Ezekiel 12-23 is the second section of the book according to the chiasm we are testing. It consists of judgment oracles and the parallel second to last section of the book is about restoration. We will be looking at the first three chapters of this section (chapters 12-14). These specifically are targeted at the princes, the false prophets, and the elders of Israel. The texts are tied to each other and yet are structurally independent and exhibit great variety including relating prophetic signs, rebutting popular proverbs, and presenting prophetic oracles in alternating and chiastic patterns and the wisdom pattern of 3+1. A detailed outline of the text reveals the complexity of the text and yet helps us to see what is going on it and to understand it. Click here for the handout that has outlines for these chapters, I have developed the outlines of chapters 12-14 independently of any commentaries because I could not find any easily at hand that others have done.
Ezekiel 12 consists of two prophetic signs and confronting two popular proverbs. There are a total of five parts when one looks at the structure of the text because “the word of YHWH came to me: son of man…” opens each one. Even so the first two parts both discussing the same sign are further linked by the variation on that phrase with the addition of “in the morning….” The first two parts are the Sign of Exile Bags (7xs says “in their sight”) and the Sign of Exile Bags Explained. The third part, by itself, is the Sign of Eating and Drinking with Anxiety. And the last two parts are the Proverb about Prophecy (vision) and the Saying about Prophecy.
This layout of the verses suggests that we are to highlight the third part in the center. The other thing that should be clear from the way this chapter is organized is that the sign in the first two parts will be fulfilled soon. The proverbs that Ezekiel confronts claim that what he is saying will be a long time off in the future. But Ezekiel warns them that the time is short, that what he has signified will come to pass soon.
The first part (Ezekiel 12:1-7) includes YHWH’s instructions to Ezekiel for the sign which includes him preparing bags for exile, going like an exile (day), digging through the way and bringing the bags through, and carrying the baggage at dusk, and covering his face so that he would not see the land. The text then tells us that Ezekiel did as he was commanded to do. The second part (Ezekiel 12:8-16) explains what this all means.
Together the first and second parts include the following five things: A. The Sign, B. Introduction to the Explanation (“Say to them, Thus says the Lord YHWH:”), C. Whom the Sign Concerns: The Oracle Concerns the Prince in Jerusalem & all the house of Israel in it, D. The Explanation and Its Significance E. They May Know that I am YHWH.
Those five things appear in part three (Ezekiel 12:17-20) for that sign: A. The Sign B. Introduction to the Explanation (“And say to the people of the land, Thus says the Lord YHWH:”), C. Whom the Sign Concerns: Concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the land of Israel, D. The Explanation, E. You Shall Know that I am YHWH.
The first sign oracle concluded with a double knowing formula: “And they shall know that I am YHWH,” “They may know that I am YHWH.” In the middle Ezekiel tells us the people will be dispersed among the nations, scattered among the lands, but that a few would escape the sword, famine, and pestilence to declare all their abominations. Thus there will be a repentant remnant who will escape this judgment.
The second sign oracle was Ezekiel eating and drinking with trembling and anxiety. He explains this as showing what the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be doing. The text does not have the double knowing formula but the effect of the sign is that they will know that He is YHWH. I have provisionally suggested that this might be a chiasm. But what I want to stress is there at the center: the judgment on the land is “on account of the violence of its inhabitants” – a theme we have seen repeatedly in Ezekiel and so the “inhabited cities will be laid waste.” They will be uninhabitable.
If the first two sign oracles were connected by an alternating structure outline, this is even more the case for the two parts concerning proverbs. You can see that the first proverb part (Ezekiel 12:21-25) and the second proverb part (Ezekiel 12:26-28) follow the same outline. The proverb was that the days grow long and every vision comes to nothing. The second proverb or saying was that the vision is for many days from now and prophesies of times far off in the future. And the answer to both is to say that the oracles will no longer be delayed but happen in your days, YHWH will speak the word and it will be done.
Note that the answer to the first proverb highlights in a chiastic fashion the line about “no longer delayed, but in your days” (see the handout) by putting a reference to speaking the word and performing it before and after. The afterwave that is the second proverb/saying and its explanation is shorter and more to the point. But one thing mentioned in the explanation to the first will be picked up with for chapter 13: Ezekiel 12:24: “For there shall be no more any false vision or flattering divination within the house of Israel.”
Chapter 13 has two halves dealing first with the prophets (Ezekiel 13:1-16) and second with the prophetesses (Ezekiel 13:17-23). You can see the alternating structure of the two halves by looking at the outline. It is worth noting that “foolish prophets” is a pun in Hebrew. Also linking this chapter to the next is the idea that these prophets/prophetesses are speaking from their own hearts and chapter 14 is about heart idolatry.
