Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 22: Ezekiel, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. He cried also in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand.
1. Et clamavit voce magna in aure mea 190 dicendo, appropinquate 191 praefecturae 192 urbis: et quisque 193 instrumentum perditionis 194 suae in manu sua.
Now the manner of that vengeance which was lately mentioned is expressed. Hence the Prophet says, God exclaimed, so that his command reached to the Chaldeans, who were to be executors of his vengeance, and therefore the imperative mood pleases me better, approach ye therefore. Those who consider the tense past say “visitations,” nor can they do otherwise, because no sense can be elicited from the words — to have approached the prefecture of the city. But if we read the imperative mood, the sense agrees very well, approach ye the prefecture: the thing is put for the persons, or the name of the men may be understood, and thus פקדות, phekdoth, may be taken in the genitive case. As to the general meaning, God commands his servants who held authority over the devoted city, to approach, or apply themselves, or be ready to fulfill his work, and let each, says he, have his instrument of destruction: here destruction is taken actively. For God does not mean that the Chaldeans were armed for their own destruction, but for that of the Jews, and the ruin of the city. It follows —
2. And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter-weapon in his band; and one man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brasen altar.
2. Et ecce sex viri venientes e via portae superioris 195 quae est e regione aquilonis: et cuique 196 instrumentum mallei sui 197 in manu sua: et vir unus in medio ipsorum vestitus lineis, 198 et atramentarium scribae in lumbis ejus: et venerunt, et steterunt e regione altaris aenei.
Now the Prophet writes that God’s command was not vain or empty, because the effect appears directly by vision. Therefore six men offered themselves. Why again he names six, rather than more or fewer, I have not found out. For some cite the thirty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah, where eight leaders are referred to who were in Nebuchadnezzar’s army, and had the chief authority; but first they vary in number, then they twist themselves in many ways. But I am not so anxiously curious, nor does it seem to me of any consequence, unless perhaps God wished to show his servant that a little band was sufficient, and that there was no need of a large army: or by six men he confusedly designated the whole army. It is certain indeed that Nebuchadnezzar came surrounded with a large force to destroy the city; but in the meantime God wished to destroy that pride and contumacy of the people, since he only shows to his servant six men who could destroy the whole city. He says therefore, that he came by the gate, or by way of a lofty gate, or higher one, which was towards the north, because Babylon lay towards that region with respect to Jerusalem. It appears therefore that the Chaldeans were here pointed out, to whom the way was direct through that gate, since it ascended from the north over against Jerusalem. He says, each man had an instrument of destruction, or of pounding. This word is derived from נפף, nephetz, which is to destroy and rub to pieces: therefore it can be taken as well for the mallet as for the act itself. There is no doubt that the Prophet meant that God’s command should not be without immediate effect: because as soon as he cried out, six men were directly at hand for obeying him, which he afterwards expresses more clearly when he says that they stood near the altar For it was a sign of their readiness to obey God’s commands when they placed themselves before the altar. But this passage is worthy of notice, because it shows us how anxiously we ought to give heed to God’s threats, which are for the most part directed against us. In order that we may learn to rouse ourselves from our torpor, here as in a glass the conjunction of God’s vengeance with his threats is proposed to us. For as soon as he had spoken, we see that there were six men armed and drawn up for destroying the city. But God wished to show his Prophet this vision, because his business was with a hard and stupid people, as we have already seen. God’s voice was as it were their final doom: just as if a trumpet resounded, and announced that there was no hope of pardon unless the enemy gave himself up directly. So therefore God exclaimed with a loud voice, but this was no empty cause of fright, because he directly joined the execution of it, when six men appeared before the altar. But he calls the altar which Solomon had built of square stones brazen: even the brazen altar was not sufficient, but it looks to its first origin.
Now he says that there was among them, one man clothed with a linen garment (1Ki 8:64.) He is not placed among the multitude, as one among the others, but he is separated, because his signification is distinct. This man then doubtless sustained the character of an angel, and it is sufficiently customary in Scripture that angels, when they take a visible form, should be called men: not because they are really men, but because God endues them with such forms as he sees fit. Some, whose opinion I do not altogether reject, restrict this to Christ. But because the Prophet adds no remarkable traits, I had rather receive it generally of any angel. He says therefore, that there was among the Chaldeans, who were prepared to execute God’s vengeance, one man clad in a linen garment A distinct mark is sometimes given to angels which separates them from men. The linen garment was then a remarkable ornament. And the sacrificing Papists, as if they were apes, have imitated that custom in their garments called surplices. But since priests were accustomed to be clad in linen robes, here the angel was represented to the Prophet in this garb. Now let us go on, because in the next verse it will be evident why mention was made of that angel.
