Through Ezekiel, the Lord gave wayward and backsliding Israel a message of warning and reproof, of justice and judgment, of mercy and love that left no doubt of His indignation at their unrighteousness nor of His desire for their repentance. Ezekiel taught that all are responsible for their own actions and will be rewarded or punished according to the way they use the agency given them. He taught that no one can reject the Lord’s counsel and escape the judgments that invariably follow justice and that are intended to purge the soul of iniquity. He taught also that no one who repents and turns from his iniquities will lose the blessings of God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness.
These principles apply to individuals and to nations. They applied to the individual Israelite and the whole nation of Judah (Israel) to whom Ezekiel prophesied. God will not justify the sinner nor forsake those with whom He has made covenants if they will but fulfill their part of the agreement. In Ezekiel’s time the Lord’s covenant people had rejected Him and needed to be refined in the fires of tribulation and sorrow in order to be turned from their iniquitous way of life. Although, because of His justice, God allowed those tribulations, because of His infinite love and mercy, He continued to extend the promise of forgiveness and life to the repentant soul and of the restoration of all former blessings to Israel if they would return to Him.
Notes and Commentary on Ezekiel 1–24
(26-2) Ezekiel: A Contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel
The Lord had one great prophet, Jeremiah, in the court at Jerusalem; another, Daniel, in the court at Babylon; and a third, Ezekiel, among the exiles in Babylonia. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were of priestly lineage; Daniel may have been of royal lineage (see Daniel 1:3). Jeremiah served the Lord by delivering His warnings and instructions to the kings and leaders of the soon-to-be conquered; Daniel, to the conquerors; and Ezekiel, to the exiles.
Ezekiel, whose name means “God is strong,” or “God will strengthen,” was the son of Buzi and a priest of the family of Zadok. He was carried captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in the captivity of Jehoiachin. (See Sidney B. Sperry, The Voice of Israel’s Prophets, pp. 189–90.)
“[Ezekiel’s] family must have been considered prominent and influential, for, according to the account in 2 Kings 24:14–16, mostly the ‘chief men of the land’ were taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar [an alternate spelling of Nebuchadnezzar] when Jehoiachin was deposed as king of Judah. Most scholars assume that this event took place in 597 B.C., but the fact that Zedekiah succeeded Jehoiachin leads us to assign it a little earlier, to 601 B.C., following the lead of certain chronological data in the Book of Mormon.” (Sperry, Voice of Israel’s Prophets, pp. 190–91; see also Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 10, chap. 6, par. 3; Ezekiel 4:14.)
(26-3) Ezekiel 1:1, 4–28. Ezekiel’s Record of His Vision
It is very difficult, if not impossible, for a mortal to convey in writing the message and spirit of a vision or other revelation from God so that the reader will have a complete understanding of what took place and what was communicated. Such was the challenge of Ezekiel in describing his transcendent visions of heaven. Others, too, have faced the same challenge (see 2 Corinthians 12:4; 3 Nephi 28:12–14; D&C 76:114–17). Joseph Smith said that “could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject” (History of the Church, 6:50). One must experience revelation to understand it fully.
Those, including Ezekiel, who have had visitations or visions from the eternal worlds have often used symbolism, metaphor, simile, comparisons, and other kinds of figurative language to try to convey the experience they had and the message they received (see D&C 110:2–3; JS—H 1:32; Daniel 10:5–9; Revelation 1:12–18; 12:1–6). Therefore, everything Ezekiel said need not be taken literally, for he used many figurative expressions to try to tell that which was far beyond mortal experience. Many times, for example, he used words like as, likeness, and appearance (see Ezekiel 1:4–5, 7, 10, 13–14, 16, 24, 26–28).
Another difficulty in understanding Ezekiel and other Old Testament writers is the cultural differences between the Jews of Ezekiel’s day and the modern reader. Where it is important, Notes and Commentary on the book of Ezekiel explain the cultural aspects of Ezekiel’s writing.
(26-4) Ezekiel 1:4. “Whirlwind”
The words wind, tempest, or storm would better fit the meaning intended in Ezekiel 1:4. A wind that revolves on its own axis with great rapidity is not what is meant by the Hebrew word translated “whirlwind”; rather, the idea of a furious or powerful wind is what was intended (see Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, s.v. “whirlwind”). The metaphor signifies the power of God. For instance, the power of God’s presence was indicated to Job through allusion to a whirlwind (see Job 38:1). When the Lord poured out His Spirit with great power at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in this dispensation, “a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple” (History of the Church, 2:428).
(26-5) Ezekiel 1:4, 13. Cloud, Fire, Brightness, Color of Amber, Lamps, Lightning
These figures are used throughout the scriptures in association with the glory, power, and majesty of God’s presence or that of His messengers. (See “cloud” and “fire” in Exodus 13:21–22; 16:10; 19:9–16; 24:16; Leviticus 16:2; Matthew 17:5; D&C 34:7. See “fire,” “brightness,” “colour of amber,” “lamps,” and “lightning” in Exodus 3:2; Hebrews 12:29; 1 Nephi 1:6; D&C 29:12; 110:2–3; 133:41; Habakkuk 3:3–4; Acts 26:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; JS—H 1:16–17, 30–32; Daniel 10:6.)
(26-6) Ezekiel 1:5–6, 10. Four Creatures with Four Faces
In his vision, Ezekiel saw four creatures, each of which had four faces. “They four had the face of a man, … a lion, … an ox … [and] the face of an eagle” (Ezekiel 1:10). The Apostle John had a similar vision. In his vision, the creatures were described as being “like a lion, … like a calf, … [having] a face as a man, and … like a flying eagle” (Revelation 4:7). The Prophet Joseph explained that the four beasts in John’s vision were representative of classes of beings (see D&C 77:3). The faces of the creatures in Ezekiel’s vision seem to represent the same thing. The following interpretation, from an ancient Jewish commentary, is in harmony with that view: “Man is exalted among creatures; the eagle is exalted among birds; the ox is exalted among domestic animals; the lion is exalted among wild beasts; and all of them have received dominion, and greatness has been given them, yet they are stationed below the chariot of the Holy One” (Midrash Shemoth Rabbah 23; in D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer, eds., The New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 667).
Ezekiel saw that the throne of God was above the creatures (Ezekiel 1:26–28). That placement represents His having dominion over all living things, though He provides the means for all His creations, both human and animal, to enter into eternal glory, each in their appropriate order (see D&C 77:2–3).
(26-7) Ezekiel 1:6. What Is Represented by the Wings the Creatures Had?
The Lord taught Joseph Smith that the wings of the beasts John saw in his revelation (see Revelation 4:8) “are a representation of power, to move, to act, etc.” (D&C 77:4). That interpretation also seems to apply to the creatures in Ezekiel’s vision.
(26-8) Ezekiel 1:7. Feet like Burnished Brass
The word straight in Ezekiel 1:7means “standing upright, not bent, as when sitting or kneeling” (C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 9:1:23). That is, the creatures did not travel as a person travels when walking.