Note the complicated structure of Ezekiel 13:8-16. the standard phrases follow a chiastic pattern:
“declares the Lord YHWH,”
“and you shall know that I am the Lord YHWH,”
“And you shall know that I am YHWH,” and
“Declares the Lord YHWH.”
The briefer afterwave of the second half of the chapter does the simpler straightline sequence of:
“And you shall know that I am YHWH.”
“And you shall know that I am YHWH.”
Ezekiel 13:8-16 also follows one of the variations on a chiasm that some call the high-jump pattern that ignores (!) the previous pattern with the climax of the chiasm split in half by the phrase “Therefore thus says the Lord YHWH” introducing the second half:
Thus the woe on the prophets is highly intricately outlined but the woe on the prophetesses is the more brief afterwave with a structure that is fairly simple in comparison. In any case, what was said in chapter 12 is repeated that they would no longer see false visions or do divination.
Chapter 14 has two parts: Ezekiel 14:1-11 follows a different structure to that found in Ezekiel 14:12-23. These probably should have been divided into separate chapters.
Ezekiel 14:1-11 follows an alternating structure that is not a simple alternating structure as you can see from the outline handout. The first couple parts follow a fairly simple pattern. The first verse of the chapter just serves as an introduction that does not help with outlining the text. Then the phrase, “And the word of YHWH came to me: Son of man…” serves to mark this as a new section but also as the first part of the alternating sequence that later will be filled by “Therefore, speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord YHWH'” and “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord YHWH.'”
The next part of the alternating structure is a statement about heart idolatry. This is a revolutionary concept that Ezekiel introduces because usually idolatry is thought of as external to the person — using statues and the like. But Ezekiel describes the problem this way: “these men have taken their idols into their hearts,” then in the singular, “Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart,” and then more complex in the third part of the section there is “repent and turn away from your idols,” and “for any one of the house of Israel or the strangers sojourning in Israel who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart” (quoting my outline rather than Scripture itself because I have abbreviated the text). If we see nothing else from this observation of the structure it should be that repentence is at the level of the heart!
And coupled with this heart idolatry the next thing mentioned each time has to do with a stumbling block of their iniquity being before their faces. What does this mean? Perhaps looking at the third time: “turn away your faces from all your abominations” will help us to understand what Ezekiel means. Their abominations are before them and looking at them is a stumbling block as they try to approach God.
The next part of the alternating structure is fascinating. The first time it is posed as a question: “Should I let myself be consulted by them?” And the implied answer to such a rhetorical question should be the obvious NO! but the next part says that “YHWH will answer him.” It says that this person comes to the prophet and the Lord himself will answer the inquirer. In the third part the structure here is again more complex. There are two lines corresponding to this thought. The first one states this more fully, “and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I YHWH will answer him myself.” This is a scary thought given that it is much better to hear a prophet speak than to hear the sound of the Almighty! But then the second time YHWH says, “and if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I YHWH have deceived that prophet.”
Hopefully you have been following along on the outline seeing what parts are lined up together because there is one more part to the alternating structure that was not included in the first part. Here is where you should spend some time reflecting on what it says even more than you have done above. But the gist I want you to see for the moment is that God shows that this punishment is meant to lead to the restoration of the house of Israel.
And finally, Ezekiel 14:12-23 follows a 3+1 wisdom pattern but then there is a surprise fifth part where the pattern is the same alternating pattern as the preceding 3+1 but the surprise is that there will be some survivors left and sons and daughters will be brought out. Then there is the chiasm you can see on the handout followed by a longer knowing…declares YHWH conclusion.
I could probably write a whole post just about this section but let’s unpack it a little. Really just to discuss the question of the identity of the three men, because this has been debated. Noah and Job were patriarchs who did not live in the Promised Land but were known for their righteousness. The reference to Daniel is interesting. Some scholars have tried to tie this to another Daniel than the one bearing a book by that name in the Bible because of the spelling. However, I am persuaded that it is refering to the prophet Daniel whose story is told in the Biblical book of Daniel. And part of the reason that this is so is because the examples before and after Daniel are meant to refer to persons set in the ancient past but the one in the center (note the chiastic relationship) is a contemporary example. Daniel too was not living in the Promised Land. The first four (3+1) times God was explaining what would happen in the generic example of “when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly” and he sends sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence. Namely, the righteous person (even if that person were you today) would be saved but not even their children would survive. But then the fifth sequence is specific to them and the Promised Land, “How much more when I send upon Jerusalem…” And so then the surprise of the fifth sequence is when we discover that there are righteous persons who will survive but also that they have sons and daughters who will be brought out (they are not saved alone). The point of the section is to demonstrate the righteousness and mercy of God in carrying out His sentence.