3. And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer’s inkhorn by his side;
3. Et gloria Dei Israel ascendit 199 a cherub super quem residebat 200 ad limen domus: et clamavit ad vi-rum indutum vestibus lineis, eujus atramentarium seribae in lumbis erat.
4. And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.
4. Et dixit Iehovah ad ipsum, transi per medium urbis, per medium Hierosolymae: et signa signum super frontes virorum qui gemunt, et clamant super omnibus abominationibus quae patiuntur in medio ejus.
Now the Prophet shows why the angel was added to the Chaldeans, namely, to put a bridle on them, lest they should rage promiscuously and without selection against the elect and the reprobate. This is a remarkable passage, because from it we learn, first, that God effectually threatens the impious, so that he may have attendants always at hand to obey him; then, that even unbelievers make war under the direction of God, and are governed by his rod, and do nothing except at his will. Nor are the Chaldeans said to have come to the temple in vain, and to have placed themselves before the altar of God. This is not related to their praise, as if they obeyed God spontaneously, or as if they had purposed to themselves to carry out his commands, but the secret providence of God is here treated. Although, therefore, the Chaldeans gave the rein to their self-will, and did not think themselves divinely governed; yet God here pronounces that they were under his hand just as if God had them as hired soldiers: as Satan is said to have joined himself to the sons of God: this was not a voluntary obedience, but because his machinations could not attack the holy Job, unless by God’s command. (Job 1:6.) God’s sons appear in a very different way, since they offer a free obedience, and desire him only to reign. But how great soever is the difference between the sons of God and Satan, and all the reprobate, yet it is equally true that Satan and the wicked obey God. This, therefore, we must learn in the second place. But, thirdly, we are taught that God never rashly executes his vengeance without sparing his elect. For this reason in the slaughter of Jerusalem he has an angel, who opposes a shield, as it were, to the Chaldeans, lest their cruelty should injure them beyond God’s pleasure, as we shall by and bye see. Therefore I said that the place was remarkable, because when God puts forth the signs of his wrath, the sky is, as it were, overclouded, and the faithful no less than the unbelieving are frightened, nay terrified with fear. For as to outward condition, there was no difference between them. Because therefore the sons of God are subject to that terror which obscures all sense of God’s favor in adversity, so this doctrine must be held diligently, namely, when God gives the rein to furious men, so that they dissipate, overthrow, and destroy all things, then the angels are always united, who restrain their intemperance with a hidden bridle, since otherwise they would never be moderate.
He says, therefore, that the glory of the God of Israel ascended from the cherub to the threshold He takes the glory of God for God himself, as we may readily collect from the next verse; for he says that Jehovah had spoken. But this speech agrees very well, because God cannot be comprehended by us, unless as far as he accommodates himself to our standard. Because therefore God is incomprehensible in himself, nor did he appear to his Prophet as he really is, (since not angels even bear the immense magnitude of his glory, much less a mortal man,) but he knew how far it was expedient to discover himself, therefore the Prophet here takes his glory for himself; that is, the vision, which was a sign or symbol of the presence of God. But he says that it ascended from the cherub Here also is a change of number, because God is said everywhere to sit between the cherubim. (2Sa 6:2; 2Ki 19:15; Isa 37:16.) But here only one cherub is put, but this figure of speech is well understood, as it is so common, for God resided between the cherubim: it is said that he went thence to the threshold of the temple This was a prelude to departure, as we shall afterwards see. And this testimony was needful to the Jews, because they thought that God was bounded by the visible temple. Hence the Prophet shows that God was not fixed to a place, so as to be compelled to remain there. This is the reason why it is said that he came from his seat to the threshold of the temple Now, he adds, that he cried out to the man clad in the linen garment, and whose inkhorn was by his side, though others translate it writing-tablets: but as he afterwards says, write on their foreheads, it is very probable that the ink was in his girdle, that he might mark the elect of God, that the Chaldeans should not touch them. Again he calls the angel a man, but on account of the form which he put on, as I said before. I cannot proceed further.