The comparison of the sole of their feet to that of a calf seems to refer to the smoothness of a cow’s hoof to indicate the shininess of the feet of the beasts. “There is scarcely any thing that gives a higher lustre than highly polished or burnished brass.” (Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible … with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 4:425). In the King James Version of the Bible, polished brass is translated “amber.” It signifies beauty and glory (see D&C 110:3–4; Daniel 10:6; Revelation 1:15; 2:18).
(26-9) Ezekiel 1:9, 11. Their Wings Were Joined Together
The creatures of Ezekiel’s vision were in complete harmony and unity. They moved as one, symbolizing the total unity that exists among all living things who submit to God’s will.
(26-10) Ezekiel 1:15–21. What Is Represented by the Wheels That Ezekiel Described?
Because Joseph Smith received from the Lord some keys for interpreting the meaning of the beasts in John’s vision (see D&C 77:2–4), the parallels between John’s vision and Ezekiel’s give some clues to the meaning of the beasts Ezekiel saw. There is, however, no parallel in John’s vision to the wheels seen by Ezekiel.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I make this broad declaration, that whenever God gives a vision of an image, or beast, or figure of any kind, He always holds Himself responsible to give a revelation or interpretation of the meaning thereof, otherwise we are not responsible or accountable for our belief in it. Don’t be afraid of being damned for not knowing the meaning of a vision or figure, if God has not given a revelation or interpretation of the subject.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 291.)
At present the interpretation of Ezekiel’s vision has not been given to the Church, so the Lord does not hold His Saints accountable for understanding what is represented by the wheels.
(26-11) Ezekiel 1:26–28. Ezekiel Saw God upon His Throne
Ezekiel saw a firmament, or expanse, above or over the creatures. Above the firmament Ezekiel saw God sitting on His throne in His glory. Ezekiel used several terms to describe the brilliance, beauty, and glory of God. Then, as a humble witness to such glory, beauty, and majesty, he fell upon his face in awe and reverent submission. (Compare Isaiah 6:1–5; Revelation 1:10–18; D&C 76:19–23; 110:1–4. Note especially the parallels between Ezekiel’s language and John’s in Revelation 4:2–11.)
(26-12) Ezekiel 2:9–10; 3:1–3. What Is Meant by the “Roll of a Book” the Lord Caused Ezekiel to Eat?
In a similar experience, the Apostle John, too, was commanded to eat a book. The Lord, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, explained that this action represented a mission given to John among the tribes of Israel (see D&C 77:14).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote that “John’s act of eating a book containing the word of God to him was in keeping with the custom and tradition of ancient Israel. The act signified that he was eating the bread of life, that he was partaking of the good word of God, that he was feasting upon the word of Christ—which was in his ‘mouth sweet as honey.’ But it made his ‘belly bitter’; that is, the judgments and plagues promised those to whom the Lord’s word was sent caused him to despair and have sorrow of soul. ‘How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’ (Psalm 119:103.) Such is the exulting cry of the Psalmist. And, conversely, how bitter is the penalty for rebellion and disobedience. Ezekiel had a similar experience. He was commanded to eat a roll (a book), which was in his mouth ‘as honey for sweetness,’ but in the writing itself there was ‘lamentations, and mourning, and woe.’ (Ezek. 2:6–10; 3:1–3.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:507.)
(26-13) Ezekiel 3:8. “I Have Made Thy Face … and Thy Forehead Strong”
The words of Ezekiel 3:8are a Hebrew idiom suggesting essentially the English idiom “face up to it.” The Lord promised Ezekiel power, courage, and firmness, since his mission was to a very rebellious and stubborn people (see Jeremiah 1:17–19). The Lord gives His humble servants sufficient strength to withstand the world’s opposition as they seek to do His will.
(26-14) Ezekiel 3:17–21. There Can Be Jeopardy in Being a Watchman
Ezekiel’s prophecies did not fall on friendly ears. But, as a watchman, he had to raise the warning voice. The analogy of the watchman referred to the military watchman who had to stay awake and who faced execution if he failed to warn the city when the enemy appeared. Such a watchman was in jeopardy always: the enemy sought to destroy him to keep him from raising the warning and, if he did not raise the warning when it was needed, his life was in jeopardy at the hands of those he was responsible to warn. Likewise, watchmen in the Lord’s kingdom have a serious responsibility with far-reaching consequences, as Elder Ezra Taft Benson taught:
“As watchmen on the tower of Zion, it is our obligation and right as leaders to speak out against current evils—evils that strike at the very foundation of all we hold dear as the true church of Christ. …
“As one of these watchmen, with a love for humanity, I accept humbly this obligation and challenge and gratefully strive to do my duty without fear. In times as serious as these, we must not permit fear of criticism to keep us from doing our duty, even at the risk of our counsel being tabbed as political, as government becomes more and more entwined in our daily lives.
“In the crisis through which we are now passing, we have been fully warned. This has brought forth some criticism. There are some of us who do not want to hear the message. It embarrasses us. The things which are threatening our lives, our welfare, our freedoms are the very things some of us have been condoning. Many do not want to be disturbed as they continue to enjoy their comfortable complacency.
“The Church is founded on eternal truth. We do not compromise principle. We do not surrender our standards regardless of current trends or pressures. Our allegiance to truth as a church is unwavering. Speaking out against immoral or unjust actions has been the burden of prophets and disciples of God from time immemorial. It was for this very reason that many of them were persecuted. Nevertheless, it was their God-given task, as watchmen on the tower, to warn the people.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1973, pp. 49–50; or Ensign, July 1973, p. 38.)
(26-15) Ezekiel 3:25–27. What Is Meant by Ezekiel’s Being Bound?
Ezekiel was called to prophesy to a very obstinate people, and, as Nephi later said, “the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center” (1 Nephi 16:2). Hearing messages of reproof and warning, the unrighteous rose up against Ezekiel. They sought to quiet his preaching and hinder his work, either by physical binding and confinement (though there is no scriptural record that this did actually happen), or by rejecting his message, refusing to listen, and seeking to get others to do the same, thus “binding” Ezekiel’s effectiveness.
(26-16) Ezekiel 4:1–3. Ezekiel’s Representation of the Siege of Jerusalem
Ezekiel was instructed to make a representation of the city of Jerusalem on a clay tablet and portray to the people the events that would befall the city. The Lord wanted to make very clear to the people through many means the message He had for them. Ezekiel was instructed to present other visual representations before the people to teach His messages more effectively (see Ezekiel 4:4–17; 5). Other prophets have been instructed to use similar teaching techniques (see Jeremiah 27:1–11; 1 Kings 11:29–39; 13:1–11; 19:1–18; Acts 21:11).
During the events described in Ezekiel 4, Ezekiel himself was in captivity with other Jews in Babylon. Twice Nebuchadnezzar had gone to war against Judah and taken captives both times. Both times, however, he retreated, thinking he had taught Judah a lesson. So Jerusalem was still intact until the third siege, which brought the destruction of Judah. Ezekiel dramatized that destruction in verses 1–3.
The “iron pan” (v. 3) represented the wall that the Chaldeans erected around Jerusalem during their siege. It prevented escape and allowed no entry of supplies.
(26-17) Ezekiel 4:4–8. Why Was Ezekiel Told to Lie on His Sides for 430 Days?
