THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL
Part III: Judgment Against the Nations Concluded
Chapters 31-32: Conclusion of the Oracles Against Egypt
Part IV: Oracles of Salvation and Promised Restoration for Israel
Chapter 33: During and After the Siege of Jerusalem
Most Holy Lord,
You use men, women, and nations to further Your Divine Plan for humanity's salvation. We pray that our nation and her people will support the cause of righteousness and justice to serve as Your agents in advancing the cause of salvation. Use us as You will, Lord, to advance Your plan whether it be as Your "sword," as in the case of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, or as Your instrument that promotes peace and harmony among the nations of the world. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
+ + +
On the empire of
the Egyptians: ... they too were very powerful, destroying their adversaries
like an inundation, and rendering them totally undone. They themselves would
be subject to an inundation from him [God] and would be crushed; and not they
Theodoret, Bishop of Cry
Chapters 31-32 contain the last of the seven oracles predicting Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Egypt and Egypt's loss of power and influence in the region. King Nebuchadnezzar invaded and plundered Egypt in 572 and again in 568 BC. All the oracles end with the announcement formula, "...they will know that I am Lord Yahweh" or "they will know that I am Yahweh" except for the allegory of the Cedar Tree in Oracle 5:
The concluding formula saying they will know that I am Yahweh is only found at the end of Oracle 6 in 32:15.
Chapter 31: Oracle 5 ~ The Cedar Tree
The date notice and word-event formula (the word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows) defines the 5th Oracle in verse 1. The oracle also has the divine announcement formula in verses 10 and 15 (The Lord Yahweh says this...) that identifies the divisions in the oracle and the signature formula in verse 18 (declares the Lord Yahweh) that concludes the oracle. The "great tree" in the oracle is a symbolic image of the Egyptian Pharaoh:
Part 1: the allegorical poem of the great tree (verses 2b-9)
Part 2: the indictment and judgment against the great tree (verses 10-14)
Part 3: the descent of the great tree to Sheol (verses 15-18)
Ezekiel Chapter 31:1-9 ~ The Cedar Tree Part I
1 In the eleventh year, on the first day of the third month, the word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 2 "Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and his throng of subjects: What can compare with you for greatness? 3 [Behold Assyria], I know: a cedar tree in the Lebanon with noble branches, dense foliage, lofty height. Its top pierces the clouds. 4 The waters have made it grow, the deep has made it tall, pouring its rivers round the place where it is planted, sending rivulets to all the wild trees. 5 This is why its height was greater than that of other wild trees, its branches increased in number, its boughs stretched wide, because of the plentiful waters making it grow. 6 All the birds of heaven nested in its branches; under its boughs all wild animals dropped their young; in its shade sat many, many people. 7 It was beautiful in its size, in the span of its boughs; for its roots were in plentiful waters. 8 There was no cedar like it in the garden of God, no cypress had branches such as these, no plane tree could match its boughs, no tree in the garden of God could rival its beauty. 9 I had made it so lovely with its many branches that it was the envy of every tree in Eden, in the garden of God.'" [...] The word "Behold/Look" is in both in the Jewish and Greek texts but the word Assyria is absent from the Greek translation; see IBHE, vol. III, page 1976.
The date, according to our calendar, is May/June 587 BC. This oracle is almost two months later than the previous oracle (30:30) and a little more than a month before the fall of Jerusalem. In an allegorical poem, God either compares the Egyptian Pharaoh and his nation to a magnificent cedar tree, or He compares a cedar tree to the King of Assyria whose nation included the mountains of Lebanon. If the allegorical tree is the King of Assyria (see 32:22), then the oracle is both a warning and an object lesson for the Pharaoh and his nation that his fate will be the same as the fallen nation of Assyria and its king at the hands of the Babylonians.1
Question: What are the tree's three
attributes in verse 3?
Answer: It has large branches, its branches are thick with leaves, and it is a great height.
The nation of Egypt was a great and prosperous nation, and the other nations throughout the region of North Africa and the Levant either submitted to Egypt's authority or felt its influence; for two millennia, Egypt was the region's superpower.
Verses 4-5 credit the tree's tremendous growth to abundant waters from the celestial river. The "waters" that made Assyria/Egypt great are God's blessings. The nation and its king offered "shade," meaning "protection," for many people and animals (verse 6-7).
was no cedar like it in the garden of God, no cypress had branches such as
these, no plane tree could match its boughs, no tree in the garden of God could
rival its beauty. 9 I had
made it so lovely with its many branches that it was the envy of every tree in
Eden, in the garden of God.'
