The Visions and Oracles of the Prophet Ezekiel (3)
Biblical Research Monthly, January 1947 thru September 1950 — by Dr. David L. Cooper
- Some Preliminary Observations
- The Call and Commission of Ezekiel
- The Beginnings of Ezekiel's Ministry
- The Final Collapse of Judah Under the Babylonian Siege
- Jehovah's Withdrawal from the City and it's Downfall
- The Flight and Capture of the King Symbolically Represented and Warning Against a Wrong Attitude Concerning Prophecy
- Prophecy and Idolatry
- Israel, the Burnt Vine and the Unfaithful Wife
- The Riddle of the Two Great Eagles and the Messianic Reign of Christ
- God's Reply to the Proverb, “The Fathers have Eaten Sour Grapes, and the Children's Teeth are Set on Edge”
- The Young Lions and the Rods of Judah
- Israel's Past and Future Experiences
- The Sword of Jehovah
- Sinful Jerusalem and Her Punishment
- The Lewdness of Oholah and Oholibah
- The Boiling Caldron
- Oracles Concerning Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia
- The Oracle Concerning Tyre
- The Oracles Concerning Egypt
- The Watchman on the Wall (Chapter 33)
- The Untrue Shepherds of Israel
- The Flock of Jehovah and its Shepherd
- The Judgment upon Edom
- The Curse Removed from the Land of Israel
- Israel's Restoration to the Land of the Fathers and Her Conversion
- The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones
- The Scattered Nation of Israel Reunited under King Messiah
- The Overthrow of the Russian Forces that Invade Palestine (Chapter 38)
- The Overthrow of the Antichrist's Forces Invade Palestine (Chapter 39)
- The Millennial Jerusalem
- The Millennial Temple
- The Prince and the Glorified Millennial Temple
- The Land of Israel in the Millennium
The Beginnings Of Ezekiel's Ministry
In our former studies we have seen the call and commission of God to Ezekiel the prophet. The Son of man appeared in a theophany to Ezekiel and gave him his commission. At the same time He warned him of the character of the people to whom he was being sent. Nevertheless, he was urged to speak forth the message just as the Lord gave it to him. In the providence of God He has seen fit to convey His truth to men through the preaching of His servants. The message does not affect all the same way. To some it becomes a savor of life unto life; to others, a savor of death unto death. But it is necessary that the Word be preached in order that those who want to do God's will may have an opportunity of accepting it and in His power practicing it in their lives. On the other hand, it is essential that the truth be given those who do not wish to do the will of God in order to prepare them for the just and righteous condemnation which will fall upon them. This was made plain to the prophet. He was therefore not to seek the favor of any, but to preach the Word of God with impartiality to all.
I. Ezekiel's First Missionary Tour
In Ezekiel 3:12-15 appears the record of the prophet's going first to his field of labor. Ezekiel declared, “Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of Jehovah from his place” (3:12). It is altogether possible that the prophet was lying down and resting, when the Spirit of God entered him and made him stand upright. At the same time he heard this mighty rushing and the pronunciation of the blessedness and the glory of Jehovah. At that time he likewise heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures that supported the throne upon which the Son of man, Jehovah, was seated in the theophany, an account of which we read in chapter 1. Here again this same Son of man appeared seated upon a throne of glory. According to verse 14 the Spirit of God entered the prophet, took him away, and brought him to Tel-abib, which was on the river Chebar. Was this a literal transportation of the prophet from one place to another? If we are to accept the language at its face value, we must come to this conclusion. But this should not be thought strange by anyone who believes that Enoch was translated from earth to heaven, as we see in Genesis, chapter 5. Moreover, Elijah was taken up to glory by angelic chariots of fire. In Acts, chapter 8, we read that, “the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, for he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached the gospel to all the cities, till he came to Caesarea” (vss. 39, 40). We have every reason to believe that Philip was physically transported from one place to another by the spirit of God. It seems that the case of Ezekiel was similar to that of Philip the Evangelist. There are, however, some conservative scholars who say that the prophet was transported only in vision and not in reality. They assign their reasons for this belief, but they are not conclusive to my mind. Hence I take the language at what it says.
Ezekiel went in the bitterness of his spirit. He did not want to go. But the Lord required him and forced him to do so. There are those who do not want to go to the mission field today. No one is now being taken as was Ezekiel and transported to his field of future labor. God is calling for volunteers and is not conscripting anyone. However, it is fatal to one's spiritual interests to refuse to go when God calls. We have been saved for service. The Lord wants to use us in giving forth His message to those who have never heard.