Grant, Almighty God, since thou hast deigned to approach us so familiarly, that in return we may also desire to approach thee, and remain in firm and holy union; so that whilst we persevere in that lawful course which thou prescribest for us in thy word, thy blessings may increase towards us, until thou leadest us to fullness, when thou shalt gather us into thy celestial kingdom, by Christ our Lord. — Amen.
We began to explain the precept given to the angel before God sent forth the Chaldeans to cut off the city, and destroy the people. The angel is at length commanded to sign the foreheads of all the pious. But many take the noun תו, tho, which means the same as a mark, for the last letter of the alphabet, and yet there is no reason to compel them to do so. תו, tho, is a Hebrew mark. It is puerile to invent that subtle comment, that the foreheads of the pious were signed with that letter, because the noun תורה, thoreh, which signifies the doctrine of the law, begins with the same letter. Jerome brings forward another figment: he says that in his time, among the Samaritans, the letter ת was like a cross, with which the Christians used then to sign themselves. But all see how nugatory this is. Although it was not the figure which is now in use among the Papists, but was the mark which the brothers Antonii used: but I omit that as unworthy of mention. If puzzles please you, it would be a better reason why the faithful were marked with the last letter, because they were last among men, and as it were the offscouring of the world. Since therefore from the beginning, the world has treated the sons of God as if they were castaways, therefore I have said that they may be signed with the last letter: but we may be content with the simple and genuine sense of the Prophet: therefore God orders their foreheads to be signed. We yesterday explained the cause, and said that a most useful doctrine could be collected from this place, namely, when all things seem mingled on the earth, and turned upwards and downwards, yet that God never casts away the care of his own, but protects them from all harm. God therefore always restrains his judgments, so that he really proves that the safety of his people is dear and precious to himself. We gather also that angels are ministers of this grace, because they watch over the safety of the faithful, as Scripture everywhere testifies. (Ps. 91:11, 12, and elsewhere often.) Now, if any one asks what this sign was? it must be simply answered, that this vision was presented to the Prophet for the common perception of all; for if we wish to single out a few in a crowd, we need some sign. God therefore here borrows what we read concerning a sign from the customs of men: for the faithful could not otherwise understand that they were beyond the reach of weapons, when mixed with the unbelieving. Because therefore it seems the common condition of all, they might be frightened just as if God should raise his hand to chastise their sins. Therefore he says here, that they were signed in some way. It is true then that we daily bear a sign by which God distinguishes us from the reprobate. For the blood of Christ reconciles us to the Father, as is sufficiently known; but perhaps that also may be too far-fetched. It is also true that when God struck the land of Egypt, the Israelites were passed over by the angel, since the blood of a lamb was sprinkled on the door-posts. (Exod. 12:22, 23.) Every house which had the mark of blood was secure and safe, when God’s vengeance was inflicted upon all the Egyptians. But as to this passage, I interpret it thus: when God gives liberty to unbelievers, so float they seem to be able to overturn the whole world, the angels are at the same time sent forth, who hinder their lust that they should not touch the sons of God. This then is sufficient for us.
