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Judgment on Idolatrous Israel


The word of the L ord came to me: 2O mortal, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, 3and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord G od! Thus says the Lord G od to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: I, I myself will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. 4Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense stands shall be broken; and I will throw down your slain in front of your idols. 5I will lay the corpses of the people of Israel in front of their idols; and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 6Wherever you live, your towns shall be waste and your high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined, your idols broken and destroyed, your incense stands cut down, and your works wiped out. 7The slain shall fall in your midst; then you shall know that I am the L ord.

8 But I will spare some. Some of you shall escape the sword among the nations and be scattered through the countries. 9Those of you who escape shall remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I was crushed by their wanton heart that turned away from me, and their wanton eyes that turned after their idols. Then they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations. 10And they shall know that I am the L ord; I did not threaten in vain to bring this disaster upon them.

11 Thus says the Lord G od: Clap your hands and stamp your foot, and say, Alas for all the vile abominations of the house of Israel! For they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. 12Those far off shall die of pestilence; those nearby shall fall by the sword; and any who are left and are spared shall die of famine. Thus I will spend my fury upon them. 13And you shall know that I am the L ord, when their slain lie among their idols around their altars, on every high hill, on all the mountain tops, under every green tree, and under every leafy oak, wherever they offered pleasing odor to all their idols. 14I will stretch out my hand against them, and make the land desolate and waste, throughout all their settlements, from the wilderness to Riblah. Then they shall know that I am the L ord.

The Prophet now turns himself to the kingdom of Israel, since he had formerly spoken concerning the Jews alone. He says that he was divinely sent to the mountains of Israel. The first question may arise about the time; for the kingdom of Israel had been cut off, and the ten tribes dragged into exile- and the kingdom had come to an end in Ezekiel’s time. The time, therefore, does not seem to accord with the denunciation of the Prophet as to what had happened many years previously. But nothing will appear out of place, if we say that it was partly prophecy and partly doctrine, so that the Israelites might understand why they were driven out of their country, and dispersed among the nations. I say that God’s plans were partly explained to the exiles, that they might know why God had driven them to distant lands: for this punishment would not have been useful had not God convinced them of its cause. But although the kingdom had fallen, it is probable that some of the people were remaining: for the Assyrian did not carry off so many thousand men, and his kingdom would have been burdened by such a multitude. Doubtless he collected the flower of the people, and permitted the commonalty to remain there: for he sent from his own kingdom inhabitants for the deserted soil. But the change was great and ruinous to the king himself, and vexatious to all alike. Although, therefore, the kingdom did not exist any longer — nay, even the name of Israel was almost extinct, because there was no mass of people, and they dwelt in their country like foreigners and guests, yet there was still some portion of them left. Now, we collect from the words of the Prophet that they were obstinate, because they were not induced by either the exile of their brethren, or their own calamity, to leave their own superstitions, and embrace the true and pure worship of God.

Since, therefore, this chastisement did not profit them, hence the Prophet is ordered to preach against them It is ascertained from the first chapter that Ezekiel received this command after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel, (Ezekiel 1:1, 2) for he said that he was divinely stirred up in the thirtieth year after the jubilee, and in the fifth year of the captivity of Jechoniah or Joachim. It is evident, therefore, that the Prophet spake against the land of Israel after the ten tribes had been dispersed. Hence we may elicit that there were still many people there, because it would have been difficult for the Assyrians to receive all the people, and those who remained alive in the country went on in their own abominations, so that it became necessary for some other judgment to be denounced against them, on which we are about to enter. Now, therefore, this principle is established, that the Prophet so treats the slaughter of the kingdom of Israel, that he predicts as about to come to pass what those left in the country by no means feared; for they were persuaded that. they were free from all dangers. But the Prophet shows that God’s wrath was not yet complete, but that their former calamities were only a prelude, and that heavier woes were at hand, because they had so hardened themselves against the power of God. The prophecy, too, has greater weight when the Prophet addressed the mountains than when his discourse was directed to men. So that Ezekiel is not ordered to exhort the Israelites to penitence, and to threaten them with the punishment which still remained, but he is ordered to turn his discourse to hills, and mountains, and valleys Thus God obliquely signifies, first, that the Israelites were deaf, and then unworthy of the trouble which Ezekiel would spend in teaching them. Thus the Prophet sent to Jeroboam did not design to address him, but turning to the altar —

“O altar, altar,” says he, “thus saith Jehovah, Behold a son shall be born to the family of David, by name Josiah, and he shall slay upon thee the priests of the high places, and shall burn upon thee the bones of the dead.” (1 Kings 13:2.)

