3. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day.
3. Et dixit ad me: Fili hominis mitto to ad filios Israel, ad gentes rebelles vel defectrices, quae rebellarunt in me: ipsi et partes eorum perfidie se gesserunt erga me usque ad ipsum huic diem.
The Prophet now more clearly explains the object of the vision which he has formerly mentioned, namely, that being armed with authority he might more freely discharge the office of Prophet among the Israelites. For we know that God claims this honor to himself alone, that he should be head in his Church, and deservedly so, for he is not called our Lawgiver in vain, (Isaiah 33:22; James 4:12,) and our wisdom consists in nothing else but in attending to his instructions. Since, therefore, God alone is to be heard, every mortal, whatever he professes himself, must be rejected, unless he comes in the name of God, and can prove his calling, and really convince men that he does not speak except by God's command. Therefore, that Ezekiel may not labor in vain, he ought to prove himself divinely inspired, and this was done by the vision. Now he more clearly explains that object of the vision. Here it may be remarked, that figures are illusory without an explanation. If the vision only had been offered to the eye of the Prophet, and no voice of God had followed, what would have been the advantage? But when God confirmed the vision by his word, the Prophet was enabled to say with advantage, I have seen the glory of God. And this can also be transferred to sacraments, because if signs only are presented to our eyes they will be, as it were, dead images. The word of God, then, throws life into the sacraments, as it has been said concerning visions.
Since Ezekiel so often uses this form of speech, saying, that he was called Son of man, I do not doubt that God wished to prevent the people from despising him as one of the common herd. For he had been dragged into exile not without ignominy: since then he differed from the generality in no outward appearance, his doctrine might be despised and rejected. God, therefore, takes him up, and, by way of concession, calls him Son of man. So, on the other hand, he signifies that the teaching ought not to be estimated by outward appearance, but rather by his calling. It is quite true, that his language was then more prolix, and we see how our Prophet differs from the rest. For his language has evidently a foreign tinge, since those who are in exile naturally contract many faults of language, and the Prophet was never anxious about elegance and polish, but, as he had been accustomed to homely language, so he spoke himself. But I have no doubt that God wished purposely to select a man from the multitude contemptible in outward appearance, and then to raise him above all mortals by dignifying him with the gift of prophecy.
We must now see how God prepares him for the discharge of his duties. I send thee, he says, to the children of Israel, a rebellious race, that is, disobedient and revolting. In this manner the Prophet was able to escape as soon as he saw the odious duty' assigned to him, for its difficulty alone would frighten him. But a double trial is added when he saw himself engaged in a contest with numberless enemies. He challenged, as it were, to conflict all the Israelites of his day, and this was a most grievous trial. But another trial was, not only that he perceived himself beating the air, -- to use a common proverb, rebut he must have felt it a profanation of heavenly doctrine to address it to impious men, and that too only for the purpose of exasperating them still further. We see, then, that the Prophet had no inducement of earthly gratification to urge him to undertake his duty. If God wished to use his agency, he ought to afford him some hope of success, or, at least, he ought to leave it sufficiently uncertain to urge him to make every effort. But when in the first instance this difficulty occurs, that he has to deal with a perverse and stubborn generation -- next, that he is drawn into a hateful contest -- thirdly, that he is advised to cast what is holy before dogs, and pearls before swine, and thus, as it were, to prostitute the word of God, surely his mind must despair a hundred times when he pondered these things within himself. Hence it was God's plan to arm him with unconquerable constancy, so that he might go forward in the course of his calling.
