Delimiting the Contours of Israel in Ezek 12:21–25 and 12:26–28
Silvio Sergio Scatolini,
K. U. Leuven, Belgium

Abstract

Even though the concept of Israel would appear to many to be one of the most straightforward ones in the Hebrew Scriptures; it is not always clear what it actually refers to. Yet, delimiting or eliciting the implied [physical, social and ideological] contours of Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures in their totality is way beyond the scope of any single article. Here we shall concentrate on Ezek 12:21-25, 26-28. It is my hypothesis that in these two short disputation speeches more than one view of Israel are implicitly presented.

1. Introduction

1.1 In 1958 Zimmerli wrote an article entitled “Israel im Buche Ezechiel”.1 Zimmerli begins by remarking that Ezekiel2 represents a special case among the prophetic books. In fact, Ezekiel’s use of the word Israel (185 times) by far outnumbers his use of the word Judah (15 times)3 —this is so despite the fact that the book places the prophet amidst the Judean exiles in Babylon. After surveying the word combinations around the word Israel, Zimmerli points out that in the history of Israel there have been two great splits: the split of the short-lived united monarchy after Solomon and the split between the children of Israel in the land and those abroad as a consequence of the Babylonian victories over Judah of 597/6 and 587/6 bce.

1.2 Now, the first question is: can one notice any sign of dichotomy or juxtaposition between Israel and Judah as distinct entities? After examining Ez 4:4–8; 9:9; 16:46ff.; 23:1ff.; 25:3; 26:46; 27:11–25a; 37:15ff., Zimmerli concludes that the more original stratum of the book never opposes Israel to Judah. It is only the later re-workings of the school of the prophet that will give room for confusion. In Zimmerli’s own words,

Israel bleibt immer das umgreifende Ganze und wird nie sektenhaft vereinzelt. Erst die Nachinterpretation der Schule verlässt gelegentlich diese klare Linie.4

1.3 The second question is: can one detect in Ezekiel any division between the rest of Israel that remained in the land, those that were exiled to Babylon in 597 bce and those that fled southwards and eastwards in 587/6 bce?5 Zimmerli observes that, despite the fact that the book sets the hopes for the future amongst the exiles, it never embraces an outright exclusion of those that remained in the land.6

1.4 Israel remains in fact a promise that has never quite become reality since, from the early days in Egypt up to the book’s own present time, the people have never lived up to their vocation to be YHWH’s people. Ultimately, neither the people in the land nor the people away from it are irreproachable Israelites. Nevertheless, it is from the midst of the nations and peoples that YHWH will bring out His Israel. And this is —according to Zimmerli— “das verborgenste Geheimnis Israels”.7

1.5 In this article, we shall try and elicit the view or contours of Israel implied by Ezek 12:21–25 and 12:26–28. These passages present us with two brief disputation speeches concerning vision and prophecy. Their immediate context is Ezek 12:21—13:23,8 which constitutes a thematic block dealing with the issue of prophecy, prophets and prophetesses:

About prophecy

12:21–25 cynicism towards vision and prophecy in Israel

12:26–28 cynicism towards EZEKIEL’s prophetic activity

About prophets and prophetesses

13:1–16 against the prophets of Israel

13:17–23 against the daughters of Israel that are prophetesses

The thematic block clearly ends in Ezek 13:23, while Ezek 14:1 sets the scene for a different block by depicting some elders of Israel coming up to EZEKIEL and sitting down before him. The text turns then its attention to the issue of idolatry (cf. Ezek 14:2–11). This is followed by a chain of oracles, each of which is introduced by the stereotypical message formula (cf. Ezek 14:2, 14:12, 15:1, etc.) and deals with different issues. The relationship between Ezek 14:1 and the following oracles is far from obvious, perhaps there is none.

The question behind our analysis of Ezek 12:21–25 and 12:26–28 concerns the manner in which they contribute to defining the contours of Israel within Ezekiel. To this end, it will be important to determine who is saying what about whom within these passages. In other words, are these disputations between the prophet and his immediate audience or between Jerusalemites and their local prophets?9

2. Ezek 12:21–25

2.1 Ezek 12:21–26 concern the value or worth of vision/prophecy. This disputation revolves around a quoted proverb which states either that it is extinct or that it is a futile business.

2.2 Structure

The structure of this passage is very simple:

12:21

introduction:

stereotypical message formula

ויהי דבר־יהוה אלי לאמר

12:22

thesis:

the quotation of a proverb

מה־המשל הזה

12:23

counter thesis:

sentence adverb

לכן

12:23

a) command to prophesy and basic rebuttal

אמר אליהם

12:23

b) 1st dismissal

כי אם

12:24

c) 2nd dismissal

כי לא

12:25a

d) 3rd dismissal

כי אני

12:25b

d) 4th dismissal

כי בימיכם

12:25c

end:

stereotypical declaratory formula

נאם אדני יהוה

2.3 What is the text saying?

2.3.1 Ezek 12:22, the thesis: the proverb.

2.3.1.1 מה־המשל הזה לכם‎(“what is this proverb that you [pl.] have”). This time the disputation speech is occasioned by a משל‎. The rootמשל‎( mšl )10 is used 18 times in Ezekiel. It means (i.) to rule, to have dominion (cf. 19:11.14) and (ii.) to utter a proverb (cf.Ezek 12:22.23, 14:8, 16:44, 17:2, 18:2.3, 21:5 and 24:3). As a noun, it means proverb . The expressionמשל משל‎(i.e. the same root is used twice as verb + noun) means to utter a proverb (cf.Ezek 12:23, 16:44, 17:2, 18:2.3, 21:5 and 24:3). The present use ofמשל‎( mšl ) inEzek 12:22.23 is very close to that inEzek 18:2.3; in both cases the book tells the readers that YHWH knows what the people are saying and that He is not happy about it.

