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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 5

The First Cycle—Chapters 1-7

THE first cycle of the predictions of the prophet embraces ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 7:27. A sublime vision forms the introduction. To this prophetic discourses are appended which serve to explain the vision. At the close in ch. Ezekiel 7 a song.

Verses 1-4

Ezekiel 5. The prophet predicts first the destruction of Jerusalem by a new symbolic action, Ezekiel 5:1-4; and then describes it in Ezekiel 5:5-17 in the usual prophetic style, which, according to Ezekiel 5:12, is to be regarded as the interpretation of the symbolic action. The action rests on Isaiah 7:20: “In that day shall the Lord shave with a razor hired beyond the Euphrates, with the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet; and also the beard will He take away.” The body represents here the people; the hair denotes the men; the beard, the princes with the king at their head—the beard being regarded in the East as the ornament of man. The place which the king of Assyria has there, the king of Babylon takes here: the present possessor of the world-monarchy beyond the river, he is to carry into complete fulfilment the prophecy of Isaiah that is here only repeated. This prophecy, occasioned by the inconsiderate alliance which Ahab wished to form with the trans-Euphratean world-power, places before the eyes the whole of the sufferings which this power will inflict on Judah. That the king of Assyria represents the whole of this world-power is expressly said in it, as he is first named after the mention of the trans-Euphratean power. Isaiah never expects a catastrophe of so vast importance from Assyria in its historical isolation. He is rather opposed to those who were afraid of this power. In him it is always Babylon that completes the work for which Assyria only prepares. Comp. ch. Ezekiel 39.

External execution has here also its difficulties. To shave himself with a sword on head and beard, so that not a hair remains, is certainly a very difficult task, especially for a man of great abstraction, who is not wont to be clever at such manipulations. And then in the external execution it would slide into the laughable, and prevent any serious impression. That we have here only a vividly expressed figure before us, is obvious also from Ezekiel 5:2. There the reality behind the figure protrudes itself: the language refers to the days of the siege, the circumstances of Jerusalem. In an external representation, figure and reality would be quite at variance.

Ezekiel 5:1. And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp sword, take thee a barber’s razor, and let it pass over thy head and thy chin: and take thee a balance of weight, and divide the hair. 2. A third part thou shalt burn in the flame within the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled; and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it (Jerusalem) with the sword; and a third part thou shalt scatter to the wind: and I will draw out a sword after them. 3. And thou shalt take thence a few in number, and bind them in thy skirt. 4. And thou shalt take of them again, and cast them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire: therefrom shall a fire come forth unto all the house of Israel.

The sword in Ezekiel 5:1 must be taken in the proper sense, since it is added that it is to do the work of a razor, and thus cannot be itself a razor; and immediately in Ezekiel 5:2 stands the sword in the proper sense. The sword represents here, first of all, the avenging sword of God ( Deuteronomy 32:41), the punishment to be awarded by Him. The sword of Nebuchadnezzar comes here into view only as the visible form of the sword of God, as it is also said in the fundamental passage of Isaiah, “The Lord will shave.” The prophet depicts throughout in his symbolic actions only the doing of God, or the doing and suffering of the people. In ch. Ezekiel 4 also, where the prophet besieges Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar comes into view only in the second place. It is God who says in Ezekiel 5:2, “I will draw out the sword after them.” The balance of weight is a balance provided with weights. The balance has already appeared in Isaiah 28:17 as a symbol of the divine righteousness measuring the punishment. Ever according to the result of the weighing are the hairs assigned to their respective destinies. Chr. B. Michael is says briefly and well: “The razor is the divine vengeance, the balance its equity; the hairs are the Jews, the parting the punishment assigned to each.” It is the common fate of all ( Ezekiel 5:2) to be separated from the body politic, but the modes of separation are various. The flame, [33] according to the words, “When the days of the siege are fulfilled,” [34] can only be the fire of Jerusalem burned by the enemy. Ezekiel 5:12, where the first third consists of those who perish within the city by pestilence and famine during the siege, is reconciled with our passage by the assumption that the flame consumes the dead bodies, so that the two passages are to be completed from one another. The flame belongs to the symbol, because this only, not pestilence or famine, suits the figure of the hair; but the completion must be carried out in the usual prophetical style, otherwise misunderstanding is likely to arise. Plague and famine play also elsewhere too important a part in the threatenings of the prophet against Jerusalem to be here practically neglected. That the flame consumes only the corpses of those who had formerly died, follows besides from this, that the first place is assigned to this third. The second third consists of those who fall around the city in the sallies in search for food, and in the attempts to escape. The sword, as distinguished from the flame and the wind, denotes here the death decreed of God by the hand of the foe, and so is taken more strictly than in Ezekiel 5:1, where it is the general symbol for the divine vengeance. As the first third is given to the flame, the second to the sword, so is the third given to the wind: it consists of the fugitives, especially the captives, who are scattered to the four winds. With the dispersion, however, the business is not yet finished. God’s sword—His vengeance—follows them even in the dispersion. The fundamental passage here is Leviticus 26:33: “And I will scatter you among the heathen, and draw out the sword after you.” “Thence” ver. ( Ezekiel 5:3), from the last third. “A few in number,” those who are spared by the sword at the end of Ezekiel 4:2. The binding of the few remaining hairs in the skirt denotes the tender care that the Lord takes of the remnant of His people, and that He will gather them from their dispersion, and restore them to their home. “And thou shalt take of them again, and cast them into the fire” ( Ezekiel 5:4): this presupposes that even among the remnant that at first, as God’s care shows, were come to a better mind, corruption will afterwards break out, so that God’s vengeance will once more manifest itself in a fearful manner. But this vengeance does not affect the whole remnant: “of them,” it is said. This presupposes that, along with these objects of the divine judgment, there is an election that does not fall under the divine judgment. This election, however, is numerically inconsiderable—a mere minority, a “little flock.” This is shown by the words, “Therefrom (that is, from them; the numerical majority is combined into an ideal unity with reference to the uniting bond of the evil disposition by which they are connected) shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel.” The party is so numerous, that the vengeance which falls upon them overtakes the people as such.