Suddenly the imagery moves to the Garden of Eden and its trees. Eden was nature in its perfection, and before the Fall of man, the entire earth reflected God's order of perfection. It was in Eden that, Yahweh caused to grow every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat... (Gen 2:9). The splendor of the allegorical tree is God's doing just as the trees in Eden were God's doing. The tree did not make its own glory (see Assyria's boast and God's reply in Is 10:12-15). Therefore, in this case, the reference to Eden refers to the intended perfection of the earth that men like prideful kings/trees corrupted (see verse 16).
Ezekiel 31:10-14 ~ Oracle 5, Part 2: God's
Indictment Against the Tree
10 "Very well, the Lord Yahweh says this: Since it has raised itself to its full height, has lifted its top into the clouds, and has grown arrogant about its height, 11 I have handed it over to the prince of the nations, for him to treat as its wickedness deserves; I have rejected it. 12 Foreigners, the most barbarous of nations, have cut it down and deserted it. On the mountains, in all the valleys, lie its branches; its broken boughs are in every ravine throughout the country; everybody in the country has fled its shade and deserted it. 13 On its wreckage perch all the birds of heaven; all the wild animals have advanced on its branches. 14 So in future let no tree rear its height beside the waters, none push its top into the clouds, no watered tree stretch its height towards them. For all of them are doomed to death, to the depths of the underworld, with the common run of humanity, with those who sink into oblivion.'"
well, the Lord Yahweh says this: Since it has raised itself to its full
height, has lifted its top into the clouds, and has grown arrogant about its
Like the King of Tyre, the Pharaoh is guilty of hubris in thinking he is godlike and responsible for his power and success.
have handed it over to the prince of the nations, for him to treat as its
wickedness deserves; I have rejected it. 12
Foreigners, the most barbarous of nations, have cut it down and
Question: Who is the "prince of nations"?
Answer: Verse 11 is a reference to Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the Babylonian Empire who ruled over many nations.
Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Assyrians in 605 BC, the year he succeeded his father, invaded Judah and conquered Jerusalem in 587 BC, and Egypt in 572 and 568 BC. However, God will use Nebuchadnezzar (as He used him against the Assyrians) to not only bring the Pharaoh "down to the ground" like a felled tree, but his sins consign him to the regions of Sheol where the most sinful reside in torment for their sins.2
Verses 10-14 list the divine judgment against the "tree" that dared to think it could reach the heavens and tells the repercussions in neighboring countries. Verse 14 pronounces "the tree"/Egypt's judgment: because of its height and arrogance, the tree is cut down. Verse 14 is the hinge verse that links the downfall of the tree in verses 10-13 to the descent into Sheol, the abode of the dead, described more fully in verses 15-18.3
Ezekiel 31:15-18 ~ Oracle 5, Part 3: God's
Judgment Against the Tree
15 "The Lord Yahweh says this: The day it went down to Sheol, I imposed mourning; I closed the deep over it. I stopped its rivers and the plentiful waters dried up; I made Lebanon dark because of it, and all the wild trees wilted because of it. 16 With the noise when it fell I made the nations quake, as I hurled it down to Sheol, with those who sink into oblivion. In the depths of the underworld all the trees of Eden took comfort, the pick of the loveliest trees of the Lebanon, all irrigated by the waters. 17 And its offspring among the nations, once living in its shade, went down to Sheol with it, to those who have been slaughtered by the sword. 18 Which of the trees of Eden compares with you for glory and greatness? Yet you have been hurled down with the trees of Eden, to the depths of the underworld, among the uncircumcised, and there you lie with those who have been slaughtered by the sword. So much for Pharaoh and all his throng, declares the Lord Yahweh.'"
Verses 15-18 mention the repercussions of the fall of the great "tree" in the neighboring countries. Whether the great tree represents Egypt or Assyria or both, the sin of its rulers was the same: they are guilty of hubris in thinking they are godlike (verse 11). Hubris not only led to their destruction by the "sword" of Babylon but brought them to Sheol, the abode of the dead, where both the righteous and the wicked went after physical death to wait for the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah (CCC 632-33). The righteous awaited the coming of the Messiah at a banquet of the just while the wicked withered in fiery torment, making atonement for their sins. The other trees are other kings of the earth who sinned against humanity in their quest for power.
of the trees of Eden compares with you for glory and greatness?
