When Tragedy Hits Home

This chapter brings to culmination a statement of judgment on Jerusalem. After this, Ezekiel will say no more until a fugitive from the collapse shows up in Babylon. Chapters 19-23 describe the history of Israel’s rebellion and the amazing intensification of gross idolatry, immorality, injustice, disregard for life, sacrifice of children, and alliances with godless nations. It contains prophecies of thorough judgment, an amazing scenario of divine intensity in pursuing the punishment of unfaithful people. The depths of the perversity of the rebellion of the people remaining in Jerusalem staggers one’s moral sensitivities, assaults the conscience, and bewilders the mind. The description of divine outrage is truly amazing.

I. Verses 1-14 – Jerusalem now under siege,

A. Verses 1, 2 – Ezekiel is told that Jerusalem is under siege on the day that this prophecy is given. He is to record the day on which he learned this, so that all would know that his information came from God, with the intention that they would know his prophecy also came from God

B. Verses 3-12 – This parable of a boiling pot accomplishes two things

It reverses the mantra of 11:3 in which the leaders used the image of a pot and boiling meat to indicate safety and security. At that time (11:7, 11) God told them that the cauldron would have quite another effect than providing protection, but would become the evidence of their corruption and the preparation for their destruction.

These verses show that evil is so bound up in the heart of the people of Jerusalem, that all of God’s providential arrangements, the purges already performed, and the prophecies about coming destruction issued with calls for repentance had not moved them at all. They are blind to their desperate sinfulness, their disregard for God’s holiness, his law, and even civil injustice is blatant and unhidden. Like the scum that boils out of a piece of meat in a stew and left in the pot as the pot continues to cook over hot coals with nothing in it, corruption has become annealed to their very being. They are now past the point of repentance. God will give no more remedies nor opportunities and will execute judgment “till I have satisfied my fury upon you.” (13)

II.  A Costly example –

A. 15a – God tells Ezekiel that he going to take the life of his wife

Even as he did with Abraham when he asked him to offer Isaac (Genesis 22:1, 2), God speaks of Ezekiel’s wife in terms of tender love (“the delight of your eyes). The wife was a gift to Ezekiel, to be a help to him, a comfort to him, a source of joy and pleasure. His task was difficult and she provided him at lest one source of earthly delight.

This would happen suddenly; Ezekiel knew it was going to happen, and with the certainty of the unrelenting judgment to come to Jerusalem, so was it certain that Ezekiel’s wife would be gone.

B. 15b-18 – God Tells Ezekiel how he is to conduct himself after this stroke of death

God forbad him to engage in normal human response to such a loss, and said he could not mourn nor weep. The response of Aaron to the death of Nadab and Abihu when God’s fire consumed them upon their offering unauthorized fire before the Lord is similar. “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.“ And Aaron held his peace.’ Leviticus 10:2, 3)

None of the physical manifestations were to be visible (no tears were to come down his cheek) so that the people would see this as a strange kind of resignation to such a wrenching loss.

God was not requiring Ezekiel to become less than human for he allowed him to “sigh, but not aloud.” That he would feel this deeply was to be expected, and that internally he could lament the loss, God approved; but no external sense of loss or resistance to providence was to be manifest.

He was not to dress for mourning nor to respond to any recognition on the part of others to his loss, He was not to go with bare feet, but to put on shoes. He was not to wear any kind of veil that indicated sorrow but to put on his head wear. He was not to receive any food from others, if they sought to give tokens of consolation in his loss.

During that day, he spoke in the morning to the people and in the evening his wife died. In the faithful performance of his calling, God removed his wife.

C. The symbolism of this severe example

The first gift to man was a wife that he might not be alone with no other creature fit for fellowship with him. This taking of his wife is thus symbolic of God’s removal of all mercy and concern for the well-being of this generation. He has abandoned them to the brutality of the beasts of this world among whom Adam found none fit for him. Verse 21:31 said, “I will deliver you into the hands of brutish men, skillful to destroy.”