The nature of משלים‎ or proverbs is that, by being concise in their formulation and by their repeated use, they have the power to speak to the mind as though they encapsulated the whole truth or at least half the truth.11

2.3.1.2 על־אדמת ישראל‎. The question is whether the preposition על‎ must be translated here as upon (in local sense) or about, concerning the soil of Israel.

The phrase על־אדמת ישראל‎ (“upon or concerning the soil of Israel”) is used in Ezekiel in 12:22, 18:2, 33:24, 36:6, 38:18 and 38:19. The same ambiguity regarding the value of the preposition על‎ (“upon/concerning”) exists in Ezek 18:2 (מה־לכם אתם משלים את־המשל הזה על־אדמת ישראל‎, “what do you mean by quoting this proverb upon/about the soil of Israel?”). Nonetheless, we may say that Ezek 18:3, by speaking of בישראל‎ (“in Israel”), interprets Ezek 18:2 as having a locative meaning. In Ezek 33:24 the preposition must clearly be understood as referring to the place where the saying is being uttered and not to its subject-matter: אמרים על־אדמת ישראל ישבי החרבות האלה‎ (“the inhabitants of these waste places upon the soil of Israel are saying…”). In Ezek 36:6 the meaning of the preposition would more clearly seem to be “concerning the soil of Israel”.12 In Ezek 38:18 we find ביום בוא גוג על־אדמת ישראל‎. The combination על‎+ בוא‎ can mean to go to (cf. Ex 18:23) or to come upon, to fall upon, to befall, both with positive and negative connotations (cf. Jos 23:15).13 This means that Ezek 38:18 could be translated either as “on the day of Gog’s coming against the soil of Israel” or as “on the day of Gog’s coming upon the soil of Israel”. The LXX reads ἐν ἡμέρα η ἂν ἔλθη Γωγ ἐπὶ τὴν γὴν του Ισραηλ can mean either “upon or against the soil of Israel”; yet, considering the present context of war, the preposition ἐπι in the combination ἔρχομαι + ἐπὶ τὴν γην can be better rendered as “to come up against the soil”. The Vulgate reads “adventus Gog super terram Israhel,” (“Gog’s coming upon or arrival into the land of Israel”). We could say that in light of Ezek 38:19 ביום ההוא יהיה רעש גדול על־אדמת ישראל‎, “on that day there will be a great shaking upon the soil of Israel”), which definitely has locative connotations, the preposition על‎ in Ezek 38:18 can mean both upon and against, in fact when Gog comes up against the soil of Israel, he will come to it and a great commotion will take place there.

Furthermore, if the reference to upon the soil of Israel is looked at in light of Ezek 12:19 (עם הארץ ‎… יושבי ירושלם אל־אדמת ישראל‎, “the people of the land…, the inhabitants of Jerusalem upon the soil of Israel”), where the preposition אל‎ (“towards”) is used instead of על‎ (“on, about, concerning”)14, then we could conclude that it is not just the proverb that proceeds from Palestinian soil but the very people quoting it.15 This interpretation is confirmed by the text itself in Ezek 12:23, ולא־ימשלו אתו עוד בישראל‎ (“they shall no longer quote it in Israel” ).

2.3.1.3 יארכו הימים ואבד כל־חזון‎ (“The days grow long and every vision perishes”). The proverb is about visions and their worth or validity. From the foregoing sentence we may assume that it is the visionary activity carried out upon Israelite soil that the people quoting the proverb are referring to. The proverb can be understood, however, in two different ways: it states either that vision (or prophecy) is extinct or that it has become futile16.

The first interpretation would imply that time goes by and there is no more vision. In other words, vision has died out. The second interpretation would basically entail that a long time has already elapsed since the event of the vision and every vision remains still unfulfilled.17 Things are seen and words are said, yet they never come true: their realisation never arrives, they are like a stillborn child whose possibilities were truncated from the outset.

One thing is clear: the proverb stresses the passage of time with regard to the lack of fulfilment of visions (יארכו הימים ואבד כל־חזון‎, “the days grow long and every vision perishes”). This is why we prefer to see שוא‎ as meaning futile rather than false. The whole ensuing refutation of this proverb will concentrate on effective realisation (the opposite of futility) and not on truth (the opposite of falsehood). Non-realisation and falsehood may coincide in some respects, but they do not have the same logical and semantic connotations. Ezek 12:21–25, unlike Ezek 13, does not deal with false prophecies, but with worthless or futile ones.

2.3.2 Ezek 12:23–25, the counter thesis.

2.3.2.1 The contrary thesis or refutation of the proverb unfolds in several stages, is based on various reasons and refers to different things. The initial sentence adverb (לכן‎, “therefore”) indicates that what follows constitutes a re-interpretation of the foregoing.

2.3.2.2 Command to prophesy and basic rejection (Ezek 12:23a).

YHWH’s first reaction is addressed to the prophet: אמר אליהם‎ (“say to them!”). Now, what is the prophet to proclaim? Not the termination of vision(s), but the end of the use of the proverb: השבתי את־המשל הזה ולא־ימשלו אתו עוד בישראל‎ “I am making this proverb to cease and they shall no longer quote it in Israel”. After that, the text goes on to dismiss the proverb repeatedly by means of sentences introduced by the particle כי‎ (“for”).

