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Chapter II. Jeremiah And Ezekiel.

Each of the communities described in the last chapter was the theatre of the activity of a great prophet. When Ezekiel began to prophesy at Tel Abib, Jeremiah was approaching the end of his great and tragic career. For five-and-thirty years he had been known as a prophet, and during the latter part of that time had been the most prominent figure in Jerusalem. For the next five years their ministries were contemporaneous, and it is somewhat remarkable that they ignore each other in their writings so completely as they do. We would give a good deal to have some reference by Ezekiel to Jeremiah or by Jeremiah to Ezekiel, but we find none. Scripture does not often favour us with those cross-lights which prove so instructive in the hands of a modern historian. While Jeremiah knows of the rise of false prophets in Babylonia, and Ezekiel denounces those he had left behind in Jerusalem, neither of these great men betrays the slightest consciousness of the existence of the other. This silence is specially noticeable on Ezekiel's part, because his frequent descriptions of the state of society in Jerusalem give him abundant opportunity to express his sympathy with the position of Jeremiah. When we read in the twenty-second chapter that there was not found a man to make up the fence and stand in the breach before God, we might be tempted to conclude that he really was not aware of Jeremiah's noble stand for righteousness in the 014 corrupt and doomed city. And yet the points of contact between the two prophets are so numerous and so obvious that they cannot fairly be explained by the common operation of the Spirit of God on the minds of both. There is nothing in the nature of prophecy to forbid the view that one prophet learned from another, and built on the foundation which his predecessors had laid; and when we find a parallelism so close as that between Jeremiah and Ezekiel we are driven to the conclusion that the influence was unusually direct, and that the whole thinking of the younger writer had been moulded by the teaching and example of the older.

In what way this influence was communicated is a question on which some difference of opinion may exist. Some writers, such as Kuenen, think that the indebtedness of Ezekiel to Jeremiah was mainly literary. That is to say, they hold that it must be accounted for by prolonged study on Ezekiel's part of the written prophecies of him who was his teacher. Kuenen surmises that this happened after the destruction of Jerusalem, when some friends of Jeremiah arrived in Babylon, bringing with them the completed volume of his prophecies. Before Ezekiel proceeded to write his own prophecies, his mind is supposed to have been so saturated with the ideas and language of Jeremiah that every part of his book bears the impress and betrays the influence of his predecessor. In this fact, of course, Kuenen finds an argument for the view that Ezekiel's prophecies were written at a comparatively late period of his life. It is difficult to speak with confidence on some of the points raised by this hypothesis. That the influence of Jeremiah can be traced in all parts of the book of Ezekiel is undoubtedly true; but it is not so clear that it can be assigned equally to all periods of Jeremiah's activity. Many of the prophecies of Jeremiah cannot be referred to a definite date; and we do not know what 015 means Ezekiel had of obtaining copies of those which belong to the period after the two prophets were separated. We know, however, that a great part of the book of Jeremiah was in writing several years before Ezekiel was carried away to Babylon; and we may safely assume that amongst the treasures which he took with him into exile was the roll written by Baruch to the dictation of Jeremiah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jer. xxxvi.). Even later oracles may have reached Ezekiel either before or during his prophetic career through the active correspondence maintained between the exiles and Jerusalem. It is possible, therefore, that even the literary dependence of Ezekiel on Jeremiah may belong to a much earlier time than the final issue of the book of Ezekiel; and if it should be found that ideas in the earlier part of the book suggest acquaintance with a later utterance of Jeremiah, the fact need not surprise us. It is certainly no sufficient reason for concluding that the whole substance of Ezekiel's prophecy had been recast under the influence of a late perusal of the work of Jeremiah.

But, setting aside verbal coincidences and other phenomena which suggest literary dependence, there remains an affinity of a much deeper kind between the teaching of the two prophets, which can only be explained, if it is to be explained at all, by the personal influence of the older upon the younger. And it is these more fundamental resemblances which are of most interest for our present purpose, because they may enable us to understand something of the settled convictions with which Ezekiel entered on the prophet's calling. Moreover, a comparison of the two prophets will bring out more clearly than anything else certain aspects of the character of Ezekiel which it is important to bear in mind. Both are men of strongly marked individuality, and no conception 016 of the age in which they lived can safely be formed from the writings of either, taken alone.