Question: Which of the well-watered trees in Eden contributed to the fall of Adam?
Answer: The fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
you have been hurled down with the trees of Eden, to the depths of the
underworld [Sheol], among the uncircumcised, and there you lie with those who
have been slaughtered by the sword. So much for Pharaoh and all his
throng, declares the Lord Yahweh.'"
The Pharaoh will join other kings ("trees") in the depth of Sheol among the most despicable sinners, referred to and "the uncircumcised." All these have gone down to Sheol, and the arrival of the Pharaoh will console the other nations in their torment because he did not escape divine judgment (see 32:17-18).
In the Oracle of the Cedar Tree, God again denounces pride and arrogance as grave sins which He always punishes. The Virgin Mary reminded us of this in her canticle of praise: His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly (Lk 1:51-52 NAB).
The Catechism classifies the sin of pride among the capital sins: "Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called "capital" because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia" (CCC 1866).
Chapter 32: Oracles Against Egypt 6 and 7
Now the city
[Jerusalem] was taken on the ninth day of the fourth month, in the eleventh
year of the reign of Zedekiah ... he set fire to the temple in the fifth month,
the first day of the month, in the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, and
in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar; he also burnt the palace, and
overthrew the city.
Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 10.8.135, 146
Chapter 32 contains Oracles 6 and 7 of the oracles against Egypt:
Ezekiel 32:1-6 ~ A Lament for Egypt and the Pharaoh
1 In the twelfth year, on the first day of the twelfth month, the word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 2 "Son of man, raise a lament for Pharaoh king of Egypt. Say to him: Young lion of nations, you are destroyed! Once you were like a crocodile in the lagoons; emerging from your rivers, you churned up the water with your trampling and fouled their streams. 3 The Lord Yahweh says this: I shall throw my net over you in a great concourse of nations; and they will trawl you up in my net. Then I shall leave you high and dry, 4 I shall throw you out into the wilds and make all the birds of heaven settle on you, and glut all the beasts of the earth with you. 5 I shall strew your flesh on your mountains and fill the valleys with your corruption; 6 I shall water the country with what flows from you, with your blood, on the mountainsides, and you will fill the ravines. 7 When I extinguish you I shall cover the skies and darken the stars. I shall cover the sun with clouds and the moon will not give its light. 9 I shall dim every luminary in heaven because of you and cover your country in darkness, declares the Lord Yahweh.'"
Like the majority of the other Egyptian oracles, this one begins with a date: February/March 586/5 BC, at the end of one year and the beginning of another. This oracle takes place after the fall and destruction of Jerusalem and begins with the word-event formula: the word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows (verse 1). The oracle is in the form of a lament. Verses 2-15 portray the Pharaoh's defeat and draw upon the symbolic imagery of God's defeat of the primeval sea dragon, Leviathan (Is 11:15; 27:1; Ps 74:12-17; 104:7-9; Job 38:8-11).4 The oracle also evokes the image of Pharaoh as a young lion (a symbol of royalty) and a great Nile crocodile captured by Yahweh.
Question: What do the images of water and blood
in verse 6 and darkness in verse 7 recall from the Exodus experience? What is
the purpose of these images of Yahweh's judgment on Egypt?
Answer: The images recall the first plague when God turned the waters of the Nile to blood in Exodus 7:19-21 and the ninth plague's darkness in Exodus 10:21-22. They are probably intended to remind the exiles of when Yahweh, God of Israel, delivered His great judgments on the Egyptians and her pharaoh to free the Israelites. In other words, His power is not something they could control nor could they defend themselves against Him.