2.3.2.3 First dismissal (Ezek 12:23b)

קרבו הימים ודבר כל־חזון‎ … כי אם‎ (“For… the days and the reality of every vision draw near”). The first reply recasts the proverb and states that every vision18 is coming close to the day when its core will reach fulfilment. In other words, vision and reality are catching up with each other. This verse would imply that all visions will be fulfilled. It does not say any more than that.

2.3.2.4 Second dismissal (Ezek 12:24)

כי לא יהיה עוד כל־חזון שוא ומקסם חלק בתוך בית ישראל‎(“For there will no longer be any futile vision or smooth divination in the midst of the house of Israel”).This verse brings in a new element. It implicitly differentiates between futile prophecies and smooth divination, and the rest.

שוא כל־חזון‎ (“[No longer] … any futile vision”). The word שוא‎ is used 51 times19 in the Hebrew Scriptures and has an array of meanings, namely, worthless, unrestrained, deceitful, destruction, magic, futile, vain.20 We prefer to translate it here as futile instead of deceitful or false on two accounts. Firstly, the present context does not refer to prophecies that are deceitful or that lie, but to prophecies that do not come about and are therefore better described as futile. Secondly, the LXX of Ezekiel itself renders the word שוא‎ sometimes as ψευδής, ́-ς, -ές (“false,” cf. Ezek 12:24; 13:6.7.8.9.23) and some other times as μάταιος, -α/ος, -ν (“futile,” cf. Ezek 21:28.34; 22:28) showing that the translators understood the concept שוא‎ as clearly embodying both ranges of meaning. The word is often used to refer to acts of speech that are futile or worthless, either because they have no content or because they do not adequately reflect reality, which renders them iniquitous.

Ezekiel uses the word שוא‎ 9 times (cf. Ezek 12:24; 13:6.7.8.9.23; 21:28.34 and 22:28), always in the context of vision and prophecy. Interestingly enough, Lam 2:14, which —unlike Ezekiel— represents those that remained in Jerusalem, also accuses the local prophets (נבאיך‎, “your prophets”) of having seen שוא ותפל‎ (“futility and whitewash”).

חלק ומקסם‎ (“[No longer] … smooth divination”). The word מקסם‎ derives from the root קסם‎, which means to practise divination. The purpose of such practices was to determine the mind of (the) God(s) and, eventually, to attempt to steer the course of events.21 The adjective חלק‎ comes from the root חלק‎ (used 6 times in Ezekiel), which as a verb has two sets of meanings (i) to apportion, to divide, to scatter (cf. Ezek 5:1, 47:21) and (ii) to be smooth, to be slippery, to flatter (hi. and hitp. ). The noun can mean either portion or smoothness and/or flattery (cf. Ezek 45:7, 48:8:21), whereas the adjective means smooth, slippery (cf. Ezek 12:24).

The reply regarding the annihilation of futile vision and smooth divination sounds rather strange after the promise that the fulfilment of כל־חזון‎ (“all vision”) was drawing near. Or are the readers to understand that every vision will come true only when all futile visions have disappeared?22 At any rate, the theme of the second dismissal is more akin, albeit not equivalent, to that of chapter 13 than to that of chapter 12 as a whole. Beside that, the addressees of this verse are no longer referred to as those “upon the soil of Israel” or “in Israel” but as “the house of Israel”. Now, do these phrases refer to the members of one and the same target group?

2.3.2.5 Third dismissal (Ezek 12:25a)

כי אני יהוה אדבר את אשר אדבר דבר ויעשה לא תמשך עוד‎ (“For it is I, YHWH, that will speak the word that I will speak.And it shall be done. It shall not be postponed any longer”). Ezek 12:25a continues the thought put forward in verses 23a and 23b. The proverb will cease to be quoted (cf. Ezek 12:23a). Reality and prophecy are catching up with each other (cf. Ezek 12:23b). And all of that because YHWH is the one that will be speaking. Ezek 12:24 clearly interrupts this progression of thought by bringing in the elements of futile vision and smooth divination which, as we said above, belong rather to Ezek 13.

2.3.2.6 Fourth dismissal (Ezek 12:25b)

כי בימיכם בית המרי אדבר דבר ועשיתיו‎ (“For in your days, oh rebellious house, I shall speak a word and I shall do it”).This last dismissal drives the point home: they will not have to wait long before YHWH’s word comes true. This reinforces once again the interpretation that the initial proverb was not about the extinction of prophecy but about its non-fulfilment or delayed fulfilment. The addressees are described otherwise than in Ezek 12:22–23: they are “the rebellious house”. The question is, on the one hand, whether those “upon the soil of Israel” and those “in Israel” are to be equated with the “rebellious house” and, on the other hand, whether the expression “rebellious house” encompasses other people that are not actually in Israel.

בית המרי‎ (“the rebellious house”). The description of the character of בית ישראל‎ (“the house of Israel”) in terms of rebelliousness or obstinacy is commonplace in Ezekiel. The refusal to hear is one of the things for which Ezekiel’s YHWH reproaches the house of Israel (Ezek 2:5–8; 3:9.26f.; 12:2f.9.25; 17:12; 24:3; 44:6). The Hebrew root מרה‎ means to be obstinate.23 It basically expresses a defiant and stubborn mental attitude and implies the usual conscious and wilful refusal to listen, comply or compromise, which is characteristic of obstinate people. Obstinacy points, therefore, not only to people that are passively shut in on themselves, but also that are actively and defiantly opposed to whatever is suggested to them. Such attitude is very akin to immaturity.