Ezekiel 4:4–8contains another example of a figurative teaching device that has not been fully interpreted. After forming the image of Jerusalem under siege (vv. 1–3), Ezekiel was told to lie on his side for 390 days and to bear the iniquity of Israel (in this case it appears the Northern Kingdom is meant). Then he was to change sides and lie for another 40 days to bear the iniquity of Judah.
The symbolic meaning of the act seems clear enough. Ezekiel was to be fettered to the bed (v. 8) and bound down to show that the two kingdoms were bound down, or brought into bondage, because of their iniquity. But whether Ezekiel actually performed this act is not known. It seems strange that the Lord would ask a prophet to lie immobile for fifteen months. Perhaps Ezekiel performed the act in some kind of symbolic way.
Why the numbers 390 and 40 were used is not clear. Though Ezekiel was told that each day represented a year (v. 6), the years do not fit any known history.
Keil and Delitzsch, using the total of 430 days or years (390+40), suggested that this is the number of years Israel was in bondage in Egypt (see Exodus 12:40–41). They explain the split of 390 days and 40 days as referring to the forty years after Moses killed the Egyptian and fled into the wilderness of Midian (see Exodus 2:11–15; Acts 7:23, 30). This time, just before Moses returned to deliver them, was probably the most intense period of suffering for Israel. (see Commentary, 9:1:74–76.) Others, however, believe that the 430 years included the time from Abraham to the Exodus. (see Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, pp. 119–20.)
Without a revealed key for interpreting these numbers, one cannot definitely interpret this passage.
(26-18) Ezekiel 4:9–11, 16–17. Why Was Ezekiel Instructed to Eat Specific Foods and to Do So by Weight and Measure?
Another symbolic act Ezekiel was commanded to perform represented the conditions that would prevail during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.
“In times of scarcity, it is customary in all countries to mix several kinds of coarser grain with the finer, to make it last the longer. This mashlin, which the prophet is commanded to take, of wheat, barley, beans, lentiles, millet, and fitches, was intended to show how scarce the necessaries of life should be during the siege.
“… The whole of the above grain, being ground, was to be formed into one mass, out of which he was to make three hundred and ninety loaves; one loaf for each day; and this loaf was to be of twenty shekels in weight. Now a shekel, being in weight about half an ounce, this would be ten ounces of bread for each day; and with this water to the amount of one sixth part of a hin, which is about a pint and a half of our measure. All this shows that so reduced should provisions be during the siege, that they should be obliged to eat the meanest sort of aliment, and that by weight, and their water by measure; each man’s allowance being scarcely a pint and a half, and ten ounces, a little more than half a pound of bread, for each day’s support.” (Clarke, Commentary, 4:434.)
The phrase “I will break the staff of bread” (Ezekiel 4:16) indicates that the time would come when the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be without bread. see 2 Kings 25:3for a record of the prophecy’s fulfillment.
(26-19) Ezekiel 4:12–15. What Was the Purpose of Ezekiel’s Being Instructed to Cook with Dung?
“Dried ox and cow dung is a common fuel in the east; and with this, for want of wood and coals, they are obliged to prepare their food. Indeed, dried excrement of every kind is gathered. Here, the prophet is to prepare his bread with dry human excrement. … This was required to show the extreme degree of wretchedness to which they should be exposed; for, not being able to leave the city to collect the dried excrements of beasts, the inhabitants during the siege would be obliged, literally, to use dried human ordure for fuel. The very circumstances show that this was the plain fact of the case. However, we find that the prophet was relieved from using this kind of fuel, for cows’ dung was substituted at his request. See ver. 15.” (Clarke, Commentary, 4:434–35.)
As Ezekiel 4:13indicates, the Jews would be driven to Babylon where they would be compelled to eat “defiled bread.” Because foreign lands were considered unclean (see Hosea 9:3–4; Amos 7:17), living and eating in other lands was considered unclean.
(26-20) Ezekiel 5:1–4, 12. What Was Meant by the Cutting and Dividing of Ezekiel’s Hair?
In Ezekiel 5:12the Lord briefly explained the next symbolic act He instructed Ezekiel to perform (see vv. 1–4). Ezekiel represented the Jewish nation and particularly the city of Jerusalem. That which he was to do to his hair would also be done to Judah. The razor represented the Babylonians who would cut Judah asunder with the sword and would be the means of bringing judgments upon them. “To make the head bald, or to shave or pluck the beard, was a sign of mourning among the Hebrews and many other nations” (James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 256; see also Ezra 9:3; Job 1:20; Isaiah 22:12; 48:37–38). As Ezekiel was to burn one-third of the hair in the city, so also would one-third of Judah’s inhabitants perish in Jerusalem during its siege. The third of the hair Ezekiel cut with a knife represented the people who would be destroyed by the sword in the environs of Jerusalem. The third that was scattered in the wind represented those who would be taken captive and scattered far from their homeland. There would further be a sword drawn after them who would be scattered (see Ezekiel 5:2, 12), which was signified by those hairs Ezekiel bound to his skirts and later cast into the fire. This act signified that even among those who were taken captive and preserved from the original destruction, some would later be “cast … into the midst of the fire” (v. 4) to be destroyed, or to be cleansed and purified from iniquity by tribulations. That all of Judah would not be completely destroyed is attested to by the Lord’s promise of eventual escape for some (see Ezekiel 6:8–10).
(26-21) Ezekiel 5:10. “The Fathers Shall Eat the Sons”
As had been earlier prophesied by Moses (see Leviticus 26:29; Deuteronomy 28:53), the siege of Jerusalem would be so severe and the famine would be so dreadful that parents would eat their children and children would eat their parents (see Ezekiel 16–17; Jeremiah 19:9; Lamentations 2:20; 4:10). These tragedies also took place during the siege of Jerusalem by Titus in A.D. 70 (see Josephus, Wars of the Jews, bk. 5, chap. 10, pars. 1–5; bk. 6, chap. 3, pars. 3–5).
(26-22) Ezekiel 6:9. What Is Meant by the Phrase “Whorish Heart”?
The expression “whorish heart” refers to the idolatry practiced by Israel. Some may think it strange that ancient Israel was guilty of such infidelity to Jehovah. Yet modern Israel is often guilty of the same thing. Though today men rarely worship idols of wood or stone, they may devote themselves to serving certain governments that have set themselves up as the state religion, or they devote themselves to acquiring material things, or they dedicate themselves to other pursuits that take them away from service to God. (See Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 40–42; Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, pp. 245–48.)
The Jews worshiped strange gods because they put their trust in the power of men and earthly governments instead of in Jehovah and righteousness as the solution to human happiness and welfare. Modern idolatry is essentially the same as ancient idolatry, though the outward form has changed.
(26-23) Ezekiel 7:7. “Not the Sounding Again of the Mountains”
The phrase “sounding again of the mountains” in Ezekiel 7:7refers to the impending destruction of Jerusalem.
Clarke said: “The hostile troops are advancing! Ye hear a sound, a tumultuous noise; do not suppose that this proceeds from festivals upon the mountains; from the joy of harvestmen, or the treaders of the wine-press. [Great rejoicing was common at harvest time.] It is the noise of those by whom ye and your country are to fall; … and not the reverberation of sound, or reflected sound, or reechoing from the mountains. ‘Now will I shortly pour out,’ ver. 8. Here they come!” (Commentary, 4:439–40.)
