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Nebuchad- nezzar attacks Tyre. First Return of Jews under Zerubbabel. Ezra reads the Law at Jerusalem. Chronology prefers the dates See also note on i. First Cycle of Threats. Second Cycle of Threats. Third Cycle of Threats. The End at Hand! The Fall of the Nations. The puribtcation of israel, Jan. The Re- storation and Final Deliverance. The Ordering of the Nation. In the first half of the book the order of chapters is strictly chronological ; in the group of prophecies against the nations the order is broken by chap, xxvi ; xxxiii. The subject headings belong to the sections intervening between the dates actually given.
The book cf Ezekiel is generally considered to be one of the most difficult in the Bible ; it is certainly one of the most interesting. At the centre of the development of Israelite history and religion stand the prophets; at the centre of the goodly fellowship of the prophets stands Ezekiel. The religious thought and activity of Israel is full of contrasts ; the contrast between prophet and priest, the messages which they brought to the nation and the principles for which they stood ; the contrast between their ideals for the nation and for the individual, and the consequent differences in their thoughts of God, the soul, and the world ; the contrast between the speaker and the writer, and between the preacher who directs himself to the needs of the present, and the seer who projects his gaze to the day of the final consumma- tion of God's righteousness ; the contrast between the philosophic interpretation of national history and the in- spired outbursts of religious emotion ; — all these contrasts meet in Ezekiel, at once priest and prophet, inspirer of a nation and pastor of individual souls, the preacher to expectant audiences and the writer for future generations.
Keenly conscious of the needs of the present, he elabo- rates a surprisingly detailed plan for an ideal service of God, and at the same time, plunging still deeper into the future, he forms for all future ages their conception of the final judgement. In each case Ezekiel marks the transi- tion from one principle to the other, and in each case the B 2 4 EZEKIEL study of Ezekiel shows that there is no gap in the history in which these contrasts are contained — only an orderly and necessary development.
It is not too much to say that Ezekiel holds the Old Testament together, and we shall see reason to believe that he, of all Old Testament writers, binds the old dispensation most closely to the new. Smith, ' is the most influential man that we find in the whole course of Hebrew history ' ; he emphasizes, while he bridges, the break between the older Israelitism of the past and the Judaism of the future. The conceptions of religion which he pre- dicted for the later generations of his countrymen were actually theirs. All that was noble among the later Jews was the gift of Ezekiel, handed down by him as a legacy from the earlier ages, and transformed by him so as to persist under the changed conditions ; and all that was evil in the Pharisaism that rejected Paul's gospel and slew the Lord of Glory rose from a misunderstanding of the truths which it was given to Ezekiel to expound.
More interesting, however, than his writings and his importance for the development of Jewish thought is his own personality. We have the materials for knowing Ezekiel better than any other man in the Old Testament ; perhaps, with the single exception of Paul, better than any man in the whole Bible. The great characters of earlier history leave us with the problem of separating what later ages thought about them from what they were themselves ; the writers of the prophetic, as of the apos- tolic age, leave us with equally difficult problems as to the time, order, and occasion of their writings — of our only data, that is to say, for becoming acquainted with the men themselves.
But in the case of Ezekiel these problems are hardly suggested. We have a series of writings to which for the most part dates are carefully attached, and which reveal an orderly connexion both with one another and with the course of their author's thought and experi- ences. The writings of Jeremiah have strangely and almost hopelessly lost their chronologi- cal sequence.
Even the 'minor' prophets reveal themselves as compilations of different times and often of different authors. At first sight, the impression left by reading Ezekiel is disappointing and even repellent.
All that is best in him seems borrowed from Jeremiah ; all the rest nothing more than the product of a mind unable to separate the kernel of true religion from the husk of formula and ritual. But closer study reveals the opposite. What seemed mere enthusiasm for ritual now shows itself as a scrupulous and earnest conscientiousness, to which every command of God is important, simply because it is from God ; which feels a single infringement of the law to be a breaking of the whole, and which is perfectly familiar with the truth, still only half learnt, that in religion the bodily and the mental, the inner and the outer, must for ever influence and react on one another.
Joined to this scrupulous conscientiousness in Ezekiel, though not always found in connexion with it elsewhere, is a strong and at times overwhelming passionateness of nature. There are no passages more fully charged with emotion in the whole range of literature than are to be found in the Old Testament, unless we except some of the burning words of our Lord ; but not even Jeremiah himself, tempestuous as are his outbursts of rage or despair, has surpassed the sustained invective against the sinful and adulterous nation in chapter'xvi, or the fierce triumph ' Zunz and Volz, who have connected the book with the Persian and the Maccabean periods respectively, have not succeeded in attracting; any wide attention.
See also note on xxxviii With Ezekiel the passion does not always lie on the surface ; he checks it, struggles to keep the upper hand, so to speak, proceeds as if he were quite calm ; and then he is suddenly mastered by the almost concjuered foe and carried away. The priestly and ritualistic element in his nature, strange to say, only makes this passion the more intense ; for in him, as we shall see, sin does not merely rouse a moral indignation, as in Isaiah or Juvenal or Carlyle ; it fills him with a sense of almost physical repulsion ; with a loathing and horror that control for the time his whole being, and inspire him with a kind of fury towards those who prac- tice or even tolerate it ; a fury whose expression some- times all but oversteps what are to us the limits even of decency, and equalled only by the ' sacred rage ' of Dante.
This leads us naturally to another side of Ezekiel's nature, his sensitiveness. Here too we find the same only half successful attempt at self-repression.
Like Jeremiah, he must contemplate and foretell the ruin of all he loves best on earth ; like Jeremiah, he must steel himself against the frowns and angry remonstrances of his hearers ; unlike Jeremiah, he feels himself forbidden to express his grief. Like the other prophets he knows that his message will constantly be rejected; more than that, his prophecies do not always come literally true. The descriptions of the shameless careers of Israel and Judah as loose and profligate women are not more remarkable for their vigour and passion than for their freshness and incisiveness of detail.
