The Siege of Jerusalem Begins (2 Kings 25:1; Jeremiah 39:1; Jeremiah 52:4; Ezekiel 24) November 3-4
As historian Alfred Edersheim notes, when King Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon (2 Kings 24:20) "his punishment came quickly. Nebuchadnezzar advanced with his army, and pitched his camp at Riblah—significantly, the same place where Jehoahaz had been cast into bonds by Necho (2 Kings [23:] 33). Riblah remained the headquarters of the Babylonian army, as being a convenient point whence to operate against Palestine and Tyre on the one side, and on the other against Ammon and Moab (Ezek. [21:] 19, 20, 22, 28; [26:] 1-7). Presently all Judea was overrun. Indeed, it was entirely defenceless, with the exception of the fortified towns of Lachish, Azekah, and Jerusalem (Jer. [34:] 7). Against Jerusalem itself Nebuchadrezzar and his host now laid siege. This was the tenth day of the tenth month of the ninth year of Zedekiah (2 Kings [25:] 1; Jer. [39:] 1)" (Old Testament Bible History, 1890, Vol. 7, p. 207)—corresponding to January of 588 B.C.
For about four and a half years, Ezekiel had been warning of the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. Jeremiah had been warning of it for around 38 years. Now it was really happening. Ezekiel was told to record the date that later became a memorial day, being remembered by an annual fast (compare Zechariah 8:19). Indeed, Ezekiel's revealing of the exact date the siege began would soon confirm him as a true prophet. Bear in mind that there was no instant communication between ancient Judah and Babylon. A message of the siege beginning would take several weeks to deliver. Thus, once word came, the exiles would know that Ezekiel actually had received an instant communication—a supernatural one, from God.
Symbolizing what was happening to Jerusalem, God gives the parable of the bronze cooking pot or cauldron (Ezekiel 24:3-14). This imagery is repeated in certain respects from Ezekiel 11:1-13, where the people considered themselves protected within Jerusalem's walls from outside trouble as meat in a cauldron is protected from the flames of a cooking fire. In the earlier passage God had said the city's populace would not remain protected but would be "dumped out" of the cauldron, representative of coming captivity. Now God explains that the time in the pot will not be so protected as the people imagine. Rather, as the pot reaches the boiling point, the meat inside—the people of Jerusalem—will cook and simmer (24:5). As verse 6 explains, the cuts of meat will be tossed out (into captivity) "piece by piece" (as individuals are apprehended)—"on which no lot has fallen" (not by special divine selection but as part of God's general judgment on the populace). Those who are not taken out into captivity will be cooked to a crisp, totally burned up (verse 10). Indeed, the bronze pot itself will be burned and melted down (verse 11), representing the burning and razing of Jerusalem and the death of many people.
As in Ezekiel 22:2, the city is again referred to as "the bloody city" (24:6, 9)—guilty of the shed blood of her own people. In this context, mention is made of "scum" or "encrusted deposits (v. 6) on the pot. Verses 7-8 imply that these 'deposits' represented the violent bloodshed of this 'bloody city,' which was like blood poured on a bare rock and not covered with dirt. Jerusalem had done nothing to cover (or to atone for) her bloodshed as required by the Mosaic covenant (Lev 17:13). Uncovered blood evoked God's vengeance (cf. Gen 4:10; Isa 26:21). The Lord declared that he had put Jerusalem's blood on the bare rock and would not allow it to be covered so that his wrath might be poured out on her" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on Ezekiel 24:3-8). An important scripture in this regard is Numbers 35:33: "So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it." Failure to execute murderers brings guilt on the whole country.
The "filthiness" of the pot (verse 11) also includes lewdness (verse 13), the Hebrew word for which "denominates the worst kinds of impurity: adultery, incest, and the purpose, wish, design, and ardent desire to do those things" (Adam Clarke's Commentary, note on verse 13). God laments, "I have cleansed you, and you were not cleansed" (Ezekiel 24:13). "This probably refers to the deportations of 605 and 597 B.C., whose cleansing effects were incomplete" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 13-14). This time the purge would be complete.
It should also be recalled that the siege of Jerusalem is presented earlier in the book of Ezekiel in a dual sense—as signifying literal events of Ezekiel's own day but also to represent the fiery destruction that will come on all of Israel in the end time. No doubt that was also meant here. Certainly, it is easy to draw parallels between the immorality of ancient Judah and that of all the Israelite nations today.
Ezekiel Loses His Wife (2 Kings 25:1; Jeremiah 39:1; Jeremiah 52:4; Ezekiel 24)
The next part of Ezekiel 24 (verses 15-24) is quite shocking to read. God's prophets were called on to do many hard things, but Ezekiel was about to be given one of the hardest tasks of all. God was going to take away his beloved wife. He "spoke to the people in the morning" (verse 18)—evidently giving them the parable of the cooking pot to describe the siege of Jerusalem that commenced that day. And at the end of the same day, when "evening" or sundown came (same verse), his wife would die "with one stroke" (verse 16)—the Hebrew term used elsewhere of plague or disease (see Exodus 9:14). Yet in the face of this devastating personal blow, Ezekiel was not to mourn. We catch a very small glimpse here of Ezekiel's private life when God calls his wife "the desire of your eyes" (verse 16). This was to be no easy task.