Throughout chapter 7, Ezekiel sounds the same theme sounded by Jeremiah: because of the people’s wickedness, Jerusalem will be destroyed.
(26-24) Ezekiel 7:20. What Is the Ornament?
The ornament mentioned in Ezekiel 7:20is a reference to the temple, the most beautiful ornament of Jerusalem. The temple will be despoiled and desecrated by conquerors because the people had despoiled and spiritually desecrated it with their idols.
(26-25) Ezekiel 8:3–18. Ezekiel’s Vision of Idolatrous Abominations in Jerusalem
Though Ezekiel was residing in Babylon among the exiles, he was “brought … in the visions of God” (Ezekiel 8:3) to the temple in Jerusalem. “Here, in the temple, Jehovah shows to the prophet the various kinds of idolatry which Israel is practising both publicly and privately, not merely in the temple, but throughout the whole land. The arrangement of these different forms of idolatry in four groups or abomination scenes (vers. 5, 6, 7–12, 13–15, and 16–18), which the prophet sees both in and from the court of the temple, belong to the visionary drapery of this divine revelation.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 9:1:116–17.)
(26-26) Ezekiel 8:7–12. Worship of Beasts in the Dark
In his vision of the second abomination shown him (see Ezekiel 8:7–12), Ezekiel saw all manner of beasts and creeping things.
“It is very likely that these images pourtrayed on the wall were the objects of Egyptian adoration: the ox, the ape, the dog, the crocodile, the ibis, the scaraboeus or beetle, and various other things. It appears that these were privately worshipped by the sanhedrin or great Jewish council, consisting of seventy or seventy-two persons, six chosen out of every tribe, as representatives of the people. The images were pourtrayed upon the wall, as we find those ancient idols are on the walls of the tombs of the kings and nobles of Egypt.” (Clarke, Commentary, 4:443.)
It is significant that such worship took place in the dark (see v. 12). This fact, in addition to the necessity Ezekiel was under to dig through the wall to see in, indicates that ancient Israelites knew of the Lord but sought to hide their abominable practices from Him. They said, “The Lord seeth us not” (v. 12). Such is often the case among those who perform unrighteous acts. How foolish it is for any to assume that they can hide their acts from God’s all-seeing eye!
The statement made by Elder Spencer W. Kimball concerning God’s omniscience was as applicable in Ezekiel’s time as it is today: “There are no corners so dark, no deserts so uninhabited, no canyons so remote, no automobiles so hidden, no homes so tight and shut in but that the all-seeing One can penetrate and observe” (“Message of Inspiration,” Church News, 30 May 1970, p. 2).
(26-27) Ezekiel 8:14. Who Was Tammuz and Why Did Women Weep for Him?
According to J. R. Dummelow, Tammuz was “a deity worshipped both in Babylonia and in Phoenicia—the same as the Greek Adonis. He appears to have been a god of the spring, and the myth regarding him told of his early death and of the descent of Istar his bride into the underworld in search of him. The death of Tammuz symbolised the destruction of the spring vegetation by the heat of summer, and it was celebrated annually by seven days of women’s mourning in the 4th month (June–July), which was called Tammuz. This superstition had been introduced into Jerusalem.” (A Commentary on the Holy Bible, pp. 497–98.)
(26-28) Ezekiel 8:16. Worship of the Sun with Backs toward the Temple
“Sun worship was practised by the Canaanites, but lately had been reintroduced from Assyria (2 Ki. 23:5, 11; Je. 8:2). Between the porch and the altar was the place where the priests offered prayer (Joel 2:17), with their faces, of course, towards the Temple; in this spot, with their backs to the temple, the adoration of the sun took place, as complete a renunciation of Yahweh [Jehovah] as possible.” (Guthrie and Motyer, New Bible Commentary, p. 670; see also 2 Chronicles 29:6.)
(26-29) Ezekiel 8:17. What Is Meant by Putting the “Branch to Their Nose”?
Although it is not clear what the expression “put the branch to their nose” means, and there are differences of opinion among the scholars, a comment from Dummelow may be helpful. He wrote that the expression was “usually explained as a ceremony connected with sun-worship. Persian sun-worshippers held bunches of the twigs of certain trees before their mouths, that they might not contaminate the sun with their breath.” (Commentary, p. 498.)
(26-30) Ezekiel 9:4. Why Was a Mark Put on the Foreheads of the Righteous in Jerusalem?
“This mark was to be put on these faithful ones for their protection when the faithless were to be destroyed. It showed that they belonged to God. The allusion is to a very ancient custom. In Egypt a runaway slave was freed from his master if he went to the temple and gave himself up to the god, receiving certain marks upon his person to denote his consecration to the deity there worshiped. Cain had a mark put on him for his protection, as an evidence of God’s promise to spare his life notwithstanding his wickedness. [Genesis 4:15.] To this day all Hindoos have some sort of mark upon their forehead signifying their consecration to their gods. Several passages in the book of Revelation represent the saints as having a mark on their foreheads. [see Revelation 7:3; 9:4; 14:1; 22:4.] The followers of the ‘beast’ are also said to be marked in the forehead or in the hands. [see Revelation 13:16–17; 14:9; 20:4.] The Romans marked their soldiers in the hand and their slaves in the forehead. The woman in scarlet, whom John saw, had a name written on her forehead. [Revelation 17:5.]” (Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, pp. 301–2.)
In this case the mark represented the allegiance of the faithful to God. As those who belonged to God, they would be preserved.
(26-31) Ezekiel 9:5–8. Slaying of Those Who Were Not Marked on the Forehead
None were to be slain who were marked on the forehead! This passage shows that even in war, plagues, and starvation, the Lord can preserve whom He will and leave the rest to die. In the great destructions in the Americas before Christ’s visit, though thousands were killed, the more righteous were spared (see 3 Nephi 10:12). Even though there will be martyrs and other exceptions, the Saints of this day have a promise that generally the righteous will be preserved in the tribulations to come (see 1 Nephi 22:16–17; 2 Nephi 30:10; D&C 97:25–27; 115:6; Moses 7:61–62). To a great extent, the preservation of the righteous is a natural expectation since they follow inspired counsel by which they are led to make choices favorable to their well-being. (See Notes and Commentary on Ezekiel 21:4.)
It is not just association with God’s kingdom that preserves individuals; it is individual righteousness. In fact, the Lord has reserved His most severe judgments for those who profess His name but do not obey Him. Orson Pratt said: “Where shall these great and severe judgments begin? Upon what people does the Lord intend to commence this great work of vengeance? Upon the people who profess to know his name and still blaspheme it in the midst of his house. They are the ones designated for some of the most terrible judgments of the latter days.” (In N. B. Lundwall, comp., Inspired Prophetic Warnings to All Inhabitants of the Earth, p. 139.) Compare Ezekiel 9:6with Doctrine and Covenants 112:24–26.
(26-32) Ezekiel 10. Ezekiel Received Another Vision Similar to His Earlier One
Ezekiel’s description in chapter 10 of a later vision contains many elements that correspond to the vision described in chapter 1. Compare items to similar ones in the first account.
