Chapter 11 finishes the vision started back in chapter 8. Ezekiel had been taken by the Spirit to see the human abominations and divine abandonment of the Temple and Jerusalem. Chapter 11 concludes with the Spirit bringing Ezekiel back to the elders in Babylon with a staggering and sobering tale to tell (24-25).
Having seen the glory of God leave the inner temple and move to the “entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord” (10:19), Ezekiel is now taken to the east gate to see a group of twenty-five men gathered there (11:1). The Lord identifies these men as corrupt civic leaders (2-3). This group of men, which include Jaazaniah and Pelatiah (1), are oblivious to the glory of God (10:19). Instead, they are focused on their own selfish concerns. Convinced the city is their “cauldron” and they are the “meat” (choice parts), they “devise iniquity” and give “wicked counsel” (2). The Lord has a message for Ezekiel to deliver to them: they are not the meat in their own little cauldron. The dead bodies they have slain are the meat (6-7). They will not prosper (building houses—3) but will be cast out of the city and judged by foreigners “at the border of Israel” (10). Then they will “know that I am the Lord” (10, 12).
[Translation/Exegesis note: Verse 3 can be read as a statement (“The time is not near to build houses”) or a question (“Is not the time near to build houses?). The “cauldron” can be interpreted ominously (we are cooked!) or positively (we are protected). In light of other statements made about these leaders and their views (11, 15), I lean towards understanding verse 3 as the leaders’ confident assertion that Jerusalem is their walled pot of protection that must be fortified (no building houses across the country now; fortify the city). These wicked, powerful leaders see themselves as the “choice parts” of the remnant (“meat”) who rely on the walled city of Jerusalem to preserve them—not the LORD of Jerusalem. They are sadly mistaken! The book of Jeremiah details what happens to these wicked leaders when the Babylonians break through the walls of Jerusalem, burn the city and kill the leaders. Those who survive the conquest are exiled to Babylon or, eventually, run for Egypt—and die there. The sword they fear (8) and they become “dead meat”]
While Ezekiel is delivering this message, Pelatiah dies. Ezekiel cries out to the Lord, asking (in grief) whether the Lord will really “make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” (13).
The Lord answers Ezekiel’s question in a surprising way. He explains that the exiles in Babylon and other countries (16) are the ones who will be preserved as a remnant. Though the wicked in Jerusalem view the exiles as excluded from the land, these exiles will be protected by God (“I have been a sanctuary to them for a while”—16) until they are brought home.
But the news gets better. Not only will the exiles be brought home physically, they will return spiritually. The Lord will “give them one heart and a new spirit” (19). They will remove all the abominations in the Temple and city (18) and “walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them” (20). The Lord says these exiles will “be my people and I will be their God” (20).
Having given this message to Ezekiel, the divine chariot carrying the glory of God begins to move from the east gate to the “mountain that is on the east side of the city” (24). Ichabod: the glory has departed.
Finally, Ezekiel departs as the Spirit lifts him up and brings him back to the exiles in Chaldea (25). The vision ends and Ezekiel tells what he has seen to the elders who were gathered around him (8:1-2).
[Exegesis/Interpretation Note: The LORD pictures the exiles as those who will be sheltered by Him for a time and then brought home to Israel (17). These returning exiles will clear the land of the abominations/idols (18). God will give them “one heart and a new spirit” (19) so that they walk in His ways and follow His commands (20). How are we to understand this promise in light of the fact that while the returning Jews seem to have abandoned gross idolatry, they do not uniformly evidence “one heart and a new spirit.” We know this from the writings of Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai and Malachi. Those who return are a mixed multitude spiritually. Some respond in renewed commitment to the Lord (Nehemiah 8-9) while others are complacent (Haggai 1), disobedient (foreign wives) and spiritually compromised (Malachi). It would seem that the fulfillment of the promise in Ezekiel 11:17-20 awaited a later date when the glory of God would return from the eastern mount (Olives) to the Temple; Jesus rode into the city from the east to the cries of “Hosanna.” After His death and resurrection, which inaugurated the New Covenant (Ezekiel 36; Luke 22:20), the Holy Spirit is given to those who believe (John 20; Acts 2). Now there are believers—not only Jews but Gentiles!—who have one heart and a new Spirit. These “sons of Abraham” are the true remnant promised in Ezekiel 11.]
Visions of God
God knows our thoughts as well as our actions. The wicked leaders in Jerusalem are foolishly unaware that their private counsels and secret thoughts are completely known to the Lord: “I know the things that come into your mind”—5. There is no hiding from the all-seeing God. All leaders’ meetings are public meetings to Him!
God monitors the decisions made by leaders—for justice or the lack of it. God is not only jealous (8:5) but just. He watches those who misuse power and traffic in injustice. Human leaders have a just Judge who monitors their actions and will carry out justice against those who do injustice. Here is a sobering reminder that all of us in positions of leadership and power must “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
When God’s glory departs, judgment comes. The twin images of the coals being scattered (10:2,6) while the throne-chariot of God departs (11:22-23) show the link between God leaving and judgment coming. Sadly, the people of Jerusalem are blinded to both realities until it’s too late.
God may seem to abandon his people, but He is preserving a remnant. The leaders in Jerusalem thought they were the choice remnant (“the meat”) while the exiles in Babylon were the discarded waste. They had it reversed. They would soon be dead meat and the exiles would be preserved and re-gathered. Ezekiel feared God would destroy the entire remnant—a fear that is unfounded in light of God’s covenant faithfulness (Rom 11:5).
God spiritually transforms his people so they walk in His ways. The only hope for the Jewish nation was a spiritual transformation. They could not save themselves militarily or spiritually. The Lord would preserve them in exile and change them spiritually by giving them a new spirit/Spirit. Those who receive God’s inner work are able to “will and do” His will (Phil 2:13).
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen see the glory of God where others miss it. Ezekiel is taken by the Spirit to the east gate of the Temple where the glory of God has stopped on its journey from the Temple (1). Ezekiel not only sees the glory of God at the east gate, he sees twenty-five leaders of Israel—men who are not following the Lord’s ways. They seem completely oblivious to the presence of God’s glory. So it goes today. God’s watchmen can see his glory where others only see other human leaders. Lord, may I have eyes to behold the glory of your presence in the midst of a polluted world.
Watchmen take no pleasure in the death of the guilty. Ezekiel responds to the death of Pelatiah with alarm: “Ah, Lord God! Will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” (13). While his people have become unfaithful, Ezekiel faithfully intercedes for them. Conviction and commitment need not eradicate compassion in the hearts of watchmen.
Watchmen faithfully convey God’s message—of judgment and hope. When the vision ends and Ezekiel is once again engaged with the people in exile (8:1; 11:24-25), he reports to them “all the things that the Lord had shown me” (25). He does not edit out the uncomfortable parts or the hopeful parts. He tells what God shows and says. So watchmen today much faithfully declare the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
Watchmen cannot save those they serve but point them to the only One who can. Ezekiel has no power to stop the carnage or change hearts. Only God can be the judge and Saviour of His people. Ezekiel—like all faithful watchmen—must point people to Him.