Ezekiel 32:9-16 ~ The Nations Will Witness Egypt's Fall
9 I shall grieve the heart of many peoples when I bring about your destruction among the nations, in countries unknown to you. 10 I shall stun many peoples with shock at your fate; their kings will tremble with horror at your fate, when I brandish my sword before their eyes. The day you fall, each will tremble in terror for his life. 11 For the Lord Yahweh says this: The sword of the king of Babylon will overtake you. 12 I shall make your throngs of subjects fall at the swords of my warriors. They are the most barbarous of nations. They will annihilate the pride of Egypt, and all its throngs will be destroyed. 13 I shall also destroy all its cattle beside the plentiful waters. No human foot will churn them, no animal foot will churn them up again; 14 then I shall let their waters settle and make their rivers glide like oil,' declares the Lord Yahweh. 15 When I reduce Egypt to a ruin and the country is stripped of its contents, when I strike all those who live there, they will know that I am Yahweh.' 16 Such is the lament which the daughters of the nations will raise. They will raise it over Egypt and all its throng. This is the lament they will raise, declares the Lord Yahweh."
the Lord Yahweh says this: The sword of the king of Babylon will overtake you. 12 I shall make your throngs of subjects
fall at the swords of my warriors. They are the most barbarous of nations. They
will annihilate the pride of Egypt, and all its throngs will be destroyed.
Nebuchadnezzar, agent of God's divine judgment, will overtake Egypt. The nations will witness what is ultimately God's victory.
In verse 15, women of the surrounding nations will raise a mourning dirge for Egypt. It was the custom for women to lead public mourning.
Ezekiel 32:17-21 ~ Oracle 7: The Pharaoh Goes Down to
17 In the twelfth year, on the fifteenth day of the first month*, the word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 18 "Son of man, lament over the throng of Egypt, for down she must go with the daughters of majestic nations to the depths of the underworld with those who sink into oblivion.
19 Whom do you surpass in beauty? Down with you, make your bed with the uncircumcised, 20 with those who have been slaughtered by the sword. (The sword has been given, it has been drawn.) She and all her throngs have fallen. 21 From the depths of Sheol, the mightiest heroes, her allies, will say to her, "They have come down, they have lain down, uncircumcised, slaughtered by the sword." * the Hebrew text does not give the month but assumes it is the first month from the previous oracle. The Septuagint Greek text lists "the first month," which Biblical scholars suggest is April 27, 586 BC.
32:17-32 is the last of the oracles concerning Egypt and the nations in general. The date formula and word-announcement is in verse 17. The date is March/April 586, six months after the fall of Jerusalem in July/August. The keyword in the 7th oracle is "slaughtered," found fifteen times in verses 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 three times, 26, 28, 29, 30 twice, 31, 32 (also see the repeated phrases "slaughtered by the sword," and "slaughtered, fallen by the sword").
Question: What command does Yahweh give
Ezekiel in verse 18?
Answer: God commands Ezekiel to raise a lament over the Egypt as its people descend into Sheol.
The depths of the underworld with those who sink
into oblivion is Sheol, the abode of the dead, and make your bed with
the uncircumcised suggests the Pharaoh will be among the dregs of humanity.
Most nations of the ancient Levant and the Egyptians practiced circumcision as a rite for entering manhood at age 13. Only the Israelites practiced circumcision as a sign of their covenant relationship with Yahweh on the eighth day of a boy's life. Therefore, the Israelites/Judahites would interpret "to be in the company of the uncircumcised" suggests in the company for those not destined to experience God's deliverance.
Ezekiel 32:22-31 ~ The Dishonor Role of Nations
22 " Assyria is there and all her hordes, with their graves all round her; all of them slaughtered, fallen by the sword; 23 their graves have been made in the deepest part of the abyss, and her hordes, with their graves all round her; all of them slaughtered, killed by the sword, who once spread terror through the world of the living. 24 Elam is there and all her throng round her grave, all of them slaughtered, fallen by the sword; they have gone down uncircumcised to the depths of the underworld, who once spread terror throughout the world of the living. They have borne their shame with those who sink into oblivion. 25 Among the slaughtered, they have put a bed for her, among her throng with their tombs round her, all of them uncircumcised, slaughtered by the sword for having spread terror throughout the world of the living. They have borne their shame with those who sink into oblivion. They have been put among the slaughtered. 26 Meshech, Tubal are there and all her throng, with their graves round her, all of them uncircumcised, slaughtered by the sword for having spread terror through the world of the living. 27 They do not lie with the heroes who fell long ago, those who went down to Sheol fully armed, who had their swords laid under their heads and their shields put under their bones, since the heroes inspired the world of the living with terror. 28 But you will be broken with the uncircumcised and lie with those slaughtered by the sword. 29 Edom is there, her kings and all her princes who, despite their valor, have been laid with those slaughtered by the sword. They lie with the uncircumcised, with those who sink into oblivion. 30 All the princes of the north and all the Sidonians are there, who have gone down with the slaughtered, because of the terror which their power inspired. Ashamed, uncircumcised, they lie among those slaughtered by the sword and bear their shame with those who sink into oblivion.' 31 Pharaoh will see them and take comfort at the sight of all this throng slaughtered by the sword, Pharaoh and all his throng, declares the Lord Yahweh. 32 For having spread terror through the world of the living, he will be laid with the uncircumcised, with those slaughtered by the sword, Pharaoh and all his throng, declares the Lord Yahweh."
