Ezekiel 13: learning from negative examples

The Foolish Prophets’ Charge

They pretend to have a commission from God, whereas he never sent them. They thrust themselves into the prophetic office, without warrant from him who is the Lord God of the holy prophets, which was a foolish thing; for how could they expect that God should own them in a work to which he never called them? They areprophets out of their own hearts (so the margin reads it, Ezek. 13:2), prophets of their own making, Ezek. 13:6They say, The Lord saith; they pretend to be his messengers, but the Lord has not sent them, has not given them any orders. They counterfeit the broad seal of heaven, than which they cannot do a greater indignity to mankind, for hereby they put a reproach upon divine revelation, lessen its credit, and weaken its credibility. When these pretenders are found to be deceivers atheists and infidels will thence infer, They are all so. The Lord has not sent them; for though crafty enough in other things like the foxes, and very wise for the world, yet they are foolish prophets and have no experimental acquaintance with the things of God. Note, Foolish prophets are not of God’s sending, for whom he sends he either finds fit or makes fit. Where he gives warrant he gives wisdom.

They pretend to have instructions from God, whereas he never made himself and his mind known to them: They followed their own spirit (Ezek. 13:3); they delivered that as a message from God which was the product either of their subtle invention, to serve a turn for themselves, or of their own crazed and heated imagination, to give vent to a fancy. For they have seen nothing, they have not really had any heavenly vision; they pretend that what they say the Lord saith it, but God disowns it: “I have not spoken it, I never said it, never meant any such thing.” What they delivered was not what they had seen or heard, as that is which the ministers of Christ deliver (1 John 1:1), but either what they had dreamed or what they thought would please those they coveted to make an interest in. … Note, Since the devil is universally know to be the father of lies, those put the highest affront imaginable upon God who tell lies, and then father them upon him. But those that had put God’s character upon Satan, in worshipping devils, arrived at length at such a pitch of impiety as to put Satan’s character upon God.

They took no care to prevent the judgments of God that were breaking in upon the kingdom. They are like the foxes in the deserts, running to and fro, and seeming to be in a great hurry, but it was to get away and shift for their own safety, not to do any good: The hireling flees, and leaves the sheep. They are like foxes that are greedy of prey for themselves, crafty and cruel to feed themselves. But (Ezek. 13:5), “You have not gone up into the gaps, nor made up the hedge of the house of Israel. A breach is made in their fences, at which judgments are ready to pour in upon them, and then, if ever, is the time to do them service; but you have done nothing to help them.” They should have made intercession for them, to turn away the wrath of God; but they were not praying prophets, had no interest in heaven nor intercourse with heaven (as prophets used to have, Gen. 20:7) and so could do them no service that way. They should have made it their business by preaching and advice to bring people to repentance and reformation, and so havemade up the hedge, and put a stop to the judgments of God; but this was none of their care: they contrived how to pleased people, not how to profit them. They saw a deluge of profaneness and impiety breaking in upon the land, waging war with virtue and holiness, and threatening to crush them and bear them down, and then they should have come in to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty, by witnessing against the wickedness of the time and place they lived in; but they thought that would be as dangerous a piece of service as standing in a breach to make it good against the besiegers, and therefore they declined it, did nothing to stem the tide, stood not in the battle against vice and immorality, but basely deserted the cause of religion and reformation, in the day of the Lord, when it was proclaimed, Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will rise up for me against the evil-doersPs. 94:16. Those were unworthy the name of prophets that could think so favourably of sin, and had so little zeal for God and the public welfare.

They flattered people into a vain hope that the judgments God had threatened would never come, whereby they hardened those in sin whom they should have endeavoured to turn from sin (Ezek. 13:6): They have made others to hope that all should be well, and they should have peace, though they went on still in their trespasses, and that the event would confirm the word. They were still ready to say, “We will warrant you that these troubles will be at an end quickly, and we shall be in prosperity again.” as if their warrants would confirm false prophecies, in defiance of God himself.