The roll-call of the allies of Tyre, and the parade of the armies of the dead in the underworld, show precisely the same sense of the individual in subordination to the whole ; the scenes of idolatrous worship in the temple, as Ezekiel describes them, possess a vividness which only a master of expression would have flung into so few words ; the details of the theophany at the beginning of the book, as contrasted with the vagueness in the corresponding passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah, are certainly very much more than otiose elaboration ; and the last nine chapters, with their persistent emphasis on small and accurate measurements, are felt after a time to be the carefully chosen means for producing a total impression of clearness and artistic insight, perhaps otherwise unattainable.
To this must be added an almost more fascinating ele- ment in the problem of Ezekiel's character. It would appear that there runs through all the prophet's activities, at least in the earlier period, a strain of mental abnormality — perhaps of actual malady. By some writers, notably by Klostermann, this has been supposed to be a form of catalepsy. The various arguments in support of this view will be discussed in the notes. In any case, he would appear to be gifted with those powers of passing ' over the threshold ' which a great ' xxiv.
As Smend says, the whole book is the ' logical development of a series of thoughts on a carefully elaborated and schematic plan ; nothing can be removed without disarranging the whole. It is greatest in expressing the passionate feelings of the moment ; we see it at its best and most characteristic in some of the Psalms, or in the lyrical outbursts in Job or in the Prophets ; sustained feeling is seldom met with.
There are indeed long passages of fine rhetoric or narra- tive to be found in Deuteronomy or in Kings ; but the passages are for the most part complete in themselves ; the inspiration pulses for a time, and then appears to cease. Ezekiel is free from this intermittentness. It is true that he occasionally rises to great heights, and then falls again ; but on closer inspection there is always reason, both for the rise and for the fall ; each has a special fitness in relation to its context.
More than any other Hebrew writer, Ezekiel is the architect of his composition. Again, all Hebrew literature evidences a distinct fond- ness for compilation and a reverence for what is written. That the historical books are compilations is well known ; and it is probable that the same tendency has had very much to do with the present form of most parts of the Old Testament. Ezekiel is in this respect completely different, alike from the Prophets and the Law. Independently of the visions in i-iii and xl five ecstasies are mentioned, viii. I, xxxiii 22, xxxvii.
Indeed, an analysis of the structure of the book shows compilation to be out of the question. Not only isx the style unmistakable ; the book as a whole falls into two equal parts, each of which is divided and subdivided, every part preparing for what immediately follows, and reminding us of the ordered symmetry of a cathedral. Cornill and others have rightly laid stress on the symmetry of the whole book, as striking as that of the ideal temple with whose description the book closes ; a description which Cornill has suggestively called the spire by which the whole cathedral is crowned.
This is just what we should expect from what has been already observed. Few epithets have been thought too severe for it ;— formal and even formulistic, turgid and overloaded, lacking the fire of Isaiah, the stern brevity of Amos, the pathos of Hosea or Jeremiah, the grandeur of the second Isaiah ; has he, some have even asked, any poetic power at all?
Smend, who finds him at times an ' infelicitous imitator of older prophets,' sees but little inspiration even in Ezekiel's characteristic dirge-songs. But there can be no doubt that his literary powers are very marked. The style is imaginative in the highest degree. Doubt- less an English reader may find some difficulty in fully realizing this ; yet the finest imagery in the Revelation is borrowed from Ezekiel. The vision of Yahweh's chariot growing in clearness and complexity out of the storm cloud in the north, the picture of Nebuchadnezzar at the ' R.
Moulton finds in the Old Testament a literary characteristic, whereby the most important part of a section is placed in the precise centre, like the keystone of an arch. This may certainly be observed in Ezekiel. Moulton finds the same principle also in Shakespeare's plays, where the turning-point invariably occurs in the middle scene of the middle act: In any case, in point of style, as in so much else, Ezekiel stands midway in the development of the thought and activity of his people.
We should be unjust to Ezekiel if we did not mention at this point another characteristic ; his surprisingly varied use of simile and allegory, parable and symbol. But Ezekiel's use of the emblem is far more elaborate than that of his predecessors. Now he carries out some lengthy symbolical action — so lengthy that we wonder if ' Cf.
What is really indescribable ;— this is the burden of the whole prophecy. For Ezekiel lives in a world of thoughts that ' break through language and escape. Benson, on Walter Pater. Schiller wished to learn Hebrew that he might read Ezekiel in the original ; Victor Hugo places Ezekiel, with Homer, Aeschylus, Juvenal, and others, in ' the avenue of the immoxable giants of the luiman mind.
Ezekiel's central position is equally noteworthy when we turn to the historical conditions of his life. The exile was the period in which the Jewish nation seemed to stand between two worlds, ' one dead, one powerless to be born. Even the other great prophet of the exile, vastly more familiar as he is to most people to-day, had far less influence, as far as we can see, either on the Jews of the exile, or on their successors who returned to Palestine, than the exiled priest who lived among them by the river Chebar.
Rightly to appreciate the significance of Ezekiel's work, it must be remembered that the exile was the centre and not the end of the history of Israel. When Samaria was captured in , Judah was already a vassal state of Assyria. Before the long reign of his successor had ended, the days of Assyria were numbered.
Perhaps under Isaiah's influence, Hezekiah had carried through some measures of religious reform ; during Manasseh's reign these were swept away before a flood-tide of idolatry and foreign worship ; and the few faithful souls who remained ' From to b. The hopes founded on these measures were soon dis- appointed. In a vain attempt to preserve the newly purified land from the Egyptian foreigner, Josiah perished at Megiddo in ; and there now began in Jerusalem a period of religious fanaticism and fierce longing for political independence.
After the three months' reign of Jehoahaz, Necho placed his elder brother, Eliakim or Jehoiakim, on the throne. Among the captives went Ezekiel, a young priest, as it would seem, thirty or forty years old. The city with the remaining population was spared, and Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, was placed on the throne. But the men who surrounded the new king had learnt nothing. In vain Jeremiah reminded them that the glory of Yahweh was quite independent of the fate of Jerusalem.
With a bravery as surprising as it was mis- taken they carried on Ik old policy for another ten years ; and then the crash came. Egypt once more proved herself a broken reed ; the city, after being invested for a year and a half, was stormed ; Zedekiah, after a vain attempt at flight, taken prisoner and blinded, and the whole territory practically stripped of its inhabitants.