It has been already remarked that Jeremiah was the most conspicuous public character of his day. If it be the case that he threw his spell over the youthful mind of Ezekiel, the fact is the most striking tribute to his influence that could be conceived. No two men could differ more widely in natural temperament and character. Jeremiah is the prophet of a dying nation, and the agony of Judah's prolonged death-struggle is reproduced with tenfold intensity in the inward conflict which rends the heart of the prophet. Inexorable in his prediction of the coming doom, he confesses that this is because he is over-mastered by the Divine power which urges him into a path from which his nature recoiled. He deplores the isolation which is forced upon him, the alienation of friends and kinsmen, and the constant strife of which he is the reluctant cause. He feels as if he could gladly shake off the burden of prophetic responsibility and become a man amongst common men. His human sympathies go forth towards his unhappy country, and his heart bleeds for the misery which he sees hanging over the misguided people, for whom he is forbidden even to pray. The tragic conflict of his life reaches its height in those expostulations with Jehovah which are amongst the most remarkable passages of the Old Testament. They express the shrinking of a sensitive nature from the inward necessity in which he was compelled to recognise the higher truth; and the wrestling of an earnest spirit for the assurance of his personal standing with God, when all the outward institutions of religion were being dissolved.

To such mental conflicts Ezekiel was a stranger, or if he ever passed through them the traces of them have almost vanished from his written words. He can hardly be said to be more severe than Jeremiah; but his severity 017 seems more a part of himself, and more in keeping with the bent of his disposition. He is wholly on the side of the divine sovereignty; there is no reaction of the human sympathies against the imperative dictates of the prophetic inspiration; he is one in whom every thought seems brought into captivity to the word of Jehovah. It is possible that the completeness with which Ezekiel surrendered himself to the judicial aspect of his message may be partly due to the fact that he had been familiar with its leading conceptions from the teaching of Jeremiah; but it must also be due to a certain austerity natural to him. Less emotional than Jeremiah, his mind was more readily taken possession of by the convictions that formed the substance of his prophetic message. He was evidently a man of profoundly ethical habits of thought, stern and uncompromising in his judgments, both on himself and other men, and gifted with a strong sense of human responsibility. As his captivity cut him off from living contact with the national life, and enabled him to survey his country's condition with something of the dispassionate scrutiny of a spectator, so his natural disposition enabled him to realise in his own person that breach with the past which was essential to the purification of religion. He had the qualities which marked him out for the prophet of the new order that was to be, as clearly as Jeremiah had those which fitted him to be the prophet of a nation's dissolution. In social standing, also, and professional training, the men were far removed from each other. Both were priests, but Ezekiel belonged to the house of Zadok, who officiated in the central sanctuary, while Jeremiah's family may have been attached to one of the provincial sanctuaries.44   This, however, is not certain. Although Jeremiah's property and residence were in Anathoth, his official connection may have been with the Temple in Jerusalem. The interests of the two classes of priests came 018 into sharp collision as a consequence of Josiah's reformation. The law provided that the rural priesthood should be admitted to the service of the Temple on equal terms with their brethren of the sons of Zadok; but we are expressly informed that the Temple priests successfully resisted this encroachment on their peculiar privileges. It has been adduced by several expositors as a proof of Ezekiel's freedom from caste prejudice, that he was willing to learn from a man who was socially his inferior, and who belonged to an order which he himself was to declare unworthy of full priestly rights in the restored theocracy. But it must be said that there was little in Jeremiah's public work to call attention to the fact that he was by birth a priest. In the profound spiritual sense of the Epistle to the Hebrews we may indeed say that he was at heart a priest, “having compassion on the ignorant and them that are out of the way, forasmuch as he himself was compassed with infirmity.” But this quality of spiritual sympathy sprang from his calling as a prophet rather than from his priestly training. One of the contrasts between him and Ezekiel lies just in the respective estimates of the worth of ritual which underlie their teaching. Jeremiah is distinguished even among the prophets by his indifference to the outward institutions and symbols of religion which it is the priest's function to conserve. He stands in the succession of Amos and Isaiah as an upholder of the purely ethical character of the service of God. Ritual forms no essential element of Jehovah's covenant with Israel, and it is doubtful if his prophecies of the future contain any reference to a priestly class or priestly ordinances.55   The passage xxxiii. 14-26 is wanting in the LXX., and may possibly be a later insertion. Even if genuine it would hardly alter the general estimate of the prophet's teaching expressed above. In the present he 019 repudiates the actual popular worship as offensive to Jehovah, and, except in so far as he may have given his support to Josiah's reforms, he does not concern himself to put anything better in its place. To Ezekiel, on the contrary, a pure worship is a primary condition of Israel's enjoyment of the fellowship of Jehovah. All through his teaching we detect his deep sense of the religious value of priestly ceremonies, and in the concluding vision that underlying thought comes out clearly as a fundamental principle of the new religious constitution. Here again we can see how each prophet was providentially fitted for the special work assigned him to do. To Jeremiah it was given, amidst the wreck of all the material embodiments in which faith had clothed itself in the past, to realise the essential truth of religion as personal communion with God, and so to rise to the conception of a purely spiritual religion, in which the will of God should be written in the heart of every believer. To Ezekiel was committed the different, but not less necessary, task of organising the religion of the immediate future, and providing the forms which were to enshrine the truths of revelation until the coming of Christ. And that task could not, humanly speaking, have been performed but by one whose training and inclination taught him to appreciate the value of those rules of ceremonial sanctity which were the tradition of the Hebrew priesthood.