When Ezekiel was transported to his field of labor, he sat there overwhelmed among his brethren for seven days. It seems that he was getting his bearings. When a person realizes the slow motion of the ancient East, as well as at the present time, he can understand how the prophet could remain there for seven days before engaging in his ministry. He had plenty of time to cool off and to think of the seriousness of the situation and the momentous issues that were involved in God's taking him to minister to his brethren. We are to learn a lesson from this, to meditate upon and consider every phase of our work, and to know what we are doing in order that we may make just as few mistakes as possible.
II. A Renewal of The Divine Charge
In Ezekiel 3:16-21 we read of the Lord's repeating His charge to the prophet. In giving it the Lord spoke in military terms. The language is so very forceful that I wish to quote it:
And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, 17 Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. 18 When I say unto the wicked. Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand. 19 Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity: but thou hast delivered thy soul.” (Ezekiel 3:16-19)
The Lord in this language compared the prophet to a watchman or a sentry who is on patrol duty. He had a grave responsibility and was required to give everyone warning from the mouth of Jehovah.
In verse 18 the Lord showed exactly what He meant, for He was very specific. Whenever God said to the wicked that they should die, the prophet was to give the message unvarnished — exactly as God had spoken. If the prophet failed to give the warning, the wicked would die; but the prophet would be held responsible for not giving them the warning. Men must preach the Word. They are not held responsible for results. We are to preach the Word and let God attend to the effect. Of course we delight to see results from our labors. If, on the other hand, the prophet warned the wicked and his message was unheeded, the wicked died in their sins, but the prophet was not held responsible.
Verse 20 is a most important one:
Again, when a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thy hand.”
In this verse we are told that God puts a stumbling block before the righteous man who turns from his righteousness and goes on committing iniquity. Even under those conditions the prophet was urged to give forth the warning in order that the erring man might see the gravity of his situation and might turn. Various prophets speak of the Lord's putting a stumbling block before those who are determined to go on in their own self-willed way. On this point see Ezekiel 14:1-5 and Isaiah 66:3,4.
III. The Third Appearance of The Glory of Jehovah
And the hand of Jehovah was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee. 23 Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of Jehovah stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. 24 Then the Spirit, entered into me, and set me upon my feet; and he spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thy house. 25 But thou, son of man, behold, they shall lay bands upon thee, and shall bind thee with them, and thou shalt not go out among them: 26 and I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt, be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover; for they are a rebellious house. 27 But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 3:22-27)
According to verse 22 the hand of Jehovah was again upon the prophet and He spoke to him. This expression, the hand of Jehovah, is a favorite one with Ezekiel. An examination of all the occurrences of this phrase indicates that he was simply speaking of the power of God's being upon him.
Commentators generally think that there was a little period of time between the events recorded in verses 16-21 and those in 22-27. This is quite probable. He thus engaged in this public ministry, warning all the captives just as the Lord commanded him.
In verse 23 we see the record of the Lord of glory appearing to the prophet for the third time. On this occasion the Lord said for him to go, shut, himself within his house, and not to engage in a public ministry. This fact seems to point to the conclusion mentioned by various commentators that Ezekiel carried out the commission of verses 16-22 in a public ministry. After he had completed that task, the Lord forbade his continuing such a ministry. This seems to be the probable interpretation of these verses.
According to verses 25, 26 the Lord revealed to the prophet that they, the people, would lay bands upon him, bind him with them, and that after that he should not go out among them. Moreover, he was told that his tongue would cleave to the roof of his mouth, and he would be dumb to the people so far as engaging in a public ministry was concerned. This dumbness remained until after the news of the fall of Jerusalem came to the prophet as is recorded in chapter 33:21ff.
According to verse 27 the Lord told him that, when he opened his mouth, he, the prophet, should say to Israel what had been given to him. But he was always to call their attention to the word of the Lord: “He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let, him forbear: for they are a rebellious house.” Since Ezekiel received his call in the fifth year of Jehoiachin's captivity and Jerusalem fell in the twelfth year, and since the prophet was to be dumb to the people — not engaging in any public ministry — from the time of this first initial ministry until after his tongue was loosed, we see that, in all probability, Ezekiel did not engage in a public ministry for something like six or seven years.
Though he did not go out to speak to the multitudes, nevertheless he did receive revelations and did speak to those who came and sought for advice from him in a private manner. This fact is set forth in chapters 8-24.