And it was more severe than the word Exile might suggest to us. For exile meant separation not only from the land, but from the god of the land. The average Hebrew, it would appear, never thought of Yahweh as being actually con- fined to Palestine ; he came to the help of his people from Sinai or from Paran ; he could show his power over the nations of the earth ; but his worship was confined to Palestine. There were his altars and high places; all other lands were polluted, unclean.
For those who had accepted the centralization of worship at Jerusalem that is, for all the best spirits in the nation the logical im- possibility of drawing near to Yahweh in a foreign land was even clearer. Worse than this, the whole world had now seen that Yahweh was as unable to protect his own land and people as were the other gods. Were all the promises given to our fathers mere delusions? Was it for nothing that Josiah turned to seek Yahweh's face?
Surely we are not so much worse than the men of earlier times ; it is for their sins that we are being punished. Is not Yahweh as unjust as he is weak? But while Jerusalem was still standing an answer was readily suggested ; Yahweh would still be worshipped by some of the people at least, and sooner or later the clouds would be disper W and the exiles would return.
Their very trust in Yahweh made them turn a deaf ear to Ezekiel and Jeremiah alike. What was left for them? Sharing the downfall of their neighbours, with all patriotic pride in the glories of the house of David destroyed, robbed of the practice and the consolations of religion itself, would the remnant of Judah become merged in the surrounding heathenism, as the remnant of the northern kingdom had been a century before?
This danger was all the more pressing for another reason. The conditions of the life in Babylon were by no means hard. The exile was not a captivity ; it meant rather the single restriction that the Jews could not go back to Palestine. They were allowed to form com- munities of their own, and enjoyed a considerable degree of social freedom. The government of the country was similar to that of France towards the end of the ancie?
Class distinctions were carefully preserved, though the middle classes were constantly claiming the titles and privileges of gentility ; legal settlements and contracts were almost as cumbrous as they are to-day ; resident aliens easily became citizens and rested under no dis- abilities. True, slavery was a universal institution, and a certain barbarity and contempt for human life ran ' See especially Johns, Babylom'an Laws, Contracts, and Letters. Into all this 'modern' life the Jews seem to have entered readily. Jeremiah had been left in Palestine, and then dragged away into Egypt ; nor did he ever exert a wide influence among the exiles or in Jerusalem.
This may be partly due to considerations of prudence ; but partly, no doubt, to a recognition of Nebuchadnezzar's high character and firm rule. The pretence of the lament over Babylon in Rev. There is no direct mention of Babylon in Isa. These Jews have their own 'chapel' or, as SchUrer strongly prefers, 'altar' ; they intermarry with Egyptians, and they swear not only by Yahweli but by Egyptian gods as well.
That they were commercially and socially prosperous and enjoyed religious toleration is clear. Did be not share the views of the people on sacrifice and ritual? Did he not also believe in the holiness of Palestine and the impossibility of worship on any other soil? Did not he lack that quick sympathy and altogether human love for his country which beat so strongly in the heart of Jeremiah? Was not the statesman and the patriot in him lost in the ecclesiastic? Did not his mental malady unfit him for the task of founding the new dispensation in the affections of his people?
All this might appear from the first reading of his book. But his apparent limitations were his real strength. So long as Jerusalem was still standing, he was opposed, as Jeremiah was opposed in Jerusalem ; he felt himself oppressed and confined; no one would believe him ; he was 'dumb. And now, unlike Jeremiah, he could show that he felt the people's problems in the people's way. The soil of Palestine was holy ; but they had polluted it, and it could only be hallowed by the uprooting of the old national life.
The temple was indeed the centre of the national life ; but the old temple had been misused till it was worse than one of the high places ; its fall prepared the way for the true temple in which Yahweh could dwell undisturbed. Further, the heathen had indeed exulted over what they imagined was Yahweh's defeat ; but this would simply show them the restoration of a repentant and purified Israel, and reveal Yahweh's real character and grandeur'.
All that had happened or would happen was simply ' in maiorem gloriam Dei. For Ezekiel, and for all true Jewish piety, the fundamental truth was not the union between Yahweh and his people, but the majesty of Yahweh himself. The fall of Jerusalem placed this majesty in its true light. If it existed at all, it existed not for one nation or land, but for all nations, and for the whole earth. This having been shown, it only remained for his enemies who had really been working Yahweh's will to be re- moved, the programme to be carried out, and the ideal to be attained. What is Ezekiel's place in the history of Hebrew pro- phecy?
The approaching ruin of Judah forced both Jeremiah and Ezekiel to face two problems, both of which Jeremiah dismissed somewhat rapidly, while Ezekiel had to meet their full force. The first was this; if Israel is de- stroyed root and branch, what then is to become of Yah weh? To the thought of the time, a people was as necessary to its god as the god to his people. If Yahweh were supreme, as the prophets had claimed, and as Judah believed, surely he would not share in the common disgrace of the gods of the heathen.
Yahweh would pour out his spirit, and would give a new covenant to his people, a covenant which would be unlike the old one in that it would not be broken. This conception Ezekiel elaborates in numerous passages which all point to the magnificent prophecy of chapter xxxvii. But this mercy of his toward them will no longer fill them with the false con- fidence which puffed up the men who were left in Jerusa- lem after the first deportation.
After these three vindications, only one more is needful or possible. The surrounding foes of Israel will have already recognized in their own calamities the majesty of Yahweh ; now the whole earth must see it. Accordingly the mysterious nations of the far north are summoned to sweep over the lands till Israel is reached ; there, on the mountains of Israel, they fall, by an extermination as complete as befell the Midianites before Gideon, as secret as that which overthrew the host of Sennacherib ; and for months Israel will be engaged in burying the slain.
Thus Yahweh will be acknowledged as supreme by the whole earth, and the sons of Israel will at last be able to worship aright, none daring to make them afraid. How far is Ezekiel here making an advance on his predecessors? His teaching, not only of the universal power of Yahweh, but of its future universal recognition, is his own. It must be noted, however, that he leaves room for further progress ; he has not made the discovery that revolutionized the life of Saul of Tarsus.
