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False Prophets Condemned
The word of the Lord came to me: 2Mortal, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are prophesying; say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: “Hear the word of the Lord!” 3Thus says the Lord God, Alas for the senseless prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! 4Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. 5You have not gone up into the breaches, or repaired a wall for the house of Israel, so that it might stand in battle on the day of the Lord. 6They have envisioned falsehood and lying divination; they say, “Says the Lord,” when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they wait for the fulfillment of their word! 7Have you not seen a false vision or uttered a lying divination, when you have said, “Says the Lord,” even though I did not speak?
8 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have uttered falsehood and envisioned lies, I am against you, says the Lord God. 9My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations; they shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel; and you shall know that I am the Lord God. 10Because, in truth, because they have misled my people, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace; and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear whitewash on it. 11Say to those who smear whitewash on it that it shall fall. There will be a deluge of rain, great hailstones will fall, and a stormy wind will break out. 12When the wall falls, will it not be said to you, “Where is the whitewash you smeared on it?” 13Therefore thus says the Lord God: In my wrath I will make a stormy wind break out, and in my anger there shall be a deluge of rain, and hailstones in wrath to destroy it. 14I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare; when it falls, you shall perish within it; and you shall know that I am the Lord. 15Thus I will spend my wrath upon the wall, and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash; and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it— 16the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for it, when there was no peace, says the Lord God.
17 As for you, mortal, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own imagination; prophesy against them 18and say, Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the women who sew bands on all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every height, in the hunt for human lives! Will you hunt down lives among my people, and maintain your own lives? 19You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death persons who should not die and keeping alive persons who should not live, by your lies to my people, who listen to lies.
20 Therefore thus says the Lord God: I am against your bands with which you hunt lives; I will tear them from your arms, and let the lives go free, the lives that you hunt down like birds. 21I will tear off your veils, and save my people from your hands; they shall no longer be prey in your hands; and you shall know that I am the Lord. 22Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not disheartened them, and you have encouraged the wicked not to turn from their wicked way and save their lives; 23therefore you shall no longer see false visions or practice divination; I will save my people from your hand. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
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 —
Hence Ezekiel exposes the snares of the false prophets. The ten tribes had been dispersed, just as if a field or a vineyard had been removed from a habitable neighborhood into desert regions, and foxes held their sway there instead. For they have many hiding-places; they insinuate themselves through hedges and all openings, and so break into the vineyard or field, and lay waste its fruits. Such, as I have said, was the condition of the people from the time of its dispersion. While the Israelites dwelt at home, they were in some way retained within their duty, as if fortified by certain ramparts. At Jerusalem, too, the high Priest presided over spiritual trials, that no impious doctrine should creep in: but now, since the people were so dispersed, greater license was given to the false prophets to corrupt the people, since the miserable exiles were exposed to these foxes; for they were liable to injuries just as if desert regions surrounded them. Being thus destitute of protection, it was easy for foxes to enter by clandestine arts, and to destroy whatever good fruits existed. Meanwhile Ezekiel obliquely reproves the people’s carelessness. Although they were dispersed, and were so open to the snares of the false prophets, yet they thought to have been attentive and cautious, and God would doubtless have afforded them aid, as he promises to his people the spirit of discretion and judgment whenever they need it. (1 Corinthians 12:10.) But when the Israelites were wandering exiles, and attention to the law no longer flourished among them, it came to pass that foxes, meaning their false prophets, easily entered. Whence it follows that the people were not free from faults, since they exposed themselves to the snares of these false prophets. It follows —
Hence he pursues the same sentiment, but presses the false prophets harder. He has said generally that they were sacrilegious, making a false use of God’s name when speaking entirely in their own. He now separates them by another mark from the approved and faithful servants of God, namely, they had not gone up into the breach, nor built up a hedge to protect the house of Israel, that they might stand in the battle in the day of Jehovah. This verse is variously explained: some refer what is here said to prayer; others twist it according to different imaginations, but I restrict it to their teaching. 44 CEeolampadius takes a different view: he says, “principibus et prophetis juxta quadrat: eorum est animam ponere pro ovibus contra pseudoprophets.” he then quotes John 10, “Vident lupum venientem et fugiunt.” The remainder of his comment on this verse is worthy of perusal. Ezekiel not only blames their inner and hidden perfidy, he not only strikes their minds, so as to convince them that they had no desire for piety, and no zeal for God’s glory, but he shows that their teaching must be altogether rejected, because they did not propose to themselves the right object. But what is the mark at which all God’s servants thought to aim? Surely to consult the public safety; and when they see signs of God’s wrath, to meet them, and prevent the urgent calamity. These impostors saw the people not only impious, but rebellious, so that there was no hope of their repentance. On the other hand, they saw God threatening; and although they were blind, yet they could behold the signs of God’s reproaching vengeance. Hence it was their duty to go up to the breaches. Hence, also, we understand what the Prophet means by “breaches,” namely, as an approach is open to an enemy to storm a city when a breach is made in the wall, so also, when the iniquity of the people overflows like a deluge, a rupture is already made, by means of which God’s wrath is able to penetrate immediately, and to lay everything waste till it is reduced to nothing.