The king was burning incense on the altar, the prophet does not regard him, but as I have just said, directs his discourse to the altar: that was far more vehement than if he had reproved the king sharply. For that was no common reproof, to pass by the king as if he had been only the shadow of a man, and to admonish the dead altar concerning a future event: so also in this place: Son of man, set thy face against the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them The Prophet might object that the mountains had no ears, and hence that it was only child’s play. But he understood God’s intention, and so obeyed cheerfully, because he saw the people despised and rejected by God because they were deaf and incurable, and meanwhile he knew that his labor would not be lost although he addressed the mountains. For we know that the earth was created for the use of man, and hence God proposes to us examples of his wrath in brutes, trees, the atmosphere, and the heavens, that we may know that admonitions belonging to us are engraven there, although in every other way God turns away his eyes and his face. This, therefore, is a sign of his wrath, when God shows his judgments on all sides, and yet is silent towards us, because we gather from this that we are unworthy of any trouble for our improvement, and this was doubtless the Prophet’s conclusion.

Now a clearer expression follows in the third verse: Thou shalt say, ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord. Here an audience is required of the mountains which they could not give, but that has respect to mankind, as I have just said. God, therefore, requires the mountains to listen, so that men may understand that an inanimate thing may be endued with sense, if their stupidity is considered. For at length God enforced his judgments against the mountains of Israel. Although, therefore, they could not hear the Prophet speaking, yet they took up his instruction, because it was efficacious in them, and God at length in reality proved that he had not spoken in vain. The event, therefore, openly made the mountains in some way attentive. Neither could they escape the judgment which had been openly denounced. Now he adds, Thus saith Jehovah to the mountains and the hills Ezekiel now addresses not mountains only, as he had been commanded: hence he seems to exceed the prescribed command, for he had been sent to mountains and hills only, but now he says, hear ye mountains, hear ye hills, hear ye valleys. But we said yesterday that prophets sometimes speak briefly, and sometimes explain more fully what they had uttered but shortly. God, therefore, at the beginning spoke only of mountains, but he doubtless comprehended valleys, and the flowing down of rivers, because the Prophet only explains what he had said in one word: hence he speaks to mountains and hills, and then to the pouring down of waters or torrents Jerome translates it rocks, and the Hebrews call whatever is violent אפיק, aphik, hence when there is any violent course they use this word; and so we may understand in this place either rocks or flowing down of waters or torrents, no matter which. But since he afterwards adds valleys, this explanation is to me probable, that the Prophet indeed understands either torrents or the rushing down of waters. Here we must also remark, that those parts are marked out where the Israelites had erected perverse and adulterous worship: for we know that mountains were filled with superstitions, and so also valleys, though the reason was different: for when they erected their altars on the mountains they thought themselves near God, but when they descended into the valleys, their rites were thus performed in shade and obscurity, and thus they thought themselves in this way hidden as it were in a sanctuary. It is sufficiently known that they exercised their idolatries in the mountains as well as the valleys. This, therefore, is the reason why the Prophet here shows that the whole land of Israel was polluted with defilement. Behold, says he, I bring a sword against you. Hence we infer that when the Prophet addresses the mountains, yet he speaks for the sake of man. For the sword could not injure the mountains: for one stone would break a hundred, nay a thousand swords, and yet remain entire. God, therefore, had threatened the mountains with slaughter in vain, nay, when mention is made of the sword, we know that death is understood: for the cause is put for the effect. Hence God addresses men indirectly, but when he directs his discourse to the mountains he shows that men themselves are deaf, and therefore turns away his face from them, and addresses mute elements and inanimate things: and I will destroy, says he, your lofty things He now explains what I have taught before, that mountains, and hills, and valleys, and descending waters are named, because perverse and impure worship flourished there. For by “lofty things,” the Spirit doubtless intends whatever the Israelites had mixed of their own imaginations to corrupt the worship of God. They properly call altars lofty, because they were erected in high and conspicuous places. But the species is here put for the genus. Meanwhile, God signifies that he so abominates all fictitious worship that he cannot bear the sight of the places. The stones indeed of which the altars were built we know to be harmless: for places are not polluted by idolatry of their own will; for as far as the world was created by God it always retains its own nature, but as far as man is concerned, the places themselves were polluted, and the contagion renders them hateful to God. Hence this is put for the detestation of idolatry. He continues the same sentiment, and first denounces that altars should be laid waste. Now it follows —

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