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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 21

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Verses 1-7

The People Are Massacred

The word of the LORD comes to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 21:1). He is commanded to set his face on Jerusalem and to speak, or let his words flow, against the sanctuaries (Ezekiel 21:2; cf. Ezekiel 20:46). After the Negev in the previous verses (Ezekiel 20:45-Ephesians :), by which Judah is meant, it is now Jerusalem’s turn to hear words of judgment. Judgment is directed primarily against “the sanctuaries” by which, given the plural, is possibly meant the temple complex (cf. Leviticus 26:31; Matthew 24:1). Ezekiel is also to prophesy against the whole land of Israel.

The whole land has so departed from the LORD that He will cut off from it both the righteous and the wicked (Ezekiel 21:3). They are the green and the dry tree of the previous riddle (Ezekiel 20:47). The fire, spoken of there, has now become a sword. The LORD will draw His sword out of its sheath to exercise the judgment. This refers to the carnage that will be wrought by Nebuchadnezzar, who is His sword.

The word ‘sword’ occurs no less than thirteen times in the following verses. This does show the severity and certainty of the judgment. It is also a general judgment, for the sword will be against “all flesh” (cf. Ezekiel 20:48), “from south [to] north” (Ezekiel 21:4), including the princes (Ezekiel 21:12). The judgment will be unstoppable (Ezekiel 21:5).

As Ezekiel lets his words flow, he must “groan with breaking heart [literally: loins] and bitter grief” (Ezekiel 21:6). The groaning must be so deep that he is like a broken man, like someone bent or huddled with his hands on his stomach because of an excruciating stomachache. Strength to walk is not there. He has to show this dejection because there is no hope of recovery from the pain. When the people ask him why he is doing this, he must say that he is weighed down by the burden the LORD is placing on him (Ezekiel 21:7).

The prophet is committed to his message and he is deeply burdened by it himself. The inner feelings and expressions that show this show that he does not bring his message with pleasure. The suffering he has to announce that will come upon his people affects him deeply.

If we have to admonish someone, we must have the right inner mind for it and give it the right expression. Do we also know the groaning because of the disasters that will befall the world and Christianity?

Just as the imminent suffering coming upon his people deprives him of all strength already now at its announcement, so it will be with those over whom the sword of God’s judgment will soon come. Ezekiel uses four expressions to describe the physical and spiritual reaction to the news of the fall Jerusalem:
1. “And every heart will melt (cf. Psalms 22:15; Isaiah 13:7; Nahum 2:10),
2. all hands will be feeble (cf. 2 Samuel 4:1; Isaiah 13:7; Jeremiah 6:24; Ezekiel 7:17),
3. every spirit will faint (cf. Isaiah 61:3) and
4. all knees will be weak [literally: flow] as water” (Ezekiel 7:17).

When the news of the fall and destruction of Jerusalem comes, it will take away the courage of all who hear it. And it will surely come, for the LORD has said so. This is what Ezekiel needs to show and let hear to the exiles with whom he is.

Verses 8-17

The Sword Song

Again the word of the LORD comes to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 21:8). He is now commanded to prophesy about the sword, about the coming of the sword and what the sword will do (Ezekiel 21:9). He speaks in poetic language, in the form of a song, about the horrors that the sword will bring. He begins by describing the sword. The sword is mentioned twice in succession, because of the impression it makes. It is not a sword that hangs on the wall for decoration, but a sword that has been sharpened and polished for use.

The sword is sharpened to make a slaughter, and it is polished to make it shine when it is struck back and forth flashing (Ezekiel 21:10). It will come with the speed of lightning. At that sight, all joy disappears. It is, says the LORD, the rod with which He must discipline His son Israel because he has despised every tree, which means every other rod of wood. God’s people have been unwilling to listen to any discipline (cf. Deuteronomy 21:18-Ecclesiastes :).

God gave the sword to Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 21:11). Nebuchadnezzar took it in his hand to carry out God’s counsel. However, in doing so he has only pursued his own evil, cruel plans. Like “the slayer”, he has acted with the sword given him by God. He has carried out the task given to him only to his own honor and pleasure.

That is why Ezekiel is commanded to cry out and wail (Ezekiel 21:12), because God’s people are suffering so much. God is not indifferent to what people do to His people of their own accord, driven by murderous motives. He wants to punish His people, but those who are used by Him want to exterminate His people. That is what concerns Him. Here we see that God is not a cruel God, but uses everything to His ends, without in the slightest diminishing the responsibility of those of whom He uses. The people and their officials have been given up to the sword. This is a matter to be intensely grieved over, of which the striking of the thigh is an expression (Jeremiah 31:19).

But what happens when this tried rod has also done its work and is taken away, the LORD asks (Ezekiel 21:13)? In order to avoid having no effect, the prophet must continue to prophesy (Ezekiel 21:14). He must clap his hands together as a sign of dismay. For the sword will come down on Judah with double strength, yes, with triple strength. It will come down in such fury upon the great ones, the forefathers of the people, that many will fall down mortally wounded. It will cause great fear. Many will be brought down and thus become a stumbling block to those who want to flee (Ezekiel 21:15). And when they come to the gate to go out of the city, they will run into the sword there and be killed. After all, the sword was polished for that purpose.

Then the sword is addressed (Ezekiel 21:16). The short sentences sound like sword strokes. The sword is under God’s command, and the command is that the sword is to spread death and destruction in all directions, whichever way it turns. What Ezekiel has to do in Ezekiel 21:14, God Himself will also do (Ezekiel 21:17) when His sword is busy sowing death and destruction. He will clap His hands together and bring His wrath down upon the people. He will appease His wrath through the judgment on the wicked and encourage the sword to destroy, until His wrath is stilled. He has spoken it and so it will happen.

