Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 22: Ezekiel, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.
1. Et dixit ad me, Fili hominis sta super pedes tuos, et loquar tecum.
2. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me.
2. Et venit in me spiritus cum loqueretur ad me, et statuit me super pedes meos, et audivi loquentem ad me.
Here the Prophet narrates that he was chosen by the command of God. For God never prostrates his people so as to leave them lying upon the earth, but continually raises them afterwards. As to the reprobate, they are so frightened at the sight of God, that they utterly fall and never rise again. But it is different with the faithful, because the pride of the flesh is corrected in them; then God stretches forth his hand to them, and restores them, as it were, from death to life. And this difference we must mark diligently, because we see the impious often dread the voice of God. But if they disdainfully despise him when speaking, they are frightened by his hand when some signs of his wrath and vengeance appear: but yet they remain lifeless. In like manner the faithful dread the voice of God, but the result is altogether different, as we see here: because after God has humbled them, he commands them to be of good courage, and shows that he intended nothing else but to establish them by his power. At the same time the Prophet teaches that nothing was accomplished by this voice till the Spirit was added. God indeed works efficiently by his own words, but we must hold that this efficacy is not contained in the words themselves, but proceeds from the secret instinct of the Spirit. The Prophet therefore shows us both truths. On one side he says, I heard the voice of God, so that I stood on my feet: God thus wished to animate his confidence: but he adds that he was not raised up by the voice, until the Spirit placed him on his feet
This work of the Spirit, then, is joined with the word of God. But a distinction is made, that we may know that the external word is of no avail by itself, unless animated by the power of the Spirit. If any one should object, that the word was useless, because not efficacious by itself, the solution is at hand, that if God takes this method of acting there is no reason why we should object to it. But we have a still clearer reply: since God always works in the hearts of men by the Spirit, yet his word is not. without fruit; because, as God enlightens us by the sun, and yet he alone is the Father of Lights, and the splendor of the sun is profitless except as God uses it as an instrument, so we must conclude concerning his word, because the Holy Spirit penetrates our hearts, and thus enlightens our minds. All power of action, then, resides in the Spirit himself, and thus all praise ought to be entirely referred to God alone. Meanwhile, what. objection is there to the Spirit of God using instruments? We hold, therefore, that when God speaks, he adds the efficacy of his Spirit, since his word without it would be fruitless; and yet the word is effectual, because the instrument ought to be united with the author of the action. This doctrine, thus briefly expounded, may suffice to refute foolish objections, which are always in the mouths of many who fret about man’s free-will: they say, that we can either attend to the word which is offered to us or re jeer it: but we see what the Prophet says. If any of us is fit for rendering obedience to God, the Prophet certainly excelled in this disposition, and yet the word of God had no efficacy in his case, until the Spirit gave him strength to rise upon his feet Hence we collect, that it is not in our power to obey what God commands us, except this power proceeds from him. Now it follows —
3. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day.
3. Et dixit ad me: Fili hominis mitto to 57 ad filios Israel, ad gentes rebelles vel defectrices, quae rebellarunt 58 in me: ipsi et partes eorum perfidie se gesserunt erga me usque ad ipsum huic diem.
The Prophet now more clearly explains the object of the vision which he has formerly mentioned, namely, that being armed with authority he might more freely discharge the office of Prophet among the Israelites. For we know that God claims this honor to himself alone, that he should be head in his Church, and deservedly so, for he is not called our Lawgiver in vain, (Isa 33:22; Jas 4:12,) and our wisdom consists in nothing else but in attending to his instructions. Since, therefore, God alone is to be heard, every mortal, whatever he professes himself, must be rejected, unless he comes in the name of God, and can prove his calling, and really convince men that he does not speak except by God’s command. Therefore, that Ezekiel may not labor in vain, he ought to prove himself divinely inspired, and this was done by the vision. Now he more clearly explains that object of the vision. Here it may be remarked, that figures are illusory without an explanation. If the vision only had been offered to the eye of the Prophet, and no voice of God had followed, what would have been the advantage? But when God confirmed the vision by his word, the Prophet was enabled to say with advantage, I have seen the glory of God. And this can also be transferred to sacraments, because if signs only are presented to our eyes they will be, as it were, dead images. The word of God, then, throws life into the sacraments, as it has been said concerning visions.