The root מרה‎ is often used to express rebellion against YHWH (e.g. Nm 17:25; 20:10.24; 27:14; Is 63:10; Ps 78:8.17; 106:7.43). For Ezekiel, the very prophetic task implies that the prophet must go beyond obstinacy and open himself up to the word coming to him from on high (cf. Ezek 2:8—3:3). EZEKIEL is warned in advance that his audience, i.e. “the house of Israel,” will not listen to him because they are not willing to listen to YHWH in the first place (cf. Ezek 3:7). The use of such qualifying words is far from impartial. In fact, it is ideologically charged since it articulates a value judgment concerning those that do not share the views espoused by the book.

2.4 Partial conclusions

Firstly, we may conclude that the use of the expressionעל־אדמת ישראל‎(“upon the soil of Israel”) in conjunction withבישראל‎(“in Israel”) seems to indicate that the book envisages some sort of Israel that can be conceived of in locative terms.Secondly, it is (some) people upon the soil of Israel that allegedly discard prophecy upon Israelite soil as a futile enterprise. These people are confronted head-on by YHWH, who takes their claim personally. The fact that the concept Israel is associated with that of soil in the literary context of the Babylonian exile is very interesting since by then Israel had long ceased to exist as a political entity.

Secondly, all things considered, the present configuration of the text seems to support the second interpretation suggested above, i.e. that the proverb claims that prophecy is futile rather than extinct. The whole refutation is clearly about the realisation of vision (and the end of futile visions and smooth divinations, cf. Ezek 12:23–24), and not about the present lack of visionary activity.

Thirdly, there does not seem to be a clear indication of what visions in particular are being alluded to by the text24. Neither Ezek 12:22 nor the following verses give the reader any information about that. The fact that Ezek 12:23 speaks of every vision and their reality (“word/thing”) as drawing near would indicate that no vision is futile since, after all, all visions will come true. Ezek 12:24 refers though to futile visions and smooth divination that are no longer to take place in the midst of the house of Israel, upon Israelite soil. Ezek 12:25 does not speak of visions as such but of words. This mention of דבר‎ (here meaning “word”) need nonetheless not be opposed too strongly to the issue of vision since Ezek 12:23 had already brought both words together by speaking of “the days and the דבר‎ (“word/thing,” i.e. reality) of every vision”.25

We may say then that Ezek 12:21–25 represents a strand within the book that takes a negative stance on the actions and the mentality of (some of) those residing upon Israelite soil.

3. Ezek 12:26–28

3.1 Even though Ezek 12:26–28 uses a vocabulary similar to that of Ezek 12:21–25, these verses have a unity of their own. From a text critical point of view (and perhaps also from a literary critical perspective), it is worth noting that Ezek 12:26–28 are not present in the text of the Greek papyrus 967.26 This could mean that this papyrus reflects either a minus due to transcriptional error or a stage in the growth of Ezekiel when Ezek 12:27–28 had not been inserted yet. Yet, what we are concerned with here is not the provenance of these verses, but the way in which they contribute to the delimitation of the contours of Israel.

3.2 Structure

The structure of Ezek 12:26–28 comprises but a few essential elements.

12:26

introduction:

stereotypical message formula

ויהי דבר־יהוה אלי לאמר

12:27

address:

stereotypical address form

בן־אדם

thesis:

saying

הנה בית־ישראל אמרים

counter thesis

rebuttal

לכן אמר אליהם

12:28

end:

Stereotypical declaratory formula

נאם אדני יהוה

3.3 What is the text saying?

3.3.1 Ezek 12:27, the thesis.

3.3.1.1 בית־ישראל אמרים‎ (“The house of Israel is saying”). The thesis encapsulated in the quoted saying is ascribed to “the house of Israel”. Yet, are the contours of “the house of Israel” spoken of here the same as those of “the house of Israel” mentioned in Ezek 12:2427? Whereas in Ezek 12:22–23 the text speaks of people that are “upon the soil of Israel” and “in Israel,” there is here no mention whatsoever of Israelite soil. Furthermore, must the expression “the house of Israel” be read in light of Ezek 12:9 and 44:6 as being synonymous with “the rebellious house,” cf. Ezek 12:25?

היזון אשר־חזה לימים רבים ולעתים רחוקות הוא נבא‎ (“The vision that he sees is for many days and it is for the far-off times that he prophesies.”). The fact that the pronoun הוא‎ (“he”) is used twice makes it clear that it is EZEKIEL that they are talking about. This thesis questions therefore the relevancy of the vision and the prophecy or prophecies of EZEKIEL. It would be helpful then if we could determine to which of EZEKIEL’s visions and prophetic utterances this saying is referring.

Does vision or prophecy refer to the foregoing vision(s) of doom in Ezek 3:1—11:1–16 or to the brighter future depicted, for instance, in Ezek 40—48? The former foresees destruction for Jerusalem, while the latter predicts the restoration and even the transfiguration of the city in eschatological terms. Or does it refer, for instance, to the foregoing positive oracle in Ezek 11:17–20 or to the more negative oracles, for instance, in Ezek 13:1ff. and Ezek 14?28 We can safely leave Ezek 13:1ff. aside since it is rebutted by the rest of chapter 13. Ezek 14 is too closely linked to fate of Jerusalem (cf. Ezek 14:21) and those on Israelite soil (cf. Ezek 14:7) to belong together with Ezek 12:26–28, which are about EZEKIEL’s prophetic activity.

If this saying were linked with 3:1—11:1–16, we could presuppose that the saying is quoted as a sign of relief: even though EZEKIEL had foreseen gloom and doom, fortunately not much of it has really come about.29 In other words, the people quoting it are not really sad about the non-fulfilment of EZEKIEL’s prophecies.

