1) Ezekiel 18:23,

(4.) And now, having repudiated the false imagination of the people, as to the innocent suffering for the guilty, and asserted anew the great principle of God s impartiality in dealing with each according to his desert, the prophet comes to his last hypothetical case–the case, namely, of a supposed change, not, as hitherto, in the character of one generation as compared with another, but in the character of one and the same individual, from bad to good and from good to bad. This was more especially the practical case for the persons here addressed by the prophet, and therefore he reserved it to the last; as it enabled him to shut them up to the alternative of either abandoning at once their sinful ways, or of charging upon their own hardened impenitence all that they might still experience of the troubles and afflictions that pressed upon them. For the message here is, that so far from laying to men s charge the burden of iniquities that had been committed by others, the Lord would not even visit them for their own, if they sincerely repented and turned to the way of righteousness; while on the other hand, if they should begin to fall away into transgression, they must not expect their earlier goodness to screen them from judgment,–because in that case, having taken up with a new condition, it was just and proper that a corresponding change should be introduced into the Divine procedure toward them: “If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? says the Lord Jehovah, and not that he turn from his way and live? But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked does, shall he live? Nothing of all his righteousness that he has done shall be remembered: in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them shall he die.”

What a beautiful simplicity and directness in the statement! It is like the lawgiver anew setting before the people the way of life and the way of death, and calling upon them to determine which of the two they were inclined to choose. Then, what a moving tenderness in the appeal, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? says the Lord God.” You think of me as if I were a heartless being, indifferent to the calamities that be fall my children, and even delighting to inflict chastisement on them for sins they have not committed. So far from this, I have no pleasure in the destruction of those who by their own transgressions have deserved it, but would rather that they turn from their ways and live. Thus he presents himself as a God of holy love,–love yearning over the lost condition of his wayward children, and earnestly desiring their return to peace and safety,–yet still exercising itself in strict accordance with the principles of righteousness, and only, in so far as these might admit, seeking the good of men. For however desirous to secure their salvation, he neither can nor will save them, except in the way of righteousness.

The people, however, being still wedded to their own sinfulness, continued as before to find fault; and, looking superficially to the outward diversity that appeared in God s dealings with men, they raised the objection, “The way of the Lord is not equal.” An outward inequality the prophet, indeed, had admitted; it was the very design of his expostulation to prove that such must have place according to the varying conditions of those with whom he had to do; but only so as to establish a real equality in a moral point of view. Therefore the prophet turns the accusation against the people themselves: “Hear, now, O house of Israel! is not my way equal? Are not your ways unequal?” My way is equal, he virtually affirms, because I deal with the guilty backslider and the penitent transgressor, each according to his behavior–the one as deserving of death, the other as a proper subject of life and blessing. But your ways are unequal, since, living in idolatry and corruption, you expect to be dealt with as if you were following the paths of uprightness.

3. Therefore, finally, having driven the people from all their false imaginations and captious objections–having shut them up to the conclusion, that as they were in a depressed and suffering, they must also be in a sinful condition, the prophet closes his expostulation by urging them to repent and turn from all their unrighteous ways, that so they might not perish in their sins: “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one ac cording to his ways, says the Lord God. Return, and come back from all your transgressions, and iniquity shall not be your ruin (more properly: and iniquity shall not be for a snare to you, the occasion of restraining you from good, and entangling you in ruin). Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit; and why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, says the Lord Jehovah; but turn ye, and live.”