Since Ezekiel so often uses this form of speech, saying, that he was called Son of man, I do not doubt that God wished to prevent the people from despising him as one of the common herd. For he had been dragged into exile not without ignominy: since then he differed from the generality in no outward appearance, his doctrine might be despised and rejected. God, therefore, takes him up, and, by way of concession, calls him Son of man. So, on the other hand, he signifies that the teaching ought not to be estimated by outward appearance, but rather by his calling. It is quite true, that his language was then more prolix, and we see how our Prophet differs from the rest. For his language has evidently a foreign tinge, since those who are in exile naturally contract many faults of language, and the Prophet was never anxious about elegance and polish, but, as he had been accustomed to homely language, so he spoke himself. But I have no doubt that God wished purposely to select a man from the multitude contemptible in outward appearance, and then to raise him above all mortals by dignifying him with the gift of prophecy.
We must now see how God prepares him for the discharge of his duties. I send thee, he says, to the children of Israel, a rebellious race, that is, disobedient and revolting. In this manner the Prophet was able to escape as soon as he saw the odious duty’ assigned to him, for its difficulty alone would frighten him. But a double trial is added when he saw himself engaged in a contest with numberless enemies. He challenged, as it were, to conflict all the Israelites of his day, and this was a most grievous trial. But another trial was, not only that he perceived himself beating the air, — to use a common proverb, rebut he must have felt it a profanation of heavenly doctrine to address it to impious men, and that too only for the purpose of exasperating them still further. We see, then, that the Prophet had no inducement of earthly gratification to urge him to undertake his duty. If God wished to use his agency, he ought to afford him some hope of success, or, at least, he ought to leave it sufficiently uncertain to urge him to make every effort. But when in the first instance this difficulty occurs, that he has to deal with a perverse and stubborn generation — next, that he is drawn into a hateful contest — thirdly, that he is advised to cast what is holy before dogs, and pearls before swine, and thus, as it were, to prostitute the word of God, surely his mind must despair a hundred times when he pondered these things within himself. Hence it was God’s plan to arm him with unconquerable constancy, so that he might go forward in the course of his calling.
We must bear in mind, then, this principle: when God wishes to stir us up to obedience, he does not always promise a happy result of our labor: but sometimes he so puts our obedience to the test, that he wishes us to be content with his command, even if our labor should be deemed ridiculous before men. Sometimes, indeed, he indulges our infirmity, and when he orders us to undertake any duty, he at the same time bears witness that our labor shall not be in vain, and our industry without its recompense: then indeed God spares us. But he sometimes proves his people as I have said, providing that whatever be the result of their labors, it is sufficient for them to obey his command. And from
passage we readily collect that our Prophet was thus dispirited. And we read the same of Isaiah; for when he is sent by God, he is not only told that he must speak to the deaf, but what God proposes to him is still harder. Go, says he, render the eyes of this people blind, and their ears dull, and their heart obstinate. (Isa. 6:9, 10.) Not only therefore does Isaiah see that he would be exposed to ridicule, and so lose the fruit of his labor, but he sees that his address has but one tendency, and that the blinding of the Jews: nay, even their threefold destruction — though even one destruction is enough: but, as I have already said, God sometimes so wishes his servants to acquiesce in his government, that they should labor even without any hope of fruit: and this must be diligently marked. For as often as we are called upon by God before we apply ourselves to our work, these thoughts come into the mind: “What will be the result of this?” and “What shall I obtain by my labor?” And, then, when the event does not turn out according to our wish, we despond in our minds: but this is wresting from God a part of his government. For although our labor should be in vain, yet it is sufficiently pleasing to God himself; therefore let us learn to leave the event in the hand of God when he enjoins anything upon us; and although the whole world should deride us, and despair itself should render us inactive, yet let us be of good cheer and strive to the utmost, because it ought to suffice us that our obedience is pleasing to God.
For this reason Paul says, (2 Cor. 2:15, 16,) that the gospel, although it is a savor of death unto death, is yet a sweet savor unto God. When it is said that the gospel brings death, our judgment might immediately suggest to us, that nothing is better than to leave it. Therefore Paul meets us, and says, we ought not to judge the gospel by its success. Although, therefore, men not only remain deaf, but even become worse, and rush headlong in fury against God, yet the gospel always retains its sweet savor before God. The doctrine of the Prophet is the same. Now, if any one objects that God acts cruelly while he so purposely blinds men, that those who are already sufficiently lost perish twice or thrice over, the answer is at hand — God offers his word indiscriminately to the good and bad, but it works by his Spirit in the elect, as I have already said; and as to the reprobate, the doctrine is useful, as it renders them without excuse. Next, that their obstinacy may be broken down — for since they refuse to yield willingly to God, it is necessary that they should yield when conquered — when, therefore, God sees the reprobate thus broken down, he strikes them with the hammer of his word. At length he takes away all excuse of ignorance, because being convicted of their own conscience, whether they will or not, they become their own judges, and their mouth is stopped. Although they do not cease their rebellion against God, yet they are subject to his judgment. Although, therefore, this may seem absurd, that God should send his Prophets to render the people blind, yet we must reverently submit to his counsel, even if the cause is unknown to us for a time. But, as I have said, we do understand, to a certain extent, why God thus strives with rebellious and obstinate men.