Now the Prophet adorns the faithful with various titles, when he says, upon the foreheads of men who groan and cry. There is a great likeness between these two words, אנך, anek, and אנה, aneh; but one is written by K final, and the other by ה. He says then, that the faithful groan over the abominations: and then, that they cry out: for thus they translate the latter clause, although it may also be taken for bewailing, if we only understand outward sorrow, and that which openly appears. Hence we gather how God receives us under his guardianship, and sends us his angels as protectors, so that if mixed with the impious, we may yet keep ourselves undefiled by their pollutions, and then when we cannot correct their wickedness, yet we bear testimony by grief and sorrow that they displease us. When the Apostle commends to us the patience of Lot, he says, that he tormented his heart while he dwelt in Sodom. A single stranger could not recall those abandoned ones to a sound mind, who had given themselves over to all wickedness. (2Pe 2:7.) But he did not grow hardened to the foulness of so much sin, but continually groaned before God, and Was in perpetual grief. The Prophet now bears the same witness concerning other believers. Whatever it is, God here shows what he wishes his sons to be. Therefore if we allow ourselves to approve the sins of the impious, and take pleasure in them and applaud them, we boast ourselves in vain to be God’s sons, because he does not reckon any among his own who do not groan at abominations. And truly this is the sign of too much sloth, when we see the sacred name of God made the subject of ridicule, and all order overthrown, and yet are not affected with grief. Nor is it surprising if we are involved in the punishment of sins which our own connivance has fostered, instead of their being a torment to us. For that exhortation must be remembered, that the zeal of God’s house may eat us up, and the reproaches of those who reproach God may fall upon us, (Ps 69:10,) as it is said elsewhere, May my tongue cleave to my palate, if I am unmindful of thee, O Jerusalem, at the summit of my mirth. (Ps 137:6.) Therefore when we see on one side the name of God trodden as it were under foot, and all justice violated, we see on the other side the Church of God miserably and cruelly afflicted, if we smile in security, by this very thing we sufficiently show that we have nothing in common with God, and in vain we call him Father. Hence these titles must be marked, by which the Prophet marks all God’s elect, when he says, whosoever groan over the abominations: then he adds the word, crying out, the better to express the ardor and vehemence of their zeal, — just as if he said that groaning was not sufficient, as many groan in a corner, when they see the whole order of God so perverted, but when they come to the light and the sight of men, they dare not give any sign of the least suspicion, because they are unwilling to incur hatred and ill-will. The Prophet therefore here exacts more from the sons of God than secret groaning, when he wishes them to groan openly and vociferate; so that they bear witness that they abominate those things which God has condemned in his law. Now it follows —
5. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:
5. Illis autem dixit in auribus meis, Transite per civitatem post eum, percutite: et ne parcat oculus vester, et ne misereamini:
6. Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
6. Senem, adolescentem, puellam, puerum et mulieres percutite ad internecionem: tamen ad omnem virum super quem fuerit signum, ne accesseritis, 201 et a sanctuario meo incipite: et inceperunt a viris sentortbus qni erant coram domo.
Now the Prophet adds, that the Chaldeans were sent to destroy the city and its inhabitants, but the order must be observed, because they are ordered to go behind the angel. The grace of God therefore precedes to the safety of all the pious: then he opened the gate, and made a way open for his wrath, long and wide, after he had removed the faithful from all danger: for this reason it is said, that he went through the city yet after him. And Patti also signifies this, when he says, after that your obedience has been fulfilled, then wrath is at hand against all rebels and proud ones. (2Co 10:6.) God therefore first cares for his own; but after he has received them into his keeping, and hid them as it were under his wings, then he permits the flame of his wrath to burn against all the wicked. In fine, we see that as often as God revenges man’s wickedness, he regards his Church, and treats all as worthy of peculiar care who are endued with true and serious piety.
Then he orders them to strike, so that their eye should not spare; what God had taken to himself he transfers to the Chaldees, because there ought to be an agreement between God and all his servants, even those who are not voluntary agents, but whom he bends every way by his secret instinct. Then he expresses more clearly, that they should not spare either old men or young men or boys or girls; as if he said, that he must rage against all promiscuously, without any choice of age or sex. He here opposes women to men, because that sex bends even the most cruel to pity, and we know that when men are slain, women are preserved. Now girls seem to hold a better position and boys also: and decrepit old men, because nothing is to be feared from them, are preserved safe. But God wishes the Chaldeans so to attack the whole city, that they respect neither age nor sex. Meanwhile he excepts the faithful of whom he had spoken, upon whomsoever the mark shall be, do not approach him. Here it is asked, were all the good preserved free from slaughter? for we know that Jeremiah was drawn into Egypt, to whom Chaldaea would have been a preferable place of banishment. Already Daniel and his companions had been snatched away before him, many were faithful in that multitude. On the other hand, we see many despisers of God either escaped or left in the land, as Nebuchadnezzar wished the dregs of the people to remain there. But we saw of what sort they were in Jeremiah. It follows therefore that God neither spared all the elect, nor made a difference in consequence of the mark, because the wicked obtained safety as well as the faithful. (Jer 39:10; Jer. 43:2, 3, 4; Jer. 44:15, 16.) But we must observe, although God apparently afflicts his people with the ungodly, yet they are so separated, that nothing happens which does not tend to the safety of the righteous. When therefore God forbids the Chaldeans to approach them, he does not mean them to be free from all injury or disadvantage, but he promises that they should be so separated from the ungodly, that they should acknowledge by sure experience that God was never forgetful of his faith and promise. Now therefore we see how that difficulty must be solved, since God does not so spare his own as not to exercise their faith and patience, but he does spare them so that no destruction happens to them, while he is always their protector. But when he seems to give license to the impious, he grants this to their destruction, because they are rendered more and more inexcusable. And this daily experience teaches us. For we see that the very best are so afflicted, that God’s judgment begins with them. We see meanwhile that many reprobate exult with joy, even when they wantonly rage against God. But God has the care of his own as if they had been sealed, and separates them from the ungodly; but their own destruction remains for the ungodly, and they are already held within its folds, although it is not yet perceptible by the eye.