As often, then, as we see God offended by the people’s wickedness, let us learn that a breach has been made, as if we had been destined to destruction. Hence those who desire to discharge the office of teaching faithfully ought to hasten to the breach, to recall the people from their impiety, and to exhort them to repentance. Thus the wall becomes restored, because God is appeased, and we are able to rest in quietness and security. What follows has the same object — they have not restored the hedge. For when a people breaks through all rights, and violates God’s law, it is just as if they laid themselves bare in every part from the protection of God, as Moses reproves them when speaking of the molten calf: Behold, says he, this day you are naked; that is, because they had hurled themselves into destruction. (Exodus 32:25.) So the Prophet says that these traitors did not run up to restore the hedge when the house of Israel was exposed to robbers, thieves, and wild beasts, because it was no longer protected by the hand of God. What follows has the same object, that they should stand in the battle in the day of the Lord; that is, to oppose themselves to God’s vengeance. This relates to prayers, when mention is made of Phinehas, in Psalm 106:30, and also in the same psalm, Psalm 106:23, where it is said of Moses, Unless Moses had stood in the breach to turn away God’s wrath. Here also, as I have said, the Prophet looks rather to doctrine. For here he sharply rebukes the folly of false prophets who had promised wonderful things. Now, when God approached in earnest, all their prophecies vanished: he says, therefore, they stood not in the battle in the day of Jehovah; for, if they had diligently exhorted the people to repentance, those sinners had reconciled God to themselves: for we turn aside his judgment beforehand when we turn to him in time, as Paul teaches. (1 Corinthians 11:31.) If, therefore, the people had been thus diligently advised, they had stood in the battle; that is, their teaching would have been a bulwark against the breaking out of God’s wrath to destroy them utterly. Now, therefore, we see the meaning of Ezekiel, namely, to show how the fallacies of the false prophets could be perceived, since by their blandishments and flatteries they destroyed the people,. Now it follows —
Here again he pronounces generally that those false prophets were vain, and this assertion depends upon the principle that they had spoken from their own heart or spirit, for nothing false or vain can proceed from God. It follows, therefore, that they are here condemned of vanity and lying, because they dared falsely to use the name of God when they uttered nothing but their own dreams. He now confirms what we saw in the last verse, when he says, they hoped to establish their word. Hence they puffed up the people with vain hope, when they said that God would not be so severe as to exact continual punishment of the holy and elect nation. True prophets also often recall sinners to the mercy of God, and magnify it so, that those who wrestle with despair may not doubt God’s long-suffering, since he is said to be slow to anger, and inclined to reconciliation; and his pity endures for a life, while his anger passes away in a moment. (Numbers 14:18; Psalm 103:8, and Psalm 30:5.) True prophets indeed act thus; but they join two members which must not be separated, otherwise God himself would be, as it were, dissipated. 66 Dissipetur: The French has “fust luy-mesme deschire par picces.” Hence, when true prophets exhort sinners to hope and predict God’s freeness to pardon, they likewise discourse about penitence; they do not indulge sinners, but rouse them, nay, wound them sharply with a sense of God’s anger, so as in some way to stir them up, since God’s mercy is set before us for that end, that by it we may seek life. Hence we must be dead in ourselves; but false prophets sever between the two, and divide God, as it were, in half, since they speak only of his freeness to forgive, and declare his clemency to be set before all, while they are profoundly silent about repentance. Now, therefore, we see why the Prophet here reproves these traitors 77 Calvin’s Latin is nebulones; the French translation “belistres;” the familiar English “rascals.” who abused the name of God, since they made the people to hope. Without hope, indeed, the sinner could not be animated to seek God: but they promised peace, as he will say directly, when there was no peace. Therefore let us proceed with the exposition.
Here God shows why he had formerly pronounced that they brought forward nothing but vanity and falsehood, namely, because they used his name falsely, and out of light created darkness; for by the feint of speaking in God’s name, they darkened men’s minds. That sacred name is, as it were, a fount of splendor, so as far to surpass the light of the sun; nay, whatever light exists, is made apparent and refulgent by it. But, as I have said, the servants of Satan turn light, into darkness, because they audaciously boast that God has said so. This passage and similar ones show us how diligently we ought to guard against Satan’s fallacies. This is their astounding boldness to bring forward God’s name while they so wantonly trifle with his judgments. For to boast that God has spoken is as if we wished, by impious profanation, purposely to draw him into a dispute. For how can God bear us to turn his truth into lie? But there have been impostors in all ages who have thus thoughtlessly flown in the face of God. We are not surprised at the heathen doing so; but in the chosen people, it was certainly an incredible prodigy and an intolerable disgrace, when they had access to all heavenly doctrine for the guidance of their conduct, and when God was daily calling forth prophets, as he had promised by Moses, to see these impious dogs who barked so, and you pretended so proudly to speak in God’s name. (Deuteronomy 18:15-18.) Admonished, then, by this caution, let us be on our guard when we see Satan’s servants endued with such arrogance. It follows —
Here at length he begins to pronounce judgment against the false prophets. Hitherto, under the form of a complaint, he shows how wickedly they had corrupted and profaned his sacred name: then how impiously they had rendered prophecies contemptible by their lies, and how cruel they were to the people whose safety ought to be their first care, and how they drew on the miserable to destruction. For after God has so narrated their sins, he now denounces punishment; and, first, generally he says that he was their adversary. This clause is by no means superfluous, since such carelessness would not have besotted the impious, unless they thought themselves free from all dealings with God; hence they utterly reject all fear and sin with freedom. But this could not happen, unless they determined that God either sleeps, or does not behold human affairs or trifles as they do. Since, therefore, false prophets very licentiously corrupt God’s word, when they pretend it to be a pleasant sport; God, on the other hand, pronounces Himself their adversary; as if he said, your contest shall not be with men, but I will be the avenger of so wicked a profanation of my name.
Besides, he afterwards points out the punishment; my hand, says he, shall be against the prophets. For although God threatens to become an adversary to the reprobate, yet this is not sufficient to terrify them, they are so stupid. But it is necessary to use another stimulus, namely, that God should display his power. This is the reason why he now adds, his hand should be against the false prophets. The hand is sometimes taken for a blow: but because God sees the impious torpid amidst their sins, he says that he would not only be their enemy and an avenger of his glory, but he brings forward his own hand into the midst. It follows, they shall not be in the counsel of my people. Some explain the noun סוד, sod, more subtlety than they need for that experience of God which is offered to the elect for their salvation. But this explanation is forced, for they are deceived in thinking that the Prophet’s meaning is different in the second clause, where he adds, they shall not be written in the list of the house of Israel: he repeats the same thing in different words: in the first place he had said, they should not be in the secret of the people: for סוד, sod, signifies a secret, but it is taken for counsel: they shall not be therefore in the assembly of the people: afterwards he adds, they shall not be in the catalogue of the house of Israel. He mentions a catalogue, because judges and others elected to any office were written in a list. We see, therefore, what the Prophet intends — for I am compelled to break off here — namely, that those impostors who wished to enjoy the prophetic title, were altogether without the Church, since God had cast them off.