Now, therefore, since at the very beginning Ezekiel is informed of the result, it is scarcely doubtful that God wished to prepare him to descend to the discharge of his duty without yielding to any obstacles. For some who seem to be sufficiently ready to obey, yet when difficulties and obstacles occur, desist in the middle of their course, and many recede altogether; and some we see who have renounced their vocation, because they had conceived great and excessive hopes of success, but when the event does not answer their expectations, they think themselves discharged from duty, and even murmur against God, and reject the burden, or rather shake off what had been imposed upon them. Because, then, many retreat from the course they had undertaken, because they do not experience the success they had imagined, or had presumed upon in their minds, therefore before Ezekiel begins to speak, God sets before him trials of this kind, and informs him that he would have to deal with a rebellious people.
He says the children of Israel are a revolting nation; for מרד, mered, signifies to rebel or resist, and the noun “rebellious” is suitable enough. Therefore I send thee to the rebellions nations, because directly after follows the word מרדו, merdo, which means who have rebelled against me. We know that among the Jews this is a word of reproach; for they often call us גוימ, goim “Gentiles,” as if they called us “profane,” “rejected,” and altogether alienated from God. Lastly, this word goim means with them “pollution” and “abomination;” we are to the Jews like dung, and the off-scouring of the world, because we are goim. And there is no doubt that this pride filled the minds of the people in the days of the Prophet; God therefore calls them unbelieving nations. I confess, indeed, that this is sometimes used in a good sense; but because the Scriptures more usually call foreigners goim who are not partakers of God’s covenant, hence it became a mark of disgrace and reproach among the Jews. It is scarcely doubtful, then, but that God wished to abolish the honorable title which he had assigned to them; for it was a holy nation and a priestly kingdom. When, therefore, God calls them goim, it is just as if he should say, that they were cut off from all that dignity in which they formerly excelled, and differed in nothing from the profane and re-jeered nations, as we have a similar description in Hosea. There the Prophet is ordered to take a harlot to wife. (Hosea 1.) He says that he begat a son and a daughter, and that, he called the son לאעמי, lo-ammi that is, “not God people.” Then he called his daughter “not beloved.” By this vision the Prophet shows that the Jews were rejected, so that God no longer thinks of them as sons, but repels them as foreigners. So also in this place rejection is denoted, when the Prophet, as the mouth of God, calls them Gentiles. The plural number is used, that he may the better express the defection which oppressed the whole people. If a few only were such as this, the Prophet might still feel encouraged. But God here pronounced the severest sentence, because the whole people, taken both at large and separately, was rebellious; and this is the reason why the plural number is used.
Is ‘it then asked whether a single individual remained who would embrace the Prophet’s doctrine? The answer is easy. The discourse does not relate to individuals, but to the whole people; for the Prophets often use similar language, as when they call the Israelites degenerate and spurious, then sons of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the offspring of Canaan: they inveigh against the multitude promiscuously; for they had in fact a few disciples who could not be classed in that order. (Isa 1:10; Isa 8:16; Isa 57:3; Eze 16:3.) But we must hold what is said by Isaiah 8. — “Bind my testimony upon my disciples.” There the Prophet is ordered from above to address the faithful, of whom a small number remained, and so to address them as if the letter were folded and sealed. But he spreads abroad this discourse among the whole people. So also when God pronounces the sons of Israel to be rebellious nations, he looks to the body of the people; at the same time there is no doubt that God always preserved a seed to serve him, although hidden from man. Daniel was then in exile with his colleagues, and he surely was not a rebel against God; but as I have already said, enough has been brought forward to show that the whole people were impious. God says that he had previously tried what the people was — They have rebelled, he says, against me; by which words he signifies that he was not making an experiment as if they were previously unknown. He says that he had already found out their perverseness by many trials; and yet he says that he sends to them, because he wished, as I have already said, to render their ignorance perfectly excuseless, and then he wished to break down their contumacy, which was otherwise untameable.