The Gentiles are to recognize Yahweh ; but that they can serve him, or be accepted by him, Ezekiel never suspects, nor does he provide for such a consummation ; the law is for Israel, and Israel alone. The second problem was this: Surely we are being punished for their sins ; the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge. Ezekiel goes further into the matter, and so has gained the title of the father of indi- vidualism.
His silence is as instructive as his. Unlike Jeremiah, he repudiates altogether the idea that one man can be punished for another ; it is the soul which sins that shall die. Yahweh is not baulked in his desire to punish the guilty, and so compelled to execute a clumsy vengeance on the innocent. All souls belong to him ; the most scrupulous goodness in the father cannot protect a wicked son ; nor can a previous life of goodness atone for evil, nor a previous life of evil prevent the reward of subsequent turning to Yahweh.
This is stated by Ezekiel in terms of almost mathema- tical precision ; yet we shall notice that throughout his writings he by no means shakes himself free from the older and national as opposed to the newer and individual point of view. The individuals whom he sees practising their idolatrous abominations are typical of the whole nation ; it is a nation which he indicts in the terrible sixth and twenty- third chapters ; and it is a restored nation, though freed from many of its national duties and responsibilities, for which he legislates in the last nine chapters of the book.
We do no dishonour to the prophets when we say that they constantly failed to draw out the consequences of the principles they announced. Ezekiel went further than his predecessors ; he saw what was involved in the justice of Yahweh, which would punish no one who had not de- served to be punished. Yet at the very moment when he went beyond his predecessors he returned to their side, and left the full working out of his own principle for the future. Like all the prophets, Ezekiel turns his attention to foreign nations.
In what sense can Ezekiel be said to foretell the future? These nine chapters are full of predictions,— far more so than any that precede. Were the predictions fulfilled? The answer is that they were fulfilled only in the most general and vague sense. To announce that the neigh- bouring tribes would fall as Judah was falling needed little political penetration and no supernatural illumina- tion ; nor does Ezekiel in dealing with their fate give any details by which some special source of knowledge could have been proved.
When we turn to the two great powers of Egypt and Tyre, to which he devotes some of his finest and most impressive writing, his predictions, if they have been verified at all, have not been verified in his sense. For Egypt he prophesied complete destruction. Asa matter of fact, Egypt rather remarkably escaped the destruction with which Babylon seemed again and again to threaten her, and indeed preserved some sort of national existence into Roman times.
In the case of Tyre, Ezekiel lived long enough to see that the fate with which he had threatened her was not to be accomplished ; she resisted the siege of Nebuchadnezzar much as years later she resisted Alexander of Macedon. Later on, as we have said, Ezekiel foretells a great irruption from the north. In its general features, his description reminds us of the Scythian invasion of c. It never took place, and the literal fulfilment of the last act of the drama of this irruption, as foretold by Ezekiel, would of course be impossible '. But surely, it will be urged, Ezekiel foretold the restoration of the Jews, and it took place.
This is true ; that exile from the promised land could be perpetual none of the prophets could for a moment imagine ; but just as little did the restoration take place as Ezekiel or his fellow prophets expected. Jere- miah says very little about the return that is at all definite ; he predicts that its duration will last, in round numbers, seventy years ; as a matter of fact, only fifty-three years elapsed between the fall of Jerusalem and the first return.
Ezekiel foretells a return of prosperity which certainly was not realized, and a spiritual change of which even Ezra and Nehemiah saw very little sign ; while his belief that the two kingdoms would once more be definitely united in one nation was as little fulfilled as were the roseate visions of the second Isaiah. Those who actually did return could ' xxix. The truth is that the distinction so familiar to us between actual fulfilment of prophecy and the reverse had little place in the mind of the prophets. Certain great principles they knew as well as we do, perhaps better ; certain deep convictions about Yahweh's justice and vengeance and loving kindness they proclaimed with increasing devotion ; the applications of those convictions and principles they had to express in the language which was at their own command and intelligible to their hearers.
That prophecies were fulfilled Ezekiel had no doubt, and the second Isaiah appealed to their fulfilment as a recog- nized fact. Is the same account, then, to be given of the predictions, if such they be, in the last nine chapters? This leads us directly to the question. What is Ezekiel's place in the history of the Hebrew priesthood? These chapters will only be intelligible if we start upon their consideration from the conception of holiness. The root idea of the holiness is still very difficult to determine. Reinach expresses that which is holy — ' taboo' or 'sacer' — as that which is ' fortement marque'; that which is strongly marked comes to be carefully marked off.
This quality, which may exist in greater or less degree, dependent on greater or less nearness to Yahweh, must be carefully guarded by those in whom it resides. It is dangerous to lose ; dangerous also to acquire ; for those persons and things which possess it are surrounded by certain ceremonial restrictions, the violation of which means pollution ; and pollution or profanation must always rouse Yahweh's wrath. Stated thus, the principle of holiness seems pagan rather than in any true sense religious ; and indeed the study of the Biblical conception of holiness constantly reminds us of primitive beliefs and practices, which point forward, so to speak, to the ritual of Israel ; but nothing can be found which is connected with the higher side of Israelite religion and is at the same time divorced from morality.
To the Hebrew, the three ideas of holiness, purity, and cleanness are as closely connected as they could be to us. Cleanli- ness is not next to godliness; it is godliness.
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What rouses Yahweh's wrath is any kind of filth, physical or moral. The difference between a literal and a metaphorical inter- pretation of the garment ' unspotted by the world ' was not yet realized. Literal and metaphorical contamination were equally to be condemned, because each resulted from a self-willed refusal of what Yahweh demands. The ritual acts of the priest at the shrine, in the eyes of the antiquarian, may be simply what have come down to him from his forerunners ; to him, they were what his god long ago had commanded. Even prohibitions that seem merely capri- cious or accidental are found to be protections against contamination from those heathen practices where physical and moral uncleanness went hand in hand.