Very closely connected with this is the attitude of the two prophets to what we may call the legal aspect of religion. Jeremiah seems to have become convinced at a very early date of the insufficiency and shallowness of the revival of religion which was expressed in the establishment of the national covenant in the reign of Josiah. He seems also to have discerned some of the evils which are inseparable from a religion of the letter, in which the claims of God are presented in the form of external laws 020 and ordinances. And these convictions led him to the conception of a far higher manifestation of God's redeeming grace to be realised in the future, in the form of a new covenant, based on God's forgiving love, and operative through a personal knowledge of God, and the law written on the heart and mind of each member of the covenant people. That is to say, the living principle of religion must be implanted in the heart of each true Israelite, and his obedience must be what we call evangelical obedience, springing from the free impulse of a nature renewed by the knowledge of God. Ezekiel is also impressed by the failure of the Deuteronomic covenant and the need of a new heart before Israel is able to comply with the high requirements of the holy law of God. But he does not appear to have been led to connect the failure of the past with the inherent imperfection of a legal dispensation as such. Although his teaching is full of evangelical truths, amongst which the doctrine of regeneration holds a conspicuous place, we yet observe that with him a man's righteousness before God consists in acts of obedience to the objective precepts of the divine law. This of course does not mean that Ezekiel was concerned only about the outward act and indifferent to the spirit in which the law was observed. But it does mean that the end of God's dealings with His people was to bring them into a condition for fulfilling His law, and that the great aim of the new Israel was the faithful observance of the law which expressed the conditions on which they could remain in communion with God. Accordingly Ezekiel's final ideal is on a lower plane, and therefore more immediately practicable, than that of Jeremiah. Instead of a purely spiritual anticipation expressing the essential nature of the perfect relation between God and man, Ezekiel presents us with a definite, clearly conceived vision of a new theocracy—a state which is to be the 021 outward embodiment of Jehovah's will and in which life is minutely regulated by His law.

If in spite of such wide differences of temperament, of education, and of religious experience, we find nevertheless a substantial agreement in the teaching of the two prophets, we must certainly recognise in this a striking evidence of the stability of that conception of God and His providence which was in the main a product of Hebrew prophecy. It is not necessary here to enumerate all the points of coincidence between Jeremiah and Ezekiel; but it will be of advantage to indicate a few salient features which they have in common. Of these one of the most important is their conception of the prophetic office. It can hardly be doubted that on this subject Ezekiel had learned much both from observation of Jeremiah's career and from the study of his writings. He knew something of what it meant to be a prophet to Israel before he himself received the prophet's commission; and after he had received it his experience ran closely parallel with that of his master. The idea of the prophet as a man standing alone for God amidst a hostile world, surrounded on every side by threats and opposition, was impressed on each of them from the outset of his ministry. To be a true prophet one must know how to confront men with an inflexibility equal to theirs, sustained only by a divine power which assures him of ultimate victory. He is cut off, not only from the currents of opinion which play around him, but from all share in common joys and sorrows, living a solitary life in sympathy with a God justly alienated from His people. This attitude of antagonism to the people, as Jeremiah well knew, had been the common fate of all true prophets. What is characteristic of him and Ezekiel is that they both enter on their work in the full consciousness of the stern and hopeless nature of their task. Isaiah knew from the day he became 022 a prophet that the effect of his teaching would be to harden the people in unbelief; but he says nothing of personal enmity and persecution to be faced from the outset. But now the crisis of the people's fate has arrived, and the relations between the prophet and his age become more and more strained as the great controversy approaches its decision.

