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Ezekiel 13:1-3

1. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

1. Et fuit sermo Iehovae ad me, dicendo,

2. Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say you unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear you the word of the LORD;

2. Fili hominis, prophetiza contra prophetas Israel prophetizantes, et dic prophetizantibus ex corde suo, Audite sermonem Iehovah.

3. Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!

3. Sic dicit Dominator Iehovah, Vae super prophetas stultos 11     Or, “disgraceful.” — Calvin. qui ambulant post spiritum suum: et non viderunt.


He speaks of the exiled prophets, as will be evident from the context: for among the captives there were those who assumed the name of God, boasting themselves endowed with the prophetic spirit: but meanwhile they intruded into the office, and then vainly boasted in their deceptions. But the end which they proposed to themselves was to promise the people a speedy return, and so to will the favor of the multitude. For the captives were already almost broken-hearted by weariness: and seventy years was a long period. When therefore they heard of returning after three years, they easily suffered themselves to be deceived by such blandishments. But although God is so vehemently enraged against those impostors, it does not therefore follow that when he charges them with their crime, he absolves the people, or even extenuates their fault. Nor could the people object that they were deceived by those falsehoods, since they willingly and knowingly threw themselves into the snare. They were not destitute of true prophets; and God had distinguished his servants from false prophets by well-known marks, so that no one could mistake except willfully. (Deuteronomy 13:3.) But in the midst of light they blinded themselves, and so God suffered them to be deceived. But that was the just reward of their pride, since they could not be subject to God and his servants. Then when they thought enticements, as is evident from many passages, God also gave the reins to Satan, that there should be a lying spirit in the mouth of all the prophets. Micah reproves them because they desired prophets to be given them who should promise large grape-gatherings and a plentiful harvest, (Micah 2:11;) meanwhile, when God chastised them severely, they roared and were tumultuous. We see, therefore, that while God inveighs so sharply against false prophets, the people’s fault was not diminished; but rather each thought thus to reason with himself — if God spares not our prophets, what better have we to hope for?

When therefore the Prophet turns his discourse to the false prophets, there is no doubt of his intention to reprove the whole people for attending to such fallacies while they despised the true doctrine, and not only so, but even rejected it with fury. Say therefore to the prophets of Israel while prophesying, say to those prophesying out of their own hearts. Here he concedes the name of prophets of Israel to those who thrust themselves forward, and rashly boasted that they were commanded to utter their own imaginations, or what the devil had suggested. For then indeed no others thought to have been lawfully reckoned prophets, unless divinely chosen. But because the wicked seized upon this title, they are often called prophets, though God’s Spirit is a complete stranger to them: but the gift of prophecy can only flow from that one fountain. This great struggle then happened when the prophets, or those who assumed the title, engaged with hostility among themselves: for we are commanded to acquiesce in God’s truth alone: but when he is offered to us instead of truth, what can we do but fluctuate and at length engage in conflict? There is no doubt, then, that weak minds were thus vehemently shaken when they saw contests and dissension’s of this kind between prophets. At this day God wishes to prove the fidelity of his people by such an experiment, and to detect the hypocrisy of the multitude. For, as Paul says, there must be heresies, that those who are approved may be made manifest. (1 Corinthians 11:19.) God therefore does not rashly permit so much license to Satan’s ministers, that they should petulantly rise up against sound doctrine: nor yet without a cause does he permit the Church to be torn asunder by diverse opinions, and fictions to grow so strong sometimes, that truth itself is buried under them: he wishes indeed in this way to prove the constancy of the pious, and at the same time to detect the lightness of hypocrites who are tossed about by every wind. Meanwhile, if the contention which we now perceive between those who boast themselves pastors of the Church disturbs us, let this example come to mind, and thus novelty will not endanger our faithfulness. What we suffer the ancients have experienced, namely, the disturbance of the Church by intestine disputes, and a similar tearing asunder of the bond of unity.

Next, God briefly defines who the false prophets are; namely, those who prophesy out of their own hearts: he will afterwards add, they have seen nothing, they only boast in the name of God, and yet they are not sent by him. The same thing is expressed in various ways, but I shall treat other forms of speech in their own places. Here, as I have said, we may readily decide at once who are the true and who the false prophets: the Spirit of God pronounces every one who prophesies from his own heart to be an impostor. Hence nothing else remains but for the prophets faithfully to utter whatever the Spirit has dictated to them. Whoever, therefore, has no sure testimony to his vision, and cannot truly testify that he speaks from God’s mouth and by the revelation of his Spirit, although he may boast in the title of prophet, yet he is only an impostor. For God here rejects all who speak from their own heart. And hence we also gather the extreme vanity of the human mind: for God puts a perpetual distinction between the human mind and the revelation of his Spirit. If this be so, it follows that what men utter of themselves is a perverse fiction, because the Spirit of God claims to himself alone, as we have said, the office of showing what is true and right. It follows —

Woe to, the foolish or disgraceful prophets נבל, nebel, signifies “a vile person,” “a castaway,” just as נבלה, nebeleh, means “foulness,” “crime,” “wickedness,” although נבל, nebel, is oftener taken for folly, and I willingly embrace this sense as it is generally received. He calls false prophets foolish, because they doubtless fiercely insulted the true servants of God — just like upstarts puffed up with wonderful self-conceit; for the devil, who reigns in them, is the father of pride: hence they carry themselves haughtily, arrogate all things to themselves, and wish to be thought angels come down from heaven. And when Paul speaks of human fictions, he grants them the form of wisdom. (Colossians 2:23.) Hence there is no doubt that these pretenders of whom Ezekiel speaks were held in great esteem, and so, when swollen with bombast, they puffed forth surprising wisdom; but meanwhile the Holy Spirit shortly pronounces them fools: for whatever pleases the world under the mask of wisdom, we know to be mere folly before God.

Now he adds, who walk after their own spirit, without seeing any thing: that is, when no vision has been given them. Ezekiel explains himself more clearly, or rather the Spirit who spoke through him. As, therefore, he has lately condemned all who prophesy out of their own mind or heart, — for the noun “heart” is here used for “intellect,” as in other places, — as, therefore, the Spirit has lately condemned all such, so he says that those who walk after their own spirit wickedly abuse the prophetic office. He here alludes to the prophetic gift when he speaks of “spirit.” For, because they might object that false prophets did not speak from their own heart, but had secret revelations, he concedes to them the use of the word “spirit” by a rhetorical figure, 22     Calvin uses the Greek word καταχρηστικῶς, meaning in rhetoric the use of a word in a sense different from its natural one. Catachresis is the grammatical term, implying the use of terms in their “non-natural” sense. The French has “neantmoins que ce soit improprentent.” and thus refutes their boasting, as if Ezekiel had said that those fictitious revelations are mere fancies: they have indeed something in them more than common, but still they are fanatics. This then is the sense of the word “spirit.” Meanwhile there is no doubt that he repeats what he lately saw, and the contrast removes all doubt. Without seeing any thing, says he: thus vision is opposed to the human heart and spirit; but what is vision but a supernatural gift? When, therefore, God raises his servants above the capacity of human ability, and makes them discern what no mortal power can bestow, that is a vision; and if a vision is removed, nothing will remain but the spirit or heart of man. Hence those who cannot really show that their utterance is evidently inspired, shall be compelled to confess that they speak of their own minds. It follows —

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