To Ezekiel the prophetic view that the history of the past had been one long moral disobedience was joined to the priests' view that it had been one great ritual mistake. Holy things and places had been put to the wrong uses ; there had been a terrible confusion of the sacred and the profane, until at last Yahweh was forced out of his own temple ; and his presence had been replaced by that of corpses interred there, of uncircumcised temple servants, and of unholy and monstrous superstitious rites.
Sacrifices offered by impure hands could avail nothing. Hence the imperative need of new legislation. The temple must be preserved from all impurity ; the degrees of holiness must be preserved ; the sacrifices must be defined and fenced round so that they may become effective for real atonement ; and the priests must keep themselves pure for their high office. When the temple is thus made the centre of the nation's holiness the whole nation will be grouped, so to speak, around it; there must be as little inter-tribal rivalry as there will be monarchical oppression ; each tribe, like the priests, the inhabitants of the holy city, and the prince, will have its own estates to cultivate, and there Vv'ill be nothing to disturb Yahweh's gracious presence in the midst of his people.
Rightly understood, this scheme of worship does not really separate the worshipper from his god.
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True, all save the priests must remain in the outer courts of the new temple ; and all save the priests must simply look on while the sacrifices are being offered. Others cannot even, it would seem, lay their hands on the victim at the moment it is to be slain. Ezekiel is no sacerdotalist in our modern sense ; he knows nothing of confession to a priest, of absolution pronounced from priestly lips, of penances fixed by some priestly casuist, or of any grace of ordination communicated by persons standing in some carefully guarded episcopal succession.
Instead of this, he points rather to the Epistle to the Hebrews. Christianity itself knows and relies upon a mediator. For us, too, it is needful that one should go within the veil as our fore- runner ; but our mediator is raised above us infinitely higher than the sons of Zadok were raised above the rest of the chosen people. What had yet to be revealed to Ezekiel was that through such a mediator every privilege capable of being given to any one might be given to all. No longer has the mediator access for us ; we have our access through him.
Yet no promise could be more majestic or more tender than that for which the Christian seer borrows the very words of Ezekiel: It is not only a prophecy ; it is an ideal. It is not only an ideal ; it is a promise. As such, it still awaits complete fulfilment ; but ' God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame' ; and it is no wonder if, as the sun arises, we forget the light which heralded its approach. The preceding section led us to a consideration of Ezekiel's sketch of the future constitution of the Jewish church in his last nine chapters ; this subject now demands a further study.
Although so much of the Pentateuch is occupied with the law, yet the law, as we have it, is in a somewhat confused condition, and writings of very different dates are placed in juxtaposition. Here nothing is said about the illegality of sacrifice and worship save at one central shrine ; the cases of crime and fraud which are mentioned are just those which would occur among tribes little removed from the life of the more civilized Bedouin of to-day ; the duties enforced are mainly those of elementar '- morality and humanity, and the law of priests, sacrifices, and feasts is dismissed almost summarily.
When we turn to the book of Deuteronomy, we find it to be a mixture of law, history, and exhortation. The hortatory sections of the book contain some of the finest rhetoric in the Old Testament ; the legal sections are obviously later than the Book of the Covenant. Not only is the centralization of worship insisted on in terms which would condemn Samuel, David, and Jehoshaphat alike, but the monarchy is referred to in terms which almost certainly refer to the actual conduct of Solomon and his successors.
The points of civil law, though still simple, show a distinct advance on the Book of the Covenant ; and the duties of the priesthood are treated with quite a new detail, as foreign to the earlier document as it is to the earlier history of Israel. The rest of the law exhibits quite different features. If these laws are all taken from their surroundings and arranged according to their subject-matter, it will be found that the state of things which they contemplate is further removed from Deuteronomy than is Deuteronomy from the Book of the Covenant.
We shall find ourselves in possession of a code of which the central idea is a nation organized for worship, under the guidance of a priestly class subdivided into high-priest, priests, and Levites. The institution of a central shrine is never com- manded ; it is uniformly taken for granted. Not a word is said to imply the existence of a monarchy or of those simple conditions which prevailed before the time of Saul ; the necessities of civil government are hardly thought of, and the elaborateness of the feasts with their accompanying sacrifices, now wholly distinct from the popular festivals with which they were identified in the first code, imply that people as well as priests were content to regard the due celebration of ritual as their first business.
We even find that ancient history has been rewritten in accord with the religious views of this body of law. It is difficult to imagine when this code could have been obeyed, except after the return from Babylon, or when it could have been composed, except during and after the exile. But now comes the crucial question, What is the relation of Ezekiel's code to all this?
He too has his laws of priests, of sacrifices, and of festivals ; to which sections of the Pentateuch do they correspond? Another question should be asked first. Why did he need to draw up any code at all? Why could he not be content with what existed already? If the whole of the Pentateuchal law be regarded as having existed from the time of Moses, this question becomes peculiarly difficult.
Here, as so often in Old Testament problems, the key is really furnished by Ezekiel. A very brief inspection is sufficient to show that Ezekiel's code, however it was intended, lies between Deuteronomy and the developed Levitical legislation which is now generally known as the Priests' code ; it could not have been written without the first ; it could not have been written had the second been known to the author. The detailed grounds for this statement will be given in the notes to the chapters in question, but the most im- portant of them may be mentioned here.
The Priests' code sharply distinguishes the functions of priests and Levites. Ezekiel keeps the Deuteronomic distinction between country and city priests, but uses the country priests, who no longer have any other work to do, to replace the uncircumcised aliens who have hitherto ministered in the temple. He further confines the priestly office to the family of Zadok ; this restriction is not insisted on in the Priests' code, which regards all the family of Aaron as being of priestly descent.
Deuteronomy contemplates monarchical rule and foreign wars. The Priests' code never alludes to one or the other; but regards the high-priest as the supreme head of the community. Ezekiel knows nothing of a high-priest ; on the other hand, he replaces the king of the older regime by a ' prince,' who is apparently respon- sible for the maintenance of the established order of things, but seems to have even less opportunity of initiative than the popes of the middle ages, in the moment of their highest hopes, wished to allow to the ' secular arm.