How the people are deceived by the false prophets. Those flatterers seduce them, saying, Peace, and there was no peaceEzek. 13:10. They pretended to have seen visions of peaceEzek. 13:16. But that could not be, for there was no peace, saith the Lord God. There was no prosperity designed for them, and therefore there could be no ground for their security; yet they told them that God was at peace with them, and had mercy in reserve for them, and that the war they were engaged in with the Chaldeans should soon end in an honourable peace, and their land should enjoy a happy repose and tranquillity. They told the idolaters and other sinners that there was neither harm nor danger in the way they were in. Thus they seduced God’s people; they put a cheat upon them, led them into mistakes, and drew them aside out of that way of repentance and reformation which the other prophets were endeavouring to bring them into. Doctrines that are groundless, though ever so grateful, that are not built upon a scripture foundation nor fastened with a scripture cement, though ever so plausible, ever so pleasing, are not of any worth, nor will stand men in any stead; and those hopes of peace and happiness which are not warranted by the word of God will but cheat men, like a wall that is well daubed indeed, but ill-built.

Men’s anger cannot shake that which God has built (for the blast of the terrible ones is but as a storm against the wall, which makes a great noise, but never stirs the wall; see Isa. 25:4), but God’s anger will overthrow that which men have built in opposition to him.

if the blind lead the blind, both the blind leaders and the blind followers will fall together into the ditch. Note, Those that deceive others will in the end prove to have deceived themselves; and no doom will be more fearful than that of unfaithful ministers, that flattered sinners in their sins.

How the sin of these false prophetesses is described, and what are the particulars of it.

They told deliberate lies to those who consulted them, and came to them to be advised, and to be told their fortune: “You do mischief by your lying to my people that hear your lies (Ezek. 13:19); they come to be told the truth, but you tell them lies; and, because you humour them in their sins, they are willing to hear you.” Note, It is ill with those people who can better hear pleasing lies than unpleasing truths; and it is a temptation to those who lie in wait to deceive to tell lies when they find people willing to hear them and to excuse themselves with this, Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur—If the people will be deceived, let them.

They profaned the name of God by pretending to have received those lies from him (Ezek. 13:19): “You pollute my name among my people, and make use of that for the patronising of your lies and the gaining of credit to them.” Note, Those greatly pollute God’s holy name that make use of it to give countenance to falsehood and wickedness. Yet this they did for handfuls of barley and pieces of bread. They did it for gain; they cared not what dishonour they did to God’s name by their lying, so they could but make a hand of it for themselves. There is nothing so sacred which men of mercenary spirits, in whom the love of this world reigns, will not profane and prostitute, if they can but get money by the bargain. But they did it for poor gain; if they could get no more for it, rather than break they would sell you a false prophecy that should please you to a nicety for the beggar’s dole, a piece of bread or a handful of barley; and yet that was more than it was worth. Had they asked it as an alms, for God’s sake, surely they might have had it, and God would have been honoured; but, taking it as a fee for a false prophecy, God’s name if polluted, and the smallness of the reward heightens the offence. For a piece of bread that man will transgress,Prov. 28:21. Had their poverty been their temptation to steal, and so to take the name of the Lord in vain, it would not have been nearly so bad as when it tempted them to prophesy lies in his name and so to profane it.

They kept people in awe, and terrified them with their pretensions: “You hunt the souls of my people (Ezek. 13:18), hunt them to make them flee(Ezek. 13:20), hunt them into gardens (so the margin reads it); you use all the arts you have to court or compel them into those places where you deliver your pretended predictions, or you have got such an influence upon them that you make them do just as you would have them to do, and tyrannise over them.” It was indeed the people’s fault that they did regard them, but it was their fault by lies and falsehoods to command that regard; they pretended to save the souls alive that came to themEzek. 13:18. If they would but be hearers of them, and contributors to them, they might be sure of salvation; thus they beguiled unstable souls that had a concern about salvation as their end but did not rightly understand the way, and therefore hearkened to those who were most confident in promising it to them. “But will you pretend to save souls, or secure salvation to your party?” Those are justly suspected that make such pretensions.