Here Ezekiel pursues the same metaphor which he had used with a very slight difference, for there is such an agreement that the connection is apparent between the former and the present sentence. He had said that the false prophets did not go up to the breaches, and did not restore the hedges of the house of Israel: we have explained these words thus — teachers who discharge their duties honestly and sincerely are like builders, who, if they see a breach in a wall, instantly and carefully repair it: they are like gardeners who do not allow either a field or a vineyard to be exposed to wild beasts. As, then, he had formerly said that these false prophets did not go up to the breach through their not being affected by the dispersion of the people, but knowingly and willingly betrayed the people’s safety through open and gross perfidy; so also he now says, that they built a wall indeed, but without mortar. The word תפל, thephel, “untempered,” is variously explained, but I doubt not the Prophet meant sand without lime. Jerome thinks it to be mortar without chaff; but my view is better, namely, that they built only in appearance; and in this the image which the Prophet now uses differs from the preceding one. He had said before, they did not go up to the breach; he now grants them more — that they really built; but it is easy to reconcile the two assertions: since they did not go up to the breach to provide safety for the people; and yet they feigned themselves anxious, and seemed as if they wished to restore the ruins. But while the Prophet merely grants their intention, he adds that they were bad builders, just as if any one should heap together a quantity of sand, and moisten it with water, yet it would profit him nothing; for the sand disperses by itself, and grows solid by lime alone, and thus becomes cement. Therefore the Prophet means that those impostors accomplish nothing seriously; and when they show great anxiety and care, that is in vain, because they only heap up sand and dust when they ought to temper the mortar with sand and lime. We understand then how these two places mutually agree: because, even because they have deceived my people: this is without a figure. Now he adds figuratively, they have built up a wall, but they have daubed it only with untempered mortar, that is, sand.
The kind of fallacies are now mentioned: because they said, Peace, when there was no peace. We yesterday reminded you that impostors have something in common with God’s true servants, just as Satan transforms himself into an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14.) We know that all the prophets were always messengers of peace: now this agrees chiefly with the good news, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace. (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15.) Whenever God commends his own word, he adds its character of peace. For when he is justly at enmity with us, there is one way of reconciliation and remission of sin. This springs from the preaching of the gospel. The prophets formerly discharged this duty; and when these impostors strove to deceive the people, they stripped off their masks and deceived the simple through the difficulty of discerning between themselves and the true servants of God. And yet, as we said yesterday, no one could be deceived except through their own fault. For God, indeed, offers us peace, and invites us to reconciliation by his own prophets; but on this condition, that we make war with our own lusts. This, then, is one way of being at peace with God by becoming enemies to ourselves, and fighting earnestly against the depraved and vicious desires of the flesh. But how do false prophets preach peace? Why! so that miserable and abandoned men may sleep in the midst of their sins. We must diligently attend, then, to this difference, that we may safely embrace the peace which is offered us by true prophets, and be on our guard against the snares of those who fallaciously flatter us with peace, because under promise of reconciliation they foment hostilities between God and ourselves.
How, then, can it happen that we can be at rest while God is opposed to us? Thou shalt say, therefore, to those who daub with untempered mortar, it shall fall. Here the Spirit signifies that the false prophets should be subject to the greatest ridicule, when they shall be convicted by the event, and their is shall be proved by clear proof. Hence, also, we may gather the utility of the doctrine which Paul teaches, that we must stand bravely when God gives the reins to impostors to disturb or disperse the Church. They shall not proceed any further, says he. (2 Timothy 3:9.) He says elsewhere in the same epistle, (2 Timothy 3:13,) They shall wax worse and worse; that is, as far as God pleases to be patient with them. But meanwhile the end is at hand, when the Lord shall shame all the impious false prophets, and detect their ignorance, rashness, and audacity, because they dared to use his name in offering peace to the reprobate. Thou shalt say, therefore, the wall shall fall. He speaks here of doctrine. There shall be an overflowing shower, says he — a desolating rain. Here the Spirit signifies that there shall be a violent concussion which shall disperse all the artifices of the false prophets, and detect their frauds, when the Lord should bring on the Chaldaeans, and deliver the city to them. Hence the same meaning is intended by the shower, by stones, by the rush of a whirlwind, but it was necessary to express the same thing in many ways, because the Israelites had grown torpid through their fallacies, and willingly seized upon what the false prophets said — that God would be propitious to them. After he had mentioned the shower, he goes on to hailstones. The more probable reading is, Ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; unless perhaps it is better to take the verb תפלנה, thephelneh, transitively, as I am inclined to do, ye shall make fall. This apostrophe is emphatic, because God addresses the stones themselves, and thereby obliquely reproves the sloth of those who thought to escape in safety through their blandishments. When God, therefore, addresses the stones, he doubtless reproaches the Israelites for hardening themselves so completely. He adds the violence of whirlwinds, or of tempests, in the same sense. The violence of the whirlwinds, then, shall break down or overthrow the wall. In conclusion, Ezekiel teaches that the doctrine of the false prophets had no need of any other refutation, that the arrival of the Chaldaeans, and their boasting, is like a storm and whirlwind to devastate the whole land: and thus he derides those praters who used their tongues so audaciously: he says that those strangers should come to refute these lies, not by words only, but by a violent attack. It follows —
He confirms the last sentence, namely, that the false prophets would be a laughing-stock to all when their prophecies and divinations came to nothing, for the event would show them to be liars. For when the city was taken it sufficiently appeared that they were the devil’s ministers of deceit, for they were trained in wickedness and boldness when they put forth the name of God. Now the Prophet teaches that a common proverb would arise when the wall fell; for by saying, shall it not be said to them, he signifies that their folly and vanity would be completely exposed, so that this proverb should be everywhere current — where is the daubing with which you daubed it? It follows —
He still pursues the same sentiment; but he says he will send forth storms and hail, and a whirlwind. He formerly spoke of hail, and showers, and violent storms; but he now says, that those winds, storms, and showers should be at hand to obey him. We see, therefore, that this verse does not differ from the former, unless in God’s showing more clearly that he would send forth storms, whirlwind, and hail to overthrow the empty building which the false prophets had raised. It follows —
This verse ought to be united with the other: God says, I will throw down the wall. For the false prophets had acquired so much favor, that their boasting was as much esteemed as an oracle. Hence the people were persuaded that what even these impostors dreamt was uttered by God. Since, therefore, they had so bound men’s minds to themselves, the Prophet was obliged to inveigh vehemently against those impostures, since he would not have succeeded by simple language. This language, indeed, may seem superfluous; but if any one considers how greatly these miserable exiles were deluded by the false prophets, he will easily acknowledge that God does not repeat the same thing so often in vain: as in this place he brings forward nothing new; but he so inculcates what we have already seen as to confirm it. I will pull down, therefore, the wall which you have daubed with untempered mortar, and I will lay it low on the ground, and its foundation shall be uncovered, or discovered. Here the Prophet signifies that God would so lay bare the fallacies of those who had deceived the people with vain hopes, that no disguise should remain for them, but their disgrace should be plain to every one. Now, such was the shamelessness of these impostors, that if they were convicted on one point, yet they did not desist on that account, but took credit to themselves if anything turned out more fortunately than they could expect, 1919 Calvin’s Latin is very cramped here. The French translation paraphrases it thus: “Mais ils repliqueront qu’il se pourra bien faire qu’il leur sera eschappe quelque chose mal a propos.” as if they had not prophesied in vain, while a single thing came true. Since, therefore, the impious so turned their backs when God detected their folly, the Prophet adds, that the false prophets would have nothing left, because God will not only overthrow whatever they seemed to build, but he will uncover even the foundations, so that the people may understand that there was not a scruple or the least particle of truth in them.