In verses 19-32, Egypt will join the nations and their warriors in Sheol destroyed in previous wars:
Elam (verse 24), in present-day Iran, was a country east of Assyria. Meshech and Tubal were peoples and territories in Asia Minor to the north of Israel. Edom refers to the nation southeast of Judah near the Dead Sea, and the Sidonian kings ruled the coastal city-state north of Tyre. All the warriors and their kings, despite their worldly accomplishments, will lie together in the depths of Sheol. All of the kings and warriors in the list do not receive a grave of honor in Sheol like honorable kings and their warriors: 27 They do not lie with the heroes who fell long ago, those who went down to Sheol fully armed, who had their swords laid under their heads and their shields put under their bones...
Question: In addition to thinking himself a god,
for what other crime will the Pharaoh receive God's punishment in Sheol? See
Answer: Pharaoh's crime is not only thinking he is a god, but he is like the dishonorable kings guilty of having spread terror through the world of the living in his conquest of other nations.
Judah was among those weaker nations ill-treated by Egypt. In 609 BC, Pharaoh Necho deposed young Davidic King Jehoahaz son of King Josiah, put him in chains, and took him back to Egypt. He made another son of Josiah king in his place (Jehoiakim) and made Judah a vassal state of Egypt, collecting a huge tribute from the people (2 Kng 23:31-35).
Chapter 33: During and After the Siege of Jerusalem
Once Ezekiel hears about the fall of Jerusalem (33:21-22), Ezekiel's mission changes. He receives oracles and visions of the restoration of Israel (33:21-39:29) and visions associated with the Temple (Chapters 40-48). Following the announcement of Jerusalem's fall, the prophetic word formulas identify seven oracles associated with the purification of the land and the restoration of the covenant people in Chapters 33-39:
Between the first and second oracles, Ezekiel receives the message announcing Jerusalem's capture and destruction by the army of Babylon (33:21-22). Between the sixth and seventh oracles (37:1-14), Ezekiel receives the vision of the dry bones (37:1-28).
Ezekiel 33:1-9 ~ The Prophet as Watchman
1 The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 2 "Son of man, speak to the people of your country. Say to them, When I send the sword against the people of that country, take one of their number and post him as a watchman; 3 if he sees the sword coming against the country, he must sound his horn to warn the people. 4 If someone hears the sound of the horn but pays no attention and the sword overtakes him and destroys him, he will have been responsible for his own death. 5 He has heard the sound of the horn and paid no attention; his death will be his own responsibility. But the life of someone who pays attention will be secure. 6 If, however, the watchman has seen the sword coming but has not blown his horn, and so the people are not alerted and the sword overtakes them and destroys a single one of them, that person will indeed die for his guilt, but I shall hold the watchman responsible for his death.'" 7 "Son of man I have appointed you as watchman for the House of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, warn them from me. 8 If I say to someone wicked, Evildoer, you are to die,' and you do not speak to warn the wicked person to renounce such ways, the wicked person will die for this guilt, but I shall hold you responsible for the death. 9 If, however, you do warn someone wicked to renounce such ways and repent, and that person does not repent, then the culprit will die for this guilt, but you yourself will have saved your life."
This oracle signifies the beginning of a new phase in
Ezekiel's ministry as he receives the same mission statement that he received
after his inaugural vision in 3:17-21 and in almost identical words (see http://agapebiblestudy.com/Ezekiel/Ezekiel_Lesson_2.htm).
However, this time the enemy Ezekiel is told to announce is not the
Babylonians. The oracle divides into three parts:
Part 1: The oracle begins with Yahweh listing the duties and responsibilities of a watchman, and continues with Ezekiel's duties as a watchman to the exiles (33:2-9).
Part 2: God calls for the repentance and conversion of the exiles (33:10-11).