A significant difference in chapter 10 is the frequent reference to cherubim. The substitution of the face of a cherub in chapter 10 (see v. 14) for the face of an ox in chapter 1 (see v. 10) raises a question of interpretation. If the faces represent various classes of living creatures in God’s kingdom that function in harmony with His will, the problem is not difficult. The cherub, which is an angelic servant of God, is in the same category with all living creatures that serve God. In fact, all of the creatures Ezekiel saw are referred to as cherubim (see Ezekiel 10:20). All follow the dictates of His Spirit and perform His work.
Ezekiel 10:12tells of eyes on the body, backs, hands, and wings of the cherubim and on the wheels. These eyes represent light and knowledge. All creatures who serve God with complete dedication may have the blessing of receiving the Light of Christ, by which Spirit they function in complete harmony, agreeable to His will.
(26-33) Ezekiel 10:1. What are Cherubim?
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
“Apparently a cherub is an angel of some particular order or rank to whom specific duties and work are assigned. That portion of the Lord’s word which is now available among men does not set forth clearly either the identity or work of these heavenly beings. …
“In English, the plural of cherub is cherubs; in Hebrew, the plural is cherubim, except that the King James Version of the Bible erroneously translates the plural as cherubims. The Book of Mormon (Alma 12:21; 42:2–3), the Pearl of Great Price (Moses 4:31), and the [Joseph Smith Translation] of the Bible (Ex. 25:20–22), give the plural as cherubim.” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 124–25.)
(26-34) Ezekiel 10:2, 6–7. What Is Meant by the Coals of Fire Scattered over Jerusalem?
The part of Ezekiel’s vision found in Ezekiel 10:2, 6–7is a reference to the judgments and eventual burning and destruction which would come upon the city.
(26-35) Ezekiel 11:3, 7, 11. “It Is Not Near; Let Us Build Houses: This City Is the Caldron, and We Be the Flesh”
Keil and Delitzsch gave the following explanation of Ezekiel 11:3: “Jeremiah had called upon those in exile to build themselves houses in their banishment, and prepare for a lengthened stay in Babylon, and not to allow themselves to be deceived by the words of false prophets, who predicted a speedy return; for severe judgments had yet to fall upon those who had remained behind in the land [see Jeremiah 29]. This word of Jeremiah the authorities in Jerusalem ridiculed, saying ‘house-building is not near,’ i.e. the house-building in exile is still a long way off; it will not come to this, that Jerusalem should fall either permanently or entirely into the hands of the king of Babylon. On the contrary, Jerusalem is the pot, and we, its inhabitants, are the flesh. The point of comparison is this: as the pot protects the flesh from burning, so does the city of Jerusalem protect us from destruction. … This saying expresses not only false confidence in the strength of Jerusalem, but also contempt and scorn of the predictions of the prophets sent by God. Ezekiel is therefore to prophesy, as he does in vers. 5–12, against this pernicious counsel, which is confirming the people in their sins.” (Commentary, 9:1:144–45.)
(26-36) Ezekiel 12:1–14. Zedekiah’s Escape, Abandonment, and Blinding Were Described in Prophetic Types
Ezekiel’s prophecy of Zedekiah’s fate seemed to contradict the prophecies of Jeremiah and caused Zedekiah to reject both (see Notes and Commentary on 2 Kings 25:1–7).
(26-37) Ezekiel 12:27. “He Prophesieth of the Times That Are Far Off”
A common mistake that uninspired people make is to ignore prophetic warnings, thinking that the fulfillment is not imminent and that they still have time to “eat, drink, and be merry” (2 Nephi 28:7–8). They think that repentance can come later. The Lord warned of such foolishness during His ministry (see Matthew 24:37–44; 25:1–13). How much wiser it is to repent at the first voice of warning from the Lord’s anointed!
(26-38) Ezekiel 13:1–16. Ezekiel’s Reproof of False Prophets
Chapter 13 in Ezekiel closely parallels Jeremiah’s condemnation of false prophets (see Jeremiah 23:9–40).
It is common among the people of the world to reject the words of true prophets and accept the words of false ones (see Helaman 13:24–38). Such is the easy way in the beginning, for it allows people to accept only that which they want to hear. It is, however, the path to destruction.
False prophets pacify and lull people into carnal security (see 2 Nephi 28:21). Like the cunning foxes in the desert (see Ezekiel 13:4), they obtain their prey by subtlety. False prophets have not provided for the people a secure defense against spiritual destruction (see v. 5). Ezekiel compared the work of the false prophets to daubing a wall “with untempered morter” (v. 10). Freeman explained:
“Kitto is of the opinion that reference is here made to ‘cob-walls;’ that is, walls which are made of beaten earth rammed into molds or boxes, to give shape and consistence, and then emptied from the molds, layer by layer, on the wall, where it dries as the work goes on. Such walls cannot stand the effects of the weather, and houses built on this principle soon crumble and decay. … To protect them from the weather a very fine mortar is sometimes made, which is laid thickly on the outside of the walls. When this mortar is properly mixed with lime, it answers the purpose designed; but where the lime is left out, as is often the case, the ‘untempered mortar’ is no protection. …
“Some commentators, however, translate taphel, which in our version is rendered ‘untempered mortar,’ by the word ‘whitewash.’ They represent the idea of the text to be the figure of a wall of unendurable material, and coated, not with cement which might protect it, but with a mere thin covering of lime, which gives the wall a finished durable appearance, which its real character does not warrant.” (Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 302.)
(26-39) Ezekiel 13:17–23. Denunciation of Sorceresses and Diviners
The word pillows (see Ezekiel 13:18) would better be translated bands or coverings. The kerchief was a kind of veil used as part of the trappings in the magical arts (see The Interpreter’s Bible, 6:132–33).
Ezekiel prophesied against women who, by divination (see Ezekiel 13:23), led people away from God and gave them a false sense of security. They brought destruction upon those who might otherwise live (spiritually) and held up and sustained those who ought to have been condemned (see vv. 19, 22). They promised prosperity and freedom (see v. 20) which they could not deliver (compare 2 Nephi 28:22–23; Alma 30:53, 60).
(26-40) Ezekiel 14:9. Does the Lord Ever Deceive Prophets?
In Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of the Bible, he corrected Ezekiel 14:9to read: “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have not deceived that prophet.”
(26-41) Ezekiel 14:13–20. Noah, Job, and Daniel Could Not Save the Unrighteous from God’s Judgments
Daniel, who was a contemporary of Ezekiel in Babylon, was one of the most righteous men on the earth at the time and was highly favored of God. He was even respected by Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, kings of Babylon and Persia (see Daniel 2:48; 6:1–3). The Lord referred to both Noah and Job as being perfect (see Genesis 6:9; Job 1:1, 8; 2:3), meaning that they were completely upright before God in living the commandments He had given them. But, Ezekiel said, even they could not save the people of Judah from the consequences of their sins. All people stand or fall in accordance with their own actions and cannot rely on the righteousness of others (see Ezekiel 14:18, 20). Also, it is not the personal power of the Lord’s spokesman that turns people to God but the willingness of the recipient to respond to the promptings and witness of the Spirit of God. (Consider, for example, the message of the Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31.)
