learn that I am Jehovah. - The carrying out of this sign is not mentioned; not that there is any doubt as to its having been done, but that it is simply taken for granted. The trouble and trembling could only be expressed by means of gesture. רעשׁ, generally an earthquake or violent convulsion; here, simply shaking, synonymous with רגזה, trembling. "Bread and water" is the standing expression for food; so that even here the idea of scanty provisions is not to be sought therein. This idea is found merely in the signs of anxiety and trouble with which Ezekiel was to eat his food. אל־אדמת = 'על־אד, "upon the land," equivalent to "in the land." This is appended to show that the prophecy does not refer to those who had already been carried into exile, but to the inhabitants of Jerusalem who were still in the land. For the subject-matter, compare Eze 4:16-17. למען indicates not the intention, "in order that," but the motive, "because."
Declarations to Remove all Doubt as to the Truth of the Threat
The scepticism of the people as to the fulfilment of these threatening prophecies, which had been made still more emphatic by signs, manifested itself in two different ways. Some altogether denied that the prophecies would ever be fulfilled (Eze 12:22); others, who did not go so far as this, thought that it would be a long time before they came to pass (Eze 12:27). These doubts were fed by the lying statements of false prophets. For this reason the refutation of these sceptical opinions (Eze 12:21-28) is followed in the next chapter by a stern reproof of the false prophets and prophetesses who led the people astray. - Eze 12:21. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Eze 12:22. Son of man, what kind of proverb have ye in the land of Israel, that ye say, The days become long, and every prophecy comes to nothing? Eze 12:23. Therefore say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, I will put an end to this saying, and they shall say it no more in Israel; but say to them, The days are near, and the word of every prophecy. Eze 12:24. For henceforth there shall be no vain prophecy and flattering soothsaying in the midst of the house of Israel. Eze 12:25. For I am Jehovah; I speak; the word which I speak will come to pass, and no longer be postponed; for in your days, O refractory generation, I speak a word and do it, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah. - Mâshâl, a proverb, saying current among the people, and constantly repeated as a truth. "The days become long," etc., i.e., the time is lengthening out, and yet the prophecy is not being fulfilled. אבד, perire, to come to nothing, to fail of fulfilment, is the opposite of בּוא, to come, to be fulfilled. God will put an end to these sayings, by causing a very speedy fulfilment of the prophecy. The days are near, and every word of the prophecy, i.e., the days in which every word predicted shall come to pass. The reason for this is given in Eze 12:24 and Eze 12:25, in two co-ordinate sentences, both of which are introduced with כּי. First, every false prophecy shall henceforth cease in Israel (Eze 12:24); secondly, God will bring about the fulfilment of His own word, and that without delay (Eze 12:25). Different explanations have been given of the meaning of Eze 12:24. Kliefoth proposes to take שׁוא and מקסם as the predicate to חזון: no prophecy in Israel shall be vain and flattering soothsaying, but all prophecy shall become true, i.e., be fulfilled. Such an explanation, however, is not only artificial and unnatural, since מקסם would be inserted as a predicate in a most unsuitable manner, but it contains this incongruity, that God would apply the term מקסם, soothsaying, to the predictions of prophets inspired by Himself. On the other hand, there is no force in the objection raised by Kliefoth to the ordinary rendering of the words, namely, that the statement that God was about to put an end to false prophecy in Israel would anticipate the substance of the sixth word of God (i.e., Ezekiel 13). It is impossible to see why a thought should not be expressed here, and then still further expanded in Ezekiel 13. חלק, smooth, i.e., flattering (compare Hos 10:2; and for the prediction, Zac 13:4-5). The same reply serves also to overthrow the sceptical objection raised by the frivolous despisers of the prophet's words. Hence there is only a brief allusion made to them in Eze 12:26-28. - Eze 12:26. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Eze 12:27. Son of man, behold, the house of Israel saith, The vision that he seeth is for many days off, and he prophesies for distant times. Eze 12:28. Therefore say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, All my words shall be no longer postponed: the word which I shall speak shall come to pass, saith the Lord Jehovah. - The words are plain; and after what has already been said, they need no special explanation. Eze 12:20 compare with Eze 12:25.