Ezekiel himself explains at the very beginning of his Book, at what period he discharged the prophetic office; and on this depends the knowledge of his argument. For unless we understand how God stirred him up, we can with difficulty enter into his spirit, and shall be unable to receive any just fruit from his instruction. It is necessary, therefore, to begin from this point: namely, the time of his Prophecy: for he says:
1. Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month (as I was among the captives by the river Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God):
2. In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity.
2. In quinta mensis, ipse est annus quintus captivitatis regis Joiakim.
We see that the Prophet was called to the office of a Teacher in the fifth year after Jehoiachin had voluntarily surrendered himself to the king of Babylon, (2 Kings 24:15); and had been dragged into exile, together with his mother: for it was, says he, "in the thirtieth year." The greater part of the Commentators follow the Chaldee Paraphrast, and understand him to date from the finding of the Book of the Law. It is quite clear, flint this year was the eighteenth of king Josiah; but in my computation, I do not subscribe to the opinion of those who adopt this date. For this phrase -- "the thirtieth year," would then appear too obscure and 'forced. We nowhere read that succeeding writers adopted this date as a standard. Besides, there is no doubt that the usual method among the Jews was to begin to reckon from a Jubilee. For this was a point of starting for the future. I therefore do not doubt that this thirtieth year is reckoned from. the Jubilee. Nor is my opinion a new one; for Jerome makes mention of it, although he altogether rejects it, through being deceived by an opposite opinion. But since it is certain that the Jews used this method of computation, and made a beginning from Jobel, that is, the Jubilee, this best explains the thirtieth year. If any one should object, that we do not read that this eighteenth year of king Josiah was the usual year in which every one returned to his own lands, (Leviticus 25) and liberty was given to the slaves, and the entire restoration of the whole people took place, yet the answer is easy, although we cannot ascertain in what year the Jobel fell, it is sufficient for us to assign the Jubilee to this year, because the Jews followed the custom of numbering their years from this institution. As, then, the s had their Olympiads, the Romans their Consuls, and thence their computation of annals; so also the Hebrews were accustomed to begin from the year Jobel, when they counted their years on to the next restoration, which I have just mentioned. It is therefore probable that this was a Jubilee year -- it is probable, then, that this was the Jubilee. For it is said that Josiah celebrated the passover with such magnificent pomp and splendor, that there had been nothing like it since the time of Samuel. (2 Chronicles 35:18.) The conjecture which best explains this is, not that he celebrated the passover every with such magnificence, but that he was induced to do so by the peculiar occasion, when the people were restored and returned to their possessions, and the slaves were set free. Since, then, this was the Jubilee, the pious king was induced to celebrate the passover with far greater splendor than was usual -- nay, even to surpass David and Solomon. Again, although he reigned thirteen years afterwards, we do not read that he celebrated any passover with remarkable splendor. We do not doubt as to his yearly celebration; for this was customary. (2 Kings 23:23.) From this we conclude that the celebration before us was extraordinary, and that the year was Jobel. But though it is not expressed in Scripture, it is sufficient for us that the Prophet reckoned the years according to the accustomed manner of the people. For he says, that this was "the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity:" who is called also Jehoiakim; for Jehoiakim succeeded Josiah, and reigned eleven years. The thirteen years which remain of Josiah's reign and these eleven, make twenty-four. (2 Kings 23:36.) Now, "his successor," Jehoiachin, passed immediately into the hands of king Nebuchadnezzar, and was taken captive at the beginning of his reign, and reigned only three or four months. (2 Kings 24:8.) After that, the last king, Zedekiah, was set up by the will of the king of Babylon. We see, therefore, that nine years are made up: add the space of the reign of Jehoiachin: so it is no longer doubtful as to the reckoning of "the thirtieth year" from the eighteenth of king Josiah. It is true that the Law of God was found during this year, (2 Chronicles 34:14,) but the Prophet here accommodates himself to the received rule and custom.