And it shall fall, and you shall be consumed in the midst of it. He had just said that it should be ruinously consumed: hailstones, he said, should fall to consume it; by which word he understood that the final slaughter should be so severe that no hope should be left. For as long as Jerusalem stood, the Israelites always look forward to a return. But when they saw the kingdom not only weakened, but utterly destroyed, the temple overthrown, and the city ruined, whenever they heard of their dreadful dispersion, not the slightest remnant of hope survived. Now this consumption is transferred to the false prophets. As that consumption was final, and without a gleam of hope, ye shall be consumed, says he, in the midst of it, and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. He does not inculcate this particular so often in vain; but he inveighs with indignation against the wicked audacity of the false prophets, who dared so petulantly to oppose themselves to the true servants of God, and to assume his name, and to trifle with him like children. Such is the prodigious madness of mortals who dare to set themselves against God: for this reason, he says, they shall at length perceive with whom they have to do. It follows —
If the inveterate obstinacy of the people had not been known to us, Ezekiel would seem too verbose, since he might have said in a few words what he explains at such length. But if we bear in mind the perverse and refractory disposition of the people, we shall find that there was need of such continual repetition, I will fulfill, says he, my burning wrath upon the wall; that is, I will show how detestable and destructive to my people was this doctrine. Hence God fined up his anger on the wall, when he reduced to nothing all the lies of the false prophets: afterwards also he attacked them, since the mark of disgrace was attached to their characters, and this rendered their doctrine detestable: afterwards, says he, I will say, There is no wall; those who daubed it are not. When God speaks thus, he means that he will suffer the false prophets to triumph among the people for only a short time. For even to the destruction of the city and temple they always withstood God’s servants with a bold forehead, as if they would thrust their horns against God and his announcements. Let us observe, then, that while Jerusalem was standing, the appearance of a wall existed; for there was the prop of false doctrine, and the people fed willingly on such deceits. Their daubing, therefore, stood till it vanished with the ruin of the city, and then their vanity was proved, for God took vengeance on these insolent triflers. It follows —
He now concludes this discourse, and shows what he had hitherto intended by a building badly cemented, by using sand without lime. The prophets of Israel prophesied concerning Jerusalem. Here he does not mean false prophets, with whom Jeremiah was continually contending, but those who in exile still hardened the wretched. While they thought to make use of the occasion, and so to humble the people who had been so grievously wounded by the hand of God, they stirred them up to pride, as we have formerly seen. Our Prophet was obliged to strive with them for the comfort of his exiles, for he was peculiarly sent to the captives, as we have said, although the advantage of his prophecies also reached Jerusalem. The prophets, those of Israel, that is, the ten tribes dispersed in different directions, prophesied concerning Jerusalem. Why then did they not rather predict a happy result? For they were reduced to extremes, and meanwhile promised victory to the Jews. And they saw a vision, for it, says he. This clause seems opposed to another, in which the Prophet says that they saw nothing. How, then, do these two things agree — to see a vision, and yet to see nothing’? What he now says as to seeing a vision refers to their false boasting. For they were altogether without the Spirit of God, nor did they possess any revelation. Yet when they boasted themselves to be endowed with the Spirit, and many had faith in their words, the Prophet concedes to them the name of a vision, although there was none, by accommodation. He says, therefore, that they saw a vision, that is, that they boasted in one since they professed to be spiritual. As at this time the Papists deny that they utter anything out of their own minds, and say that they have all those fictions, by which they adulterate all piety, from the Holy Spirit; so these prophets said they were spiritual: and as far as the title is concerned, the Prophet grants what in reality he disallows when he adds, there was no peace when they said there was peace. Hence it appears that a vision was in their mouth united with sacrilegious boldness: yet there was no vision; because, if God had manifested anything by his Spirit, he would really have proved it as he says by Moses. (Deuteronomy 18:22.) Since, then, there was no peace, but the final overthrow of the city was at hand, it is easily collected that they saw nothing, but made false use of that sacred name of vision to acquire confidence for themselves. As to his saying there is no peace, it extends to the future. They promised peace by saying that the siege of the city was to be raised, and prosperity to await the Jews. But God, on the other hand, pronounces there should be no peace, because it will shortly be evident that Jerusalem is devoted to utter destruction.
WE may gather from this passage that Satan’s lies were not spread among the people so much by men as by women. We know that the gift of prophecy is sometimes though rarely allowed to women, and there is no doubt that female prophets existed whenever God wished to brand men with a mark of ignominy as strongly as possible. I say as much as possible, because the sister of Moses enjoyed the prophetic gift, and this never ceased to the reproach of her brother. (Exodus 15:20.) But when Deborah and Huldah discharged the prophetic office, (Judges 4:4, and 2 Kings 22:14,) God doubtless wished to raise them on high to shame the men, and obliquely to show them their slothfulness. Whatever may be the reason, women have sometimes enjoyed the prophetic gift. And this is the meaning of Joel’s second chapter, (Joel 2:28,)Your sons shall see visions and your daughters shall prophesy. There is no doubt that the Spirit transfers to the kingdom of Christ what had been customary among the ancient people. For we know that Christ’s kingdom is described, or rather depicted, under the image of that government which God formerly held under the law. Since, then, certain women were gifted with the prophetic spirit, Satan, according to his custom, abused this under a false pretense. We know that he always emulates God and transforms himself into an angel of light, because if he were to show himself openly, all would instantly flee from him: hence he uses God’s name deceptively, to ingratiate himself among the simple and incautious. And he not only sends forth false prophets to scatter abroad their lies and impostures, but he turns even females to the same injurious use.
