19. And will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to my people that hear your lies?
19. Et profanastis me erga populum meum in pugillis hordeorum propter frusta panis: ut occidaris animas quae non moriebantur, et ad vivificandum animas quae non vivebant, decipiendo populum meum audientes mendacium.
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 kzv, 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.