Nothing was more dear to Ezekiel from an earthly standpoint in the trials of this exile than the presence and sympathy of his wife. This represented the loss of any remnant of hope for Ezekiel, the removal of any symbol that God still had the intention of restoring the relationship with this generation of his people. In the midst of the pronouncements of judgment in the preceding chapters, God had made his declaration of a time when he would restore them and make them holy (20:37, 38, 40-44), but not this generation. There must first be a mighty display of wrath. If the prophet has lost his wife, then how thorough will be the divine removal of all that an unfaithful people treasure?

God called himself the husband of Israel and in the day when he would get for himself a redeemed people he said, “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:19,20). That betrothal would not be this generation, but they would experience utter abandonment.

Jesus calls the church his bride (Ephesians 5:25-27) and the final union of the church with Christ in heavenly purity is put forth in the scene of a wedding (Revelation 19:6-9). This strike on Ezekiel’s wife symbolized that the depths of redemptive love were to be absent from this generation and how many following was not revealed.

III. .The Message delivered

A. Verse 19 – The people inquire as to what Ezekiel’s conduct means in the face of this loss. This group of exiles had been removed from Jerusalem for their protection; they knew that this prophetic action symbolized something new in the developments in Jerusalem.

B. Ezekiel interprets the siege of Jerusalem.

As Ezekiel has lost his wife, so the exiles were to know that their power and delight and yearning was now taken away. The sanctuary that they so reveled in from a purely ceremonial standpoint was being destroyed. Their sons and daughters remaining in Jerusalem were being killed and scattered.

We should not miss the profundity of their loss of these things being exemplified by Ezekiel’s loss of his wife. God was taking from them the most vital symbol of the presence of God with them and showing in the most plain way possible that they did not love him and that he would abandon them. He had promised that he showed “mercy to thousands that love me and keep my commandments.” They did not love Him and he had no obligation nor any covenantal commitment to show mercy to them.

They were to do as Ezekiel and show no signs of mourning, for the loss is of nothing. It is only the removal of corruption and foulness, inseparably precious to them but only putrefaction of soul in the eyes of God. Their only response is quiet resolution to soak in their own iniquities and realize that the wrath placed visibly and with external fury on Jerusalem rests on them also.: “You shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another.”

IV. Verses 25-27 – Ezekiel will speak no more to the people or about Jerusalem until the siege is accomplished and the news reaches those in exile [33:22].

A. When all that God has said concerning the removal of all that is dear to the people has come to pass, a fugitive will come and report what has been done.

B. Ezekiel again will speak about Jerusalem. That he knew when the attack began and that he knew what would be done will be clear. That his message came from God will not be doubted. “So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord.”

V. Sober Reflection

A. All deaths are meaningful. All lives are God’s and their meaning is under the power of his intentions. Ezekiel was told precisely when his wife would die and how he was to negotiate the event as a message from God. We seldom have that kind of precision of knowing how such events fit the plan of God, but all will be, in the end, intricately woven into a display of the holiness, justice, goodness, righteousness, mercy and grace of God. No part of all the things that have existed, especially that part of existence that bears the divine image itself, will be absent meaning in that great manifestation of divine wisdom in the final day when history closes.

B. Human sinfulness, left unchecked by effectual divine intervention, will proceed on a decline to embrace the most wretched behavior imaginable. Wickedness is so attached to our natures in their fallen state that nothing within us will halt the moral decline.

C. Mercy is a pure gratuity and not in any sense obligatory on the part of God. His intervention will be for purposes of his own and for the manifestation of his glorious holiness. Our gratitude to God for acting so decisively and with such invincible certainty in grace to redeem a people through his son should overflow in every aspect of our lives. If we have been forgiven of sin and united to Christ, our husband, praise and gratitude can never cease.

D. This text delivers a striking example of the perfect integration of human responsibility in culpability for sin and absolute divine sovereignty in both punishment and redemption.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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