IV. Two Symbolic Acts
Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and portray upon it a city, even Jerusalem: 2 and lay siege against it, and build forts against it, and cast up a mound against it; set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it, round about. 3 And take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face toward it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 4:1-3)
The prophet was to take a tile and to portray on it the picture of a city that was being besieged. He was to represent forts and mounds as being thrown up around about the city. Moreover, he was to picture the camp of an opposing army that had battering rams and all kinds of implements of warfare such as were being used in that day and time. In this drawing he was to take his stand out from the city and was to place an iron pan between himself and it. He was instructed thus to depict this on the tile. In his doing this, he himself was laying siege to the city, which was Jerusalem. This representation was to be a sign to the house of Israel — a sign in that it was a pictorial, vivid, graphic representation of what would come to pass. One can look on the bas-reliefs of the monuments that have been unearthed in the various capitols of Assyria and can see carved in the stone just such a representation. These scenes by the Assyrians represented sieges of different cities that had actually been besieged and taken. But, this picture which Ezekiel was to make was to show ahead of time what was coming to Jerusalem. He, the prophet himself, was laying siege against it in that he was setting forth that which would surely come to pass.
After making this picture the prophet was instructed to lie on his side. First he was to lie on his left side for three hundred and ninety days; following that he was to lie on his right side for forty days. From the context it is very clear that these are symbolic acts. For in his lying on his left side, God was laying the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. The house of Israel here means the ten northern tribes. In his lying on his right side for forty days, he was bearing upon it the iniquity of the house of Judah.
That these were symbolic acts is evident from the fact that we are told that the days were appointed to represent years. The three hundred and ninety days signified three hundred and ninety years of the iniquity of the house of Israel. The forty days indicated the forty years of the iniquity of the house of Judah.
It is rather difficult to determine the exact meaning of the prophet's bearing the iniquity of the two houses of Israel and of Judah. Some scholars think that the three hundred and ninety days, representing three hundred and ninety years of the iniquity of the house of Israel, are to be reckoned from the disruption of the kingdom upon the death of Solomon to the overthrow of the northern kingdom; and the forty days, representing the forty years of Judah's iniquity, were the last forty years of the kingdom of Judah. I am inclined to this position, although I shall not be dogmatic in regard to it.
It is clear from the record that the iniquity of Israel was far greater and more prolonged than that, of Judah, but Judah's forty years of sin and iniquity were aggravated by the fact that they had more light and opportunities than the northern kingdom had. God punishes sin. Wrongdoing must be expiated by punishment. This is a general principle, as all will acknowledge. Thus God was righteous and just in bringing punishment upon these two kingdoms for their iniquities.
Throughout the four hundred and thirty days during which the prophet was lying on both sides, he was to eat his food and drink his water according to measure. Thus, in 4:9-17 specific instructions were given to him as to how much food he should take and what sort it should be, together with the proper amount of water he should take each day. Moreover, he was told to prepare his food in a certain way. But the prophet protested and begged earnestly that he be permitted to prepare it in another way, which request was granted. The Lord took into consideration the feelings and the desires of his faithful servant.
Upon Ezekiel 4:4-8 and Numbers 14:34 is built what is known as the year-day theory. In substance this hypothesis assumes the following position to be correct: A day in prophecy always foreshadows a year in history. Upon this theory is based great chronological schemes. Jews and Christians have adopted this method in order to unravel the future, but all of these efforts which have been based upon the year-day theory have failed.
It is true that, in these symbolic acts of Ezekiel, each day he lay upon his side represented a year in actual history, but it seems that these days symbolized years that were already passed. Israel's iniquity had already been committed and so had Judah's, and they had been and were still being punished. Thus Ezekiel, chapter 4, does not lend itself and its support to this theory. God said to Israel when she refused to enter the land of Canaan at Kadesh-barnea that they would have to wander around in the wilderness for forty years. The statement is made that, as the twelve messengers spied out the land of Canaan for forty days and the people acted upon the advice of the ten unfaithful spies, the nation would have to wander around in the wilderness for forty years — a year for a day. This historical account is used as proof of the year-day theory. It is true that, in this instance, the prophet was looking forward to the forty years of wilderness wandering, but there was a natural basis upon which this statement was made. It took forty years for that disobedient, rebellious generation to die off and for the new generation to arise to take its place. Thus we can see the appropriateness of the statement, a year for a day.
Let us assume that the year-day theory is correct and apply it to some other instances of Scripture. For example, let us look at Genesis 15:13,14:
And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.”