It follows, begin at my sanctuary. By the word “sanctuary” the priests and Levites are doubtless intended, and their fault was clearly greater. There was indeed a small number who worshipped God purely, and stood firm in their duty, but the greater part had revolted from the worship of God. Hence this passage ought to be understood of those impious priests who had despised God and his servants. Nor is it surprising that God’s wrath should begin with them. For they sin doubly; because if any private man fall away, his example is not so injurious as that of the eminent, who thus draw all men into the same ruin. For we know that the eyes of the multitude are turned towards their superiors. Since therefore the priests sinned more severely than all the rest, it is not surprising if God should punish them in the first place. Those who interpret this sentence generally, as if God ordered the Chaldeans to begin from his Church, extenuate the sense of the Prophet too much. For this is not a comparison between the Church of God and profane nations, but God rather compares the ministers of his temple with the people in general, and a clearer explanation follows directly after, that the Chaldeans began from the men, the elders who were before the house; that is, who were set over the temple Now it follows —
7. And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city.
7. Et dixit ad eos, poiluite 202 domum, et implete altaria occisis egredimini: et egressi sunt, et percusserunt in urbe. 203
Here God. repeats what he had formerly touched upon shortly and obscurely, namely, that the Jews trusted in vain in the visible temple, because already he had ceased to dwell there, as we shall afterwards see that he had departed. He had promised that his perpetual dwelling should be there, (Ps 132:14,) but that promise is not opposed by the casual desertion of that dwelling-place. Now therefore he adds this sentence, when he orders the Chaldeans to pollute the temple itself But it was already polluted, some one will say: I confess it: but it regards the Common perception of the people; for although the Jews had infected the sanctuary of God with their wickedness, yet they boasted that his worship still remained there and his sacred name. Now therefore he speaks of another kind of pollution, namely, that the Chaldeans should fill all the area with the slain If a human corpse or even a dog was seen in the sanctuary, this was an intolerable pollution; all would cry out that it was portentous. But as often as they entered the temple, although they dragged their crimes into God’s presence, (for they went there polluted with blood, rapine, fraud, perjuries, and a whole heap of guilt,) yet they reckoned all these pollutions as nothing. God therefore here obliquely derides their sloth, when he says that they boasted of the sanctity of the temple in vain, because they should see it at length filled with corpses, and then should really acknowledge that the temple was no longer sacred. Now therefore we understand the intention of the Holy Spirit. He adds, that they had gone forth, and occasioned a slaughter in the city Here again the Prophet shows that the Chaldeans would be at hand to smite the Jews with terror, as soon as God commanded them to destroy the city and cut off the inhabitants. Perhaps the city had not yet been besieged, and that is probable, for the Jews thought Ezekiel’s threatenings fabulous. For this reason he says that the Chaldeans appeared to him, that they might hear or receive the commandment of God: then that they had returned from the slaughter, to prove their obedience to God. In fine, he shows that God’s threatenings should not be in vain, because as soon as the right time should arrive, the army of the Chaldeans would be prepared for obedience. It follows —
8. And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?
8. Et factum est eum percuterent relictus fui ego: et cecidi super faciem meam, et clamavi, et dixi Aha 204 Dominator Iehovah, an delebis tu quidquid residunm est Israelis? 205 fundendo iracundiam tuam super Ierusalem.