We must bear in mind, then, this principle: when God wishes to stir us up to obedience, he does not always promise a happy result of our labor: but sometimes he so puts our obedience to the test, that he wishes us to be content with his command, even if our labor should be deemed ridiculous before men. Sometimes, indeed, he indulges our infirmity, and when he orders us to undertake any duty, he at the same time bears witness that our labor shall not be in vain, and our industry without its recompense: then indeed God spares us. But he sometimes proves his people as I have said, providing that whatever be the result of their labors, it is sufficient for them to obey his command. And from
passage we readily collect that our Prophet was thus dispirited. And we read the same of Isaiah; for when he is sent by God, he is not only told that he must speak to the deaf, but what God proposes to him is still harder. Go, says he, render the eyes of this people blind, and their ears dull, and their heart obstinate. (Isaiah 6:9, 10.) Not only therefore does Isaiah see that he would be exposed to ridicule, and so lose the fruit of his labor, but he sees that his address has but one tendency, and that the blinding of the Jews: nay, even their threefold destruction -- though even one destruction is enough: but, as I have already said, God sometimes so wishes his servants to acquiesce in his government, that they should labor even without any hope of fruit: and this must be diligently marked. For as often as we are called upon by God before we apply ourselves to our work, these thoughts come into the mind: |What will be the result of this?| and |What shall I obtain by my labor?| And, then, when the event does not turn out according to our wish, we despond in our minds: but this is wresting from God a part of his government. For although our labor should be in vain, yet it is sufficiently pleasing to God himself; therefore let us learn to leave the event in the hand of God when he enjoins anything upon us; and although the whole world should deride us, and despair itself should render us inactive, yet let us be of good cheer and strive to the utmost, because it ought to suffice us that our obedience is pleasing to God.
For this reason Paul says, (2 Corinthians 2:15, 16,) that the gospel, although it is a savor of death unto death, is yet a sweet savor unto God. When it is said that the gospel brings death, our judgment might immediately suggest to us, that nothing is better than to leave it. Therefore Paul meets us, and says, we ought not to judge the gospel by its success. Although, therefore, men not only remain deaf, but even become worse, and rush headlong in fury against God, yet the gospel always retains its sweet savor before God. The doctrine of the Prophet is the same. Now, if any one objects that God acts cruelly while he so purposely blinds men, that those who are already sufficiently lost perish twice or thrice over, the answer is at hand -- God offers his word indiscriminately to the good and bad, but it works by his Spirit in the elect, as I have already said; and as to the reprobate, the doctrine is useful, as it renders them without excuse. Next, that their obstinacy may be broken down -- for since they refuse to yield willingly to God, it is necessary that they should yield when conquered -- when, therefore, God sees the reprobate thus broken down, he strikes them with the hammer of his word. At length he takes away all excuse of ignorance, because being convicted of their own conscience, whether they will or not, they become their own judges, and their mouth is stopped. Although they do not cease their rebellion against God, yet they are subject to his judgment. Although, therefore, this may seem absurd, that God should send his Prophets to render the people blind, yet we must reverently submit to his counsel, even if the cause is unknown to us for a time. But, as I have said, we do understand, to a certain extent, why God thus strives with rebellious and obstinate men.
Now, therefore, since at the very beginning Ezekiel is informed of the result, it is scarcely doubtful that God wished to prepare him to descend to the discharge of his duty without yielding to any obstacles. For some who seem to be sufficiently ready to obey, yet when difficulties and obstacles occur, desist in the middle of their course, and many recede altogether; and some we see who have renounced their vocation, because they had conceived great and excessive hopes of success, but when the event does not answer their expectations, they think themselves discharged from duty, and even murmur against God, and reject the burden, or rather shake off what had been imposed upon them. Because, then, many retreat from the course they had undertaken, because they do not experience the success they had imagined, or had presumed upon in their minds, therefore before Ezekiel begins to speak, God sets before him trials of this kind, and informs him that he would have to deal with a rebellious people.
