Meat in a Cauldron; A Heart of Flesh (Ezekiel 11) August 30-31
Ezekiel 11 concludes the vision that started in chapter 8. Ezekiel is now shown a group of 25 men that may or may not be the same as the group of 25 sun worshipers in 8:16. Those here are designated as "princes of the people" (11:1)—possibly civil leaders as this term "denotes public and political officials often serving in judicial, military, or royal posts (see 2 Sam. 8:15-18; 20:23-26)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Ezekiel 11:1-2). However, leading priests were "princes of the sanctuary" (Isaiah 43:28). Perhaps these are religious leaders who are also acting as civil leaders—or maybe just as ringleaders among the people in evil pursuits.
The Jaazaniah of Ezekiel 11:1 is the son of Azzur, not Shaphan as in 8:11. Again, perhaps the meaning of the name, "God Hears" or "God Hearkens," is significant: "Azur means 'help.' He [Jaazaniah] and Pelatiah ('God delivers'), son of Benaiah ('God builds'), are singled out...because their names ought to have reminded them that 'God' would have 'heard' had they sought His 'help' to 'deliver' and 'build' them up. But neglecting this, they incurred the heavier judgment by the very relation in which they stood to God" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on verse 1).
God told Ezekiel that these men were plotting evil and giving wicked advice in Jerusalem. Remember that Jerusalem in this vision, while pointing literally to the city of Ezekiel's time on one level, is also intended to represent all of Israel and Judah in the end time, just prior to Christ's return (compare 9:9-10; 11; 15-21).
Verse 3, which relates the wicked advice given, is clearer in the earlier King James Version than in the New King James: "It [presumably calamity] is not near; let us build houses" (KJV). Perhaps better still, the NIV has, "Will it not soon be time to build houses?" What about the rest of the verse? The New Living Translation renders it, "Our city is like an iron pot. Inside it we will be like meat—safe from all harm."
In Ezekiel's day, this directly contradicted the warnings he and Jeremiah had been giving. As leaders, those making these claims should have heeded the threat posed by Babylon and leveled with the people. Yet, instead, they are shown wickedly promoting a false sense of security. Evidently, they themselves were living in denial—confident that even if they came under attack, the walls of Jerusalem and the presence of God's temple would protect them from harm just like a cooking pot protects the meat inside from the flames of fire outside. Of course, this was foolishness—especially as God had sent such dire warnings through His true servants. The leaders had a responsibility to heed and spread the warning themselves. But they failed miserably in this respect, even going in the exact opposite, quite evil direction by saying all would be well. The same thing often happens among our national leaders today—and will in fact get far worse as the end of the age approaches.
God places the blame for the great number of deaths in the city on the shoulders of the leaders (11:6)—as He earlier placed it on the shoulders of the religious leaders (8:17; see also 9:9). This could mean that the high murder rate is due to a failure to honor and teach God's laws. Or it could refer to the deaths that have already come as punishment for the people's sins—the leaders being culpable for failing to properly acknowledge God and educate the nations in His ways and for giving a false sense of security, for not warning the people. When Ezekiel received this vision, the leaders already bore responsibility for the two previous attacks on Judah that left many dead in 605 and 597 B.C.—just as they would be responsible for the terrible slaughter that would follow. The same will be true of leaders in the end time.
In this light, God then uses the cooking pot analogy against them. He agrees that the city is a cooking pot of meat—only it is a pot of dead meat! The corpses of the slain are the meat, being cooked, so to speak (verse 7). Yet this would not include the particular leaders being addressed. They would indeed be killed, but not before they see the full calamity being brought. God says that the city would not be their cauldron. Rather, they would be run out of it and given into foreign hands, to be executed outside of Israel (verses 8-11).
Notice that Israel is again identified with Jerusalem here, which may point to an end-time fulfillment. However, Israel also designates the Promised Land (compare verse 17) and these verses could conceivably apply to what happened to certain leaders in Ezekiel's own day. Notice what later occurred after Jerusalem's fall to the Babylonians: "And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the second priest...an officer who had charge of the men of war, five men of the king's close associates who were found in the city, the chief recruiting officer of the army...and 60 men of the people of the land who were found in the city... [and] brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah [in Syria]. Then the king of Babylon struck them and put them to death" (2 Kings 25:18-21).
Whoever the 25 leaders are intended to portray, through judgment they would finally come to see the reality of God—that is, of the true God, whom they had denied by not heeding His law and by corrupting His worship with pagan customs and concepts (Ezekiel 11:12).
In verse 13, Ezekiel sees Pelatiah (mentioned in verse 1) die and cries out, asking if God will even leave a remnant. Perhaps Pelatiah is the first of the 25 leaders to fall in the vision. Or, just the opposite, maybe Ezekiel saw the other 24 killed and Pelatiah is the last. And it could be that his name, again meaning "God Delivers" or "Delivered of God," is significant—that is, if he is not delivered, will anyone be?
Starting in verse 14, God responds to Ezekiel by giving him a wonderful message of comfort and hope. Verse 15 may be slightly mistranslated in the New King James Version. The picture seems to be that the Jews of Jerusalem are saying that all of Israel in exile—the scattered northern tribes and the Jews in Babylon—have been carried far away from God (through virtue of being far from Jerusalem). Consequently, the Jews of Jerusalem see the Promised Land as belonging solely to them. However, the reality is that those with such a mindset in Jerusalem are going to be destroyed while those in exile will ultimately be given the land (verse 17). Yet this would not happen until later generations.
Indeed, even the Jewish return from exile at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah would not fulfill this passage, as it is "all the house of Israel in its entirety" (verse 15) that is to be given the land of Israel and, at that time, they are shown to be repentant and spiritually converted (verses 18-20), signifying the period of Jesus Christ's future reign on earth—as described in Isaiah 11 and many other passages. During the centuries of scattering, God says that He Himself would serve as a "little sanctuary" among the people (Ezekiel 11:16), perhaps indicating, as explained in the comments on chapter 9, the Church of God—referred to in Scripture as the "little flock" and the "body of Christ."
When the captives of Israel and Judah are at long last brought back to the Promised Land in the future, they will purge it of all abominations (verse 18). God then gives hope for a beautiful future of reconciliation with Him for all Israel. The final message of Ezekiel 11 tells us much about God's great mercy and compassion. In the depth of their sins, while they still practiced idolatry, God promises these people that one day in the future they will be given an opportunity to repent, return to their land and make a new covenant with Him. This covenant will be different from their past experience because God will cause the "stony" (stubborn and hard) heart of evil and rebellion to be removed from them and will replace it with a heart of "flesh"—one that is soft, malleable, emotionally tender and responsive. In other words, He will give them His Spirit, the indwelling presence of His glory, and cause them to desire to obey His laws (verses 19-20). Again, we see a marvelous consistency between the messages of the Old Testament and those of the New Testament about God's plan for mankind—contrary to what today's counterfeit Christianity would have us believe. (See the Bible Reading Program comments on Jeremiah 31 for a fuller explanation of the New Covenant that God will make with Israel and Judah.)
Even then, verse 21 of Ezekiel 11 cautions that there will yet be those who refuse to obey God and their heart will desire detestable things. Justice will be meted out to them as they deserve.
Finally, Ezekiel sees the glory of God depart from Jerusalem (verses 22-23). In His vision He is transported back to the exiles in Babylonia. And thus his vision comes to an end, whereupon he reports all he has seen to the exiles—starting, no doubt, with those elders who were then seated with him in his house, where he had actually been all along (see 8:1).