[33] אור , flame, not fire, distinguished from fire, Isaiah 50:11.

[34] That it can only be explained thus, appears from Jeremiah 25:12: “And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are full,” that is, are finished.

We have here the announcement of a second annihilating judgment which, after the Chaldean, will fall upon the people restored by the grace of God,—the outline of that which, after the infliction of the Chaldean judgment, Zechariah in ch. Zechariah 5, and especially in ch. Zechariah 11—the strictly classical passage—further expands, whom Malachi also after the exile follows; and, at the same time, the intimation of a little flock which is not affected by this new national judgment,—an intimation which likewise finds its expression in Zechariah. In this announcement Ezekiel has been preceded by Isaiah, the central prophet, in whom all sides of the announcement of the future are either unfolded or exhibited in germ. He says, in the remarkable outline of the fate of God’s people in ch. Isaiah 6, after he has predicted the first great catastrophe, as it took effect in the destruction of the city by the Chaldeans and the removal of the people: “And yet in the land shall be a tenth, but it again shall be consumed, like the terebinth and the oak, in the falling of which a shoot remains of it, and its shoot is a holy seed.” These are predictions at which we must fold our hands. They contain the doom of the attempt of Hitzig to release himself from the troublesome predictions of Ezekiel, the fulfilment of which falls in his lifetime, by the assumption that the prophet has a copy of the history ascribed to him as prophecy.

The fire is here not merely a symbol of the divine wrath: it indicates that in this catastrophe, as in the first, the divine wrath will appear also in material fire, as actually took place in the Roman conquest. We need not separate the fire here from the flame in Ezekiel 5:2.

Verses 5-17

With Ezekiel 5:5 begins the further development in plain language of the thought contained in the description of the symbolic action, or rather in the communication of the command (for the execution is here also not described, because the action belongs to the sphere of thought, in which there is no difference between command and execution). Their punishment and their guilt are placed before the eyes of the people.

Ezekiel 5:5. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, This is Jerusalem: in the midst of the nations I placed her, and round about her the countries. 6. And she opposed my judgments worse than the heathen, and my statutes than the countries that are round about her; for they have refused my judgments, and in my statutes they have not walked. 7. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because ye raged more than the heathen who are round about you, ye walked not in my statutes, and did not after the judgments of the heathen that are round about you. 8. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the eyes of the heathen. 9. And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and the like of which I will no more do, because of all thine abominations. 10. Therefore the fathers shall eat the sons in thy midst, and the sons the fathers: and I will execute judgments in thee, and will scatter the whole remnant of thee to all the winds. 11. Therefore, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, Surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thy abominations, I will also diminish thee; and my eye shall not spare, and I also will not pity. 12. A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they perish in thy midst; and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds; and I will draw out a sword after them. 13. And my anger shall be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted: and they shall know that I the LORD have spoken in my zeal, when I accomplish my fury in them. 14. And I will give thee for desolation, and for reproach among the heathen that are round about thee, in the eyes of all that pass by. 15. And she shall be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and an astonishment, to the heathen that are round about thee, when I execute judgments upon thee in anger and in fury, and in furious rebukes. I the Lord have spoken it. 16. When I send the evil arrows of famine upon them, which are for destruction, which I will send to destroy you: and I will increase the famine upon you, and break your staff of bread. 17. And I will send upon you famine and evil beasts, and they shall bereave thee; and pestilence and blood shall pass over thee; and I will bring a sword upon thee. I the LORD have spoken it.