He says, they and their fathers have behaved themselves treacherously against me even to this very day He does not extenuate their crime when he says, that they imitated the example of their fathers, but he rather increases their own impiety when he says they were not the beginners of it, but were born of impious parents, as if he should say, according to the vulgar proverb, “a chip of the old block.” 59 Hence it appears that there is no pretext for the error when we use the fathers as the Papists do, who oppose them as a shield to God; for whilst they have the fathers on their tongue, they esteem this a sufficient defense for every impiety. But we see that God not only reckons this as nothing, but that the crime of the children is exaggerated when they plead the evil example of their fathers as the cause of their own obstinacy. Now, not only does the Prophet desire to show this to be a frivolous excuse, if the Jews should object that they framed their life in imitation of their fathers, but as we see, it shows them doubly condemned, because they did not desist from provoking God at the beginning, and so by a continual succession, impiety and contempt of heavenly teaching prevailed through all ages, even to their own. Besides, this passage warns us against abusing the long-suffering of God; for when he sent his Prophet we see the purport of his doing so — the people was now on the brink of utter destruction, but God wished to plunge them deeper into the lowest abyss. Let us take care lest a similar punishment should be our lot if we remain obstinate. When, therefore, God sends some Prophets to one people, and some to another:, it ought to recall us to penitence, and to caution us, lest the word which is peculiarly destined to the salvation of men, should be to us a savor of death unto death, as it was to the ancient people. It follows —
4. For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD.
4. Et filii duri fade, et robusti corde: ergo mitto to ad eos. et dices illis, Sic dieit Dominator Iehovah.
5. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.
5. Et ipsi sive audiant sive desistant quoniam domus rebellionis ipsi: et 60 scient quod propheta fuerit inter ipsos.
God proceeds in the same discourse, but expresses in other words the great rebellion of the people, for they were not only obstinate and unbending in heart, but also of a contumacious countenance: therefore he places hardness in face as well as in heart. The words indeed are different, קשי, keshi, and חזקי, chezki, “of brazen countenance,” for we may translate “winked” and “contumacious,” for this disposition appears in the countenance, nor is it objectionable to render it “impudent.” But. propriety of speech must be retained; for we must speak of the robust of heart as “broken down,” or if the allusion seems more apposite, we must render it “of broken countenance,” then of “broken spirits,” as we call the wicked “brazen-fronted.” The meaning is, that the Jews were not only rebellious against God and puffed up with proud contempt, but their impiety was so desperate that they opposed themselves to God without disguise, as if they had been horned oxen or furious bulls. We know that hypocrisy often lies hid in the mind, and although men swell with malice, yet they do not betray what they inwardly nourish. But the Prophet here signifies that the Israelites were so immersed in impiety, that they displayed themselves as the open enemies of God in their very countenances. The result is, that the Prophet, while he applied himself to perform the commands of God, ought so to determine with himself, when he approaches the people, that his teaching would be not only useless as to them, because it would not be received with the reverence which it deserves, but would be even exposed to many reproaches: since the Israelites were not only filled with a hidden contempt of God, but they openly showed their ferocity, so to speak, since they were of so brazen a front that they would without doubt purposely reject the Prophet. They are hard-hearted children, etc., yet I send thee unto them Here, again, God opposes his own command, as the Prophet simply acquiesces in this word alone, “I have a divine mission.” If he displeases men, he is content to have his labor approved of God. This is the meaning of the phrase which is now a second time repeated, I send thee unto them For the Prophet might object, What can I do? for if they are of a brazen heart and of an iron front, I shall labor in vain. But God answers in return, that the Prophet need not be anxious, it is enough to have a command: as if a prince should not explain the whole of his counsel to his ambassador, and yet should order him to discharge his embassy, thus God acts towards his servant. We see then how God here magnifies his authority: and we must mark this diligently, that we may not wish always to be bargaining with him, as we are accustomed. For unless God show us the present fruit of our labor, we languish, and so we endeavor by turning back to withdraw ourselves from his authority: but God opposes this single sentence, Behold I send thee The rest I leave till to-morrow.
Grant, O Almighty God, since thou hast counted us worthy of enjoying the privilege of daily listening to thy word, that it may not find our hearts of stone and our minds of iron, but may we so submit ourselves to thee with all due docility, that we may truly perceive thee to be our Father, and may be confirmed in the confidence of our adoption, as long as thou perseverest to address us, until at length we enjoy not merely thy voice, but also the aspect of thy glory in thy heavenly kingdom, which thine only-begotten Son has acquired for us by his blood. — Amen.