Here we see how anxiously we ought to guard against any corruption which may creep in to contaminate the pure gifts of God. But this contest seems not to have been sufficiently honorable to the servant of God; for it was almost a matter of shame when they engaged with women. We know that those who desire praise for their bravery do not willingly engage with unequal antagonists who have no strength to resist; since there is no praise in a victory when it is too easy: so also Ezekiel could put away from him this undertaking, since it was unworthy of the prophetic office. Hence it appears, that God’s servants cannot faithfully discharge the duties assigned to them, unless they strive to remove all impediments. This then is the condition of all those to whom God assigns the office of teaching, that they may oppose all false doctrines and errors, and never consider or wish for great praise from their victory: it should suffice them to assert God’s truth against all Satan’s devices. Thus we see Paul strove with a workman (Demetrius), (Acts 19:24,) and that was all but ridiculous: and truly he might seem not sufficiently to regard his dignity; for from the time when he saw secret things which it was not lawful for him to utter, and was carried up to the third heaven, (2 Corinthians 12:4,) when he engages in a contest with a craftsman, he seems to forget that dignity to which God had raised him. But we must remember the reason which I have mentioned, that as the duty of teaching is assigned to God’s servants, so they are appointed as his avengers and defenders of the doctrine of which they are heralds. Hence if, so to speak, fleas were to come out of the earth and rail at sound doctrine, none who are influenced by a desire of edification will hesitate to contend even with those fleas. Thus the Prophet’s modesty is conspicuous, because by God’s command he turns to these weak women to refute even them.
It is said, then, woe to those who sew pillows or cushions; it is the same thing — to all armholes, and to those who make covers for the head of every stature. There is no doubt that by these tricks they deluded the minds and eyes of the simple. It is evident from the law that some ceremonies are useful, since God commands nothing superfluous; but Satan by his cunning turns everything useful to man’s destruction. Meanwhile we must remark that false prophets were always immoderately fond of outward signs; for since they have nothing substantial to offer, they have need of ostentation to dazzle all eyes. This then is the reason why men and women who intend to deceive, always heap together a number of ceremonies. Hence Ezekiel says, that those women had sown together pillows, and he adds, for all armholes. Whence it appears that they laid them under the armpits of those by whom they were consulted, although he afterwards seems to hint that they themselves reclined upon these pillows. But now he is treating of the people. The ancients were accustomed when they reclined at table to have cushions under their arms, though this is not our habit. But there is no doubt that they wished to represent a kind of sleep, like the foolish who consult oracles, and think themselves in ecstasies, and snatched away beyond all thoughts of this world. Then they had veils or coverings which they put over their heads. In this way imposture flourished with the Roman augurs; for they veiled their head when they wished to begin their incantations. Livy says, that the augur stood at the threshold with his head covered, and uttered these words, “O Jupiter, hear;” 2323 “Lib. 1. ch. 32. See also chap. 36., ‘statua Atti capite velato, referring to ‘Attus Navius, inclitus ea temptestate augur.” so that it is probable that veils covered the heads of those who wished to consult God, that they might be as it were separated from the world, and no longer look upon human things, but have only spiritual eyesight. With this view these women used such ceremonies that wretched men thought themselves caught up above the world, and all earthly thoughts being laid aside, they dozed so as to receive the oracles, and at the same time had the head covered to avoid everything which might call them off and distract them, and to be wholly intent on spiritual meditations.
As to his saying, upon all arms, and upon the head of every stature. I doubt not that the Prophet teaches by these words that these women exercised a promiscuous trade, making no distinctions, but, gratifying all without choice, so long as they brought their money in their hands, as we shall by and by see. Hence this mark of universality ought to be noticed emphatically, because these women did not attend to the disposition with which persons came, but only grasped at their reward, and thus the gate was as open to all as that of the market-place. For shops are open to all, since all are expected to promote profit and make bargains, and merchants by their allurements entice as many as they can to purchase their goods. So also veils were provided for all heads and cushions for all arms, for there was no difference except in reference to profit from these profane and base transactions. With regard to the word “stature,” the opinion of those who think it used, because the women ordered those who consulted the oracles to stand, appears to me forced, and not in accordance with the Prophet’s intention. I have no doubt that, the Prophet uses the word for “age,” or person, as others correctly interpret it; as if he had said, that they made no difference between old and young, tall and short, but prostituted their answers to all from whom they looked for gain.
It afterwards follows, Is it not to hunt souls? Here God reproves one crime, but he will shortly add another, namely, the profanation of his sacred name. But he here speaks only of the death of souls, as if he said that the women laid those snares to deceive wretched souls. And because Ezekiel was commanded to, prophesy against them, he here addresses them more vehemently — Will ye hunt the souls of my people? It is literally the souls which belong to my people; but it will be more simple to receive it thus — will ye hunt the souls of my people, and will ye give life to your own souls, unless any one wishes to interpret it so as to make the Prophet repeat the same thing twice. For the souls of the people were also their own. For as we shall afterwards see, no one is deceived by the devil unless he offers himself of his own accord, and entangles himself in his snares on purpose. Since then it is always true that wretched men who catch at vain oracles devote themselves to the devil and his ministers, hence the passage may be explained in this way. But the sense which I have proposed is more simple, namely, that these women must not be yielded to because they have hunted the souls of the people; as if the Prophet had said, the people are precious to God, who has undertaken the care of them. Thus then he reasons; such is your audacity, nay, even fury, that you doubt not to seize upon God’s people: since therefore your impiety is so licentious and bold, will God suffer you to rage with impunity against the souls of which he is the guardian? Lastly, he signifies that punishment is prepared for the women who ensnare God’s people, because although those who are deceived are worthy of death, yet God will still exact punishment of Satan’s ministers who have endeavored to despoil him of his rights. It, follows —
Here God accuses these women of a double crime; one crime was that which I have mentioned, cruelly to destroy the souls which were sacred to God, and hence were destined to be saved; but he added a more atrocious crime — that of sacrilege, because they had abused the name of God to deceive. Nothing is less tolerable than when God’s truth is turned into a lie, because this is like reducing him to nothing. God is truth; if, therefore, that is abolished, what else will remain behind? God will be, as it were, a dead specter. Hence the Prophet, in God’s name, complains of both: ye have profaned me, says he, before my people. For as the gift of prophecy was a rare and remarkable pledge of God’s love and paternal anxiety towards the Israelites, so when that gift was corrupted, the name of God was at the same time polluted. For God was never willing to be disjoined from his word, because he is himself invisible, and never appears otherwise than in a mirror. Hence God’s glory, and sanctity, and justice, and goodness, and power, ought to shine in the gift of prophecy; but when that gift is contaminated, we see how such a disgrace becomes a reproach against God. In this way his holiness is defiled, his justice, virtue, and fidelity, are corrupted, and his very existence called in question. So it is not without cause that God pronounces his own name to be polluted. Then he adds, among the people. And this circumstance increases the crime, since God’s name was profaned where he wished it to be peculiarly worshipped; for it was also profaned among the Gentiles: but since God had never made himself known there, their profanation was the less detestable. But, because God erected his throne among the people of Israel, and wished his glory to shine there, we see how sacrilege increases, while his name is profaned in that sanctuary which he had chosen. This is one crime.