Here we are told that Abraham's seed (Isaac and his descendants) would be under foreign domination and slavery and that after four hundred years, they would come forth from this slavery. We know that this referred to Israel's being under Egyptian rule, and that their coming forth indicated their leaving the land of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, and their coming into the land of Canaan, out of which God would cast the seven nations dwelling therein. At the casting out of Ishmael from the family circle of Abraham and the adoption of Isaac as the seed, we may count a four-hundred-year period, which terminated with Israel's coming forth out of Egyptian bondage under Moses. Let us suppose that the year-day theory is correct and apply it to this instance. Then we must multiply four hundred years by 365¼, since there are 365¼ days in a year, and consider that Israel is in servitude to Egypt for that period — 146,000 years for Israel to be under Egyptian domination. Now this is absurd. Thus the application of this so-called year-day theory makes an absurdity, which is contrary to all facts and all reason, out of this passage.
Again, let us apply this theory to the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity. Accordingly Israel would not be in Babylonian captivity for seventy years, but would be there 25,567½ years. The record says that they would be there seventy years only. We know also from the accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah that, at the end of the seventy-year period, Zerubbabel, the prince of the house of David, and Joshua, the high priest, led back to the land of their fathers those captives who wished to return to their native soil. Thus, in applying this so-called principle to concrete cases, we see that the passages are reduced to absurdities.
But many of those who believe in this theory (and they are honest, good, sincere men of God) turn to Daniel, chapter 9, and find there positive proof for it. They call our attention to the fact that the angel Gabriel said to Daniel that there were seventy weeks determined upon the holy city and upon Daniel's people (the Jewish race) for the bringing in of six things, which will characterize the Millennial Age. These weeks are interpreted as periods of seven days, literal days. The initial date of this period under discussion begins with the issuing of the decree to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem. The end of the 69th week is the year when Messiah is cut off and has nothing. Or, from the issuing of the decree for the rebuilding of Jerusalem to the cutting off of the Messiah are 483 days of this prophecy. But those that adopt the year-day theory say that there were not 483 days but exactly 483 years. Then they turn to the year 444 (5) B.C., which was the twentieth year of Artaxerxes when Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, they count from that time to 32 A.D., and figure 483 years to the very day. Thus they say that though the angel Gabriel spoke in terms of days, he meant years since the year-day theory is the true principle upon which prophecy is written. Spoken of in engineering terms, the years are scaled down to days. Draftsmen in making blueprints draw their plans according to scale. Sometimes a quarter of an inch on the diagram represents a foot of the project for which the plans are drawn. Thus we are told that God's blueprint of prophetic times is drawn to the scale of a year for a day. Daniel, chapter 9, is used as positive proof of this position. Is this correct?
My answer to this query is a most emphatic denial. Let us remember as we approach this question that “a text apart from its context is a pretext.” We therefore must look at the context to determine what is meant by a week. A glance at verses 1 and 2 shows that Daniel the prophet was reading the prophecy of Jeremiah which foretold the seventy years of Babylonian captivity of Israel. He understood that the prediction found in Jeremiah, chapters 25 and 29, when studied in the light of “the books” meant the number of years of the desolation of Jerusalem, namely, seventy. Thus he understood that seventy years of these prophecies meant seventy years — nothing more, nothing less. Then he began to pray about Israel's condition, for it then was the 68th year of the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity. In answer to his prayer the angel Gabriel came and told him that he had been sent from God to give him wisdom and understanding. Daniel therefore was urged by the angel to give heed to what he was about to tell him. Thus Gabriel said, in substance, to Daniel: Daniel, there are seventy sevens decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy people. The word that is rendered week in the English Version simply means seven. Daniel had been thinking about a period of seventy years. He was thinking and praying about Israel's restoration. He did not understand the prophecy fully. This is seen by the fact that the angel was dispatched to give him wisdom and understanding — wisdom and understanding in the things which he had been studying. Hence he had not arrived at the correct conclusion with reference to the prophecy. Gabriel therefore said that there were seventy-sevens decreed upon Jerusalem and upon the holy people. The question immediately arises, Seventy sevens of what? The answer is: Seventy sevens of the things about which he had been reading, thinking, and praying. About what had he been reading and praying? Verse 2 tells us, namely, years. The Babylonian captivity lasted for one period of seventy years. But this great period of exile for Israel and of foreign servitude is not to be a period of seventy times one year, but seventy times seven years, or 490 years. Thus the seventy weeks should have been rendered seventy sevens. Then we can understand what the angel meant — that he was talking about years. The seventy sevens are seventy sevens of years. This passage, therefore, lends no support to the theory that a day in prophecy foreshadows a year in history.
In conclusion, let me call attention to The Golden Rule of Interpretation which is this:
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”
The reader should by all means turn to the article under the Laws of Interpretation in this issue and study the discussion of The Golden Rule of Interpretation. If it is followed, then many, many unnecessary errors and wrong conclusions in the interpretation of the Scriptures will be avoided.