After God has admonished his servant as to the difficulty of his mission, he now strengthens him and exhorts him to unconquered freedom. Thou shalt say, says he, Thus saith the Lord, as if he should say, this alone is sufficient for overcoming all obstacles, that he has to take in hand God’s business. For even here God does not give fixed commands, that he will do afterwards in its place, but the observation is general. Thus saith Jehovah: that is, I bring forward nothing of myself, but faithfully relate what God has commanded. We see then the Almighty’s object here: viz., to oppose his name to the obstinacy of the people, and he orders the Prophet when instructed by his authority to be of a brave and intrepid disposition, although he has stern and hard-hearted enemies. Afterwards he adds, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, yet they shall acknowledge that a prophet has been among them
Here, again, God exhorts his servant to persevere whatever be the event of his labor, for if we do not succeed according to the desire of our minds, we are inclined to despair: but God wishes us to proceed in the course of our duty, though all things should turn out contrary to our wishes. But he shows that there shall be some fruit of our labor, although the people, through their own depravity, reject what has been said to them: for this thought breaks the spirits of God’s servants, when they do not perceive the usefulness of their labor: for we always desire to accomplish something worth the trouble which we give to it. God therefore here signifies that he has some other object in view than the salvation of men; namely, the removal of all pretext for error, and the stripping off of every disguise of impiety in which men willingly clothe themselves. For even hypocrites, though they perish knowingly and willfully, yet think themselves excusable, unless God afford them the light of his doctrine. The meaning therefore is, although the Prophet’s teaching would not profit the Israelites, yet it would be useful in another way, namely, that they may perceive that there has been a prophet among them In this way there is no defect, although some think the words of the Prophet abrupt: for an important word seems to be wanting when he says, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, because they are a rebellious house, and they shall know, etc. For we have said that the copula ought to be resolved into the adversative particle, because even then they shall know: for their perverseness shall not prevent their being convinced by God. We may learn then from this place, that although the impious furiously endeavor to reject the doctrine of God, yet they obtain no other end than the more complete manifestation of their own wickedness. Hence, also, we may learn that God’s doctrine is precious to himself, and that he cannot bear us to despise it. The wicked then never can escape punishment when they treat with contempt the divine teaching, for it is as if they trampled upon inestimable treasure, Those who are left without the law and the prophets shall not escape God’s hand, because their conscience is sufficient to take away all excuse. (Ro 2:12.) But when God invites men to himself, and approaches near them, and offers himself to them in a peculiar manner as their Father and Teacher, if they reject so remarkable a benefit, truly their ingratitude is worthy of the utmost severity. For as often as God raises up prophets for us and faithful ministers of his doctrine, let this which has just been said come into our minds: unless we embrace such a benefit, we at length shall know that a prophet has been among us, because God will exact fearful vengeance for the contempt of his great loving-kindness. Now it follows —
6. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.
6. Et tu fili hominis ne timeas ab illis, et a sermonibus eorum ne timeas quia rebelles 61 sunt, et spinae tecum erga to, et cam scorpionibus tu habitas: a sermonibus eorum ne timeas, et a facie eorum.he frangaris, quia domus rebellis ipsi sunt.
Here God again commands his servant to break forth boldly, even if the people deny him all approach through their malice and wickedness. But because we often fail through terror; God arms his Prophet with impregnable confidence against the threats of the people, and then against all discourses of every sort. He brings forward no other reason than they are a rebellious house, or a rebellious and perverse nation. For we said, though at the first glance it might seem cold, yet it suffices to animate the servants of God to know that he commands nothing rashly, and when they acknowledge that God is pleased by their spending their breath upon the deaf, yet they do not cease to discharge their duty, although they fatigue themselves in vain as far as the world is concerned. But now when this thought is added, that God will take care of his own servants, it doubles their confidence and good spirits. Thus it happens, that all threats and terrors being despised, they discharge their duty boldly. For this reason he now says, thou, son of man, do not be afraid of them, nor be terrified at their words By “words,” I do not understand simply threats but calumnies by which we know the servants of God to be oppressed. For hypocrites rise up with great confidence and complain of the injury done to them, and then presumptuously take upon themselves the name of God, as at this time the Papists not only vomit out threats by which they disturb us, but haughtily boast themselves to be the Church, and confirm this by perpetual succession; then they say that the Church never is without the Holy Spirit, and hence it cannot happen that God should ever desert them. We see, therefore, that the domestic enemies of God not only use threats against his servants, but at the same time bring many false pretenses by which they load the true and faithful Prophets with envy and hatred. But, however such calumnies have some appearance of truth when its enemies unjustly press us, God orders us to proceed with unconquered fortitude. Be not afraid, therefore, he says, of either them, or their words And since the same phrase is repeated shortly afterwards, hence we infer that it has no common meaning. It is therefore worthy of observation, that God once, yea twice, pronounces that we ought not to fear their words who boast themselves to be the Church of God, and doubt not petulantly to render that sacred name a laughing-stock by their use of it. Since, therefore, God allows us to despise language of this kind, there is no reason why the Papists of this day should daunt us, when, with inflated cheeks, they thunder out the name of the Church and the Apostolic authority; for just honor is not attributed to God, unless every lofty thing in the world is compelled to obey him, so that the doctrine alone may shine forth which comes direct from the mouth of God.