They discouraged those that were honest and good, and encouraged those that were wicked and profane: You slay the souls that should not die, and save those alive that should not liveEzek. 13:19. This is explained (Ezek. 13:22): You have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; because they would not, they durst not, countenance your pretensions, you thundered out the judgments of God against them, to their great grief and trouble; you put them under invidious characters, to make them either despicable or odious to the people, and pretended to do it in God’s name, which made them go many a time with a sad heart; whereas it was the will of God that they should be comforted, and by having respect put upon them should have encouragement given them. But on the other side, and which is still worse, you have strengthened the hands of the wicked and emboldened them to go on in their wicked ways and not to return from them, which was the thing the true prophets with earnestness called them to. “You have promised sinners life in their sinful ways, have told them that they shall have peace though they go on, by which their hands have been strengthened and their hearts hardened.” Some think this refers to the severe censures they passed upon those who had already gone into captivity (who were humbled under their affliction, by which their hearts were made sad), and the commendations they gave to those who rebelled against the king of Babylon, who were hardened in their impieties, by which their hands were strengthened; or by their polluting the name of God they saddened the hearts of good people who have a value and veneration for the word of God, and confirmed atheists and infidels in their contempt of divine revelation and furnished them with arguments against it. Note, Those have a great deal to answer for who grieve the spirits, and weaken the hands, of good people, and who gratify the lusts of sinners, and animate them in their opposition to God and religion. Nor can any thing strengthen the hands of sinners more than to tell them that they may be saved in their sins without repentance, or that there may be repentance though they do not return from their wicked ways. 5. They mimicked the true prophets, by giving signs for the illustrating of their false predictions (as Hananiah did, Jer. 28:10), and they were signs agreeable to their sex; theysewed little pillows to the people’s arm-holes, to signify that they might be easy and repose themselves, and needed not be disquieted with the apprehensions of trouble approaching. And they made kerchiefs upon the head of every stature, of persons of every age, young and old, distinguishable by their stature, Ezek. 13:18. These kerchiefs were badges of liberty or triumph, intimating that they should not only be delivered from the Chaldeans, but be victorious over them. Some think these were some superstitious rites which they used with those to whom they delivered their divinations, preparing them for the reception of them by putting enchanted pillows under their arms and handkerchiefs on their heads, to raise their fancies and their expectations of something great. Or perhaps the expressions are figurative: they did all they could to make people secure, which is signified by laying them easy, and to make people proud, which is signified by dressing them fine with handkerchiefs, perhaps laid or embroidered on their heads.

How the wrath of God against them is expressed. Here is a woe to them (Ezek. 13:18), and God declares himself against the methods they took to delude and deceive, Ezek. 13:20. But what course will God take with them?

They shall be confounded in their attempts, and shall proceed no further; for (Ezek. 13:23) you shall see no more vanity nor divine revelations; not that they shall themselves lay down their pretensions in a way of repentance, but when the event gives them the lie they shall be silent for shame; or their fancies and imaginations shall not be disposed to receive impressions which assist them in their divinations as they have been; or they themselves shall be cut off.

God’s people shall be delivered out of their hands. When they see themselves deluded by them into a false peace and a fool’s paradise, and that though they would not leave their sin their sin has left them, and they see no more vanity nor divine divinations, they shall turn their back upon them, shall slight their predictions. The righteous shall be no more saddened by them, no, nor the wicked strengthened: The pillows shall be torn from their arms, and the kerchiefs from their heads; the fallacies shall be discovered, their frauds detected, and the people of God shall no more be in their hand, to be hunted as they had been. Note, It is a great mercy to be delivered from a servile regard to, and fear of, those who, under colour of a divine authority, impose upon and tyrannise over the consciences of men, and say to their souls, Bow down, that we may go over. But it is a sore grief to those who delight in such usurpations to have their power broken and the prey delivered; such was the reformation to the church of Rome. And, when God does this, he makes it to appear that he is the Lord, that it is his prerogative to give law to souls.


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