Part 3: God addresses personal accountability for sins and acceptance of His justice (33:12-20).
Question: What is the duty and responsibility of a
Answer: It was a watchman's duty to stand in a tower or another high point to watch for approaching danger. When he saw an enemy, it was his responsibility to warn the people of the danger.
3 if he sees the
sword coming against the country, he must sound his horn to warn the people.
The trumpet in this verse is an instrument for signaling a warning for the approach of an enemy. Trumpets were blown in both religious and military contexts (Ex 19:13b; Num 10:2-10; Josh 6:1-5, 16; 2 Chr 29:27-28).
7 "Son of man I
have appointed you as watchman for the House of Israel. When you hear a word
from my mouth, warn them from me.
Verse 7 is a repeat of Ezekiel's commissioning as "watchman" in 3:17, Son of man, I have appointed you as watchman for the House of Israel. God appointed His prophets as "watchmen" over Israel (Jer 6:17). Jeremiah was Jerusalem's "watchman" to warn the people of that their failure to repent was bringing the danger of the advancing Babylonian army.
Question: However, in Ezekiel's case, what is the "danger" or the "enemy" that he must announce?
Answer: The danger is sin, humanity's perpetual enemy.
Ezekiel doesn't blow a trumpet to announce the danger of sin in the community. Ezekiel is the Jewish exiles' "watchman," and his voice is the trumpet. It is his duty to announce when sin threatens the covenant community and its members. God commands him to go directly to the sinner and confront him.
8 "If I
say to someone wicked, Evildoer, you are to die,' and you do not speak to warn
the wicked person to renounce such ways, the wicked person will die for this
guilt, but I shall hold you responsible for the death. 9 If, however, you do warn someone wicked to
renounce such ways and repent, and that person does not repent, then the
culprit will die for this guilt, but you yourself will have saved your life."
Question: God lists Ezekiel's responsibility to sinners in two steps. If Ezekiel fails in his responsibility to warn the sinner, what consequence will Ezekiel face? If Ezekiel fulfills his responsibility to the sinner, what is the consequence?
As we mentioned in the commentary on Chapter 3, our ministerial priesthood has the same responsibilities as God's watchmen over the covenant people. They must teach the people about the destructive power of sin and identify what is sinful behavior, or they are failing in their obligations to God, to their faith communities, and to the Church as a whole. God will hold them accountable if they do not fulfill their mission as "watchmen."
Ezekiel 33:10-11 ~ A Call to Conversion and Salvation
10 "Son of man, say to the House of Israel, You are continually saying: Our crimes and sins weigh heavily on us; we are wasting away because of them. How are we to go on living?' 11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord Yahweh, I do not take pleasure in the death of the wicked but in the conversion of the wicked who changes his ways and saves his life. Repent, turn back from your evil ways. Why die, House of Israel?'"
The discouraged covenant people feel crushed under the weight of its transgressions and unable to escape the consequences of God's judgment. God holds out the possibility of conversion. He assures His people that He takes no pleasure in the spiritual death of the wicked. God desires that all sinners confess and turn back to Him to save their souls from condemnation. This these repeated from 18:21-31.
Ezekiel 33:12-20 ~ Personal Accountability
12 "Son of man, say to the members of your nation, The uprightness of an upright person will not save him once he takes to wrong-doing; the wickedness of a wicked person will not ruin him once he renounces his wickedness. No one upright will be able to live on the strength of uprightness, having once taken to sinning. 13 If I say to someone upright: You are to live, and then, trusting in this uprightness, he does wrong, none of the uprightness will be remembered; because of the wrong-doing, he will die. 14 If, however, I say to someone wicked: You are to die, and he turns back from sin and does what is lawful and upright, 15 if he returns pledges, restores what he has stolen, keeps the laws that give life and no longer does wrong, he will live and will not die. 16 None of his previous sins will be remembered against him; having done what is lawful and upright, he will live. 17 But the members of your nation say: What the Lord does is unjust. But it is what you do that is unjust. 18 When an upright person gives up being upright and does wrong, he dies for it. 19 And when a wicked person gives up being wicked and does what is lawful and upright, because of this he lives. 20 But you say: What the Lord does is unjust! I shall judge each of you by what you do, House of Israel.'"