Deuteronomy, like the older code, is silent as to any Day of Atonement. Ezekiel prescribes two Days of Atonement, one at the beginning of each half-year ; but the ceremonial is simple ; it resembles that of the Priests' code only in the central idea, viz. More or less precise details are given in all these codes with reference to the sacrifices to be offered on particular occasions. Not only do these differ, but it will be found in each case that Ezekiel demands rather more than Deuteronomy, and the Priests' code rather more than Ezekiel. At this point a fresh fact claims notice.
Klostermann first em- phasized this fact, and gave to the ten chapters the name of the Law of Holiness. More interesting is the observa- tion that this Law of Holiness offers special similarities to Ezekiel, and especially to his last nine chapters. There is very much in common between the language of the two documents ; the subject-matter is to a large extent the same. The characteristic views of Ezekiel, as for example the importance of the temple as the centre of the holiness of the land and the nation, the importance of the land to Yahweh even when the nation is removed from it, the representation of idolatry as 'whoredom,' the tracing back of national disobedience to Egypt, explicit references to the sacrifice of children, emphasis on the sabbath, ixnd the view that the transgression of commands, whether moral or ritual, defiles the land, are all prominent in these later chapters of Leviticus— far more prominent than elsewhere.
These facts have led some to consider that Lev. But on the other hand there are certain features in each of the documents which do not appear in the other; in Leviticus, for instance, the distinction between priests and Levites does not appear, although the high-priest is mentioned in Lev. Clearly, these men of the first half of the exile, deeply impressed as they were with the importance of priestly tradition and ceremonial, felt that Deuteronomy was now insufficient.
It would, however, be a mistake to think of Ezekiel merely as one of a group or school. His conservatism is 1 See the full bibliography in Enc. Smith hold that Lev. Moore, that H preceded Ezekiel by half a century ; Baentzsch believes part of H to have been written before Ezekiel and part afterwards. Compare also Victor Hugo, 'Time present works for time to come ; work, then, and hope.
Such is Ezekiel's cry. This is the conservatism of the radical reformer. To him, gold and wine are both full of the suggestions of the Canaanite influence, against which his work is one long protest. They may have all the weight of prescription in their favour ; but if they spell heathenish associations, he will have none of them. Equally striking is his calm neglect of the royal house. His lament over the princes of Josiah's house is full of pathetic beauty ; but his condemnation of the attempts at oriental tyranny by the kings is sternness itself ; and in providing only for the prince in his new constitution, he goes back to I Sam.
He leaves little place for the Messiah of Isaiah. Equal originality of mind is shown by Ezekiel in his conception of the stream which is to issue forth from the temple in the golden age of the future. To us, the picture of the rapidly deepening waters, flowing, as it seems, without the smallest consideration of geographical conditions, into the Dead Sea, is somewhat grotesque. So is the celestial chariot of the first chapter, if we try to picture all its details to our minds together. But we must remember the precise quality of the Hebrew imagina- tion.
Strikingly powerful in brief comparisons and parables — glances, as it were, into an ideal world — it is generally incapable of the sustained effort which can weld the various elements of its picture into an artistic and con- sistent whole. Perhaps it would be truer to say that a picture of which the parts cannot be joined together was no more objectionable to the Semitic mind than the combinations of man and eagle or ox in the Assyrian sculptures. The important point is the symbolism.
Neither Ezekiel nor his readers will De distressed by the physiographical difficulties of the picture of the renewed Jerusalem and its environs ; but they will be impressed by the thought that from the very centre of Yahweh's holiness flows forth the stream that makes the land as completely in accord with the spirit of Yahweh's law as are his servants.
How natural for the lover of ' the mountains of Israel ' to send the river of purification through their midst. In the visions of a later time, which owed more of their inspiration to Ezekiel than to any other writing, that river became the river of water of life, on whose banks grew the tree of life whose leaves were for the healing of the nations.
Map Trademark By Charles Bonne
We now come to what is really the most important part of our consideration of Ezekiel ; every prophet, like every religious teacher, must finally be judged by what he has to tell us about the mind and will and character of God. Attempts have been made to eliminate from the earlier prophets the most strikingly monotheistic language, as the result of later editing, but for the most part on very slender grounds. When all has been subtracted which critical ingenuity can question, it remains the fact that the prophets could not have written as they have done unless they were convinced that Yahweh, and Yahweh alone, was supreme over Israel and its destinies, over the nations around, and over the future of the world.
Once admit this, and there is no need to quarrel about the doxologies in Amos. What then was the superstructure which Ezekiel built on this foundation? At first sight, some would say, 'it seems hardly worth the raising. The character of Yahweh, as Ezekiel conceives it, strikes us as narrow and forbidding. The message he confides to Ezekiel is one long harsh and threatening complaint.
He is never tired of rebuking the 'rebellious house,' and speedily quenches what natural pity Ezekiel himself feels towards his countrymen. Again, the sins which rouse his anger are ritual as much as moral ; the two are constantly combined ; and instead of the soul-stirring ethical de- nunciations of the earlier prophets, which appeal unfalter- ingly to the universal consciousness of humanity, we are compelled to listen to attacks on Israel for having ofi"ered sacrifice at the wrong places or by the wrong people.
There is also a marked tone of self-assertiveness in Yahweh's words as we read them here. This tone, indeed, meets us elsewhere ; most readers of the Old Testament have felt surprised that the gracious and long- suffering Shepherd of Israel should condescend to rate his people for not giving him all his due honour, and to upbraid them for the crime of Ihe-niajesU, much as we might conceive the feudal God of Anselm to have done. But Ezekiel goes further. When some gracious promise is announced, Yahweh is quick to add 'not for your sakes do I this, but for mine own name's sake,' destroying in a breath the gratitude that might have risen in response.
The very miseries of the exile are turned into an aggrava- tion of the guilt of Israel, for their result has been the pollution of Yahweh's name among the Gentiles, and when this pollution has come to an end by the return from Babylon, the survivors will only be plagued into self- loathing by the memory of the sins which had driven them from the land.
