By Shelley Neese-

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Welcome to Bible Fiber, where we are encountering the textures and shades of the biblical tapestry through twelve Minor Prophets, two reformers, and one exile. I am Shelley Neese, president of The Jerusalem Connection, a Christian organization devoted to sharing the story of the people of Israel, both ancient and modern.

Our sponsor of today’s episode is Jim Werner who has kindly dedicated his sponsorship to my family. As many of you know we are a military family and like lots of other military families this month, we found out we have orders to move again which means there has been some tears mixed with silver linings. So thank you Jim! You probably did not even know how timely your dedicated sponsorship message really was!

This week we are studying Ezekiel 14. The chapter begins by introducing Ezekiel’s company. He recorded, “certain elders of Israel came to me and sat down before me” (14:1). Perhaps it was the same delegation of elders that waited in Ezekiel’s home while the divine spirit transported him to Jerusalem (8:1).

Tel Abib, the refugee encampment where Ezekiel lived with the rest of the exiles, likely had an abundance of leaders. According to Nebuchadnezzar’s policy, the first captives the Babylonians deported were Jerusalem’s political, religious, and cultural elite. Although they had no political independence once in Babylon, the captives must have transferred some of their social order from Jerusalem to the refugee encampment as they made paltry attempts at self-governance.

Ezekiel did not reveal the purpose of the elders’ inquiry. Given his response, however, they must have been seeking a divine word about the duration of their exile. Rather than answering them directly, Ezekiel addressed a crucial issue underlying their question. The elders had divided hearts. Despite seeking an oracle from the Lord, they were not sincere in their devotion to the one true God. For the second time, Ezekiel reminded the Israelites that God could read their minds, and he knew the secrets of their hearts (11:5; 14:4). There was no sense in keeping up the charade. Even if they refrained from idolatrous practices, they possessed idolatrous hearts.

While Ezekiel sat with the delegation of elders, he received two oracles from the Lord. In the first oracle, God addressed only Ezekiel. He said, “Mortal, these men have taken their idols into their hearts and placed their iniquity as a stumbling block before them; shall I let myself be consulted by them?” (14:3). The intimate dialogue between the divine and his prophet expresses God’s frustration with the elders’ inquiry. They had no right to seek a word from him when they withheld their total devotion. God questioned whether the delegation even deserved a response. Addressing the elders in his company, Ezekiel repeated what God had told him about their idolatrous hearts and sinful stumbling blocks. Ezekiel relayed God desired to “take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols” (14:5).

Misunderstood prophets

In our modern era, people often treat prophetic books as texts that they should mine for secrets of the end times. Ezekiel 14 reveals that even in the prophet’s own day, his contemporaries misunderstood the purpose of the prophetic office. They treated the prophets like favorable fortune tellers. Yet the true prophet’s primary concern was with the moral, ethical, and spiritual problems of the present. Very little of their overall message was predictive of the future.

When Ezekiel had first kept company with the delegation of elders in Chapter 8, he witnessed blatant idolatry occurring in the Jerusalem temple. In his vision, they bowed to the sun, burned incense to idols, and built pagan statues. Alternatively, the exiles in Tel Abib abstained from overt idolatry, but they were guilty of internalizing their idolatry. Yahweh commanded, “Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (14:6). Perhaps they longed for their Canaanite idols in Jerusalem, or they admired the Babylonian gods and goddesses all around them. Either way, idolatry had corrupted their hearts and divided their loyalties. Because they were so desperate for security, they sought the gods of other nations who seemed to do a better job keeping their devotees from being captured and expelled.

What God makes clear is that they had no right to expect an answer from him until they repented and returned to him with wholehearted devotion. Exclusive devotion to the Lord was the foundation of the entire covenant. Yahweh warned that if they continued to inquire of his prophets while they pursued false gods and divided their loyalty, he would make an example of their wavering faith. They would be “a sign and a byword” (14:8). Their punishment—excommunication or even death—was in accordance with their offense. Bystanders would see the consequence of their unfaithfulness and take caution.

More than anything, however, God awaited their return and wanted to restore his people on the right path. His punishments never lacked purpose. If they turned their hearts back to him, and no longer defiled themselves with their transgressions, God promised, “they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (14:11). The remnant would comprise all those who repented and purified their hearts.

False prophets

The previous chapter dealt with the plague of false prophets. It is likely that once the elders heard a positive oracle from imposter prophets, they hoped Ezekiel would second the optimistic message. Surely, their incessant need for reassurance kept the false prophets in business. As a result, Ezekiel 14 returns to the popularity of the false prophets in exile (14:9-11).