The Prophet does not so carefully preserve the historical order in the context of the words. For he says, the Chaldeans had returned He afterwards adds, while they were striking the city that he fell upon his face. But we know this to be sufficiently common among the Hebrews, to relate first what is done afterwards. Although the Prophet seems to have fallen upon his face a little after their return, i.e., as soon as he perceived the city to have been nearly destroyed; yet he says, while they were smiting, he himself was left. They think the word compounded of the past and future tense, because there can be no grammatical reason that the word should be one and single. Indeed the word seems compounded of the first and third persons, as if he would say that he was left alone when all the rest were perishing. Yet there is no ambiguity in the sense; for it signifies that the Chaldeans had so attacked them everywhere, that they left none remaining. Since, therefore, they raged so savagely against the whole multitude, the Prophet seemed to himself to remain alone, as if God had snatched him from the horrible burning, by which he wished the whole people to be consumed and perish. Now if any one should object, that they were not all slain, the answer is, that a slaughter took place which almost destroyed the name of the people; then the survivors were like the dead, because exile was worse to them than death itself. Lastly, we must remark that the prophecy was extended to the last penalty, which at length awaits the ungodly, although God connives at them for a time, or merely chastises them moderately.
In fine, the slaughter of the city was shown to the Prophet as if all the citizens had utterly perished. And so God wished to show how terrible a destruction pressed upon the people, and yet no one feared it. Now as the Prophet fell upon his face, it was a testimony of the human affection, by which he instructed the people although unworthy. Hence he fell upon his face as a mediator, for we know that when the faithful ask pardon of God, they fall upon their face. They are said also to pour forth their prayers for the sake of humility, because they are unworthy to direct their prayers and words upwards. (Ps 102:1.) Therefore Ezekiel shows that he interceded for the safety of the people. And truly God was unwilling that his servants, under pretense of zeal, should cast off all sense of humanity, so that the slaughter of the people should be their play and joke. We have seen how anxiously Jeremiah prayed for the people, so that he was at length entirely overwhelmed with grief; for he wished, as we see in the ninth chapter, that his eyes flowed down as fountains. (Jer 9:1.) Hence the Prophets, although they were God’s heralds to promulgate his wrath, yet had not altogether put off all care and anxiety; for when they seemed to be hostile to the people they pitied them. And to this end Ezekiel fell on his face before God And truly that was a grievous trial, which he did not disguise; for he complains that a populous city was destroyed, and women and boys slain promiscuously with men. But he lays before God his own covenant, as if he said, even if the whole world should perish, yet it was impossible for God to lose his own Church, because he had promised, that as long as the sun and moon shone in heaven, there should be a seed of the pious in the world. “They shall be my faithful witnesses in heaven,” said he. (Ps. 89:37, 38.) The sun and moon are remaining in their place: therefore God seemed to have broken his covenant when he destroyed the whole people. This is the reason why the Prophet lies on his face, as if astonished, and exclaims with vehemence, Alas! O Lord God, wilt thou destroy the remnant of Israel by pouring forth thine anger? that is, whilst thou so purest forth thine anger against Jerusalem — for that city remained as a testimony of God’s covenant; for as yet some safety could be hoped for; but although after it was cut off, the faithful wrestled with that temptation, yet the contest was hard and fatiguing; for no one thought that any memorial of God’s covenant could flourish when that city was extinct. For he had there chosen his seat and dwelling, and wished to be worshipped in that one place. Since, therefore, the Prophet saw that city destroyed, he broke forth into a cry, what then will become of it! For when thou hast poured forth thine anger against Jerusalem, nothing will remain left in the city. Hence also it will readily be understood, that God’s covenant was almost obliterated, and had lost all its effect. Now it follows —
9. Then said he unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not.
9. Et dixit mihi, iniquitas do-mus Israel et Iehudah magna supra modum, 206 et repleta fuit terra sanguinibus, et urbs repleta fuit perverse: 207 quia dixerunt, Deseruit Iehovah terram, et Iehovah non respicit.