(26-42) Ezekiel 15:1–8. Inhabitants of Jerusalem Compared to a Useless Vine
The people at Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s day were similar to those referred to by Isaiah in his parable of a vineyard (see Isaiah 5:1–25). Though they had been set up as the Lord’s vineyard to produce fruit, they did not produce and were of little value.
“The worthlessness of a vine save only for its fruit was set forth by the Lord through His prophet Ezekiel (15:2–5); and truly it is so, that the wood of the grape plant is fit for nothing but burning; the whole vine as wood is inferior to a branch from a forest tree (verse 3). And Israel is represented as such a vine, precious if but fruitful, otherwise nothing but fuel and that of poor quality.” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 542.)
(26-43) Ezekiel 16:3–5. The People of Jerusalem Were as Children of Heathens
The Lord referred to Jerusalem (which means Judah in general) as having the Amorites for their father and the Hittites for their mother.
“The descent and birth referred to are not physical, but spiritual descent. Spiritually, Israel sprang from the land of the Canaanites; [though they should have sprung from their spiritual father, Jehovah] and its father was the Amorite and its mother a Hittite, in the same sense in which Jesus said to the Jews, ‘Ye are of your father the devil’ (John viii. 44). The land of the Canaanites is mentioned as the land of the worst heathen abominations; and from among the Canaanitish tribes, the Amorites and Hittites are mentioned as father and mother, … because they were recognized as the leaders in Canaanitish ungodliness.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 9:1:196.)
The Lord said, “Thy navel [umbilical cord] was not cut” (Ezekiel 16:4). That is, they were still being nourished in their wickedness by the degrading practices of their heathen neighbors who had given them birth in iniquity. Neither were they “washed … salted … nor swaddled” (v. 4). They had not been cleansed from the corruptions they had obtained from their parents.
The reference to not being salted comes from an ancient practice wherein “new-born babes were rubbed with salt in order to harden their skin, as this operation was supposed to make it dry, tight, and firm. … The salt may also have been applied as an emblem of purity and incorruption.” (Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 304.) Swaddling means being wrapped in a cloth or bandage, which would have been somewhat of a protection to a tender infant. The message being conveyed by Ezekiel is that the Jews had never really been cleansed from the corruptions of the world and born as God’s children. Without God’s care they had no one as their protector.
(26-44) Ezekiel 16:30–34. Judah’s Iniquities Were Worse Than Those of a Harlot
The imagery Ezekiel uses in 16:30–34 is some of the most scathing in all the scriptures. Comparing idolatry to adultery, Ezekiel condemned Judah for being far worse than a harlot who takes men for personal gain and the presents they give her. Judah was not like this. She scorned personal presents (see v. 31) and took strangers to her simply for the change and the pleasure of being with other men (see v. 32). A harlot takes presents from her lovers, and that is her motivation; in Judah’s case, not only did she not receive such presents from her lovers (the false gods gave no benefits to Israel) but instead she gave the presents to her lovers (the false gods; see v. 33).
Thus, so deeply sunk in her idolatry (adultery), Judah should not have been surprised to be punished accordingly (see vv. 35–43).
(26-45) Ezekiel 16:44–52. Judah’s Sins Were Worse Than Their Neighbors’
Judah was in dire circumstances, for their sins were greater than the sins of Samaria or Sodom, both of which had already fallen under the chastening hand of the Lord. To understand the message of this passage, it is helpful to know the meaning of several figurative terms in these verses.
Ezekiel 16:45. The words mother and father refer to the Hittites and Amorites who were leaders in Canaanite idolatry. Daughter indicates Jerusalem, a representative of Judah or Israel. The husband represents the Lord (see Ezekiel 16:8, 32, 38). The antecedents of both that and her are “daughter,” not “mother.” Children were offered in sacrifice to Molech as part of heathen worship. The sisters were Samaria and Sodom (see v. 46). They and Jerusalem were all motivated by the same spirit of idolatry.
Ezekiel 16:46. The words elder and younger could more clearly be rendered greater and lesser. Perhaps they are a reference to the degree of iniquity, that is, Samaria’s was greater, Sodom’s lesser. Left hand equals the direction north; right hand means south. The word daughters is used here and throughout the rest of the chapter with a different meaning than the word daughter in verse 45; daughters are cities under the domination of Samaria and Sodom, lesser cities in the surrounding areas. (See Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 9:1:221–23; Interpreter’s Bible, 6:148–49.)
(26-46) Ezekiel 17:1–21. Ezekiel’s Parable of the Cedar Tree
Elder Orson Pratt said: “When Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon, the Lord took one of his sons, whose name was Mulok [Mulek] with a company of those who would hearken unto His words, and brought them over the ocean, and planted them in America. This was done in fulfillment of the 22nd and 23rd verses of the seventeenth chapter of Ezekiel, which read thus: [Ezekiel 17:22–23.] By reading this chapter , it will be seen that the Jews were the ‘high cedar,’ that Zedekiah the king was the ‘highest branch,’ that the ‘tender one’ cropped off from the top of his young twigs, was one of his sons, whom the Lord brought out and planted him and his company upon the choice land of America, which He had given unto a remnant of the tribe of Joseph for an inheritance, in fulfillment of the blessing of Jacob and Moses upon the head of that tribe [Genesis 48–49; Deuteronomy 43].” (Orson Pratt’s Works on the Doctrines of the Gospel, pp. 280–81.)
(26-47) Ezekiel 18:1–20. “The Soul That Sinneth, It Shall Die”
The Lord has given individuals the freedom to exercise their own agency. They are therefore accountable for their own actions while they work out their salvation. No one is punished for the sins of someone else. The second article of faith teaches this principle.
Ezekiel used the example of a man, his son, and his grandson to teach the principles of accountability as they relate to spiritual life and death. He said that if a man (the grandfather in this case) is just, he shall live (see Ezekiel 18:5–9). If his son, having seen the good example and been exposed to the good teachings, turns to iniquity, he shall not live (see vv. 10–13). “His blood shall be upon him” (v. 13), that is, he will be punished for his own sins. If he, in turn, has a son who sees his father’s iniquities and yet lives righteously, “he [the son] shall not die for the iniquity of his father” (v. 17; see also vv. 14–18). Verse 20 is a clear summary of these principles. (See Notes and Commentary on Jeremiah 31:29–30.)
(26-48) Ezekiel 18:24, 27. A Person Cannot Be Saved by His Former Righteousness
President Spencer W. Kimball taught: “Having received the necessary saving ordinances—baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, temple ordinances and sealings—one must live the covenants made. He must endure in faith. No matter how brilliant was the service rendered by the bishop or stake president or other person, if he falters later in his life and fails to live righteously ‘to the end’ the good works he did all stand in jeopardy.” (Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 121.)