But he also adds, on account of handfuls of barley and pieces of bread. Here God shows how much and how basely he was despised by those females, who sold their prophecies for a piece of bread or a few grains of barley which any one could hold in his hand. If they had demanded a great reward, their insatiable avarice would not have extenuated their crime; but their impiety is the rather discovered, when on account of a small reward they so prostituted themselves and the name of God. They boasted themselves to be the organs of the Holy Spirit: but when by this mask they deceived the people, injustice was done to the Holy Spirit, since for so paltry a reward they vainly boasted in their prophecies. They prostituted even God himself: and in fine, this was just as if; being corrupted by a small bribe of no value, they did not treat God’s name with sufficient respect to be withheld from the crime by the slightest of the recompense. A comparison will make the matter clearer. If a person is tempted by a moderate reward to the perpetration of any crime and refuses, and then when he is offered a far more valuable reward, and thus yields to the temptation, this shows that his will was upright, though not sufficiently firm. But if any one, for a single farthing, undertakes to do what he is ordered, and refuses no crime, this shows his readiness to all sorts of wickedness. If a girl rejects bribes when she knows her modesty to be assailed, but yet yields for a large reward, here, as I have said, virtue struggles with vice; but if she prostitutes herself for a morsel of bread, here she manifests that depravity which all abominate. This, then, is God’s intention, when he says that these women traded in their lies for handfuls of barley and pieces of bread. If any one objects that prophecies were anciently saleable, since it was customary with the people to offer the prophets rewards, I answer, that the women are not condemned merely for receiving either the handful of barley or the piece of bread, but because they did not hesitate to corrupt God’s truth for a trifling gain, and then to turn it into a lie. The Prophet afterwards points out the nature of their deceit, for it would not have been sufficient to blame these women generally, unless Ezekiel had pointed with his finger at their pestiferous impostures.
Now, therefore, he says, that they slew the souls which were not dying, and kept alive the souls which were not living. We have said before, that by this mark the true and righteous servants of God were distinguished from impostors. For the servants of God, who faithfully discharge the duty enjoined upon them, kill and make alive: for God’s word is life, and brings health to lost mankind; but is a savor of death unto death in those who perish, as Paul says. (2 Corinthians 2:15, 16.) Hence it is true that prophets who faithfully and properly discharge their duty both kill and make alive: but they give life to the souls which are to be freed from death, and slay the souls which are devoted to destruction; for they denounce eternal death to all unbelievers unless they repent; and whatever they bind on earth is also bound in heaven. (Matthew 18:18.) Their teaching, therefore, is effective for destruction, as also Paul elsewhere teaches. We have at hand, says he, vengeance against every high thing which exalts itself against Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:5, 6.) Hence honest teachers are armed by God’s vengeance against all unbelievers who remain obstinate: but they convey life to those who repent, since they are messengers of reconciliation; nay, they reconcile men to God when they offer Christ to them as our peace, and by whom the Father is propitious to us. (Ephesians 2:16.) When false prophets desire to rival God’s servants, they omit the principal part, namely, faith and repentance; hence it happens that they proclaim life to souls already adjudged to destruction; for they give life to the reprobate who are hardened in contempt of God by their flatteries; for they do not require of men either faith or penitence, but only a reward. Hence also it happens that they slay the souls which ought not to die, namely, because nothing is prouder or more cruel than these false prophets. For they fulminate according to their pleasure, and sink even to the lowest hell the whole world when no hope of profit appears.
Here then we see the vices of these women of whom Ezekiel treats so pointedly out, that no one need be any longer deceived by them except through his own fault. Hence also we gather a perpetual rule in examining doctrine, lest the deceits of Satan should surprise us for the word of God. Let us learn, then, that the prophetic word is life-giving to us, if we are dissatisfied with our sins, and fly to God’s pity with true and serious penitence; for all souls are slain who do not receive this kind of life; and whoever compares the papacy with that corruption which Ezekiel describes to us, will see that, although Satan has many methods of deceiving men, yet they will always be discovered like himself. Ezekiel spoke of veils and cushions. We see many rites exhibited in the papacy, so that the incredulous, being snatched as it were out of the world, are not only delirious, but suffer themselves to be drawn in any direction like cattle by the grossest impostures. But in their teaching we perceive what Ezekiel condemns, namely, that they give life to souls devoted to death, and slay souls which thought to be kept alive. For what is the meaning of their immense heap of laws, except to bury wretched consciences? For any one who wishes to satisfy the laws of the papacy from his heart, must cut himself to pieces, so to speak, through his whole life. We now perceive with what intent our Prophet will elsewhere say that legislators of this kind are implacable, since they remit nothing, and exact all their conditions with the utmost rigor. Hence it happens that these miserable souls perish, because despair oppresses them and overwhelms them in the deep. Meanwhile we see how they give life to souls subject to death, since; pardon is prepared for adulterers, robbers, manslayers, and all criminals, if they only buy themselves off, as popish priests and monks pretend that God is appeased by satisfactions and prayers. Hence they thrust expiation’s of no value upon God; and, to speak more correctly, trifles and follies, which do not deceive even children, they call expiation’s, as if God could change his nature. Hence we must diligently remark this passage, that we may know how to distinguish between true and false prophets, and may not despise the test which the Prophet puts before us.
He says, in deceiving my people by listening to a lie. He accuses some of lying, and others of willingly embracing is. For the noun כזב, kezeb, which is repeated, is derived from the same root. Here, again, God undertakes the cause of his people; for though they were all worthy of being drawn into exile by Satan, yet when God took care of them, it was like snatching them out of Satan’s hand, and claiming them as his own peculiar people. This is one point. But meantime these wretches are deprived of all excuse for seeking false oracles. For the Prophet pronounces them deceived because they listened to vanity, that is, because they wished to be deceived, since it was entirely their own fault, and they could not in any way throw it off. It is true they were deceived under false pretenses through the abuse of the prophetic name, and hence their vision was obscured by a darkened cloud; but still they thought to have gone to the fountain, for no opening would have been found for Satan if they had been properly fortified: for God had surrounded them with ramparts by giving them a law to protect them from all fallacies. Since, then, they thus exposed themselves of their own accord, it is not surprising if God allowed them to be deceived.