The charge is given to the whole house of Israel; for the people, as a whole, are regarded by the prophet as in a state of apostasy and alienation from God. And it was no slight or partial reformation that was needed to restore them to the favor and blessing of God, but an entire and radical change. There fore they are called upon not only to repent and cast away their transgressions, but also to get possession of a new heart and a new spirit, nay, even to make such to themselves, as if it were a matter that lay within the compass of their own responsible agency. This has an appearance of strangeness, as already, in chap, xi., and again in chap, xxxvi., the imparting of such a new heart and spirit is represented as the great boon which at some future period they were to receive from the grace and mercy of God. Nor, indeed, is there anything more clearly announced, or more frequently stated in the word of God, than that a re generated condition can only be reached through the quickening power of his grace; he must himself be the author of this new creation, wherever it is brought into being, as he was at first of the old. But why then should God call upon men to make to themselves a new heart, seeing he alone is able to produce it 1 Does not such a call but seem to mock men’s impotence, or to beget in them false expectations? By no means. It was rather intended to set before them what was necessary to rectify their state in so strong and startling a manner, that from the very height of the requirement they would despair of themselves, and betake to the promised grace of God. For, as Calvin justly remarks, “it must always be considered for what end God speaks in such a manner, viz. that being convinced of their sinfulness, men may cease to lay the blame elsewhere, as they constantly endeavor to do, there being nothing to which we are more prone than shifting the ground of our condemnation away to some other quarter, that we ourselves may seem to be just, and God unjust. Therefore, because this perversity is prevalent among men, the Holy Spirit demands of us what no man can deny he ought to do, And so far as regards God s elect people, when he shows what they ought to do, and what they are conscious they can never of themselves perform, they then have recourse to the promised aid of the Spirit; so that the outward command becomes the occasion or instrument which God employs for conferring the grace of his Spirit….As often, therefore, as such passages meet us, let the well-known saying of Augustine come to our mind, ‘Da quod jules, et jube quod velis’ (give what thou requires, and require what thou pleases). For otherwise, if God should lay upon us the least tittle of commanded duty, we shall not be able to bear it; while, on the other hand, our strength shall suffice for whatever he may exact of us, if only he himself shall give the supply, and we shall not be so foolish as to suppose that nothing more is demanded in his precepts than what we have power in ourselves to do.”

Such, then, is the case which the prophet presses on the covenant-people as the result of this long and earnest expostulation with their sinfulness. The Lord demands of them a renovated condition a heart that should dispose them to yield a sincere and ready obedience to his commandments. Never till such a spiritual change was effected could they expect his judgments to be turned into blessings. Never could they hope to see and reap the accomplishment of that promise of renewed prosperity at the close of the preceding chapter, according to which the little twig of the Lord s planting was to become a mighty tree, with fowl of every wing lodging in its branches. And never can the Church of God in any age justly expect to be safe and prosperous in her condition, and to be a fit instrument in the hand of the Lord for executing his righteous purposes, till she becomes possessed through all her members of such a spirit of obedience as shall prompt her to embrace heartily his Divine will, and keep the way of his commandments. Oh! need we wonder, when we see how little this is really possessed, that the flow of the Divine goodness should be arrested, and that we should seem so often to be dwelling among the tombs, instead of basking, as we should be, in the sunshine of life and blessing? In how many forms is the controversy still maintained with the righteousness of God? and with all her privileges of grace, how far is the Church of Christ, either individually or collectively, from the measure of perfection that ought to be reached? How much cause still for the prayer, Turn us again, Lord God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved! Re kindle in the bosoms of thy people the love of holiness, which so sadly languishes and droops; and let not iniquity and death prevail, where only righteousness and blessing should be found! Patrick Fairbairn, Ezekiel and the Book of His Prophecy: An Exposition (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1876), 198-202. [Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.]