Jerusalem is the central point of the nations and countries: not geographically—this never occurs in Scripture, and would not come into account for the purpose of the prophet—but theologically. It is the model people prepared of God by His revelation, the community of the “righteous” founded by Him, Jeshurun, that it might shed its light on the surrounding heathen darkness, redound to the glory of its God, and attract men to Him. Moses says ( Deuteronomy 4:5-6) to Israel, “Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land into which ye will come. Keep therefore, and do them: for this is your wisdom and understanding among all nations, when they shall hear all these statutes, that they must say. Ah, what a wise and understanding people is this, and a glorious nation!” In Isaiah 42:19 they appear as the messenger whom the Lord sends—His mission amid the heathen world. Corresponding with this is that which Christ says of the community of the New Testament, the legitimate successor of Jerusalem: “Ye are the light of the world. A city cannot be hid that is set on a hill” ( Matthew 5:14). So also Peter says, “That ye should show forth the virtues of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” With Ezekiel 5:6, where Jerusalem is upbraided because things are worse with her than among the heathen, is to be compared 1 Corinthians 5:1: “It is reported that there is fornication among you, such as the heathen cannot name.” The words in Ezekiel 5:7, “because ye raged more than the heathen,” refer to the beginning of Psalms 2, where the raging of the heathen against the Lord, their fierce rebellion, is described. In Ezekiel 11:12 they are thus upbraided: “and have done after the judgments of the heathen that are round about you.” Here the reproach is different: they are degraded in their manners far below the heathen; compare Eze Ezekiel 5:6, according to which they are worse than the heathen. This verse confirms the negation. The passage is important, because it sets out from the view that the heathen have a law written in the heart, from which laudable judgments proceed ( Romans 2:14-15). “In the eyes of the heathen” ( Ezekiel 5:8), among whom the name of the true God is disgraced by the bad conduct of its confessors ( Romans 2:24); so that He must vindicate His honour by exemplary punishment. The words in Ezekiel 5:9, “and the like of which I will no more do,” yield no comfort for degenerate Christianity.

The divine righteousness remains always equally energetic. Like guilt must draw like punishment after it; and the responsibility is still weightier under the New Testament. Only this is said, that the judgment on degenerate Israel will present peculiarities which will not be found elsewhere: it will be unique in its kind, unparalleled in the world’s history. All great judgments and all great graces have peculiarities in which they are unique. “I will also diminish thee” ( Ezekiel 5:11): the fundamental passage is Deuteronomy 4:2 ( Deuteronomy 13:1), “Ye shall not add to this word which I command you, and ye shall not diminish from it.” They have diminished, they have taken His own from God by the transgression of His commandments; so will God also take from them that which He has promised to give them. The diminishing on the part of Israel has shown itself chiefly in this, that against the most emphatic injunctions and threatenings of God they have defiled His sanctuary by idols. It is not merely of the idols we have to think, which were actually found in the temple. According to the Old Testament view—as it appears, for example, in Leviticus 16—the temple is the ideal dwelling-place of Israel, and all sins, wheresoever committed, take place there: comp. on ch. Ezekiel 8. The anger is fulfilled ( Ezekiel 5:13) when it displays itself in its fullest power.

Thereby is the bearer of it comforted: he receives his satisfaction in the vengeance, because he destroys the violator of his honour, and thereby vindicates his rights against him. Vengeance, unlawful in the finite, is legitimate in the absolute personality. A god who does not avenge himself is an idol. We have here a combination of the Chaldean and the Roman catastrophe in one form of terror. The warrant for this assumption lies in Ezekiel 5:3-4. It would be absurd to speak here of “a Jewish idea.” History has long shown that it refers to a terrible reality. It would be no less absurd to wish to talk of a difference between the O. and N. T. For the terrors depicted by Ezekiel extend to the times of the N. T., and Jesus announces equally fearful judgments on Jerusalem. “And they shall know that I the Lord have spoken it.” What the son of man has spoken in the name of God, and for which he has become a mockery and a song in the streets, this is proved to be the word of God by the coincidence of the event with the announcement. The mocking of the son of man comes on the head of the ungodly. In Ezekiel 5:15 there is a sudden turn from the simple description to the address as it appears in Ezekiel 5:14. “Round about thee”—about them. The sentence, “I the Lord have spoken it,” at the close, calls upon us anew to turn away the eye from the son of man. The arrows in Ezekiel 5:16 are taken from Deuteronomy 32:23, Deuteronomy 32:42. In Ezekiel 5:17, besides famine, pestilence, and blood, “evil beasts” also are threatened, in allusion to Leviticus 26:22, “I will send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children.” The wild beasts threatened by the law here present themselves in human form; wild beasts, in the ordinary sense, could have no place in the capital. We may compare Isaiah 56:9, Jeremiah 12:9, where the wild beasts are undeniably the heathen. The designation of brutalized men, who have no breath from God, as beasts, is deeply rooted in Scripture.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 5". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-5.html.