Now he adjoins, because, (or although, for this causal particle may be resolved adversatively,) however rebellious they may be, and like thorns, however thou mayest dwell among scorpions, yet do not fear their words, and do not be broken down by their appearance, חתת, chetheth, signifies to be rubbed and broken, and it is here transferred to the mind, and is to be metaphorically understood for being broken in spirit, as if it had been said, be thou intrepid in receiving all threats and calumnies, because they are a rebellious house This passage teaches us that none are fit to undertake the prophetic office, unless those who are armed with fortitude and perseverance whatever may happen, so that they do not fear any threats, nor hesitate or vacillate when oppressed by unjust calamities. So Paul says, (2Co 6:8,) that he persevered through both evil report and good report, although he was unworthily slandered by the wicked. Whoever, therefore, wishes to prepare himself faithfully for undertaking the office of a teacher, should be endued with such constancy that he may oppose, as it were, an iron front to all calumnies and curses, threats and terrors.
We cannot doubt but that the Israelites were much enraged when they heard themselves called thorns and scorpions. But they ought to be thus stung, since if they had been attacking a mortal man only, they would conduct themselves far more petulantly. But when God pronounces them scorpions and thorns, and they see the Prophet performing commands of this kind fearlessly and without hesitation, they are necessarily impelled to either fury or silence. But when they have striven to the very last in their obstinacy and hardness, yet God at length causes them to yield through shame, because truth has prevailed, of which the Prophet was a minister endued with such great fortitude of mind. We also perceive from this passage, that the Prophets often spoke with great asperity when the wickedness of those with whom they had to deal required it: yet they were not hurried away into any excess, or carried forward with intemperance against their adversaries. But they could not in any other way vindicate their doctrine against the wicked, who, impelled by a diabolical fury, strove with even God himself. We must hold, therefore, that although they were cruel and severe in language, yet they breathed pure humanity from the heart. For our Prophet was not a barbarous man, who excited by indignation, vomited out coarse reproaches against his own people, but the Spirit of God dictated, as we see, what might seem too severe to soft and delicate ears.
7. And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether will forbear: for they are most rebellious.
7. Et proferes verba mea ad ipsos si audierint et si destiterint, quia rebelles sunt. 62
Again he repeats what he had said, with but the change of a few words, yet the meaning is the same, that the Prophet should not desist in the midst of his course, if he saw that he did not obtain what he wished and hoped for. For when we apply ourselves to what God commands, we ought to be of good cheer, and expect that some fruit of our labor may appear. We may, therefore, indulge both hopes and wishes, but if it should turn out otherwise than we anticipated, yet we ought to leave the result in the hands of God, and to proceed even to the goal in the discharge of our duty. To this end this sentence tends: thou, says he, shalt utter my words, or pronounce my words, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: that is, even if you sing a song to the deaf, according to the proverb, yet you shall not cease to utter my words: and he adds the reason, because they are a rebellious house. God admonishes his servant beforehand, that there was no reason why he should turn back although he should see no fruit of his labors, because he ought to determine this in his mind, although they have no ears yet he must speak in God’s name. It is certain, as we mentioned yesterday, that there were some, though few in number, to whom his teaching was useful, but he treats here of the people at large. We must learn, therefore, when God calls us to the office of teaching, not to regard the conduct of mankind. For if it please God to exercise us while we strive with the rebellious and refractory, yet God’s word must be uttered, because he commands it. It follows —
8. But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; Be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee.
8. Et tu fill hominis audi quae ego loquor ad re, ne sis rebellis quemadmodum domus haec: 63 aperi os tuum et comede quaecunque proposuero tibi.
God continues to confirm his servant, but he advises him of a cause of stumbling which might break his spirit; for when he perceived the great obstinacy of the house of Israel, he might refuse the office of their teacher a hundred times over. God, however, adds incentives and exhortations to perseverance, although he experiences the abandoned obstinacy of the house of Israel: do thou hear, says he, what I shall say to thee Here we see that no one can discharge the teacher’s office, unless he be a proficient in God’s school. It behoves, therefore, those who wish to be thought disciples of God to be teachers of truth, and for this purpose first to listen to God’s instructions. Then he takes away a stumblingblock, as we have said, be not thou, rebellious like the house of Israel For we know that a multitude has much influence over us to disturb us: for the consent of a whole people is like a violent tempest, where all conspire together, and even those who are not wicked yet are carried forward with the crowd. Since, therefore, the, multitude sometimes carries away even the servants of God, here God meets his Prophet and puts a bridle upon him, that thou be not rebellious, says he, like the house of Israel He does not here speak indefinitely concerning any people, but concerning ‘that nation which boasted itself to be divinely elected, and bore in the flesh the symbol of its adoption. Yet God wishes the consent of his people to be neglected by his Prophet, because we know how insolently the Israelites boasted themselves to be the sacred and peculiar people of God; in the same way indeed as the Papists now exult, Israel then vaunted against all the Prophets. And therefore this passage must be diligently observed, because at this day many of these magnificent titles vanish away when they are brought to reason: for we know that they are mere smoke by which Satan endeavors to blind our eyes, while he falsely brings forward the name of God and the Church.