A brief declaration in the passage gets a lot of theological attention because in it, Yahweh appears to take responsibility for purposefully deceiving the false prophets. God declared, “If a prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet” (14:9). On the surface, the declaration does not accord with God’s constancy and trustworthiness. It was one thing for God to allow false prophecy, but quite another for him to instigate the deception. However, God knew false prophets would deliver deceptions, whether they heard from the Lord. If they wanted lies, God apparently, sometimes, gave them lies.

On at least one occasion in the Old Testament, God directly misled false prophets as part of his plan to execute divine judgment. In 1 Kings, the evil King Ahab refused to hear out the true prophets like Micaiah. Therefore, God sent a spirit of deception on the false prophets so that they would deliver lying oracle to King Ahab, encouraging him to go into battle (1 Kings 22:23). Sure enough, the evil king disguised himself and joined the battle against the Arameans, and an arrow mortally wounded him.

In the rest of Ezekiel’s oracle against false prophets, the emphasis shifts to God’s retribution against both the fraudulent prophets and those who sought their guidance. To God, both parties were guilty of leading the house of Israel astray and, therefore, both parties deserved the same punishment. Ezekiel declared, “the punishment of the inquirer and the punishment of the prophet shall be the same” (14:10).

Hypothetical scenario

The second half of Ezekiel 14 switches gears and introduces a fourfold oracle illustrating the consequences of rebellion and the role of the righteous during the coming judgment (14:12-23). Using courtroom language, Ezekiel conveyed a hypothetical scenario about “a land” that sinned against him (14:12). With his characteristic use of repetition, Ezekiel recites the same framework with each associated curse. The nation’s spiritual infidelity caused God’s harsh response. First, they would suffer from famine (14:13) and then wild animals (14:15). The other agents of death included sword (14:17), pestilence, and bloodshed (14:19). Ezekiel’s list of punishments was not arbitrary; he drew from the warnings and promises already laid out in the Torah.

Ezekiel’s language was indebted to the exhortation of Moses in Leviticus 26, the moment in Israel’s history when God had decreed that if they ruptured his covenant and ignored his commands, he would send famine, beasts, sword, and plague (Lev. 26:22-26). God embedded both blessings and curses into the covenant as potential consequences of rebellion or obedience.

Although the text does not give the background to the passage, it is reasonable to infer that the elders opposed Ezekiel’s position that the judgment was irrevocable. Perhaps it was these same family heads who had been with Ezekiel when he envisioned the man in linen going through the desperate crowds in Jerusalem, marking the foreheads of the righteous remnant (9:4). They held onto the hope that by having enough righteous people in Jerusalem, they could save the entire city. Most likely, they had friends and family who remained in Jerusalem who they figured God would deem righteous. Would God cancel his judgment for the sake of their relatives?

Twice in the past, when God readied his punishing hand, righteous leaders intervened on behalf of the people to negotiate with God to lessen his wrath. At Sinai, Moses invoked the patriarchs to stay God’s hand (Gen. 18:23). Abraham pleaded with God on behalf of the few righteous people in Sodom to spare the city (Gen. 18:22-23). The elders in exile hoped that perhaps once again God would withhold his wrath for the sake of even a few. However, Ezekiel’s job was not to intervene on behalf of the exiles or the Jerusalemites. Because God is just, he would spare the righteous, but only them. No one would get to ride their coattails.

Ezekiel responded, “Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job, these three, were in it, they would save only their own lives by their righteousness” (14:14). These three figures were paragons of righteousness. Yet, God says that even if they were present in the sinful land, he would not reverse his judgment for the sake of the three. Their righteousness would only protect themselves, not the entire community.

Noah was the only blameless person on earth at his time (Gen. 6:9-12). Job was so virtuous that even Satan took notice (Job 1:1, 8). Neither Noah nor Job were Israelites; they preceded the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. Yet, their stories of perseverance carried on in Israel’s faith tradition.

Although, in their day, wickedness surrounded Noah and Job, they exemplified loyalty to the one true God. Everything and everyone surrounding them was destroyed, but both Noah and Job’s lives were preserved. The presentation of two timeless heroes makes sense, given the case that the elders tried to make about the saints vicariously saving the sinners. Of the three righteous men, only the identification of Daniel is debatable.

Identifying Daniel

Of course, the first Daniel to consider as a candidate is the biblical Daniel. Daniel and Ezekiel were contemporary prophets and fellow exiles. While Ezekiel ministered to the exiles in Tel Abib, Daniel ministered in Babylon, the heart of the empire. However, Daniel was among the first wave of deportees in 605 BCE (Dan. 1:1-6). By the time of Ezekiel’s first vision at the River Chebar, Daniel had been in Babylon for fifteen years. Since the Babylonians captured him during his adolescence, he was likely younger than Ezekiel. As the book of Daniel attests, he was a role model Israelite in exile. He received favor and attention from the Babylonian king, but his loyalty to Yahweh remained undivided.