Further, there would seem to be still darker traits in Ezekiel's portraiture of Yahweh. If a selfish or avaricious prophet is deceived as to the future, and so leads astray the unfortunate people who inquire of him, it is Yahweh who has deceived the man ; and Yahweh himself accepts the responsibility for the cruel customs which ordained the slaughter of the first-born in Israel: Let us admit the plausibility of this view ; let us admit also that it contains many elements of truth, and that Ezekiel lived in a world quite familiar with views which are entirely foreign to us.
It is none the less true that the main attribute of Yahweh in Ezekiel's eyes is not any one of those which we have mentioned ; it is his 1 XX. God has no higher gift to a man than the state of grace in which he calls himself ' less than the least of all saints,' and even ' the chief of sinners. The Puritan too was a Calvinist, but his Calvinism was a keener spur to set a wrong world right, and a clearer illumination of the hidden love of a holy God, than the world had ever known before.
Ezekiel had lived through his Revolution, and the establishment ' This is the real significance of the theophany in chap, i the notes thereon ; also pp. Rightly to understand what Yahweh's holiness meant to Ezekiel, we must have undergone Ezekiel's experiences ; we must have seen the women weeping for Tammuz, and bringing to the crowds who thronged the temple courts at Jerusalem all the lewd ideas of the baser Oriental mythology ; we must have watched the twenty-five men deliberately defying Yahweh in Yahweh's own house, or Nebuchadnezzar plying his divinations to decide whether Judah or Ammon should be his first victim.
We must have marked with scorn and fear like Ezekiel's the de- graded yet alluring idolatries of heathenism, so dangerous because so similar to the rites to which Israel had already been accustoming herself for years in Palestine ; we must have grown indignant over the torrent of commercial dishonesty and greed which had swept away the remnants of the old Israelite simplicity and goodness, and wept in anguish at the thought that the city which had been created to be the joy of the whole earth, had been humbled by the wicked folly of her own children before the derision and contempt of the heathen world.
To Ezekiel, unable to distinguish between the ritual and moral elements in religion, the practices which he saw around him were abominations as horrible as sacrilege and incest are to us. But there is another side to Ezekiel's conception of Yahweh, which we discover where we least expect it. The interpretation of Yahweh's holiness which we have been considering culminates in the terrible sixteenth and twenty- third chapters, and yet those chapters contain something very different as well.
Ezekiel seems to write without a spark of Hosea's tenderness ; and he ends, not with the gentle note of alluring, albeit into the wilderness, but with harsh rebukes and threats. And yet Yahweh does restore ; he confesses himself bound to do so ; and no sooner has the middle chapter of the book been passed than Ezekiel sets himself to describe how Yahweh brings forth the new order. Is not all this in contradiction to the first half of the book? Is not Ezekiel now giving us a different picture of Yahweh?
He has gazed firmly on the worst. He has no illusions or unverifiable hopes. Unlike the prophet of the second half of the exile, he has heard no rumour of Cyrus ; the power of Nebuchadnezzar stands unshaken— so strong that Ezekiel himself never explicitly foretells its downfall. The condition of Israel is not yet instinct with new-born hope ; the exiles speak of themselves only as a mass of dried-up bones. And yet, as if Babylon had never existed, and as if a stone of the walls of Jerusalem had never fallen, Ezekiel sets himself deliberately to follow out the new order of things in Yahweh's mind.
To this task he devotes himself with striking sobriety. He cannot think of Yahweh as did the second Isaiah, exhausting the resources of language in the majestic fullness of his promises. Ezekiel had known too well how stern were the facts and necessities of punishment, to feel that Yahweh could speak thus. But to Ezekiel, Yahweh is not the God of the poet only, but of the statesman, and — must we not add?
In the mind of Ezekiel, Yahweh does not forget the past, or exchange an attitude of wrath, which for a short time he has maintained, for one of deep and abiding mercy. He is rather the God who fulfils himself in many ways. To such a God, no detail either of the past, the present, or the future can be unimportant. He sees the past as bound to the future. He makes even the failures and shame of the past the foundation of the new city whose name is to bear witness to his abiding presence in her midst.
He is not content with the announcement of a mighty promise, nor even with the exhibition of his own mighty hand and outstretched arm ; he sees the exact temptations of his people ; he saves them therefrom, not by an outward and political change, but by an inward change of heart ; and he plans out the means whereby those temptations shall lose all their power to hurt in the future. Is not this the true interpretation of the ways of God, alike with the nation and with the individual soul? The drama of national repentance which Ezekiel foreshadowed contains the type of all true repentance,— of the passing from the old life to the new.
However clearly marked may be the moment of conversion, it does but join together two lives. The second life is best lived by the man who has most fully learnt the lesson of the first. When Paul, in the seventh chapter of Romans, speaks of a man chained to a body of death, is he thinking of his experience before conversion or after it? We cannot tell, because Paul could not. He had passed through that experience, and it lived. Ezekiel places himself at the moment of the nation's conversion. Over that conversion Yahweh is presiding. When Ezekiel set in order the first half of his book, he knew what was coming in the second ; when he 40 EZEKIEL set in order the second, he did not forget the words which Yahweh had uttered in his ears long before.
The parallel is closer than might at first sight appear. Ezekiel has gazed into an Inferno as weird and terrible as Dante's ; upon the top of the mountain and the whole limit round about, which was most holy, he has seen and sketched out a Paradise of order and harmony as satisfying as that which Beatrice revealed to Dante ; and in his analysis of the wrath of God, which heals while it punishes, and of the fears of men, which change from the tormenting terror of punishment to the shrinking dread of the polluting touch of sin, he reaches a height of spiritual experience unsurpassed by Dante, with all the New Testament behind him.
Date, Canonicity, and Text of the Book. There is no problem of Ezekiel in the sense that there are problems of Isaiah, the Psalms, or the Pentateuch. The few attempts that have been made to question the authenticity of any part of the book, save isolated verses, have been their own refutation. Three questions, however, demand some brief notice before we pass to the book itself. All the prophecies are care- fully dated ; they fall, as we have seen, into two halves, dated respectively before and after the capture of Jerusalem in B.