Another point of agreement which may be here mentioned is the estimate of Israel's sin. Ezekiel goes further than Jeremiah in the way of condemnation, regarding the whole history of Israel as an unbroken record of apostasy and rebellion, while Jeremiah at least looks back to the desert wandering as a time when the ideal relation between Israel and Jehovah was maintained. But on the whole, and especially with respect to the present state of the nation, their judgment is substantially one. The source of all the religious and moral disorders of the nation is infidelity to Jehovah, which is manifested in the worship of false gods and reliance on the help of foreign nations. Specially noteworthy is the frequent recurrence in Jeremiah and Ezekiel of the figure of “whoredom,” an idea introduced into prophecy by Hosea to describe these two sins. The extension of the figure to the false worship of Jehovah by images and other idolatrous emblems can also be traced to Hosea; and in Ezekiel it is sometimes difficult to say which species of idolatry he has in view, whether it be the actual worship of other gods or the unlawful worship of the true God. His position is that an unspiritual worship implies an unspiritual deity, and that such service as was performed at the ordinary sanctuaries could by no possibility be regarded as rendered to the true God who spoke through the prophets. From this fountain-head of a corrupted religious sense proceed all those immoral practices which both prophets stigmatise as “abominations” and as a defilement of the land of 023 Jehovah. Of these the most startling is the prevalent sacrifice of children to which they both bear witness, although, as we shall afterwards see, with a characteristic difference in their point of view.

The whole picture, indeed, which Jeremiah and Ezekiel present of contemporary society is appalling in the extreme. Making all allowance for the practical motive of the prophetic invective, which always aims at conviction of sin, we cannot doubt that the state of things was sufficiently serious to mark Judah as ripe for judgment. The very foundations of society were sapped by the spread of licence and high-handed violence through all classes of the community. The restraints of religion had been loosened by the feeling that Jehovah had forsaken the land, and nobles, priests, and prophets plunged into a career of wickedness and oppression which made salvation of the existing nation impossible. The guilt of Jerusalem is symbolised to both prophets in the innocent blood which stains her skirts and cries to heaven for vengeance. The tendencies which are uppermost are the evil legacy of the days of Manasseh, when, in the judgment of Jeremiah and the historian of the books of Kings,66   Jer. xv. 4; 2 Kings xxiii. 26. the nation sinned beyond hope of mercy. In painting his lurid pictures of social degeneracy Ezekiel is no doubt drawing on his own memory and information; nevertheless the forms in which his indictment is cast show that even in this matter he has learned to look on things with the eyes of his great teacher.

It is scarcely necessary to add that both prophets anticipate a speedy downfall of the state and its restoration in a more glorious form after a short interval, fixed by Jeremiah at seventy years and by Ezekiel at forty years. The restoration is regarded as final, and as embracing both 024 branches of the Hebrew nation, the kingdom of the ten tribes as well as the house of Judah. The Messianic hope in Ezekiel appears in a form similar to that in which it is presented by Jeremiah; in neither prophet is the figure of the ideal King so prominent as in the prophecies of Isaiah. The similarity between the two is all the more noteworthy as an evidence of dependence, because Ezekiel's final outlook is towards a state of things in which the Prince has a somewhat subordinate position assigned to Him. Both prophets, again following Hosea, regard the spiritual renewal of the people as the effect of chastisement in exile. Those parts of the nation which go first into banishment are the first to be brought under the salutary influences of God's providential discipline; and hence we find that Jeremiah adopts a more hopeful tone in speaking of Samaria and the captives of 597 than in his utterances to those who remained in the land. This conviction was shared by Ezekiel, in spite of his daily contact with abominations from which his whole nature revolted. It has been supposed that Ezekiel lived long enough to see that no such spiritual transformation was to be wrought by the mere fact of captivity, and that, despairing of a general and spontaneous conversion, he put his hand to the work of practical reform as if he would secure by legislation the results which he had once expected as fruits of repentance. If the prophet had ever expected that punishment of itself would work a change in the religious condition of his countrymen, there might have been room for such a disenchantment as is here assumed. But there is no evidence that he ever looked for anything else than a regeneration of the people in captivity by the supernatural working of the divine Spirit; and that the final vision is meant to help out the divine plan by human policy is a suggestion negatived by the whole scope of the book. It may be true that his practical activity in the present was directed to preparing individual men for 025 the coming salvation; but that was no more than any spiritual teacher must have done in a time recognised as a period of transition. The vision of the restored theocracy presupposes a national resurrection and a national repentance. And on the face of it it is such that man can take no step towards its accomplishment until God has prepared the way by creating the conditions of a perfect religious community, both the moral conditions in the mind of the people and the outward conditions in the miraculous transformation of the land in which they are to dwell.

Most of the points here touched upon will have to be more fully treated in the course of our exposition, and other affinities between the two great prophets will have to be noticed as we proceed. Enough has perhaps been said to show that Ezekiel's thinking has been profoundly influenced by Jeremiah, that the influence extends not only to the form but also to the substance of his teaching, and can therefore only be explained by early impressions received by the younger prophet in the days before the word of the Lord had come to him.


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