If the saying were linked, on the contrary, either with Ezek 11:17–20 or with 40—48, then it could be interpreted as voicing scepticism about the prophecies announcing favourable things for the future. Ezek 11:17–20 is a different case since it refers to the gathering of the dispersed, which appears to refer to a group other than the Babylonian golah. If this saying referred to Ezek 11:17–20, it would then reflect the doubt of some of the dispersed that they will ever return to the soil of Israel. Ezek 40—48 present us with a completely different kind of prophecy: these chapters are clearly eschatological.30 It is perhaps about these prophetic utterances that Ezek 12:27 is talking when it speaks of לימים רבים ולעתים רחוקות‎ (“…for many days and for far-off times”).

A closer look at the terms used may give us some clues as to their connotation

לימים רבים‎ for many days”). The word ימים‎ without the definite article means days and is used 270 times in total in the Hebrew Bible. In Ezekiel, the form ימים‎ (without article and/or prepositions) is found 7 times: once alone (cf. Ezek 4:5), five times in the combination ימים שבעת‎ (“seven days,” cf. Ezek 3:15.16, 43:25.26, 44:26), and once as ימים שבעות‎ (“a week of days, seven days,” cf. Ezek 45:21). The word pair ימים רבים‎ is found 24 times in the Hebrew Scriptures (without prepositions) meaning many days , i.e. a long time31 and 5 times accompanied by a preposition32.

The form הימים‎ (i.e. with the definite article) means the days and it is found 136 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. It can be used adverbially in the combination כל־הימים‎ meaning all the days , i.e. always . The most interesting use of the word in the context of Ezek 12:27 is the expression הימים באחרית‎ because it means in the latter days . This expression is used mostly in prophecies that refer to some later days, cf. Gn 49:1, Nm 24:14, Dt 4:30, 31:29, Jer 23:20, 30:24, 48:47, 49:39 and Hos 3:5. In Is 2:2 and Mi 4:1 the expression הימים באחרית‎ would seem to have somewhat eschatological undertones. Dn 10:14 presents us with an interesting case where הימים באחרית‎ is set side by side with לימים‎ as though the latter explained the former. There is no doubt, however, that in Daniel both expressions have reached their highest eschatological potentials.

The form לימים‎ is in fact used 16 times in the Hebrew Scriptures in different ways.33 It can mean in or during the days, cf. Gn 7:4 and Ezek 22:14, for an x-number of days, cf. 2 Chr 29:17, as well as in years, in terms of years or as far as age is concerned, cf. Jb 30:1, 32:4 and 32:6. The particular phrase מימים לימים‎ means in course of time, cf. 2 Chr 21:19, whereas לימים הקץ‎ means at the end of an x-number of years, cf. 2 Chr 21:19. This idea of years is also present in those cases where לימים‎ means annually, cf. Jgs 17:10 and 2 Sm 14:26. There are two instances, however, in which the form ל/ימים‎ is simply the result of grammatical rules since the preceding verbs call for the use of the preposition ל‎, namely שאל־נא לימים ראשנים‎ (“ask about former days”) in Dt 4:32 and קראו לימים פורים‎ (“they call these days ‘Purim’ ”) in Est 9:26. Yet, the most interesting occurrences of the form לימים‎ are found in Daniel, not because of their meaning, which is either for the days, cf. Dn 8:26 and 10:14, or up to an x-number of days, cf. Dn 12:12, but because of their eschatological connotation within those sentences and passages.

Dn 8:26 is in fact the best and only parallel to Ezek 12:27 that there is in the Hebrew Scriptures. While Ezek 12:27 states that החזון אשר־הוא חזה לימים רבים‎ (“The vision that he sees is for many days”), Dn 8:26 says: ואתה סתם החזון כי לימים רבים‎ (“As for you, seal the vision for it is for many days”).

The meaning of לימים רבים‎ (“for many days”) must be therefore the opposite of the phrase הנה ימים באים‎ (“behold! days are coming…”), which is used to introduce prophecies that will assuredly come true. The latter is used once in 2 Sm 2:31, once in 2 Kgs 20:17, which is nearly literally the same as Is 39:6, three times in Amos (cf. Am 4:2, 8:11 and 9:13) and rather frequently in Jeremiah (cf. Jer 7:32, 9:24, 16:14, 19:6, 23:5.7, 30:3, 31:27.31 (also MTQ 31:38), 33:14, 48:12, 49:2, 51:47.52).34

ולעתים רחוקות‎ (“for far-off times”). The singular noun עת‎ is used 16 times in Ezekiel.35 As a noun, it means time, cf. Ezek 7:7.12, 12:27, 16:8, 21:30, 21:34, 22:3, 30:3, 35:5, or season, opportune time, or right time for something,36 cf. 16:57 and 34:26. It can also be used in an adverbial sense: עת‎ means then now, perhaps in the sense of this time, cf. Ezek 16:57 and 27:34, and מעת עד־עת‎ means from time to time, at set or separate times, cf. Ezek 4:10.11. There are also a number of verses that are of interest here for their semantic implications since they connect the ideas of time and wrath as a realised fact.

