14. Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD.
14. Et fuerint tres viri isti in medio ejus, Noe, Daniel, et Job, ipsi in justitia sua eripient animas suas, dicit Dominator Iehovah.
Here again God threatens the people of Israel with final destruction: but the words seem opposed, that God would be merciful and propitious to his people, and yet that no hope of pardon would be left. But we must remember the principle, that the prophets sometimes directed their discourse to the body of the people which was utterly devoted to destruction, since its wickedness was desperate; yet afterwards they moderated that rigor, when they turned to the remainder, which is the seed of the Church in the world, that God's covenant should not be extinguished, as we have already said. Hence, when we meet with this kind of contradiction, we know that God affords no hope to the reprobate, since he has decreed their destruction: so that language ought to be transferred to the body of the people which was already alienated, and like a putrid carcass. But when God mingles and intersperses any testimony of his favor, we may know that the Church is intended, and that he wishes a seed to remain, lest the whole Church should perish, and his covenant be abolished at the same time. The Prophet, therefore, as before, so also now, sets before himself the people desperate in wickedness, and says that they had no right to hope that God would act mercifully as usual, since necessity compelled him to put his hand for the last time to the destruction of the impious. This is the full meaning. We had a similar passage in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 15:1), where he said, If Moses and Samuel had stood before me, my mind is not towards this people; that is, it never could be that I should return to favor them, even if Moses and Samuel should intercede for them, and endeavor to obtain pardon by their own intercession. The papists foolishly distort this passage to prove that the dead intercede for us, for Moses and Samuel had been dead some time; but God says, Even if they should pray for the people, their prayers would be in vain. But this passage refutes that gross ignorance: for God is not here making a difference between the living and the dead; but it is a kind of personification, and of bringing back Moses and Samuel from the grave; as if he had said, Were they living at this time, and entreating for these wicked ones, I would never listen to them: for Ezekiel here mentions three, Noah, Job, and Daniel. But Daniel was then alive: he had been dragged into exile, and lived to a mature old age, as is well known. Then he expresses his meaning more clearly, by saying, if they had been in the midst of the city they had escaped in safety themselves, but they would not have prevailed for others. The whole meaning is, that God cuts off all hope of mercy from the abandoned people.
We must remark the form of speech which is used: he relates four kinds of punishments by which men's crimes are usually avenged, and enumerates them distinctly. If I shall break the staff of bread, says he, because the land has revolted from me, and I shall send famine upon it, Daniel, Job, and Noah, shall preserve their own souls, but shall not profit others by their holiness: then he adds, if I shall send a sword, that is, if I shall follow up the impious by wars, even Daniel, and Job, and Noah, shall save their own souls, but they shall not intercede for others. He pronounces the same of pestilence and wild beasts. At length He reasons from less to greater. When I shall have punished any nation, says He, with famine, pestilence, and the sword, and wild beasts, how much less shall Daniel, Job, and Noah, prevail with me by their intercession? But God had condemned the house of Israel to all punishments, just as if he had poured all his curses like a deluge to destroy them. Hence He concludes that there is no reason for cherishing any hope of escape from these imminent dangers. Now then we comprehend the Prophet's meaning.
Now let us come to the first kind of punishment. If the land, says he, acts wickedly against me, or conducts itself wickedly, cht', cheta, to act wickedly, but by prevaricating with prevarication. By these words the crime of perfidy is distinguished from error, because men often fall away and depart far from God through ignorance of the way which they thought to pursue. But here the Prophet condemns the people's defection through perfidy, as if he had said that they purposely, and by deliberate malice, were estranged from God, since they had been correctly taught how God ought to be worshipped. Although the Prophet speaks generally, yet he wished to show God's wrath to be of no ordinary kind: for God will often chastise men's sins by either pestilence, or sword, or famine, and yet will not be implacable. But he here speaks of a desperate people, and one already addicted to eternal destruction. He says, therefore, by prevaricating with prevarication; that is, by deceiving my confidence by open and gross perfidy.
Again, and I will stretch forth, my hand upon it, and will break the staff of bread, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off from it man and beast. Here, as I have mentioned, he touches upon only one kind of punishment; for God is accustomed to take vengeance on men in four ways; and the prophets, as you have often heard, usually adopt the form of speech used by Moses. These four curses of God are everywhere related in the law, -- war, famine, pestilence, and the assault and savageness of wild beasts. Now the Prophet begins with hunger; but he points out the kind of hunger -- if God has broken the staff of bread. For sometimes, when he does not reduce men to poverty, yet he puffs up the bread, so that those who think to use it as nourishment do not gather any rigor from it. But the Prophet properly means it in this second sense, as we see in Ezekiel 4 and Ezekiel 5. The metaphor is in accordance with the word staff: for as the lame cannot walk unless they lean on a staff -- and tremulous old men need a similar support -- so by degrees men's strength vanish, unless new rigor is replaced by meat and drink. Bread is, therefore, like a staff which restores our strength when want has weakened it. We now come to the word breaking. How does God break the staff of bread? By withdrawing the nourishment which he had infused into it; for the virtue which we perceive in bread is not intrinsic: I mean this -- that bread is not naturally endued with the virtue of continuing and inspiring life within men; and why? Bread has no life in it: how then can any one derive life from it? But the teaching of the law has been marked: that man lives not by bread only, but by every word proceeding from God's mouth. (Deuteronomy 8:3.) Here Moses intends, that even if God has inserted the virtue of nourishment in bread, yet this is not to be so attributed to it as if it were inherent in it. What follows then? That as God breathes a secret virtue into the bread, it sustains and refreshes us, and becomes our aliment. On the other hand, God says that he breaks the virtue of the bread when he withdraws from it that virtue: because, as I have already said, when we taste bread, our minds ought to rise immediately to God, since men, if they cram themselves a thousand times, yet will not feel their life to be deposited in the bread. Therefore, unless God breathes into bread the virtue of nourishment, the bread is useless; it may fill us up, but without any profit. Now, then, we understand the meaning of this sentence, about which we shall have something more to say.