"By no means did this signify that God was insensitive to Ezekiel's grief. Just the opposite is true. God's own grief at having to punish His people and reject the sanctuary where they worshipped Him would have been a mirror for Ezekiel's actions, and the Israelites' grief at being driven from the home they loved was parallel to it as well. Here, however, God's grief is not actually mentioned—the focus is limited exclusively to the grief of Ezekiel and the coming grief of the people of Israel" (Mastering the Old Testament, Vol. 18: Ezekiel by Douglas Stuart, 1988, p. 241).
The Nelson Study Bible notes: "This solemn command of God may be one of the hardest ever given to one of His servants. The picture of Ezekiel's wife dying and Ezekiel not being allowed to grieve illustrated God's pain over the death of His wife—Jerusalem—and His...[necessity of not mourning to demonstrate that] the nation deserved punishment. Ezekiel was called by God to 'be a sign to the exiles' by demonstrating what they should do [or, perhaps, would do since they might be prevented by their circumstances from public ritual mourning and thus would have to mourn privately] (see vv. 21-23) in response to the 'death' (destruction) of their desire and delight—their nation and its capital city. What Ezekiel was commanded to accept and do illustrated the degree of personal sacrifice and separation from ordinary life that the prophetic ministry often required. A long period of mourning was the normal, ritual response to the death of a loved one in the ancient Middle East" (note on verses 16-17).
Ezekiel writes in verse 18, "At evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded." Two things should be noticed here. First, the brevity and matter-of-factness of the comment no doubt concealed his deep sorrow—just as God told him he was to "sigh in silence" (verse 17). Second, as difficult as the command was, Ezekiel obeyed God. No doubt Ezekiel understood the truth of the future resurrection of the dead, as other prophets had foretold and as he himself would later proclaim. This would have given him hope. Nevertheless, the pain for the time being was of course overwhelming—as it would be for anyone but especially for Ezekiel, who, set apart as he was, may not have had any other close relationships. Ezekiel surely prayed that God would strengthen him in his great anguish—to give him the necessary spiritual power to obey. And God did. Ezekiel's faithful obedience to such a difficult command provided a great contrast to the faithless disobedience of the Jewish nation in regard to all of God's commandments.
As to the issue of why God would take His servant's wife in death, all the reasons are not revealed. We know He was using the situation as an object lesson. Yet that still does not explain why He would go to such lengths to make a point. Perhaps God knew or determined that she would die soon or in this general time frame anyway for some other reason—and He decided to cause her death to coincide with the siege date by either slightly prolonging or shortening her life. Frankly, we never know all the reasons that God allows our own loved ones to die at a particular time. God is working out a great plan for all humanity. As Creator and Sovereign, it is His right to take anyone's life whenever He decides to. Whatever the case or circumstances, we can be confident that God has the best interests of His servants at heart and will ultimately make all things work out for the good of those who love Him (see Romans 8:28).
The exiles ask Ezekiel about his bizarre reaction—or, rather, lack of reaction—to his wife's death (Ezekiel 24:19). "Ezekiel's reply to the people's inquiry," states The Expositor's Bible Commentary, "was an explanation of this picture lesson (v. 20). The delight of the exiled people's eyes was the pride (2 Chronicles 36:19 Lam 1:10-11) and affection that they had in the temple at Jerusalem ([Ezekiel 24] v. 21; cf. v. 25). [Indeed, the citizens boasted that God's holy temple and holy city provided protection from destruction.] However, the Lord would defile the temple and slay the Judean children in the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem (v. 21b). Ezekiel was to be a sign to them (v. 24a). They were to respond to the destruction of the temple and the death of their children in the same manner that Ezekiel responded to the death of his wife (vv. 22-23). Just as the delight of his eyes (his wife) was taken, so the delight of their eyes (the temple and their children) would be taken. Why should they not mourn? Because Jerusalem's fall had been foretold by many of the prophets, especially Ezekiel. This judgment [a just judgment from God] should have been expected!" (note on verses 20-24). However, as noted earlier, Ezekiel's sign may have been more concerned with what the Jews simply would do because of their circumstances rather than any command from God as to what they should do. As Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary notes on verse 23: "They could not in their exile manifest publicly their lamentation, but they would privately 'mourn one to another.'"
God ends chapter 24 with a positive message for Ezekiel (verses 25-27). "In 3:25-27 Ezekiel had been made mute [that is, he was only able to preach publicly when God specifically told him to]... Now the Lord was announcing that Ezekiel's muteness would be removed when the siege of Jerusalem was completed. On the day Jerusalem fell, a fugitive would escape to bring the news of Jerusalem's collapse to Ezekiel in Babylon (vv. 25-26). On the day that the fugitive would arrive in Babylon, approximately three months following the destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel's mouth would be opened; and he would have the freedom to move among his people and proclaim continually the message [not of judgment only but] of hope for the future (v. 27a). He would once again intercede before the Lord on their behalf. This fulfillment would be described in 33:21-22 (cf. 2 Kings 25:8)...[after] which Ezekiel would deliver his great message of hope for Israel ([Ezekiel] 33:31-39:29). The removal of his muteness would be another affirmation of Ezekiel's prophetic gift to the exiles. When they saw the fulfillment of the Lord's messages through his prophets, then the exiles would know that the Lord...[whom Ezekiel credited as the source of his prophecies, was truly God] (v. 27b)" (note on verses 25-27). And God inspired His prophet to record all this so that we today would know it too.