When the word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel (13:1), the message—this time—is directed at others who claim to speak in God’s name: the false prophets (male and female) of Israel. Verses 1-16 focus on the men who are giving the exiles false visions and lying divinations (7, 9). Verses 17-23 address “the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own hearts” (17). Both groups are defaming God’s name and damaging His people; both groups will experience God’s active opposition and judgment (9, 20). Both will “know that I am the Lord” (9, 23).
A careful, close reading of the text, gives us a profile of a false prophet. They “prophesy from their own hearts” (2, 17), giving a message that originates with them rather than with God. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are cynical charlatans as much as self-deceived spokesmen. They think they are speaking God’s message as “they expect him to fulfill their word” (6). While they actually “have seen nothing” (3), they are convinced they have seen a vision from God. In other words, their visions are “false visions” and “lying divinations” (6, 7). On one level they seem “sincere” or at least present themselves as such.
Their message is one of “peace” and comfort (10), especially for those living in Jerusalem (16). While Jeremiah and Ezekiel are prophesying impending judgment on the Jews in Jerusalem, they are promising peace. Ezekiel describes them as smearing whitewash on the wall (security) built by the vain imaginations and futile hopes of the people (10-15). In other words, they tell the people what they want to hear. In Paul’s words, they tickle ears (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
While these prophets think they are helping bolster the morale and hopes of the Jews, they are actually doing great harm. Ezekiel describes them as “jackals among the ruins”, scavenging for themselves while devouring the lives of others (4). They are not constructive (4) but destructive.
God has a severe message for these false prophets. His hand will be against them. They will be excluded from the remnant the returns to the land (9) and will experience his wrath (15) and perish (14). When the peoples’ false hopes (the “wall”) collapse, they will be shown to be false prophets. Then they (and everyone else) will know the truth. Then “they will know that I am the Lord God” (9).
The final seven verses (17-23) focus on the female counterparts. These “daughters” seem to be Jewish “fortune tellers” who use charms (“magic bands” and “veils”—18) to “prophesy out of their own hearts” (17).
Far from benign, these women are pictured as predatory (“hunt for souls”—16) and mercenary (“for handfuls of barley and pieces of bread”—19). The Lord says they are guilty of profaning His name among His people (19), disheartening the righteous and encouraging the wicked (22). Rather than turning the wicked from their evil ways (22), their false messages have the opposite effect: their lies have the effect of “putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live” (19).
Once again, the Lord declares his active judgment on these female false prophets (20). He is no respecter of persons (male or female) when it comes to those who claim to speak in His name. He will expose them as frauds and deliver His people from their hands (21). Then these false prophets will “know that I am the Lord” (21, 23).
Visions of God
God sends His storm of judgment on His rebellious, misguided people. The Lord warns of a coming “day of the Lord” (5), pictured both as a day of “battle” (5) and “stormy wind”(13). His judgment will flatten the false hopes and false visions of “peace” apart from Him. The Jews, who fear the Babylonians, have misplaced their fears! They’ve lost the fear of the Lord, assuming He is unconditionally supportive. While His covenantal love is indeed unfailing, it is not to be treated as an entitlement. Rather, it should motivate a trust in His power and adherence to His Word.
God brings down false prophets and false hopes for security. In these verses, the Lord warns His people of coming judgment—His storm will flatten and demolish their flimsy hopes (“the wall”) of finding security apart from Him (13-14). He is particularly angry with the false prophets who bolster and whitewash the people’s false hopes. These prophets tell people what they want to hear (“peace”—16) rather than what they need to know to prepare for the stormy “day of the Lord” (5). Both the false prophets and their false visions will perish.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen have to watch out for pretenders and poseurs. God’s watchman aren’t the only ones claiming to speak for God. Pseudo watchmen abound, bringing people a message that tickles ears and reinforces their false ideas and hopes. The marketplace of religious ideas is crowded.
Watchmen don’t whitewash false hopes but prepare people for harsh realities. The false prophets dreamed up their messages (“from their own hearts”—2; “who follow their own spirit”—3). Not surprisingly, these false messages corresponded to the cultural false hopes. In essence, false watchmen tell people what they want to hear and affirm what they are already thinking. They smear whitewash on the flimsy walls built by misguided, rebellious people. Pseudo watchmen echo cultural preferences and whitewash popular perspectives. All the while, they assure people that things are just fine with God (“peace”). In our day, this would include whitewashing current views of greed, pride, gender and sexuality. True watchmen bring a message from the Lord that, while confrontive, actually helps “build up a wall” (sturdy defense) to withstand coming divine judgment (5). True watchmen help people deal with reality and get prepared for it.