Here Ezekiel begins to threaten those women with what would shortly happen, namely, that God would not only render them contemptible, but also ridiculous, before the whole people, that their delusions and impostures might sufficiently appear. This is the Prophet’s intention, as we shall afterwards see; but the Prophet is verbose in this denunciation. God therefore says, that he is an enemy to those cushions, that is, to those false ceremonies which were like cloaks to deceive miserable men: hence he says, that those souls were a prey. He uses the comparison from hunting: ye have hunted, says he, the souls of my people. And this is the meaning of the word used immediately afterwards for flying. This word פרח, pherech, signifies also “to flourish;” but I here willingly subscribe to the opinion of all who interpret it to fly: unless the paraphrast is right in translating it “to perish;” for he thought the Prophet was speaking metaphorically, as if he meant that those souls were ensnared, and so vanished away. But I do not think this quite suitable, since it is more probable that the Prophet is speaking of their lofty speculations. For we know that false prophets boasted in this artifice, when they either raise, or pretend they raise, men’s minds aloft, and curious men desire this only; and hence it happens that the doctrines of the Law and the Gospel are insipid to them, because subtleties alone delight them. And we see at this day how many embrace the follies of Dionysius 2727 Dionysius was a Carthusian, a philosopher imbued with the mystic doctrines of Plato, on whose ‘writings he wrote an elaborate comment. Calvin refers to his attempt to combine the scholastic theology of his day with the mystical fancies of Platonism. He was commonly called a Ryckel, and wrote A.D. 1471. See Gieseler’s Eccl. Hist., edited in English by Francis Cuningham, volume 3 about the celestial hierarchy, who treat all the prophets, and even Christ himself, as of no value. Hence the Prophet says, that these women hunted the souls of the people, because they had snares prepared in which they entangled all who were subject to their impostures and fallacies. Yet, in my opinion, he also alludes to birds. When, therefore, he has said that all impostures were Satan’s method of hunting souls, he now adds obliquely another simile, that all false prophecies are so many allurements to catch birds. The sense of the passage now appears clear. Behold, therefore, says he, God will arise against your cushions, by which you have hunted birds to make them fly; that is, when you promised wonderful revelations those wretched dupes whom their own curiosity urged on were deceived by such enticements. Afterwards he adds, I will free them from your arms, and I will let go the souls which you have hunted to make them fly, says he. He repeats again what we have already said about deep speculations, by the sweetness of which false prophets are accustomed to entice all fools who cannot be content with true doctrine, nor be wise with sobriety. Meanwhile it is by no means doubtful that God here speaks peculiarly of his elect, who were left among the people. For although they were but few, God was unwilling for them to perish: and for this reason he announces that he would be their avenger, and undeceive them, whether they had been already entrapped, or were just surrounded by these allurements. Since, then, he uses the same word, we gather from this that the phrase cannot be used indiscriminately. For God suffers many to perish, as he says by the Prophet Zechariah, “Let what perishes perish,” (Zechariah 9:9); but meanwhile he rescued a small number as the remnant of his choice, as Paul says. (Romans 11:5.)
What the Prophet had said concerning the pillows he now pronounces of the veils, by which they were accustomed to cover either their own heads, or those of the persons who consulted them. The conclusion is, that God would put an end to such follies. For the people were so fascinated by these silly things, that it became necessary to strip away these masks, since these women were always ready to deceive. He adds also, that he would do that for the benefit of his own people. We have said that this ought not to be extended generally to all the sons of Abraham according to the flesh. For God suffered almost all to perish, as he had said by Isaiah:
“Even if thy people had been as the sand of the sea-shore, a remnant only shall be saved,” (Isaiah 10:22.)
When, therefore, God speaks here concerning his own people, this sentence ought to be restricted to the elect: as when it is said in the psalm, How soft and kind is God to his people Israel; and then he adds by way of correction, to those who are upright in heart, (Psalm 73:1,) Since many boasted themselves to be Israelites who are very unlike their father, and through being degenerate deprived themselves of that honor: hence the Prophet restricts God’s goodness peculiarly to the elect who are upright in heart, after he had spoken of the whole people. Although Ezekiel did not distinctly express what we have cited from the psalm, yet the sense is the same; and this is easily gathered from the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 11:5, 6), where God sets before us the remnant preserved according to God’s gratuitous election. For the same sense it is added, that they should no longer be for a prey. We have said how these women hunted these wretched souls, not only for purposes of gain, but also because Satan abused their fallacies. So, therefore, it happened that these souls were enticed to their destruction. For this reason God pronounces that they should no longer be their prey. And he repeats what he had already said, ye shall know that I am Jehovah. Here God brings before us his power, because we know how safely hypocrites allude his sacred name; and this easily appears in the boldness and licentiousness of these women. Hence God here threatens them: he says that they should feel at length who had spoken, since they ridiculed Ezekiel and his other servants. There is, then, a silent antithesis between God and the prophets; not that God separates himself from his servants; for the truth, of which they are ministers and heralds, is an indissoluble bond of union between them; but the language is adapted to the senses of those with whom the Prophet treats. Now, since these women were so wanton, he says that he was not despised by them, but God himself. It follows —
He explains in other words what we saw yesterday: but the repetition adds to the weight of the matter. The Prophet therefore shows that he had a just cause of complaint, because the women so deceived the people. He says now that they made the heart of the righteous sad, and strengthened the hands of the wicked: the sentiment is the same, though the words are changed. He had previously said that they gave life to those devoted to death, and slew those destined to life; but now he shows more clearly the meaning of killing the soul that should not, or ought not to die, when the heart of the righteous is made sorrowful. By the righteous he means those whom the false prophets inspired with causeless terror. But why, it is asked, does he say that the righteous are grieved, since we have formerly taught that no others were deceived unless those who spontaneously throw themselves into the snares and traps of Satan? I answer, that the false prophets thundered so, and their lies were so spread about here and there as to involve the simple: for they scatter their threats so as to reach all men. Hence they wound weak consciences; as at this day when the lies of Satan fly about; by which true religion is corrupted, many simple ones are frightened, for they are destitute of judgment, and do not distinguish whether God threatens, or man vaunts himself rashly.