(26-49) Ezekiel 19:1–9. The Allegory of the Lioness and the Whelps
“The interpretation of this allegory seems fairly clear. The lioness, if not the doomed country [Judah], is Hamutal, the mother of Zedekiah. (2 Kings 24:18) The first of her whelps would then be Jehoahaz, who after reigning for a short time was taken prisoner to Egypt by Pharaoh-nechoh. (2 Kings 23:31–33) Jehoahaz was in turn succeeded by Jehoiakim, a son of Josiah by a wife other than Hamutal. Jehoiakim was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin. When the last-named was taken captive by the Babylonians, Hamutal’s second son, Zedekiah, was appointed king in his stead. He must, therefore, be the other ‘whelp’ of the allegory. When taken captive by Nebuchadrezzar and carried to Babylon, Zedekiah fulfilled the requirements of the last two verses.” (Sperry, Voice of Israel’s Prophets, p. 211.)
(26-50) Ezekiel 19:10–14. The Allegory of the Vine and Its Branches
The allegory in Ezekiel 19:10–14deals with the conditions in Israel at the time of Ezekiel: “Israel resembled a vine planted by the water. … This vine sent out strong shoots for rulers’ sceptres; that is to say, it brought forth powerful kings, and grew up to a great height, … It was torn up in fury by the wrath of God, cast down to the ground, so that its fruit withered. … The uprooting ends in the transplanting of the vine into a waste, dry, unwatered land,—in other words, in the transplanting of the people, Israel, into exile. The dry land is Babylon, so described as being a barren soil in which the kingdom of God could not flourish.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 9:1:261–62.)
With the destruction of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar and the killing of Zedekiah’s sons, “she hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule” (Ezekiel 19:14). Clarke summarized: “None of the blood-royal of Judah [was] left. And from that time not one of her own royal race ever sat upon the throne of Israel.” (Commentary, 4:474.)
(26-51) Ezekiel 20:3, 31–32. “I Will Not Be Enquired of by You”
When the elders of Israel came to inquire of Ezekiel concerning the Lord’s word (see v. 1), the Lord would not respond (v. 3). The reason is given in the rest of chapter 20. The Lord told Ezekiel to remind them of the covenant He had made with Israel and the great blessings He had given them and also of how the people had rebelled against Him. He then instructed Ezekiel to remind them of their current apostate condition, which was just like their fathers’ (see JST, Ezekiel 20:30; see also Ezekiel 20:31–32). If the elders really wanted God’s word, they would have obeyed that which they already had from His prophets. God will not be mocked. He will not give more to those who reject that which He has already given (see Alma 12:9–11).
(26-52) Ezekiel 20:33–44. Israel to Be Gathered by Revelation and with Power
Ezekiel prophesied of the captivity and scattering of Israel and also of the gathering in the latter days. He said this gathering would be accomplished through revelation (see v. 35) and would be accompanied by manifestations of the Lord’s power (see vv. 33–34).
Elder Orson Pratt, in a discourse in Salt Lake City on 26 March 1871, spoke of the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy:
“You young men who sit here on these seats will live to see the times of the Gentiles fulfilled; … the mission which you will receive, young men, will be to go to the scattered remnants of the house of Israel among all the nations and kingdoms of the Gentiles. To search them out and proclaim to them the message restored by the angel, that it may be preached to Israel as well as to the Gentiles. That is your destiny; that, young men, is what the Lord will require at your hands. [see 1 Ne. 13:42] …
“… And you will have the pleasure of gathering them up by thousands, tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands, from the islands of the sea and from all quarters of the earth; for that will be a day of power far more than it is while the Gospel continues among the Gentiles.
“… When the day of his power comes they [Israel] will be willing to hearken, they will gather up to their promised land, for it will be the day of the Lord’s power. In what respect will there be power manifested then? As power was manifested when the Lord brought Israel from the Egyptian nation into the wilderness of Sinai and spoke to them by his own voice, so will the power of Almighty God be made manifest among all the nations of the earth when he brings about the redemption and restoration of his people Israel; or, in other words, the former display of power will be eclipsed, for that which was done in one land, among the Israelites and Egyptians in the wilderness, will be performed among all nations. …
“… So will he plead with Israel in the latter days, and show forth his mighty hand and power, when he gathers them from the nations; and he will give revelation as he did to their fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt.” (In Journal of Discourses, 14:64–66.)
The prophecies of Ezekiel and the interpretation of Orson Pratt are now being fulfilled.
Passing under the rod (see Ezekiel 20:37) is a figure of speech that “alludes to the custom of tithing the sheep . … The sheep were all penned; and … only one sheep could come out at once. … [The shepherd] counted … and as the tenth came out, he marked it with the rod [dipped in vermilion], and said, ‘This is … set apart for the Lord.’” (Clarke, Commentary, 4:477.) Thus, the converted Israelites will be the Lord’s, just as tithing is.
(26-53) Ezekiel 20:45–48. What Is the Forest of the South Field and What Did the Lord Mean by Saying He Would Kindle a Fire There?
“The forest of the field in the south is a figure denoting the kingdom of Judah [the southern part of the land of Israel]. … The forest is a figure signifying the population, or the mass of people. Individual men are trees. The green tree is a figurative representation of the righteous man, and the dry tree of the ungodly (v. 3, compare Luke xxiii. 31). The fire which Jehovah kindles is the fire of war. … From the terrible fierceness of the fire, which cannot be extinguished, every one will know that God has kindled it, that it has been sent in judgment.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 9:1:288–89.) The Lord further described in the next chapter the terribleness of the wrath of war that would come upon Judah (see Ezekiel 21:1–17).
(26-54) Ezekiel 21:4. The Righteous Sometimes Suffer with the Wicked
When righteous people live among the wicked, they sometimes experience tribulations resulting from the unrighteousness of their neighbors. Sometimes the “innocent are compelled to suffer for the iniquities of the guilty” (Smith, Teachings, p. 34).
In speaking of the judgments of the last days, Joseph Smith said: “It is a false idea that the Saints will escape all the judgments, whilst the wicked suffer; for all flesh is subject to suffer, and ‘the righteous shall hardly escape;’ still many of the Saints will escape, for the just shall live by faith; yet many of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease, to pestilence, etc., by reason of the weakness of the flesh, and yet be saved in the Kingdom of God. So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death; and the Savior has said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’” (History of the Church, 4:11.)
Clarke gave the following commentary on Ezekiel 21:4that is helpful in understanding why the righteous, along with the wicked, sometimes find their lot in life full of distress:
“And when all the provisions were consumed, so that there was no more bread in the city, during the siege by Nebuchadnezzar, the righteous must have suffered as well as the wicked; for they could not be preserved alive, but by miracle, when there was no bread; nor was their perishing for want any loss to them, because the Lord would take them straight to his glory. And however men in general are unwilling to die, yet there is no instance, nor can there be, of any man’s complaint that he got to heaven too soon. Again, if God had permitted none to be carried off captive but the wicked, the case of these would be utterly hopeless, as there would be none to set a good example, to preach repentance, to reprove sin, or to show God’s willingness to forgive sinners. But God, in his mercy, permitted many of the righteous to be carried off also, that the wicked might not be totally abandoned, or put beyond the reach of being saved. Hence, both Ezekiel and Daniel, and indeed several others, prophets and righteous men, were thus cut off from the land, and carried into captivity. And how much was God’s glory and the good of men promoted by this! What a seed of salvation was sown, even in the heathen countries, by thus cutting off the righteous with the wicked! To this we owe, under God, many of the Psalms, the whole of the Book of Ezekiel, all the prophecies of Daniel, the bright example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, the decrees passed in favour of the religion of the true God by Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, &c.” (Commentary, 4:479–80.)