We must now come to the intention of God in appointing Ezekiel as his Prophet. For thirty-five years Jeremiah had not ceased to cry aloud, but to little purpose. When, therefore, this Prophet Jeremiah was so occupied, God wished to give him a coadjutor. Nor was it but a slight relief when at Jerusalem Jeremiah became aware that the Holy Spirit was speaking through another mouth in harmony with himself; for by this means the truth of his teaching was confirmed. In the thirteenth year of Josiah, Jeremiah undertook the prophetic office: (Jeremiah 1:2:) eighteen years remain: add the eleven years of Jehoiakim, and it will make twenty.-nine: then add another year, and five more, and we shall have thirty-five years. This then was his hard province, to cry aloud continually for thirty-five years, to the deaf, nay, even to the insane. God, therefore, that he might succor his servant, gave him an ally who should teach the same things at Babylon which Jeremiah had not desisted from proclaiming at Jerusalem. He profited not only the captives, but also the rest of the people who still remained in the city and the land. As far as the captives were concerned, this confirmation was necessary for them: for they had false Prophets there, as we learn from Jeremiah 29:21; there was Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah; they proudly boasted that they were endued with the Spirit of revelation; they promised the people marvels, they derided the softness of those who had left their country, they said that they were determined to fight to the very last, and to run the risk of their lives rather than voluntarily give up the inheritance of divine promise. In this way they insulted the captives. After this there was Shemaiah the Nehelamite, (Jeremiah 29:24,) who wrote to the high priest Zephaniah, and reproached him for being careless and neglectful, because he did not severely punish Jeremiah as an impostor and a fanatic, and a false intruder into the prophetic office. Since, therefore, the Devil had his busy agents there, God stationed his Prophet there, and hence we see how useful, nay, how necessary it was, that Ezekiel should discharge his prophetic office there. But the utility of his instructions extended much further, since those at Jerusalem were compelled to listen to the prophecies which Ezekiel uttered in Chaldea. When they saw that his prophecies agreed with those of Jeremiah, it necessarily happened that they would at least enquire into the cause of this coincidence. For it is not natural that one Prophet at Jerusalem, and another in Chaldea, should utter their prophecies, as if. were, in the same key, just as two singers unite their voices in accordance with each other. For no melody can be devised more perfectly complete than that which appears between these two servants of God. Now we see the meaning of what our Prophet says concerning "the years." In the thirtieth year: then in the fourth month, (the word month being' understood,) and in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives.
Before I proceed any farther, I will briefly touch on the subjects which Ezekiel treats. He has all things in common with Jeremiah, as I have said, with this peculiarity, that he denounces the last slaughter against the people, because they ceased not to heap iniquity upon iniquity, and thereby inflamed still more and more the vengeance of God. He threatens them, therefore, and that not once only, because such was the hard-heartedness of the people, that it was not enough to utter the threatenings of God three or four times, unless he should continually impress them. But, at the same time, he shows the causes why God determined to treat his people so severely; namely, because they were contaminated with many superstitions, because they were perfidious, avaricious, cruel, and full of rapine, given up to luxury and depraved by lust: all these things are united by our Prophet, that he may show that the vengeance of God is not too severe, since the people had arrived at the very last pitch of impiety and all wickedness. At the same time, he gives them, here and there, some taste of the mercy of God. For all threats are vain, unless some promise of favor is held out. Nay, the vengeance of God, as soon as it is displayed, drives men to despair, and despair casts them headlong into madness: for as soon as any one apprehends the anger of God, he is necessarily agitated, and then, like a raging beast, he wages war with God himself. For this reason, I said, that all threats are vain without a taste of the mercy of God. The Prophets always argue with men with no other intention than that of stirring' them up to penitence, which they could never effect unless God could be reconciled to those who had been alienated from him. This then is the reason why our Prophet, as well as Jeremiah, when they reprove the people, temper their asperity by the interposition of promises. He also prophesies against heathen nations, like Jeremiah, especially against the children of Ammon, the Moabites, the Tyrians, the Egyptians, and the Assyrians. (Jeremiah 26-29.) But from the fortieth chapter he treats more fully and copiously concerning the restoration of the Temple and the city. He there professedly announces, that a new state of the people would arise, in which both the royal dignity would flourish again, and the priesthood would recover its ancient excellence, and, to the end of the book, he unfolds the singular benefits of God, which were to be hoped for after the close of the seventy years. Here it is useful to remember what we observed in the case of Jeremiah: (Jeremiah 28:) while the false Prophets were promising the people a return after three or five years, the true Prophets were predicting what would really happen, that the people might submit themselves patiently to God, and that length of time might not interrupt their calm submission to his just corrections.
As we now understand what our Prophet is treating, and the tendency as well as the substance of his teaching, I will proceed with the context.
He says: as I was among the captives. While some skillfully explain the words of the Prophet, they think that he was not in reality in the midst of the exiles, but refer this to a vision, as if; when he uses the word "among," signifying "in the midst," its sense could be, that he was in the assembly of the whole people: but his intention is far otherwise, for he uses the above phrase that he may show that he was an exile together with the rest, and yet that the prophetic spirit was granted to him in that polluted land. Hence the words, "among the captives," or, "in the midst of the captives," do not mean the assembly, but simply narrate, that, though the Prophet was far from the Sacred Land, yet the hand of God was extended to him there, that he might excel in the prophetic gift. Hence the folly of those is refuted, who deny to our Prophet the possession of any spirit of revelation before he went into exile. Although they do not err so much through mistake and ignorance as through willful stupidity; for the Jews took nothing so ill as the thought of God's reigning beyond the sacred land. To this day, indeed, they are hardened, because they are dispersed through the whole world, and scattered through all regions, and yet retain much of their ancient pride. But then, when there was any hope of return, this profanation seemed to them scarcely tolerable, if the truth of God were to shine forth elsewhere than in the holy land, but especially in the Temple. The Prophet then shows, that he was called to the office of instruction when he was in the midst of the exiles, and one among them. God's inestimable goodness is conspicuous in this, because he called the Prophet, as it were, from the abyss: for Babylon was a profound abyss: hence the Spirit of God emerged with its own instrument, that is, brought forth this man, who should be the minister and herald of his vengeance as well as of his favor. We see, therefore, how wonderfully God drew light out of darkness, when our Prophet was called to his office during his exile. In the meantime, although his doctrine ought to be useful to the Jews still remaining in this country, yet God wished them not to return to him without some mark of their disgrace. For, because they had despised all the prophecies which had been uttered at home, in the Temple, the Sanctuary, and on Mount Zion, these prophecies were now to issue forth from that cursed land, and from a master who was sunk, as I have said, in that profound abyss. We see then, that God chastised their impious contempt of his instructions, not without putting them to shame. For a long time Isaiah had discharged the prophetic office; then came Jeremiah: but the people ever remained just as they formerly were. Since then prophecy when flowing freely from the very fountain was despised by the Jews, God raised up a Prophet in Chaldea. Blow, therefore, we see the full meaning of the clause.
