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the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 5

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1


As Dummelow noted, Ezekiel’s part in these pantomimes is variable. Part of the time he represents God, and at other times he stands for Israel. Here he stands for Jerusalem, his head particularly, standing for city; but again, in the burning of the hair in the midst of the city (that is, in the middle of the map of the city on the tile), he enacts the part God would play in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Verses 1-4

“And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp sword; as a barber’s razor shalt thou take it unto thee, and shall cause it to pass upon thy head and upon thy beard: then take thee balances to weigh and divide the hair. A third part shalt thou burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled; and thou shalt take a third part and smite with the sword round about it; and a third part shalt thou scatter to the wind, and I will draw out a sword after them. And shall take thereof a few in number and bind them in thy skirts. And of these again shalt thou take, and cast them into the midst of the fire; therefore shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel.”

As regarded the destiny of Jerusalem, the symbols introduced here were extremely distressing. The sword stood for the armed might of Babylon. The shaving of the head stood for humiliation, mourning, disaster, the loss of sanctity, catastrophe. The balances were a symbol of the justice and righteousness of God and the equity of his judgments. Ezekiel’s head represented Jerusalem; the hair represented the population of it, the glory, and honor, and ability of the city. These were all to disappear in the destruction.

The various uses of the three-thirds of the hair, only a part of the last third being accorded a special treatment, indicated the various ways in which the population of Jerusalem would be killed. The burning in the midst of the city refers to their death by famine and pestilence; the smiting of a third of it with the sword “round about the city” represents those who would fall to the sword of Babylon; and the scattering of a third of it to the winds represented the scattering of the Israelites among all nations.

Apparently the mandate to smite some of the hair “round about the city” refers to his smiting of it symbolically around the tile that had the map of Jerusalem engraved upon it.

“And thou shalt take thereof a few in number, and bind them in thy skirts” Yes indeed, right here is that same glorious doctrine of the righteous remnant so prominent in the works of Isaiah and Jeremiah. “There are some who deny the doctrine of the remnant is in Ezekiel, but that view is untenable in the light of this verse 3.”(F1) It is clear enough here that the small portion of that final third which was bound in the skirts of God’s prophet was an eloquent testimony that not all of Israel would be destroyed.

“And of these again shalt thou take and cast them… into the fire” This shows that not all of the “righteous remnant” would escape the disasters to fall upon the Whole nation. Even from them also there would be those who fell away.

Having in these dramatic pictures foretold the terrible destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel in the following paragraph explained the necessity for the coming judgment.

Verses 5-12

“Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: This is Jerusalem: I have set her in the midst of the nations, and countries are round about her. And she hath rebelled against mine ordinances in doing wickedness more than the nations, and as for my statutes, they have not walked in them. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because ye are turbulent more than the nations round about you, and have not walked in my statutes, neither have kept mine ordinances, neither have done after the ordinances of the nations that are round about you; therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I, even I, am against thee; and I will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations. And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations. Therefore the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments on thee; and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter unto all the winds. Wherefore as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also diminish thee; neither shall mine eye spare, and I also will have no pity. A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee; and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee, and a third part shall I scatter unto all the winds, and will draw out a sword after them.”

“This is Jerusalem” The illustration is here explained by God Himself. The doom of Jerusalem is clearly prophesied.

“I have set her in the midst of the nations” This was true in both ways. It refers to the central location of Palestine in the midst of the three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa; and the nations were literally in all directions from Jerusalem. But it was also true in the larger context of the information and privileges enjoyed by the Jews. God’s choice of the Abrahamic children as his “Chosen People” was for the purpose of preserving the knowledge of the true God in a world where that knowledge was in danger of falling. They alone received the Mosaic law; they were particularly chosen as the replacement for the reprobate pagans of ancient Palestine; and to them only the great prophets of God brought correction and enlightenment.

“Against my statutes more than the countries that are round about her” The picture that emerges here is that of a nation abundantly blessed with the ordinances and statutes of God, these repeated words being, absolutely, references to the Mosaic Law. In fact, the references to the Book of Moses are so frequent from this chapter on to the very end of Ezekiel that some of the radical critics (S. R. Driver, for example) have advanced the theory that Ezekiel was the author of Ezekiel 17-26, sometimes called the Holiness Code, in Leviticus.(F2)

However, there are so many impossibilities involved in the acceptance of such a false theory that true scholars are unable to allow it. Beasley-Murray stated flatly that, “We may approach this book in confidence that it is what it purports to be, namely the record of Ezekiel’s 25-year ministry to his fellow-exiles in Babylon.”(F3)

No, Ezekiel did not invent the regulations, statutes, and ordinances of God which Israel had so long and so thoroughly violated. Those prohibitions are in the Pentateuch, that is, THE BOOK OF MOSES. It should be borne in mind that Moses did not write five books, but one only; and the divisions into five separate books is a foolish device indeed, despite the fact of its serving the convenience of students.