7:7

the time has come, the day is near

בא העת קרוב היום

7:12

the time has come, the day has arrived

בא העת הגיע היום

21:30

whose day has come at the time of his final iniquity

אשר־בא יומו בעת עון קץ

21:34

whose day has come at the time of his final iniquity

אשר־בא יומם בעת עון קץ

22:3

that her (the bloody city’s) time may come

לבוא עתה

30:3

For near is a day

כי־קרוב יו

and near is the day of YHWH

וקרוב יום ליהוה

a day of clouds

יום ענן

a time for the nations it is going to be

עת גוים יהיה

35:5

at the time of their distress

בעת אידם

at the time of the final iniquity

בעת עון קץ

In the above cases the word עת‎ (“time”) has obvious adverse connotations. It is worth noting that Ezekiel’s talk of קצ עון עת‎ (“the time of the final iniquity”) in Ezek 21:34, 22:3 and 35:5 is akin to Daniel’s expression קצ עת‎ (“the final time”), cf. Dn 11:35, 12:4 and 12:9. The word עת‎ (“time”) is indeed associated with the idea of evil, wrath, distress or punishment also elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (often referring to YHWH’s visitation as the coming of judgment). Such combinations are found, for instance, in Jgs 10:14, Ps 37:19.39, Is 33:2, Jer 2:28 (cf. Jgs 10:14), 6:15, 9:12, 10:15, 11:12, 11:14, 14:8, 15:11, 18:23, 46:21, 49:8, 50:27.31, 51:6.18.33, Am 5:13, Mi 2:3, Neh 9:28 and Dn 12:1.

Ezek 12:27 speaks of עתים‎ (“times”). Apart from Ezek 12:27 the plural is also used only in Neh 9:28, where it is said that YHWH has rescued them עתים רבות‎ (“many times”), and in Jb 24:1, where it is asked why YHWH does not keep עתים‎ (“times”).

The shortness of the ensuing rebuttal of the saying in Ezek 12:28 forces us to admit that the question as to whether this saying suggests complacency37 or despondency38 about the present situation39 or about the future40 must remain open. The vocabulary used in Ezek 12:27 may, however, quite likely point to a later debate about the eschatological strand of Ezekiel, which was then seen as still unfulfilled.

3.3.2 Ezek 12:28, the counter thesis.

לא־תמשך עוד כל־דברי אשר אדבר דבר ויעשה‎ (“No longer will any of my words be delayed because I shall speak a word and it will be done”). The idea put forward in the counter thesis is akin to that in Ezek 12:25.41 In fact, Ezek 12:23.25.28 foresee the precise opposite of the claim in Ezek 12:27 that EZEKIEL’s vision and prophetic utterances are לימים רבים ולעתים רחוקות‎ (“…for many days and for far-off times”).

Nonetheless, the postponement of the realisation of vision and prophecy envisaged by Ezek 12:26–28 is clearly longer than that implied by Ezek 12:21–25. While the proverb in the latter implies that the wait for prophetic fulfilment seems to lead nowhere; the saying in the former places it in the eschatological times, that is, it postpones it indefinitely.

3.4 Partial conclusions

Firstly, the saying quoted speaks of the validity of prophecy in a way that differs from Ezek 12:21–25. It qualifies it as being for the distant future, in other words, as not quite relevant or applicable to the present situation.42 Eschatological prophecies can be both appealing to the imagination and ineffective, precisely because what they promise is “for far-off days”.

In any case, if we take this passage as and where it now stands in the MT, we can say that it clearly wants to caution against any exaggeratedly positive theological appraisal of the golah. At least some of the members of the golah doubt43 the validity of EZEKIEL’s vision and prophecy.44 The similarities regarding Sitz im Leben between Ezek 12:26–28 and Ezek 33:30–3345 (about the golah) are bigger than those between Ezek 12:21–25 and Ezek 12:26–28.46

Secondly, the Masoretic configuration of Ezek 12:26–28 implies that the saying in question is about EZEKIEL’s own visionary and prophetical activity and not about prophecy in general.47

Thirdly, the text has YHWH indirectly admit that His words have been delayed in the past.

4. Concluding remarks

These two short disputation speeches, namely Ezek 12:21–25 and 12:26–28, clearly appear to have different points of reference.48 Whereas Ezek 12:21–25 deals with the issue of visions and prophecies upon the soil of Israel, Ezek 12:27–28 is about Ezekiel’s or EZEKIEL’s own visionary and prophetic activity. The first disputation speech takes issue with ideas that are being upheld upon Israelite soil, whereas the second disputation speech attacks the mentality of some of the members of EZEKIEL’s implicit audience, i.e. the golah, or Ezekiel’s real audience, i.e. (perhaps) in the post-exilic times. The implicit Sitz im Leben of the second pericope would be then either the Babylonian golah or some post-exilic group.

As far as the ideological intention of the book is concerned, verses 21–23 are interesting because they seem to validate the prophetical activity that took place upon the soil of Israel.

Verses 24–25 fall within the first disputation speech since they elaborate on the preceding verses, i.e. Ezek 12:21–23. They bring in, however, two terms, namely “the house of Israel” and “the rebellious house,” whose relationship with the land of Israel in Ezekiel must be studied further.

It is plausible for verse 27 to refer to the eschatological strand within the book. It would then reflect a contemporary or later opinion that runs counter to the positive and confident tone of, for instance, Ezek 40—48.

Our basic question concerned the delimitation of the contours of Israel. These two passages present us with differing pictures of “the house of Israel”. On the one hand, Ezek 12:21–25 assigns to it a certain geographical dimension: it finds itself upon the soil of Israel. This is somewhat strange. At the time of the Babylonian golah, the northern kingdom of Israel did not exist any more as a political entity. Only the southern kingdom of Judah had survived first as a vassal of the Babylonians and then under the Persians either as part of the satrapy of Transeuphrates through Samaria and Damascus or as a more or less autonomous province.49 On the other hand, Ezek 12:26–28 applies the expression “the house of Israel” to EZEKIEL’s audience which, according to Ezek 1:1.2, must be visualised in Babylon by the river Chebar. Having said that, if we accept that Ezek 12:27 is aimed at Ezekiel’s great eschatological prospect (Ezek 40—48), then it can be concluded that it both builds on the foregoing disputation speech by re-iterating in Ezek 12:28 the idea expressed in Ezek 12:25 and expands it by shifting the point of reference beyond Palestine and even beyond the Babylonian golah. This means that the contours of Israel become larger and increasingly blurred.