(26-55) Ezekiel 21:6–7. “Breaking of Thy Loins”
To depict the terror and pain of the judgments that would come upon Judah, Ezekiel was told to sigh and mourn like a woman in the pains of travail, or childbirth.
(26-56) Ezekiel 21:10, 13. “It Contemneth the Rod of My Son, as Every Tree”
The sword of Nebuchadnezzar, meaning his destructive force, had contempt for any strength or power promised to Judah (compare Genesis 49:9–10). His sword destroyed the regal government of Judah just as it had brought down other nations over which it had been wielded in power. (See Notes and Commentary on Ezekiel 20:45–48.)
(26-57) Ezekiel 21:12, 14. “Smite … upon Thy Thigh” and “Smite Thine Hands Together”
Ezekiel 21:12, 14expresses signs of great emotion—in this case great alarm and horror at the impending calamity (see also Ezekiel 6:11; Jeremiah 31:9). Smiting the hands also showed contempt (see Job 27:23), anger (see Ezekiel 22:13), or triumph (see Ezekiel 25:6), or indicated a pledge (see Ezekiel 21:17).
(26-58) Ezekiel 21:21. “He Made His Arrows Bright, He Consulted with Images, He Looked in the Liver”
Three methods of divination used by idolaters were shaking arrows and drawing one out or watching them fall, consulting with idols, and examining the entrails of animal sacrifices—customs no more ridiculous than consulting cards and tea leaves or reading palms. Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem because Jehovah allowed it, not because an arrow, an image, or a liver bespoke good omens. (See Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, pp. 305–7.)
(26-59) Ezekiel 21:26–27. “Remove the Diadem … until He Come Whose Right It Is”
(26-60) Ezekiel 23:1–49. Allegory of the Two Sisters
Ezekiel 23tells about the idolatry of the ten tribes (Samaria) and Judah (Jerusalem). All the references to whoredoms, to other impure sexual practices, and to various parts of the female anatomy are metaphorical. These metaphors are used in the same way as those used by Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others in which Jehovah is the husband and the nation Israel is the wife. Infidelity and fornication are similar, and both words have dual meanings. One meaning relates to marriage (adultery) and the other to worship (idolatry). Ezekiel plays these meanings against each other and draws out lessons on both. Dummelow summarized the relationships referred to in the allegory:
“The idolatries and foreign alliances of Jerusalem and Samaria are here described under the same strong figure which is used in c. 16. Oholah (Samaria) and Oholibah (Jerusalem) were two sisters, both seduced in Egypt in their youth (v. 3), both espoused by God (v. 4), and both unfaithful to Him. Samaria took as her lovers first the Assyrians (vv. 5–7), and then the Egyptians (v. 8), and was at length slain by the former (vv. 9, 10). Jerusalem, not warned by her sister’s fate, made first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians her paramours (vv. 11–16). Being alienated from the latter she has turned to her early lovers of Egypt (vv. 17–21), but she will be destroyed, like her sister, by the lovers whom she has just forsaken (vv. 22–35). The sin and judgment of the two sisters are described afresh (vv. 36–49).” (Commentary, p. 507.)
In his inspired translation, Joseph Smith made small but significant changes in Ezekiel 23:17, 22, and 28. The sisters’ minds were turned not from their lovers (the false gods) but from God by their lovers.
(26-61) Ezekiel 24:1–14. The Parable of the Boiling Pot
The pot in this parable represents the city of Jerusalem. Its inhabitants are symbolized by the flesh and bones in the pot. The choice pieces denote the strongest and most important inhabitants of the city (Zedekiah and his family would be part of this group). Boiling the contents of the pot on the fires represents the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The scum in the pot indicates impurity and bloodshed in Jerusalem, the inhabitants of which are in a very sinful state. As the contents of the pot are brought out piece by piece, so will the city of Jerusalem be emptied of its inhabitants one by one, either by death or by captivity. The phrase “let no lot fall upon it” (v. 6) means that the contents of the pot will be pulled out indiscriminantly, at random, without preference. The heating of the empty pot represents the burning of the city of Jerusalem after the siege. (See Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 9:1:340–47; Clarke, Commentary, 4:488–89; Dummelow, Commentary, pp. 507–8.)
Ezekiel 24:7–8refers to blood being set on the top of a rock: “The city has shed blood, which is not covered with earth, but has been left uncovered, like blood poured out upon a hard rock, which the stone cannot absorb, and which cries to God for vengeance, because it is uncovered [compare Genesis 4:10; Job 16:18; and Isaiah 26:21]. The thought is this: she has sinned in an insolent and shameless manner, and has done nothing to cover her sin, has shown no sign of repentance or atonement, by which she might have got rid of her sin. This has all been ordered by God. He has caused the blood that was shed to fall upon a bare rock, that it might lie uncovered, and He might be able to execute vengeance for the crime.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 9:1:345.)
(26-62) Ezekiel 24:15–27. Why Was Ezekiel Told Not to Mourn for the Death of His Wife?
Although the Lord took away “the desire of [his] eyes” (Ezekiel 24:16), meaning his wife (see v. 18), Ezekiel was instructed to make no mourning. Putting ashes on the head, making one’s feet bare, covering the lips, and eating bread of mourning were all signs of grief (see Joshua 7:6; 2 Samuel 13:19; Isaiah 20:2–3; Micah 3:7; Hosea 9:4; Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 9:1:348–49.)
“When Ezekiel thus abstained from all lamentation and outward sign of mourning on the death of his dearest one, the people conjectured that such striking conduct must have some significance, and asked him what it was that he intended to show thereby. He then announced to them the word of God (vers. 20–24). As his dearest one, his wife, had been taken from him, so should its dearest object, the holy temple, be taken from the nation by destruction, and their children by the sword. When this occurred, then would they act as he was doing now; they would not mourn and weep, but simply in their gloomy sorrow sigh in silence on account of their sins, and groan one toward another.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 9:1:349.)
Points to Ponder
(26-63) Ezekiel As a Prophet
The prophecies of Ezekiel could be roughly grouped into the following three time phases:
Close: from a few days to a few years.
Intermediate: from a few years to a few hundred years (mostly fulfilled by about 200 B.C.).
Distant: from 2500 to 2700 years in the future.
What might be the benefit of such prophecies? Who would benefit most from the close ones? the intermediate ones? the distant ones?
Read Deuteronomy 18:22. What is one way to tell a true prophet from a false one? Use this criterion to evaluate Ezekiel. Can you think of at least three prophecies in the first twenty-four chapters of Ezekiel that were given in such a way that no one could dispute their accuracy once they were fulfilled?
(26-64) An Age-Old Message
What is the message common to the following scriptures: Ezekiel 7:1–9, 25–27; 3 Nephi 8:23–25; Mormon 4:10–12with Mormon 5:2; 6:7–8, 16–18; D&C 101:1–8; Moses 8:19–23, 28–30; D&C 43:23–27? What commitment should you make to yourself as a result of studying these examples and many other similar ones that could be shown in the scriptures?