Here God so answers his Prophet, that he restrains too much fervor, and at the same time asserts his own justice — for the Prophet might be impelled this way and that — he might even doubt whether God would be true to his word. God might also shake his confidence in another manner, as by raging too much against the innocent; since therefore he might be agitated amidst those waves of trial, what God now does ought to set him at rest. Therefore, as I have already said, he mitigates the feelings of his Prophet, and at the same time asserts the equity of his judgment against all false opinions which are apt to creep over us when God’s judgments do not answer to our will. Meanwhile it must be remarked, how the Prophet complains suppliantly of the slaughter of the city, and although he seemed to expostulate with God, yet he submitted all his senses to his command, and on that account an answer is given which can calm him. Whenever, therefore, God does not seem to work as our carnal reason dictates to us, we may learn, by the Prophet’s example, how to restrain ourselves, and to subject our reason to God’s will, so that it may suffice us that he wills a thing so, because his will is the most perfect rule of all justice. We see that Prophets sometimes complain, and seem also to permit themselves too much liberty when they expostulate with God, as we saw a memorable example in Jeremiah. (Jer 12 and Jer 20.) Then we read also a similar one in Habakkuk. (Hab 1:2.) How so? Do the Prophets contend with God himself? yea, they directly return to themselves, and collect into order all those wandering opinions by which they perceive that they were greatly disturbed. So also our Prophet, on the one hand, wonders at the slaughter of the city, and exclaims vehemently; at the same time he falls upon his face, and in this way testifies that he would be obedient, as soon as God answered him. This is the reason, then, why God also desires to appease his servant; nor is it doubtful that we shall experience the same thing, if we modestly and soberly learn to enquire when God’s judgments do not answer our opinions. If, therefore, we approach God in this way, he will doubtless show us that what he does is right, and thus supply us with material for rest. Hence, also, God’s inestimable indulgence toward his people is collected, because he so deigns to render a reason, as if he wished to satisfy them. It is certain that men are carried forward into too much rashness, as often as they ask questions of God; for who will dare to oppose himself to his judgments? and who will reply to him? so Paul says. (Ro 9:20.) But God in his amazing goodness, descends even thus far, so as to render a reason of his deeds to his servants, to settle their minds, as I have said.
Grant, Almighty God, since thou didst formerly chastise thy people so harshly, that we may profit by their example; and may we be so restrained by fear of thy name and obedience to thy law, that thou mayest not pour forth thy wrath against us: then if thou chastisest us, grant that it may all turn out to our good: and may we so feel ourselves to have been sealed by thee, and to be acknowledged in the number of thy sons, until at length thou shalt gather us into that blessed inheritance which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only-begotten Son. — Amen.
Lecture Twenty fifth.
We began yesterday to explain God’s answer, when he restrains the Prophet’s feelings: for he complained of the destruction of the whole nation. There was a specious reason for it, because he thought that in this way God’s covenant was made vain. But God simply answers, that he does not exceed propriety in punishment. The question is not answered in this way: for the Prophet might still doubt how God’s covenant remained firm and yet the people was cut off. But God does not in every way untie all the knots by which we are entangled: hence he leaves us in suspense, but while he does this, he wishes to prove our modesty, for if he satisfied us altogether, there would be no proof of our obedience. But when he commands us to acquiesce in his judgment, if we do not pass beyond it, then we bear ourselves towards him as modestly as becomes us. Thus, therefore, he now answers half the question of his Prophet when he pronounces, that the sin of Jerusalem and Judah is grievous But he says, beyond measure, that the Prophet may understand that the city, together with the nation, was to be utterly destroyed, since there was no end to its wickedness. When he says, the land was filled with bloods, and the city with perverse judgments: bloods we may take for slaughters, or, generally, for all kinds of sin; for the Scripture sometimes calls atrocious crimes which deserve death, bloods, but it sometimes calls unjust slaughters so. But because God embraces all the sins of the people, I readily interpret bloods as crimes, by which those who had so often provoked his anger, brought destruction upon themselves.
It follows, because they said, Jehovah has deserted the land, Jehovah sees nothing We had a similar sentence a little before, (Eze 8:12,) and I then hinted that it was taken too coldly by interpreters, because they think that the Jews were Epicureans, who thought that God enjoyed his own ease, and did not regard human affairs. They think, therefore, that the Jews were so inebriated by a brutish contempt of God, as to think they could do as they pleased with impunity, since God was afar off: as at this time profane men allow themselves so much license, because they do not set God before their eyes, as the Scripture often says. But we said that the Prophet intended something else. For when the Jews had been often chastised, they were hardened in their sins, and when they ought to acknowledge that those punishments were justly inflicted upon them, they imagined that all things happened to them by chance; just as unbelievers reckon all events as fortuitous. Such then was the sloth of the people. God was visiting them, as he often says, that he would be known among them as a judge: when they felt God’s hand present with them, they said he was far off, because he did not succor them in their miseries, nor offer himself as a shield against their enemies. For their fathers had experienced the helping hand of God in all their dangers. Since, then, God had cast away all regard for them, and showed himself rather their enemy than the defender of their safety, they said that he was afar off. And as we saw, he had stirred up the Chaldeans, and was then proving the faithfulness of all his prophecies when he was executing what he had denounced by his servants. Now, therefore, we see in what sense they said, that God had deserted the land, because, in truth, he was not granting it any taste of his favor. But they experienced his power in another manner when he executed his punishment upon them. Why then did they not think him a just avenger when he thus chastised them? But they laid hold of one thing, that they were not so regarded by God as to be rescued from their enemies. This passage then is worthy of notice. For when God not only invites wretched men to himself, but also draws them to receive the punishment due to their sins, they are often rendered more obstinate, and fancy that God’ is afar off. Hence, therefore, it happens that they are seized with madness, and hesitate not to provoke him more boldly. This perverseness is now described when Ezekiel represents the Jews as saying, that God had deserted the land For they are unable to see in it anything more than this; for when profane men once take up the principle that they are deserted by God, they think at the same time that whatever they do escapes his notice. But this was the extreme of impiety: hence God shows, that he could no longer spare men so abandoned. And he confirms this also in the next verse when he says —
10. And as for me also, mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; but I will recompense their way upon their head.