We ought, indeed, to receive whatever is uttered by God with such modesty and veneration that we may be completely affected as soon as his name is mentioned, but meanwhile we must. use prudence and discretion, lest we should be struck with awe when Satan uses God’s name to deceive us. And as we must use discernment, God here shows us the rule of doing so. For if we are thoroughly persuaded that, the doctrine which we follow and profess is from God, we can safely look down from on high not only upon all mortals but upon angels themselves: for there is no excellence so great but that God’s truth outshines it. Therefore when formerly the Israelites pretended that they were God’s people, and were adorned by the marks of a true Church, we must hold that the honor of the Church is frivolous when hypocrites reign in it, or rather exercise impious tyranny, and oppose themselves to God and his doctrine. And at this very day we may turn this passage against the Papists — nay, even point it at them directly as often as they bring up those pompous titles of “the Catholic Church,” and “the Spouse of Christ,” for God has said once for all, that we ought not to be rebellious, although the whole house of Israel should become so; that is, although those who bring forward the name of God should mutually enter into a diabolic conspiracy, yet we must not regard their conduct so as to subscribe to their impious conspiracy. We read the same in Isaiah, (Isa. 8:12, 13,) Thou shalt not say a conspiracy whenever this people says conspiracy: thou shalt not feel their fear nor their dread, but sanctify the Lord of hosts. Which passage Peter also cites, (1 Pet. 3:14, 15;) because the Jews, who then pertinaciously opposed the gospel, weakened the feeble by their boasting, by saying that they were the Church, and yet rejected and abominated the new teaching which was then spread abroad: Peter cites that place of the Prophet, namely, although the house of Israel impiously conspired against God, yet such contumacy must be despised. Afterwards the Prophet adds, (Isa 8:18,) Behold! I and the children whom God hath given me for a sign and a wonder. He says, therefore, that those little ones who worship God purely, and withdraw themselves from the common impiety, were like monsters, and were esteemed as complete wonders. But the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews accommodates this place to the reign of Christ, (Heb 2:13,) and not without reason. For to this day we are a wonder to God’s enemies, who carry themselves not only with boldness but with abandoned impudence against the pure doctrine of the gospel. To them we are heretics, schismatics, dogs — nay, the offscouring of the world. But although we are to them for signs and wonders, it is sufficient for us to be acknowledged by God: because it is needful for us to be separated from that impious conspiracy unless we wish to be separated from God himself. For what agreement is there with Papists, or what union with those dregs, unless by separation from God himself? Therefore, because we cannot extend the hand to Papists on any other condition, and cultivate a brotherly intercourse with them except by denying God, let all that injurious union with them cease, and let us learn to separate from them with boldness, since we clearly see that we are all commanded to act thus in the person of the Prophet: for he had said a little before, a prophet dwells in the midst of them — and this was clearly expressed, that he might manifest more anxious care for himself. For it is difficult to walk amidst thorns and scorpions, lest we should be pricked, and lest we should be struck by their virulent tail. God, then, commands us to be so attentive, that although we walk amid thorns we should not be pricked by them, and also that we should not be injured by the poison of scorpions; and if we seek from heaven that prudence which does not naturally belong to us, this will happen, for if the Spirit of God govern us, he will preserve us harmless from every bite of the serpent, and from all injury and mischief.
