Chapter 12 comprises a new set of directives for Ezekiel to carry out or speak out. Five times in this chapter we are told, “The word of the LORD came to me” (1, 8, 17, 21, 26). The uniting theme of these five directives is the approaching exile of the remnant in Jerusalem and the tendency of the Babylonian exiles (the “rebellious house”—1) to dismiss or discount it.
First, Ezekiel is instructed to act out the sad scenario of a person packing for exile and then sneaking off into the night (1-7). “In their sight” (a phrase mentioned six times in verses 1-6), Ezekiel brings out his good in daylight, in the sight of the Babylonian exiles (3), digs through the wall (5), places his possessions on his shoulders (6), covers his face (6) and walks into the gathering darkness of dusk (7).
Second, the word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel after completing this dramatization (8). Those who observed him (“the rebellious house”) were evidently unable (unwilling) to make sense of his actions: “What are you doing?” they ask (9). Ezekiel is instructed by the LORD to tell them that this acted-out “oracle” (10) symbolized what will happen to those living in Jerusalem. The LORD singles out “the prince” (Zedekiah) as one who will do just has Ezekiel has portrayed—digging through the city walls at dusk in an attempt to escape (12). But the escape attempt will prove futile for the prince and the rest of the people. Most will be killed. The prince will “be taken in my snare” and brought to Babylon “yet he shall not see it” (13). The few survivors will be scattered to the surrounding countries where they will painfully recount their “abominations” that lead to their obliteration (16). The Lord declares that they will know “that I am the LORD” (16).
Third, Ezekiel is told to eat his bread and drink water with “trembling and anxiety” (18). The point of this action is to indicate the emotional state of the Jerusalemites—living in grave fear of invasion and “desolation” (20). Their fear is not unfounded for the “land will be stripped of all it contains on account of the violence of all those who dwell in it” (19).
Fourth, the Lord’s word comes to Ezekiel to correct a popular proverb being said among the exiles: “The days grow long and every vision comes to nothing” (22). The idea is that the words of doom and gloom are only words, amounting to nothing. The Lord wants Ezekiel to underscore that this proverb is about to be taken out of circulation. He will accomplish His promised judgment: “I will speak the word that I will speak, and it will be performed. It will no longer be delayed” (25).
Fifth, the word of the Lord comes still again to Ezekiel to address another misconception among the Babylonian exiles. They are saying, “The vision that he sees is for many days from now” (27). The LORD counters this false hope: “None of my words will be delayed any longer, but the word that I speak will be performed” (26).
Visions of God
The Lord communicates His Word. Five times, Ezekiel begins with the phrase, “The word of the LORD came to me” (1, 8, 17, 21, 26). Through Ezekiel’s actions and explanations, the Lord communicates His word to the exiles in Babylon. Through the written record of Scripture, the word of the Lord still comes to us today. As we open the Bible, we can say with Ezekiel, “The word of the Lord came to me.”
The word of the Lord accomplishes the will of the Lord. God’s word is more than mere words; His words accomplish His will. “For I am the LORD; I will speak the word that I will speak and it will be performed” (25). God’s words have power to act (a speech-act). His words are an extension of Himself—reliable, powerful and true. While the “rebellious house” of Israel doubted or discounted the veracity of his words, they would come to learn (the hard way) that God’s word accomplishes His will.
The word of the Lord can be missed or dismissed by people. The “rebellious house” of Israel (here, the exiles in Babylon) was hardened to God’s word. They “have eyes to see, but see not” and “ears to hear but her not” (1). God has Ezekiel act out His word (a one-man drama) to try and get through to them: “Perhaps they will understand though they are a rebellious house” (3). Ironically, the powerful word of the Lord is missed or dismissed by those it could help.
The Lord’s patience with rebellious people has a limit. God is slow to anger, but His patience has a limit. The Jews are convinced that any calamity is for the distant future. But God’s patience with them is about to run out: “None of my words will be delayed any longer” (28). To presume upon God’s patience and refuse to repent right away is playing with eternal fire.
The Lord accomplishes His word and work through godly and ungodly people. The Lord uses a dedicated prophet to communicate His word to the exiles. However, He will also use an ungodly nation (Babylon) to carry out his work (judgment) upon His people. The Lord speaks of personally spreading “his net” over the prince (Zedekiah) and bringing him to Babylon. Historically, this capture was carried out by the Babylonian armies surrounding Jerusalem.
The Lord sees and judges violence. God is not unaware or unconcerned by human violence. As the just Judge of the earth, he takes note of injustice and, in His time, will recompense those who perpetrate it. The delay should not be interpreted as evidence of His resolve to righteously deal with unrighteousness—specifically violence (19).
The word of the Lord will be vindicated in time. A repeated refrain in this chapter (and throughout the book) is a variation of the sentence: they may know that I am the Lord (15, 16, 20). The cynics and skeptics were wrong about God’s Word and they would live (or die) to discover that what He says, He does.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen are to do what God demands and speak what God says. Ezekiel’s job description, in some ways, is rather simple. He does what God tells him (3, 7) and says what God speaks to him (10). Reduced to its essentials, the same job description is given to all who speak for God today. As a preacher, I am to obey what He commands and speak what He has spoken (as found in God’s Word).
Watchmen should expect but not be deterred by cynics. The final two directives in chapter 12 address the stubborn cynicism of the Jews in Jerusalem (21-25) and those in Babylon (26-28). Both groups take a jaded view of prophetic pronouncements. They either dismiss them as “never going to happen” (“The days grow long and every vision comes to nothing”—22) or as “not going to happen anytime soon (“The vision that he sees is for many days from now”—28). Peter’s letter to Christians show that cynicism wasn’t an Old Testament problem (“Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation”—2 Peter 3:5). Those who serve as watchmen today should not be surprised or silenced by the stubborn cynicism that greets our exposition of God’s Word.