We see, then, how false prophets cause the righteous sorrow, when they suggest scruples, and, under the penalty of mortal sin, denounce first one thing and then another: then they deprive them of confidence in God’s favor, and strike them with various terrors, as we discern clearly in the papacy of this very day. Let us take that one point which is with them without controversy, that our confidence springs from our works, and hence that we cannot determine whether God is propitious to us or not., and thus they overthrow all assurance of faith. They retain, indeed, the name of faith, but meantime they wish wretched consciences to vacillate and be turned about with disquiet, since no one can know whether he can invoke God as a father. 3131 The modern state of this controversy is fully explained in Ward’s “Ideal of the Christian Church.” He utterly rejects Calvin’s theory, and then very consistently joins the Church of Rome. That confidence which Paul says is common to all Christians, they call presumption and rashness. (Ephesians 3:12.) We see, then, how that point not only grieves the righteous, but disturbs innocent consciences: for a series of traditions is afterwards added, and the penalty of eternal death is always annexed. hence it happens that those who wish to worship God in any other way, when they are thus rendered spiritless, know not which way to turn: hence also they lose all fear of God, since no one can seriously reverence God unless he who feels him to be easily entreated, as we learn from Psalm 130:6.
We now understand what the Holy Spirit means when he reproves the women because they made the heart of the righteous sad. It is added, but I was unwilling to grieve them. For God’s faithful servants often inspire terror, but only when necessary. For they cannot otherwise subdue those who exult in their lusts, and they cannot bring them to obedience unless they overcome them with fear. Hence even true prophets and evangelists cause pain, as Paul says: If I have caused you sorrow, I do not repent of it: for so I thought to do: for there is salutary grief. (2 Corinthians 7:8.) Besides, true prophets do not afflict men for nothing; they only cause anxiety in the minds of those whom God wishes to grieve: hence they do not fabricate the material for sorrow and pain in their own brain, but receive it from God’s mouth and the spirit of revelation. Hence the word righteous is used, and falsely is added, by which particle the severity which true prophets are often compelled to use is distinguished from the roughness, or rather savage rudeness, of false prophets. For as I have said, they frighten wretched consciences. But by what right? by transferring God’s power to themselves; just as at the present day the Pope with swelling cheeks thunders forth that himself and his throne are apostolic, and therefore infallible. Since, therefore, false prophets thus contend by fallacies, the simple are overcome by fear.
It is now added, that they strengthened the hands of the impious (literally, of the impious man in the singular). When the Prophet spoke of the righteous, he used the word heart: he now uses the word hand, and not without reason. For the false terrors in which the false prophets indulged, penetrate even to the intimate affections, and as each is affected by the fear of God, so he becomes afraid of those threats which he hears uttered in God’s name. We see, then, that it was said with very good reason that the mind of the righteous was sadly grieved; and now when he says that he had strengthened the hands of the impious, he means that audacity was added, so that not only the wicked always remain obstinate against God, but they break out in unbridled license, and hesitate not openly to violate God’s law: for strengthening the hands is more than grieving the mind. For it may and it does happen, that a man may swell with pride and contempt of God, and yet modesty may hinder him from basely contaminating himself with many crimes. But when the hands themselves are engaged in licentiousness, all evils are heaped together. Now, therefore, we understand the reason of this difference. In fine, Ezekiel means that the impious had been hardened by the blandishments of these women, so as not only to despise God in their minds, but to bear witness through their whole life, that they were openly and confessedly erecting the standard of war against God. In this sense, then, he says, that they had strengthened the hands of the impious.
He adds, that he should not be converted. Here he more clearly defines how those souls which were devoted to death 3232 The Latin edition of 1565 has “motu:” the true reading is “morte.” The French version is correct in rendering it by “perdition.” were kept alive, since such confidence was set before them as to lull and stupefy their consciences. He does not say, then, that the hands of the impious were strengthened, as in a conspiracy of the wicked one often assists another, as if they mutually bound their hands together. But the Prophet now speaks in another sense, namely, that these women so hardened the wicked that they went on securely in their wickedness, and made a laughing-stock of God and his law. You have strengthened the hands that they should not be converted: but how? by affording them life. Hence we gather that men cannot be humbled otherwise than by placing death before them, because all willingly indulge themselves, and hypocrisy is so ingrained in us by natural corruption, that every one readily persuades himself that all things will turn out well. Unless, therefore, death is presented before our eyes, and God himself appears as a judge to destroy us, we remain like ourselves, and proceed to still greater audacity. The Prophet signifies this when he says, that by giving life to the impious the false prophets strengthened their hands, and opposed their repentance altogether. How so? When the sinner thinks God propitious to him, he is not anxious about reconciliation, but abuses God’s forbearance, and is daily rendered bolder, until at last he puts off all sense of fear. Hence this is the true preparation for conversion, when the sinner is slain; that is, acknowledges himself liable to the judgment of God, and takes a formidable view of his wrath. When, therefore, he sees himself lost, then he begins to think of conversion; but when men sleep over their sins, as I have said, they persist till they arrive at constant apathy, as Paul says when he remarks that they have no longer any sense of sorrow. (Ephesians 4:19.)
It follows, you shall not see a lie any more. He has hitherto explained the reason why God grew so warm against these women, because they destroyed miserable souls either by their cruelty or their flatteries, and thus were like false prophets: now he adds, you shall not see a lie any more. This ought not to be understood as if God promised these women a sound mind, so that they should cease to hurt the people by their lies: but he confirms the sentiment previously expressed, namely, that they should be subject to the taunts of all men, as boys themselves acknowledge that what they boasted to be oracles were mere imposture. It is just as if he had said — I will make you ashamed, so that hereafter you may be deprived of the use of the prophetic name, as you have hitherto used it. Although these women persisted in their madness, yet they saw vanity no more, since it became openly apparent that those wretched ones who trusted in them were deceived. Lastly, this thought to be adapted not to any change of feeling in these women, but rather to a failure in the effect. It is just as if any one were to say to a foolish fellow boasting himself to be a Lawyer or a physician, — I will take care that you profit no more as either a Lawyer or a physician; and yet that foolish person should not be able to put away the opinion which he had ever formed of his own skin. But this is said, because the mere vanity of his boasting should be evident to all. So also God now speaks. This addition has the same meaning: you shall not divine divination any more. And yet there is no doubt that they desired by all means to invent new prophecies, and to boast in new revelations: but they were despised, because God had detected their lies when Jerusalem was taken, and the people dragged into exile: then because they promised the people a speedy return, when the same God refuted them by prolonging their exile. When, therefore, any one suffers the just penalty of his impiety, then the vanity of those women was detected: in this way they ceased to divine. He repeats — I will free my people from your hand: and you shall know that I am Jehovah. Since I have lately explained this phrase I now pass it by. It follows —