Although fifteen years seems a short time for Daniel’s reputation for righteousness to reach such heights, perhaps news of his miracles inspired the exiles in Tel Abib. The exiles may have already considered Daniel a hero of the faith during his own lifetime. If so, Ezekiel’s choice of Daniel made sense. His point was that not even Daniel, the most righteous of the exiles, could save Jerusalem from judgment.

However, if Ezekiel was referring to the biblical Daniel, he spelled his name slightly different. Rather than Danyael, the Hebrew long form, Ezekiel spelled it as Dan’el, the short form. Incidentally, when archaeologists found a cache of literature in the ancient city of Ugarit, they found evidence of a legendary Syrian king named Dan’el. According to the epic, which dates to 1400 BCE, Dan’el was a wise and righteous king, a model of virtue and justice. Dan’el protected the orphans and widows, a priority for righteous biblical leaders as well. Some biblical historians suggest that Ezekiel might have been referring to King Dan’el, a legend that was surely familiar to anyone in the ancient Near East. Israelites were not immune to their neighbor’s history and traditions. The theory goes that Ezekiel included the bygone pagan king as an example of virtue in a time and place full of vice.

However, plenty of scholars have a hard time believing that Ezekiel would have picked a pagan king as an exemplar of righteousness. In the whole of Ezekiel’s prophecies, he is always black and white, never gray, about the evils of idolatry and pagan influence. Biblical prophets were not in the habit of referring to any Gentile outsider as a spiritual role model, even if that individual had led an upright life in other ways.

Despite the existence of an ancient Dan’el, the biblical Daniel still seems a more likely candidate. It is certainly possible that Ezekiel and his fellow exiles heard of the miracles and wonders associated with the brave prophet. It is easy to imagine the Tel Abib exiles praying for Daniel as he represented them in Babylon, the seat of the crown. Rumors must have trickled down of his many deeds. They likely heard how he successfully interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, even when none of the royal wise men could fathom its meaning (Dan. 2). Surely word spread when Daniel survived the lion’s den (Dan. 6). It is easy to envision the exiles rejoicing over the news of Daniel’s three friends enduring the fiery furnace (Dan. 3). Given this background, it is understandable that even in his own lifetime, Daniel achieved popular status in the Israelite Hall of fame. Ezekiel listed Israel’s earliest heroes, Noah and Job, with one of their most recent, Daniel. If we only consider their life and spiritual achievements, rather than their time, Daniel is an excellent addition to the trio.

Whatever the identity of Daniel, or Dan’el, the point of Ezekiel’s prophecy was that even if three giants of the faith were in Jerusalem, nothing could remove the collective guilt of the city. God would not grant a full pardon on behalf of a handful of righteous individuals.


Once Ezekiel establishes that the righteous will be pardoned and the unrighteous punished, he explains that some of Jerusalem’s inhabitants will narrowly escape on their own. Those escapees must not be confused with the prophesied remnant. Ezekiel said, “there will be some survivors—sons and daughters who will be brought ought of it” (14:22). God did not rescue these survivors according to their own merit; they escaped the scourge. When the new wave of exiles arrived at Tel Abib after Jerusalem’s fall, they would serve as witnesses to Jerusalem’s last days. Despite experiencing the severity of God’s wrath, they remained unrepentant and unreformed. The escapees’ impious lifestyle would shock the older generation of exiles. Only at that point would the elders understand the justice of Yahweh’s judgment.


Ezekiel included in his call for repentance and return all “the aliens who reside in Israel” (14:7). Besides the native Israelites, God longed for the return of the Gentile proselytes living in their midst. All Israelites and all Gentiles who claimed to follow Yahweh had to recommit wholeheartedly to him.

For my Christian listeners, I hope you can see yourselves in this callout. Noone can hold idols in one hand and God in the other. Yahweh requires total allegiance. Outward obedience—attending church, maintaining daily devotionals, and keeping gratitude journals—does not overcome inward indifference toward God. I know in my life, it does not take much to hinder my pursuit of God or distract my attention. It is easier to accomplish spiritual tasks than it is to do the work of internal examination.

Thank you for listening and please continue to take part in this Bible Reading Challenge. Join us next week in studying Ezekiel 15. Also, one more thing. If you like Bible Fiber and it has been helpful to you in your own journey of biblical literacy, please leave a review for the podcast on Apple podcasts or Spotify, or wherever you listen. It helps others find the show.

And please keep the nation of Israel and the hostages in your prayers.

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Am Israel Chai