This passage continues to repeat many parts of Ezekiel 18:21-32 (see Ezekiel Lesson 6). God debates with those who believe that past righteousness can deliver someone who commits wrongdoing later in life while past sins will still condemn those who have turned to righteousness.
Question: What is God's answer to a sinful person
who previously lived an upright life and what is His message to a sinner who
has repented and now lives in righteousness?
Answer: God says through His prophet that no one will be able to claim to having lived righteously in the past if he has fallen into sin in the present. His present sins will convict him (verses 12-13). However, if someone has lived sinfully in the past but confesses and repents, making right his wrongs, none of his previous sins will count against him (verses 14-16).
Question: How does God's teaching apply to us? See
CCC 1033, 1414, 1446, 1452, 1458, 1482, 1851, 1854-55.
Answer: Unconfessed sins will condemn us on the Day of Judgment. Mortal sins will condemn us to eternal death. However, no matter how sinful our lives in the past, if we turn back to God, confess our mortal sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and our venial sins in the Penitential Rite of the Sacrifice of the Mass, God in His mercy will forgive us and will not remember our past sins.
Ezekiel 33:21-22 ~ The News of the Fall of Jerusalem Reaches the Exiles
21 In the twelfth year of our captivity, on the fifth day of the tenth month, a fugitive arrived from Jerusalem and said to me, "The city has been taken." 22 Now the hand of the Lord had been on me the evening before the fugitive arrived; he had opened my mouth before the fugitive came to me the next morning; my mouth had been opened and I was dumb no longer.
The news of the fall of Jerusalem doesn't reach Ezekiel until December/January 586/85 in our calendar. The city fell in the eleventh year in the fourth month, or in our calendar in July 587 BC, so the fugitive arrived a year later. The fugitive who arrived with the news may have been part of the captives taken prisoner after the fall of the city (Jer 39:2; 52:15-16, 28-30; 2 Kng 25:3, 11). In 587 BC, after the fall of Jerusalem, in the third deportation (deportations began in 605 BC and again in 598 BC), Jeremiah 52:30 records the Babylonians deported an additional seven hundred and forty-five Judaeans. The Book of Ezra records that a caravan took about four months to travel from Babylon to Judah (Ezra 7:9 and 8:31). However, it probably took the Babylonian army time to round up the Judahite survivors before leaving for Babylon. The fugitive may have evaded capture and may have made the journey on his own.5
The statement that Ezekiel was no longer "dumb" causes us to ask if all the oracles since his wife's death were only written and not spoken aloud to the people. See Ezekiel 24:26-27.
Oracle 2 ~ The Ravaging of the Country
23 The word of Yahweh was then addressed to me as follows, 24 "Son of man, the people living in those ruins on the soil of Israel say this, Abraham was alone when he was given possession of this country. But we are many; the country has been given us as our heritage.' 25 Very well, tell them, "The Lord Yahweh says this: You eat blood, you raise your eyes to your foul idols, you shed blood; are you to own the country? 26 You rely on your swords, you engage in loathsome practices, each of you defiles his neighbor's wife; are you to own the country?' 27 Tell them this, "The Lord Yahweh says this: As I live, I swear it, those in the ruins will fall to the sword, those in the countryside I shall give to the wild animals for them to eat, and those among the crags and in caves will die of plague. 28 I shall make the country a desolate waste, and the pride of its strength will be at an end. The mountains of Israel will be deserted and no one will pass that way again. 29 Then they will know that I am Yahweh, when I make the country a desolate waste because of all the filthy things they have done.'"
Oracle 2 divides into two parts:
Part 1: The continued ravaging of the holy land of Israel by unrepentant Judahites the Babylonians left behind and God's judgment on them (33:23-29).
Part 2: The exiles' realization that Ezekiel is a true prophet of Yahweh (33:30-33)
According to Jeremiah 52:16, the Babylonians left some of
the poor country-people behind as vineyard workers and ploughmen to work the
land. These people mistakenly see themselves as blessed and, as Abraham's surviving
heirs, the true inheritors of the land.
Question: What is Yahweh's response to their claim? What will be their fate and why?
Answer: They will not inherit the land promised to Abraham because their many sins make them unworthy of the blessing.
Question: What are their sins in general, and what
is their chief sin? See Lev 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-12
Answer: Their chief sin is that they do not live in obedience to the Law of the covenant with Yahweh. Their sins include: ignoring the blood prohibition, worshipping idols, shedding the blood of the innocent, not relying on God to protect them but relying on their swords, and practicing sexual sins like adultery.