Endnotes

[1] cf. W. Zimmerli, “Israel im Buche Ezechiel,” in VT 8 (1958) 75–90.

[2] By “Ezekiel” I mean the book, whereas by “EZEKIEL” I refer to the prophet.

[3] cf. W. Zimmerli, “Israel,” 76–77.

[4] W. Zimmerli, “Israel,” 84.

[5] cf. W. Zimmerli, “Israel,” 85.

[6] cf. W. Zimmerli, “Israel,” 86.

[7] cf. W. Zimmerli, “Israel,” 90.

[8] Some consider Ezek 14 to be also part of the immediate thematic context of Ezek 12:21–25.26–28.

[9] D. Block states, for instance, that “these oracles are not only about false prophecy in general; they also reflect the specific personal conflict between Ezekiel and his audience;” in D. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1–24 (Grand Rapids/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1997) 385.

[10] cf. W. A. Vangemeren (ed.), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, vol. 2 (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1997) 1134–1137. G. J. Botterweck, H. Ringgren & H. -J. Fabry (eds.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. IX (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1998) 64–71.

[11] cf. W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 1 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979) 280.

[12] In Ezek 36:6, YHWH speaks of אדמת ישראל‎ (“the land of Israel”) which is described in the previous verse as being ארץי‎ (“My [YHWH’s] land”). Yet, in spite of the fact that Ezek 36:5 uses ארץ‎ (“land”), where Ezek 36:6 does אדמה‎ (“soil”), both verses are along the lines of Is 14:2 (בית ישראל על־אדמת יהוה‎ “the house of Israel upon YHWH’s soil”) and of Zech 2:16, where Judah is described as חלקו‎ (“His [YHWH’s] portion”) על־אדמת הקדש‎ (“upon the holy soil” or “upon the soil of holiness”). It is worth nothing that Zech 2:16 would appear to indicate that the holy soil in its totality is greater than Judah alone. A similar vocabulary is used in the theophany episode narrated in Ex 3:5.

[13] cf. L. Koehler & W. Baumgartner (ed.), Lexicon in veteris testamenti libros (Leiden: Brill, 1953) 111–112.

[14] As D. Block remarks: “Had ‘concerning’ been the intended sense it would have been preceded by the conjunction”. D. Block, Ezekiel, 380, footnote 4.

[15] Had אמר‎ been used here instead of משל‎, it would have been more difficult to determine the present value of על‎ since the expression אמר על‎, meaning “to say something concerning something else,” is well attested, cf. Jer 12:14, 14:15, 16:3, 22:6, 23:2, etc. It is worth noting that even in some of these cases the prepositions על‎ and אל‎ are used interchangeably, cf. 2 Kgs 19:32 and Jer 27:19.

[16] According to the BBC English Dictionary’s definition of “futile,” asserting that a vision or a prophecy is futile would mean that it “is not successful, and is unlikely ever to be successful” (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 21993).

[17] cf. A. Van der Born, Ezechiël (Roermond & Maaseik: J. J. Romen en zonen, 1954) 81. D. Block, Ezekiel, 386ff.

[18] According to M. Greenberg the word every refers to the prophecies of doom. “This first oracle, unlike the next one, does not concern Ezekiel’s prophecies; it reacts to a proverb on the soil of Israel, and thus suggests the doom-prophecies of such as Jeremiah or Uriah as the immediate objects of skepticism (…). If so, we have here an acknowledgement almost unparalleled in Ezekiel, and rare in any of the classical prophets, that beside himself other true prophets were at work.” M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 1–20 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1983), 230.

[19] cf. Ex 20:7(x2), 23:1, Dt 5:11(x2).20, Jb 7:3, 11:11, 15:31, 31:5, 35:13, Ps 12:3, 24:4, 26:4, 31:7, 41:7, 60:13, 89:48, 108:13, 119:37, 127:1.2, 139:20, 144:8.11, Prv 30:8, Is 1:13, 5:18, 30:28, 59:4, Jer 2:30, 4:30, 6:29, 18:15, 46:11, Lm 2:14, Ezek 12:24, 13:6, 7, 8, 9, 23, 21:28.34, 22:28, Hos 10:4, Jon 2:9, Zech 10:2 and Mal 3:14. In 1 Chr 2:49 and 18:16 we find שוא‎, which means vanity, worthlessness, futility. In 2 Sm 20:25 MTk we find שִׁיָא‎, (sheyâ’) whereas the MTq reads שוא‎ (shewâ’).

[20] cf. M. E. J. Richardson (ed.), L. Koehler & W. Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, vol. 4 (Leiden—Boston—Köhln: Brill, 1999) 1425–1426.

[21] cf. D. Block, Ezekiel, 390.

[22] cf. D. Block, Ezekiel, 389.

[23] cf. E. Jenni & C. Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Pub., 1997) 687.

[24] cf. D. Block, Ezekiel, 388.

[25] Perhaps, Ezek 12:24 did not originally belong where it is now since thematically speaking its proper place is chapter 13 rather than chapter 12. Ezek 12:25 might represent an expansion on the statement in Ezek 12:23 that “the days and the reality (word/thing) of every vision draw near”.