He says, "by the river of Chebar," which many understand to mean the Euphrates, but they assign no reason, except their not finding any other celebrated river in that country; for the Tigris loses its name after flowing into the Euphrates, and on this account they think the Euphrates is called Chebar. But we are ignorant of the region to which our Prophet was banished: perhaps it was Mesopotamia, or else beyond Chaldea, and besides, since the Euphrates has many tributaries, it is probable that each has its own name. But since all is uncertainty, I had rather leave the matter in suspense. Because the Prophet received his vision on the banks of the river, some argue from this, that the waters were, as it were dedicated to revelations, and when they assign the cause, they say that water is lighter than earth, and as a prophet must necessarily rise above the earth, so water is suitable for revelations. Some connect this with ablution, and think that baptism is prefigured. But I pass by these subtleties which vanish of themselves, and very willingly do I leave them, because in this way Scripture would lose all its solidity: conjectures of this kind are very plausible, but we ought to seek in Scripture sure and firm teaching;, in which we can acquiesce. Some for instance torture this passage, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept," (Psalm 137:1,) as if the people betook themselves to their banks to pray and worship; when the situation of that country only is described, as being' watered by many rivers, as I have just mentioned.
He says, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. God opens his heavens, not that they are opened in reality, but when, by removing every obstacle, he allows the eye of the faithful to penetrate even to his celestial glory; for if the heavens were cleft a thousand times, yet what great brightness must it be to arrive at the glory of God? The sun appears small to us, yet it far exceeds the earth in size. Then the other planets, except the moon, are all like small sparks, and so are the stars. Since, therefore, light itself grows dark before our glance penetrates thus far, how can our sight ascend to the incomprehensible glory of God? It follows therefore when God opens the heavens, that he also gives new eyesight to his servants, to supply their deficiency to pierce not only the intervening space, but even its tenth or hundredth part. So, when Stephen saw the heavens open, (Acts 7:56,) his eyes were doubtless illuminated with unusual powers of perceiving far more than men can behold. So, at the baptism of Christ, the heavens were opened, (Matthew 3:16,) that is, God made it appear to John the Baptist, as if he were carried above the clouds. In this sense the Prophet uses the words, the heavens were opened, He adds, I saw visions of God. Some think that this means most excellent visions, because anything excellent is called in Scripture divine, as lofty mountains and trees are called mountains and trees of God; but this seems too tame. I have no doubt but that he calls prophetic inspiration "visions of God," and thus professes himself sent by God, because he put off as it were his human infirmities when God intrusted to him the office of instructor. And we need not wonder that he uses this phrase, because it was thought incredible that any prophet could arise out of Chaldea. Nathaniel asked whether any good thing could come out of Nazareth, and yet Nazareth was in the Holy Land. How then could the Jews be persuaded that the light of celestial doctrine could shine in Chaldea, and that any testimony to the grace of God could spring from thence? and that there also God exercised judgment by the mouth of a Prophet? This would never have been believed unless the calling of God had been marked in some signal and especial manner. Since he next adds, this was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity, (or Jechoniah, or Jechaniah,) it is plain that by these very words he reproves the obstinacy of the people. For when God afflicts us severely, at first we are much agitated, but by degrees we necessarily become submissive. Since, however, the willfulness of the people was not subdued during these five years, we infer that they persevered in rebellion against God. Nor does he spare those who remained at Jerusalem, for these took credit to themselves for not going into exile with their brethren, and so they despised them, as we often find in Jeremiah. Since then those who remained at home pleased themselves and thought their lot the best, the Prophet here marks the time, because it was necessary to allay their ferocity, and since they resisted the prophecies of Jeremiah, to use a second hammer that they might be completely broken in pieces. This is the reason why he speaks of the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity.
1 That is, when I was. -- Calvin.
2 Among the Captives. -- Calvin.
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