But Smend has argued strongly, not only that in its present form the whole book is later than , but that the prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem and of the other nations, so far as they were fulfilled, were ' vaticinia ex eventu. It seems to him highly improbable that a prophet's varied activity through a term of years would have had results so harmonious as these, and the presence of sentences like that in chapter xxiii. In reply, it must be pointed out that the editing of addresses previously made is not the same thing as the reference of addresses to dates when they had not yet been thought of.
No one can deny that Ezekiel used a speaker's privilege to polish and edit his previous messages ; nor is there anything in the book as we have it to preclude this hypothesis. But to contend that no part of what we have now was written till after is a different matter. Is it such a difficult thing to believe that Ezekiel was assured before that date that Jerusalem would fall?
Their reply would have been too easy and obvious. Why does Ezekiel make so much of his dumbness if it never happened? The numerous parabolic actions, the 'toy siege,' the lying on the back, and the digging through the wall, whether we prefer to interpret them literally or not, would at best have a very doubtful significance, and even less literary value, if they were invented years after the time when they were supposed to have taken place. In the face of these difficulties, we may be forgiven for believing that Ezekiel would have rejected any suggestion of such artifice and literary fraud.
Strangely enough, the canonicity of the book has been much debated in Jewish circles. One would have thought that a book which bore so clearly the marks of its author- ship would have aroused no disputes ; and it is quite true that Ezekiel has always been counted one of the three greater prophets, along with Isaiah and Jeremiah ; as such he has his place with them in the Hebrew Bible, and he is mentioned along with them in the catalogue of the famous men of old in Ecclesiasticus 2.
Various doubts are expressed as to its canonicity else- where in the Talmud, Proverbs, Esther, and Ecclesiastes being regarded with similar uncertainty. Jerome informs us that the Jewish doctors forbade any one under the age of thirty to read either the beginning and end of the book of Ezekiel or the exordium of Genesis. See also footnote on p. The Jews knew nothing of what we call historical criticism; but the comparative study of the Bible had been carried by them to great lengths, though on what we should consider unscientific methods.
They could not therefore fail to notice the grave discrepancies between Ezekiel and parts of the Pentateuch. The conclusion was obvious ; ' One of the two must be wrong ; it cannot be Moses ; it must therefore be Ezekiel. In the Christian Church the book has never been doubted. It is naturally quoted but seldom in the New Testament ; its subject-matter is enough to account for this ; but the paucity of references elsewhere is more than made up for in the book of Revelation ; the finest passages of the seer of Patmos are based, almost verbally, on the closest and most loving study of the prophet of the Babylonian exile.
A third question is more difficult. It concerns the text of the book. Every commentary has pointed out that the textual problems of Ezekiel are as perplexing as the critical questions are simple. The Septuagint translation suggests an exceptional number of variations from the received Hebrew text, which is represented as closely as possible in our Revised Version. It is well known that the character of the Septuagint translation LXX as a whole varies greatly in different parts of the Old Testament ; in some books it is far more careful and close to the original than in others ; in some books, again, it would seem that its original showed distinct differences from our present Hebrew text, while elsewhere the order of verses and even 44 EZEKIET.
But through this very conscientiousness the translators have made it clear that they had before them another text than that which is represented in our English Bible. For while we can generally turn their Greek back into Hebrew with ease, that Hebrew is often strangely different from the text which we possess. Nor is the difference one of accidental ' various readings,' but of character and style.
No English reader will fail to notice in this book the number of redundant clauses and repeated sentences, and also the number of almost hopelessly obscure passages. In the Septuagint the obscurities are distinctly fewer, and even where they exist in the Greek, they can sometimes be got rid of by working back through the Greek to the Hebrew ; while most of the redundancies and repetitions are cut away, giving an impression of vigour and even, in places, of an epigrammatic terseness of which the English version knows nothing.
Further, the received text is found to be the less forcible and vigorous of the two in other ways. If we are to assume that we have here two types of text, which is the older? For deciding questions of this kind, we have three canons — the shorter version is preferable to the longer; the harder version is preferable to the easier ; and, that version is to be preferred from which the other can be more easily deduced.
Now the Septuagint text is certainly the shorter ; and to a Jewish reader it is the harder ; for its peculiarities are just those which, apparently inconsistent with other parts of the Bible or unsuitable to the dignity of an inspired text, would have caused surprise and scandal to a Jew. Can we then explain the rise of the received text from an original text similar to that represented by the Septuagint?
Here, conjecture is our only weapon ; but it has been suggested that in the case of this book the difficulties which occa- sioned its special treatment by the Jewish doctors were also responsible for the systematic alterations of the text. The superiority of the LXX, how- ever, is by no means self-evident in all the above instances. In other passages the LXX is obviously wrong, as in xlvii. The result could hardly be altogether successful ; Ezekiel was too forcible and individual a writer to be thus tamed and shorn of his peculiarities ; hence, it is concluded, we are left with a book which exhibits at once prolixity and terseness, obscurity and almost childish simplicity, the powerful expressions of a great and original mind side by side with the cumbrous explanations of an annotator.
Of course to speak with certainty is impossible. It may be that Ezekiel himself, who in so many respects occupied a middle position and reconciled opposites in himself, has exhibited these contradictory characteristics in his own style ; or perhaps, as Kraetzschmar suggests, he was himself responsible for two recensions of his work, sub- sequently run together.
As it must be admitted, the first-mentioned hypothesis assumes that the scribes, at whatever they worked, took considerable liberties with their author ; but from all that we knovi' of the literary activities of later Judaism, it is quite likely that an impressive but difficult author should have been altered and adapted; the very alterations only leave the text in some places more obscure and inconsistent. Later students would hardly have been able to extract from the Ezekiel of our received text so striking and con- sistent a literary production as must have been the original of the Septuagint.
On the other hand, it is easy to exaggerate the difficulties of the received text and the excellences of the Septuagint's original. It is not prob- able that any Hebrew prophet wrote with the fear of the standards of German literary criticism before his eyes. No changes are made to the text. All quotations must be accurate to the text, including all appropriate punctuation, capitalization, etc. The applicable notice of copyright must appear in an appropriate location in the publication in which they are quoted. The following copyright notice must appear on the title or copyright page or opening screen of the work whichever is appropriate as follows:.
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