It follows: open thy mouth, and eat whatever I shall put before thee By this practical symbol God confirms Ezekiel in his vocation: for he orders him to eat a book, which was fulfilled in vision. Jeremiah uses the same metaphor, (Jer 15:16,) but with some slight difference, because our Prophet seemed to himself to eat a volume: but Jeremiah only signifies that he had digested the words of God like food, not that he only tasted them with his tongue, and that they were so thoroughly fixed in his mind as if he had really dressed and digested them. But God wished to confirm our Prophet in another way, namely, by offering him a volume, and commanding him to eat it. There is no doubt that this volume comprehended whatever the Spirit of God afterwards dictated to the Prophet; and yet the effect was just as if God had made a mortal the channel of his Spirit: as if he had said, “Now you shall utter nothing human nor terrestrial; because you shall utter what my Spirit has already written in this book.” But here we see a difference between the true servants of God, who discharge their duty in earnest, and talkative men, who are satisfied with their own powers of eloquence, or rather garrulity: for there are many ready speakers who utter what they have never digested, and thus their teaching is but vapid. And this is the meaning of what Paul says: the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. (1Co 4:20.) But those who truly consecrate themselves to God, not only learn what they speak of, but as food is eaten, so also they receive within them the word of God, and hide it in the inmost recesses of their heart, so that they may bring it forth from thence as food properly dressed. Now, therefore, we understand why God wished the Prophet to eat the book, concerning which also it follows afterwards —
9. And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein;
9. Et aspexi, et ecce marius emissa ad me, et ecce in ea volumen libri;
10. And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.
10. Et explicuit coram facie mea, et ecce scriptum erat volumen a facie et retro, 64 et scriptura 65 lamentationes, et carmen, et we.
Now the Prophet more fully explains what we have just dwelt upon. He narrates how a volume of a book was offered to him: that is, a book in the form of a roll was offered to him. For the noun which he uses, מגלת, megleth, comes from גלל, gelel, to roll, as the word volume among the Latins. For they were formerly accustomed to write on rolls, that is, they had not the form of books so compact and well arranged as we now use, but they had volumes, which barbarians call rolls. Ancient documents were written in this way, for there is nothing ancient in the archives of princes which is not written on rolls. Hence the phrase, “In the volume of the book it is written of me,” etc. (Ps 40:8; Heb 10:7.) Now the Prophet says, such a volume was offered to me that I might eat it; and he adds, it was offered to me by a hand sent forth, But by this symbol God more clearly shows that the volume was not merely formed in the air, nor was produced anywhere but in heaven. For if the Prophet had only seen a volume presented to him, he might doubt whether it was sent by God or not. But when the hand which offers the volume appears, and is truly sent forth from God, nothing is wanting for full and complete certainty.
He adds, after the volume was unrolled, that he saw it written on each side: by which words he understands not that any brief command was given to him, but that a length of much time was imposed. For if he had only spoken concerning the roll, the Jews might have contemptuously rejected him after three or four days, as if he had come to an ends” A roll was indeed offered to thee, but now thou hast spoken three or four times, is not this sufficient?” Hence, as the Prophet might meet with neglect, he says, the roll was written before and behind He now says, for such was his argument, that lamentations only were written there הגה, hegeh, signifies sometimes meditation and speech simply, but here, because it is connected with lamentations, there is no doubt that it is to be taken for a mournful strain. At length the particle הי, hei, is added in the sense of grieving. On the whole then, the Prophet teaches, that the instruction contained in the book was not sweet or pleasant, but full of sorrow, since truly God here showed proofs of his anger, and this cannot be apprehended unless by its causing grief and lamentations. Now, therefore, we understand that the Israelites were more and more exasperated, when the Prophet said, that he came like a herald who denounced war in the name of God, and, at the same time, had no message of peace. As to the rest of the people, we shall see afterwards, in many places, that he was a messenger of God’s mercy, but his duty was to rouse up the Jews, that they might feel God their adversary: thus the Prophet was sent with no other object than that of going, as an armed man, into the midst,, and uttering threats in the name of God. I cannot now proceed further, although what follows is connected with this subject.
Grant, Almighty God, since thou hast this day deigned to invite us to thyself with the testimony of thy paternal favor, that we may not be as the beasts of the forest, but submit ourselves calmly to thee, and so follow where thou callest us, that we may in reality feel thee to be our Father; and thus may we live under the protection of thy hand as long as we are pilgrims in this world, so that at length being gathered unto thy heavenly kingdom, we may cleave entirely to thee and thine only-begotten Son, who is our felicity and glory. — Amen.
Literally, “I sending thee.” — Calvin.
Rebelled. This word is the same as the last. — Calvin.
Calvin’s Latin is mala ova malorum corvorum — Tr.
The copula “and” is here redundant, but it may be resolved into the adverb of time or the adversative particle — “trot they shall know.” — Calvin.
The word is different from מורדים, mordim, rebellious, Eze 2:3; but commentators translate it the same, though perhaps it signifies something else, for it is not in common use among the Hebrews. — Calvin.
Otherwise, Thou shalt pronounce my words to them, whether they will hear, or whether they will refuse to hear, for surely they are men of rebellion. — Calvin.
Israel must be understood. — Calvin.
“That is, behind and before.” — Calvin.
“What was written in it.” — Calvin.