[26] Cf. J. Lust, “Le Messianisme et la Septante d'Ezechiel,” in Tsafon 2/3 (1990) 3-14 (9–11); Fernández Galiano, “Nuevas Páginas del códice 967 del A. T. griego,” in St.Pap. 10 (1971) 7–76; 1971, 15; F. V. Filson, “The Omissions of Ezek. 12,26–28 and 36,23b–38 in Codex 967,” in JBL 62 (1943) 27–32.

[27] The mentions of “the house of Israel” both in Ezek 12:24 and in Ezek 12:27 are rather awkward since they would appear to refer to two different settings, the former to those in Israel and the latter to those in the exile (see below).

[28] For K. -F. Pohlmann this disputation speech is connected with Ezek 7 and both represent a pre-golah-oriented text. cf. K. -F. Pohlmann, Der Prophet Hesekiel/Ezechiel Kapitel 1–19 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996) 181–182.

[29] This seems to be A. Van der Born’s and W. Irwin’s opinion, cf. A. Van der Born, Ezechiël, 81; and W. Irwin, The Problem of Ezekiel (Chicago: The University Press, 1943) 107.

[30] So as K. -F. Pohlmann himself has asked: “Zu fragen ist ferner, in welcher Weisse 12,26–28 mit den jetzt in Ezek 40–48 vorgestellten Zukunftsentwürfen in Einklang stehen kann.” K. -F. Pohlmann, Der Prophet Hesekiel/Ezechiel Kapitel 1–19, 183.

[32] In 2 Chr 15:3 (+ו‎), Jos 23:1 and Ezek 38:8 (+מ‎), and in Ezek 12:27 and Dn 8:28 (+ל‎).

[34] In Jeremiah the phrase is almost always followed by נאם־יהוה‎ (“declaration of YHWH”), with the only exception of Jer 51:52. In Am 4:2 it stands on its own; in Am 8:11 it is followed by נאם אדי יהוה‎ (“declaration of the Lord YHWH”), while in Am 9:13 by נאם־יהוה‎ (“declaration of YHWH”).

[35] cf. Ezek 4:10(x2).11(x2), 7:7.12, 12:27, 16:8(x2), 16:57, 21:30, 22:3, 27:34, 30:3, 34:26 and 35:5(x2).

[36] This idea is very common in Ecclesiastes, cf. Eccl 3:2.3.4.5.6.7.8.17 and 8:6.

[37] M. Greenberg is of the opinion that it represents rather complacency than despondency in the sense that it defuses Ezekiel’s prophecies by putting them far-off in the future. cf. M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 1–20, 231.

[38] A. Graffy takes this disputation speech as countering their despondency and encouraging them to hope. cf. A. Graffy, A Prophet Confronts His People (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1984) 58. W. Irwin does likewise; cf. W. Irwin, The Problem of Ezekiel, 108.

[39] This seems to be K. -F. Pohlmann’s suggestion. “Hält der Verfasser von 12,26–28 dagegen, so ist zu erwägen, ob hier nicht geradezu ein deutliches Votum gegen eine eschatologische Interpretation des ‘Ezechielbuches’ beabsichtig ist. Eine solche Interpretation konnte zumal im Blick auf Ezek 7 und das dort verhandelte Thema ‘das Ende kommt’ naheliegen.” K. -F. Pohlmann, Der Prophet Hesekiel/Ezechiel Kapitel 1–19, 184.

[40] For J. Lust this passage represents a late eschatological Masoretic “plus”. cf. J. Lust, “Le messianisme et la Septante d'Ezechiel,” 9–11.

[41] In D. Block’s words: “The refutation of this challenge consists of an abbreviated version of vv. 23–25, though the reference to Every pronouncement I make shall surely be fulfilled makes it especially pointed. Again Yahweh stamps Ezekiel’s words with his imprimatur, the concluding signatory formula.” D. Block, Ezekiel, 392. Yet, D. Block interprets the “abbreviated version” as having different addressees from the longer version.

[42] cf. W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 1, 283.

[43] This seems to be D. Block’s opinion, who states: “Rather than challenging a proverb circulating in Jerusalem, this address appears to be directed at the exiles who have become disillusioned with Ezekiel. (…) Ezekiel’s fellow exiles seem to have dismissed his utterances as of no consequence to them.” D. Block, Ezekiel, 392.

[44] K. -F. Pohlmann sees it still “als Bestandteil des golafavorisierenden Ezechielbuches,” in K. -F. Pohlmann, Der Prophet Hesekiel/Ezechiel Kapitel 1–19, 183.

[45] “(30)As for you, mortal, your people who talk together about you by the walls, and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to a neighbour, “Come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.” (31) They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, but they will not obey them. For flattery is on their lips, but their heart is set on their gain. (32) To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; they hear what you say, but they will not do it. (33) When this comes— and come it will!—then they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”

[46] W. Zimmerli is of the opinion that the point of reference here is no longer to be sought upon the soil of Israel. “The ‘house of Israel’ (v27) means the exiled community around the prophet, which, before the occurrence of the catastrophe of 587 BC gave expression to these skeptical words about Ezekiel’s preaching. The saying must have been spoken before the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in the year 589 BC” W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 1, 283.

[47] cf. A. Graffy, A Prophet Confronts His People, 57.

[48] cf. D. Block, Ezekiel, 392.

[49] cf. J. A. Soggin, An Introduction to the History of Israel and Judah (London: SCM Press Ltd., 21993) 280.