He says the children of Israel are a revolting nation; for mrd, mered, signifies to rebel or resist, and the noun |rebellious| is suitable enough. Therefore I send thee to the rebellions nations, because directly after follows the word mrdv, merdo, which means who have rebelled against me. We know that among the Jews this is a word of reproach; for they often call us gvym, goim |Gentiles,| as if they called us |profane,| |rejected,| and altogether alienated from God. Lastly, this word goim means with them |pollution| and |abomination;| we are to the Jews like dung, and the off-scouring of the world, because we are goim. And there is no doubt that this pride filled the minds of the people in the days of the Prophet; God therefore calls them unbelieving nations. I confess, indeed, that this is sometimes used in a good sense; but because the Scriptures more usually call foreigners goim who are not partakers of God's covenant, hence it became a mark of disgrace and reproach among the Jews. It is scarcely doubtful, then, but that God wished to abolish the honorable title which he had assigned to them; for it was a holy nation and a priestly kingdom. When, therefore, God calls them goim, it is just as if he should say, that they were cut off from all that dignity in which they formerly excelled, and differed in nothing from the profane and re-jeered nations, as we have a similar description in Hosea. There the Prophet is ordered to take a harlot to wife. (Hosea 1.) He says that he begat a son and a daughter, and that, he called the son l'my, lo-ammi that is, |not God people.| Then he called his daughter |not beloved.| By this vision the Prophet shows that the Jews were rejected, so that God no longer thinks of them as sons, but repels them as foreigners. So also in this place rejection is denoted, when the Prophet, as the mouth of God, calls them Gentiles. The plural number is used, that he may the better express the defection which oppressed the whole people. If a few only were such as this, the Prophet might still feel encouraged. But God here pronounced the severest sentence, because the whole people, taken both at large and separately, was rebellious; and this is the reason why the plural number is used.
Is it then asked whether a single individual remained who would embrace the Prophet's doctrine? The answer is easy. The discourse does not relate to individuals, but to the whole people; for the Prophets often use similar language, as when they call the Israelites degenerate and spurious, then sons of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the offspring of Canaan: they inveigh against the multitude promiscuously; for they had in fact a few disciples who could not be classed in that order. (Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 8:16; Isaiah 57:3; Ezekiel 16:3.) But we must hold what is said by Isaiah 8. -- |Bind my testimony upon my disciples.| There the Prophet is ordered from above to address the faithful, of whom a small number remained, and so to address them as if the letter were folded and sealed. But he spreads abroad this discourse among the whole people. So also when God pronounces the sons of Israel to be rebellious nations, he looks to the body of the people; at the same time there is no doubt that God always preserved a seed to serve him, although hidden from man. Daniel was then in exile with his colleagues, and he surely was not a rebel against God; but as I have already said, enough has been brought forward to show that the whole people were impious. God says that he had previously tried what the people was -- They have rebelled, he says, against me; by which words he signifies that he was not making an experiment as if they were previously unknown. He says that he had already found out their perverseness by many trials; and yet he says that he sends to them, because he wished, as I have already said, to render their ignorance perfectly excuseless, and then he wished to break down their contumacy, which was otherwise untameable.
He says, they and their fathers have behaved themselves treacherously against me even to this very day He does not extenuate their crime when he says, that they imitated the example of their fathers, but he rather increases their own impiety when he says they were not the beginners of it, but were born of impious parents, as if he should say, according to the vulgar proverb, |a chip of the old block.| Hence it appears that there is no pretext for the error when we use the fathers as the Papists do, who oppose them as a shield to God; for whilst they have the fathers on their tongue, they esteem this a sufficient defense for every impiety. But we see that God not only reckons this as nothing, but that the crime of the children is exaggerated when they plead the evil example of their fathers as the cause of their own obstinacy. Now, not only does the Prophet desire to show this to be a frivolous excuse, if the Jews should object that they framed their life in imitation of their fathers, but as we see, it shows them doubly condemned, because they did not desist from provoking God at the beginning, and so by a continual succession, impiety and contempt of heavenly teaching prevailed through all ages, even to their own. Besides, this passage warns us against abusing the long-suffering of God; for when he sent his Prophet we see the purport of his doing so -- the people was now on the brink of utter destruction, but God wished to plunge them deeper into the lowest abyss. Let us take care lest a similar punishment should be our lot if we remain obstinate. When, therefore, God sends some Prophets to one people, and some to another:, it ought to recall us to penitence, and to caution us, lest the word which is peculiarly destined to the salvation of men, should be to us a savor of death unto death, as it was to the ancient people. It follows --