God's reason for the exile was to purify the covenant people of their sins, to purify the land of idol worship, to bring the people to repentance, and to restore the people to their covenant relationship with Him. The remaining people continue to defile the land. They do not observe God's requirements for a holy life in the Holy Land of a holy God (see Lev Chapters 17-18). It is God's judgment that He will also purge them from the soil of Israel (Jer 40:2-4).
Question: What event caused the last of the
Judahites to leave the land of Israel? See Jer 40:7; 41:1-3; 42:19-22; 43:1-7.
Answer: The assassination of the Babylonian's royal governor of Judah made the people remaining afraid to stay, fearing Babylonian reprisals for the murder. Jeremiah gave them a message from God urging them to stay, but again they rejected the voice of Yahweh's prophet. All the people remaining in Judah fled to Egypt, leaving the land desolate and uninhabited as Yahweh decreed and his prophets foretold.
29 Then they will
know that I am Yahweh, when I make the country a desolate waste because of all
the filthy things they have done.
This verse summarizes the main point of Ezekiel's prophetic mission. Contrary to what many of the Jews believed, the destruction of Jerusalem did not indicate that Yahweh is powerless and has abandoned His people. The fulfillment of His prophetic word proves He is powerfully and legitimately punishing His people for their sins.
Ezekiel 33:30-33 ~ Ezekiel's Recognition from the
Results of His Preaching
30 "Son of man, the members of your nation are talking about you on the ramparts and in doorways. They keep saying to one another, Come and hear the word that has come from Yahweh.' 31 They throng towards you; my people sit down in front of you and listen to your words, but they do not act on them. What they act on is the lie in their mouths, and their hearts are set on dishonest gain. 32 As far as they are concerned, you are like a love song pleasantly sung to a good musical accompaniment. They listen to your words, but no one acts on them. 33 When the thing takes place, and it is beginning now, they will know that there has been a prophet among them."
When the Babylonian army of Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, Ezekiel was vindicated. His unbelieving countrymen who had ridiculed him now received evidence that Ezekiel was truly a prophet of Yahweh. The obvious fulfillment of the words of Yahweh that Ezekiel preached caused the people in exile to finally recognize Ezekiel as a true prophet. They will come and visit Ezekiel to hear what he preaches (verse 30b); however, God tells his prophet they will not do as he says. They will only acknowledge his legitimacy but not the necessity of a change in their lives.
33 When the thing
takes place, and it is beginning now, they will know that there has been a
prophet among them.
Apparently, only the news of the fall of Jerusalem has reached them. The "thing" that takes place is the destruction of the Temple. The Babylonians removed all the captives to Riblah in Syria before they destroyed the city and the Temple. When they hear of its destruction, their attitude will change, and Ezekiel will be fully legitimated as a true prophet. When that happens, Ezekiel's message will change. The promises of salvation and restoration in an eternal covenant and the conditions necessary to obtain it will characterize His prophecies.
Question for discussion or reflection:
How does the sin of pride open a person to experiencing other sins? What is the danger for the "selfie generation"? Can you live a moral life without a moral code or is it enough to decide for yourself what is or is not moral for you? How is deciding good and evil for yourself like the sin of Adam?
1 St. Jerome believed 31:3 should begin: "Behold, the Assyrian was like a cedar in Lebanon..." and the Douay-Rheims translation followed Jerome's Latin Vulgate. The Jewish Tanakh translation includes "Behold Assyria," and so do most Protestant Bible translations including the NIV. Most modern Catholic translations like the New American and Catholic RSV drop the mention of Assyria, following the Septuagint translation of Ez 31:3.
4 Leviathan was believed to represent the chaos that threatens God's divine order. Myths about the reptilian sea monster appear in the Ugaritic texts and other ancient secular literature. In Psalm 74:14, some interpreters see Leviathan as a symbol of the Pharaoh, defeated by the power of God during the Exodus. The image of Satan as "the great red dragon" in Revelation 12:3 is similar to Leviathan, and it is defeated by the forces of Heaven. The Book of Job 41:1-34 provides a vivid description of Leviathan.
5 Some Hebrew, Greek, and Syrian manuscripts have "the eleventh year" which would make the arrival of the news five months after the fall of Jerusalem.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):