2) Ezekiel 33:11,

1. In regard to the first part of the communication that which we suppose to have been made to the prophet on the preceding night there is no need to dwell at any length, as it consists of representations which have already in substance passed under our notice. The first nine verses exhibit anew the prophet s calling and office, under the same character in which it was presented at the outset, in chap. iii. 16-21, as that of a spiritual watchman; only here the description commences with a detailed account of the responsibilities and duties of such an office, when it has respect merely to common evils, and when the person exercising it is the delegate simply of his fellow-men. This distinct reference to human affairs, and minute delineation of a watchman s calling, is doubtless introduced for the purpose of impressing upon those with whom Ezekiel had to do the paramount importance of faithfulness in the discharge of his ministerial function. For who does not know that faithfulness is the one grand prerequisite in him who is chosen to do the part of a watchman in times of peril or alarm? He must have his eye intent simply on the realities of things, whether these may be agreeable or not to men s feelings; nay, all the more intent on these the more they are fraught with danger and distress; that those for whom he watches may learn from him the true position of affairs, and know how to provide against the coming evil. For such an one to slumber at his post, or to conceal the danger he descries, is to incur the highest guilt; as, on the other hand, for them to neglect and slight the faithful warning, is to exhibit the most reckless folly. Now the people had only to transfer such reflections from the earthly to the spiritual region, in order to acquit Ezekiel in the judgment of their own minds, and condemn themselves. He had received, not from man, but from God, the charge to do the part of a watchman to his countrymen; so that faithfulness was pre-eminently required of him. Nor had it been wanting. He had most zealously and devotedly done his part. He had sounded the trumpet of alarm over every cause of disquietude, and at every appearance of danger; but it was only to deaf ears and incredulous hearts. The dreaded calamities had come, sending multitudes to destruction, and involving all in the deep waters of affliction and sorrow. The blood of souls to a fearful extent has been incurred but not on the part of the prophet; his hands are clean; it rests upon the head of the people themselves.

But now that the worst has come, is there nothing more to be done? Has the office of Heaven s watchman ceased when the cloud of Heaven s vengeance has burst on the guilty? Has he no commission to speak to those who are sinking under the stroke of judgment the miserable remnant that have escaped absolute destruction, but are still shivering on the brink of ruin? Yes; and it is here that a new sphere of labor presents itself to the prophet, and that a new call comes to him to enter on it. “Therefore, O thou son of man,” or rather, as it literally is, “And thou, son of man,” since by thy past watchings and warnings thou hast but delivered thy own soul, and the children of thy people are involved in the just desert of their sins, “say to the house of Israel, Thus ye speak, saying, For our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; and how should we live? Say to them, As I live, says the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; and why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (vers. 10, 11.).

A yearning tenderness here manifests itself, still seeking, not withstanding all that has taken place, the return of those who survived to the way of peace. But with that tenderness, what a stern and unflinching holiness! There can be no relaxation or abatement mentioned in respect to this, not even amid the meanings of pain and cries of distress which arose from the people, no return to life possible but through a return to righteousness. God is anxious, as a kind and affectionate parent, to see them restored to a happy and prosperous condition; he would not have them ignorant of that. But they must also know that in God s sight there was a higher thing still, which he could on no account sacrifice for the sake of the other; he must maintain in his dealings with them the honor of his authority and the rectitude of his government; and only if they turn from their wicked ways, can he turn from his fierce displeasure. Here, therefore, stands the one door-way of escape; and the prophet, in entering upon the second department of his ministerial calling, must begin by reiterating the message with which he entered on the first (chap. iii. 18-21), and which he had also subsequently repeated and enlarged upon (chap, xviii.) the message, namely, that each should be dealt with according to his ways. The righteousness of the righteous should not deliver him if he turned aside to transgression; but neither would the wickedness of the wicked prove his destruction, if he sincerely repented of his sins and laid hold of the covenant of God. These are God s terms now, as they have been all along; the Lord s servant has no other to offer; and if they are not concurred in, recovery is impossible.

There was something too, especially since matters had come to the worst, in the individual and personal character of God s communication to the prophet. It not only disclosed the righteous nature in general of the Divine administration, but the close adaptation of its righteousness to each particular case; the righteous, the wicked the righteous lapsed into a transgressor, the wicked reclaimed from the paths of transgression each according to their state and conduct were to receive at the hands of God. The people, therefore, must be done with the imagination that outward political changes were to avail them much; that their fortunes were to be determined, as it were, in the lump; and that it should matter little what they might be in their single and separate conditions. But on the other hand, every encouragement was held out to the penitent and believing; as it was God s settled purpose to distinguish in his dealings between the righteous and the wicked, and so to do it that such as were inclined to submit to the righteousness of God might be sure it would go well with them whether in Chaldea or in Canaan they at least should be made to experience the loving-kindness of God. Patrick Fairbairn, Ezekiel and the Book of His Prophecy: An Exposition (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1876), 358-361.  [Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.]

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