“More than the countries round about her” This is a reference to one of the fundamental facts often overlooked. The pagan nations surrounding the Chosen People certainly did know many of the portions of God’s will, as Paul testified in Romans 1:18-23; and the text here reveals that the surrounding pagans had done a better job of honoring what part of God’s will they knew than had Israel.

“Turbulent more than the nations that are round about you” The older versions render “multiplied” here instead of turbulent; and Matthew Henry stated that this was a reference to the multiplication of idols and pagan shrines.(F4) In any case, it is a reference to the excessive wickedness of Israel as compared with the surrounding pagans.

“Neither have done after the ordinances of the nations” Not only had Israel rejected and forsaken the law of God, but they had rejected all laws and regulations, even those of pagan nations, leaving them the status of being essentially lawless.

“Behold, I, even I, am against thee; and I will execute judgments against thee in the sight of the nations” The justice of God’s impending judgments against Israel was due in part to the fact that their position, by God’s grace, in the midst of the nations as an example and a teacher to all of them, required that their utter failure to discharge their Divine mission be demonstrated to the whole world.

“I will do in thee that which I have not done… the like unto which I will not do any more” The horrible cannibalism mentioned here indeed occurred during that final siege. The account in Lamentations is the record of the tragic fulfillment of these words.

“Thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy abominations” This would seem to indicate that God’s terrible judgment against Israel was principally due to this offence; but the sanctuary here was not the only defilement in Jerusalem. The valley of the Sons of Hinnom, from which the word Gehenna was derived, was the scene of the horrible shrine of Moloch, where even the kings of Israel made their sons “pass through the fire” to Molech.

“A third part shall die with the pestilence, and with famine” Here God Himself gives the meaning of the burning of a third part of Ezekiel’s hair, mentioned back in Ezekiel 5:2. Also, there is the revelation that a third shall die by the sword, and a third shall be scattered to the winds.

“I will… draw out a sword after them” This means that even of that third who were to be scattered, the sword would also take its toll. Also, this means that, of the hair that was to be bound in the skirts of Ezekiel, thus representing the “righteous remnant,” and which was also a small portion of that final third, that even of those thus represented some would be lost.

Verse 13

“Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my wrath toward them to rest, and I shall be comforted: and they shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken in my zeal, when I have accomplished my wrath upon them.”

All of the ancient prophets speak in the most eloquent and frightening terms of the wrath of God. God’s anger against sin is a much more terrible reality than most men suppose. The modern conception of God has reduced him to the status of a benevolent old grandpa, so indifferent to the sins raging in his presence, that he would scarcely punish anybody. Is he not a God of love? Indeed, he is; but this must also be reconciled with his unmitigated anger and intolerance against all sin.

God’s being comforted when his punishment of evil is completed indicates, as Plumptre noted, that, “He rejoices in the punishment of evil for its own sake and that he rejoices that the punishment has done its proper work in leading men to repentance.”(F5)

Verse 14

“Moreover I will make thee a desolation and a reproach among the nations that are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by.”

“The object here was to make Judah and Jerusalem a warning to the nations around about them.”(F6)

Verses 15-17

“So it shall be a reproach and taunt, an instruction and an astonishment, unto the nations that are round about thee, when I shall execute judgments on thee in anger and in wrath, and in wrathful rebukes (I, Jehovah, have spoken it); when I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, that are for destruction, which I will send to destroy you. And I will increase the famine upon you, and will break your staff of bread; and I will send upon you evil beasts, and they shall bereave thee; and pestilence and blood shall pass through thee; and I will bring the sword upon thee: I, Jehovah, have spoken it.”

Greenberg cited no less than five phrases and expressions here that Ezekiel quoted from Leviticus 26.(F7) It was for their violation of the covenant that came through Moses that resulted in God’s fierce anger against Israel.

“The evil arrows of famine” According to the Book of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:23), these evil arrows refer to famine. God’s promise to increase it shows that hunger upon hunger would fall upon the condemned people.

“Evil beasts” According to Watt, this is a reference to brutalized men who have no breath from God.”(F8) This, of course, could be correct; but the passage may also be intended literally. It will be remembered that when the Assyrians deported the Northern Israel, it was necessary to send back a priest to teach the people regarding the “God of the land,” as a protection against the wild beasts (2 Kings 17:27).

“Pestilence and blood” “This refers to some terrible disease.”(F9)

Eichrodt pointed out that in this chapter, “Ezekiel brings out God’s world-wide purpose of salvation, showing that it formed the background of the election of Israel, whose resistance to God’s plan for the whole world amounted to her throwing away the position Israel was intended to occupy, thus making her rejection and severe punishment absolutely certain.”(F10)

The holy Church herself is in danger of the same tragic mistake made by Israel. If the Church shall forget that “God so loved the world” (all of it) that he gave the Gospel to “the whole creation”; and if she shall forget or neglect her mission to spread the Truth to the ends of creation, she herself might indeed suffer a fate similar to that which God inflicted upon the ancient Israel.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezekiel 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/ezekiel-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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