10. Etiam ego, non parcet 208 oculus mens, et non miserebor: vias ipsorum in capita eorum reddam.
Now God pronounces the Jews to be so obstinate in their malice as to have cut off from themselves all hope of pardon. For when he now says, that he would be hostile to them without pity, he shows the necessity of taking vengeance, because their impiety had penetrated even heaven, so that he could not spare them without denying himself. And abrupt speech increases vehemence, as if God pronounced that he had changed his plans. Now then we understand the meaning of this answer, that the Jews were bound by so many and such impious crimes, that they had closed the door of God’s pity: nay, they had compelled him to the utmost pitch of vengeance, because they continued to provoke him more and more. Let us learn then from this passage not to weigh God’s judgments in our scale, because we are too much accustomed to extenuate our sins, and to treat our serious iniquities as but slight errors, because we do not attribute just honor to God as the only judge. Now when God commands his Prophet to rest and be silent, without doubt he at the same time restrains that rashness of ours by which we burst forth in disobedience when he seems to us to be too rigid. But, as I have said, we do not consider the greatness of our sins. Therefore it is God’s province alone to pronounce concerning sins, that no mortal should estimate the quality of actions, for then we trench on God’s peculiar office. It follows —
11. And, behold, the man clothed with linen, which had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me.
11. Et ecce vir indutus lineis vestibus, cui atramentarium erat in lumbis, reversus retulit dicendo, Feci quemadmodum praeceperas 209 mihi.
This sentence confirms what I said yesterday about God’s paternal anxiety towards the faithful. For the Prophet taught, before God would permit the Chaldeans to destroy the city, that an angel was sent before to succor the elect, and thus to oppose himself to the violence of the enemies: where we have said that it is shown to us as in a glass that God holds this order in his judgments, that his fatherly love towards the faithful always precedes them, so that he does not permit anything to happen to them but what tends to their safety. For this reason the angel now says, that he had done as he was commanded. Doubtless the obedience of the angel is reported to us, because it answers to the will of God. Hence, therefore, we gather that the safety of the faithful is always precious to God, and therefore they will always be safe and secure when we think heaven and earth mingled together. This then is the explanation. Now follows —
That is, “in my hearing.” — Calvin.
Some translate “they have approached” in the past tense, but the other rendering seems to me to suit better, as God commands to approach; “approach ye therefore.” — Calvin
Others translate, “visitations.” — Calvin.
We must understand, “let him have.” — Calvin.
That is, “his warlike instrument of destruction.” — Calvin.
Or, “lofty.” — Calvin
Verbally,” every man.” — Calvin
Or, “of his breaking in pieces.” — Calvin.
“In a linen garment.” — Calvin
“Or, was lifted up.” — Calvin.
“Verbally, which was above it” — Calvin.
Or, “do not touch those who bear the mark.” — Calvin.
Or, “contaminate.” — Calvin.
That is, “they made a slaughter or destruction in the city.” — Calvin.
Or, “oh!” — Calvin.
Or, “all the reliques of Israel.” — Calvin.
“For thus I interpret במאד מאד, bemad mad.” — Calvin
“Understand judgment, but it signifies simply revolt.” — Calvin.
“Them.” — Calvin.
Or, “commanded.” — Calvin.