Verses 18-23

The Oracle of Nebuchadnezzar

Again the word of the LORD comes to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 21:18). He is commanded to make, or set for himself, two ways (Ezekiel 21:19; cf. Ezekiel 4:1). He is to do this “for himself”. This indicates that he is to enter in the spirit of what is about to happen. In the same way, we are to be concerned with future events. We must be able to set them for ourselves, as it were, so that what is going to happen to Israel, Europe and the world becomes clear to us.

The way that Ezekiel has to set or draw is one way, which splits into two ways. It is the way that the sword will go to get into Judah. Now the name of him who holds the sword is also mentioned. It is the king of Babylon. The two ways go out from one land. At the place where the way splits into two ways, Ezekiel is to make a signpost. On it are two destinations. One way leads to Rabbah, the capital of the sons of Ammon; the other way leads to Judah with its fortified Jerusalem (Ezekiel 21:20). The way from Babylon to Rabbah and to Jerusalem is the same way until Damascus. At Damascus one must choose where to go.

Then the LORD tells Ezekiel why he should set out the way and the split into two ways. At the split, the king of Babylon will stop to consider which direction he will go (Ezekiel 21:21). Will he take the way to Rabbah or the one to Jerusalem? To determine his choice, he will use idolatrous methods of divination, as is customary for him, to reach a decision. He uses three methods. This does show how uncertain he finds a particular method. It is obvious to assume that by using three, he will take the path indicated by at least two methods.

The ‘shaking the arrows’ could mean that he takes two arrows and puts the name of a direction on each. He then shakes them and draws one. That is then the direction he will take. When consulting the “household idols” they seem to be teraphim or small household gods taken by the owner on a journey (Genesis 31:19). To “look at the liver” is to examine the color and characteristics of the liver of a sacrificial animal. This form of divination is in use throughout the Babylonians at this time.

We see here that God knows all of Nebuchadnezzar’s deliberations and that He determines the outcome. He will cause the king of Babylon to go up to Jerusalem (Ezekiel 21:22). Nebuchadnezzar thinks his gods have given him counsel, but God determines his way. Nebuchadnezzar has his battle plan and his weapons ready to begin the siege of a strong fortress like Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem will experience this as a “false prophecy”, because they have promised allegiance to the king of Babylon after all (Ezekiel 21:23; Ezekiel 17:16-Job :).

But their oaths are worth nothing. Several times Zedekiah and the officials committed themselves with solemn oaths to remain faithful to the king of Babylon. But they have done so in order to deceive him, for secretly they have made agreements with Egypt (Ezekiel 17:7; Ezekiel 17:15Ezekiel 17:17; Jeremiah 37:5; Jeremiah 46:17). It is precisely their unfaithfulness that is a reason for Nebuchadnezzar to go up against them. He will remind them of their own iniquity and seize and carry them away for it.

Verses 24-27

The Last King

Judah itself ensures that their iniquity is remembered because they continue to sin (Ezekiel 21:24). There is no need for a prosecutor, for the people are indicting themselves with their sins that are becoming public. These are what cause them to be given over to the judgment of Nebuchadnezzar’s hard hand.

The great culprit is the “slain, wicked one, the prince of Israel”, by which Zedekiah is meant (Ezekiel 21:25). In its full application, this is about the antichrist. The day of reckoning has come because his iniquity has risen to its height. He will lose his kingship. The crown as a sign of it will be taken away from him (Ezekiel 21:26). The turban will also be taken away from him. The turban is an ornament of the high priest (Exodus 28:4; Exodus 29:6; Leviticus 8:9). It is possible that he has assumed a priestly dignity.

There will be a complete change in his circumstances. This is done according to the principle that God exalts those who humble themselves and humbles those who exalt themselves (Luke 14:11). Those who bow down to His judgment that He brings on them through Nebuchadnezzar, He will exalt (cf. 2 Kings 25:27-Amos :). Those who exalt themselves against that judgment, He will abandon to judgment, as Zedekiah will experience.

The three times repeated “a ruin” indicates the judgment on Jerusalem (Ezekiel 21:27). That city will become an unprecedented ruin. That it is repeated three times indicates that judgment will be irrevocable and extremely forceful.

However, the destruction of Jerusalem and the dethroning of Zedekiah – and the future dethroning of the antichrist – will not be the end. God will change this state of affairs as well. The prophecy of doom ends with a promise. God will give the land and the crown to One Who is entitled to it, that is the Messiah. To Him He will give the throne of David.

Verses 28-32

Judgment on Ammon

Nebuchadnezzar’s decision to go up to Jerusalem (Ezekiel 21:20-Song of Solomon :) does not mean that the Ammonites will escape judgment (Ezekiel 21:28). Their defamation over humiliated and devastated Judah is an additional reason to judge them. The sword of judgment that is in Nebuchadnezzar’s hand will massacre them as well (Ezekiel 21:9-2 Samuel :; Ezekiel 21:15).

The Ammonites think they will be spared (Ezekiel 21:29). That is what their lying prophets with their false visions have caused them to believe. Those deceivers have even said that they will go up to Judah with Nebuchadnezzar, whose side they have chosen (2 Kings 24:2). They will then set their feet on the necks of the unholy wicked who belong to Zedekiah and whose iniquity has reached its zenith (cf. Ezekiel 21:25).

The call sounds to them that they should not arm themselves. They will not fight with Nebuchadnezzar and will not be able to resist him (Ezekiel 21:30). They will be judged in their own land and will not be led into exile like Judah. God will pour out His indignation on them and blow on them with the fire of His wrath (Ezekiel 21:31). He will do this by giving them into the hand of brutal men who have their destruction in mind.

The fire, image of judgment, will do its destructive and consuming work among them (Ezekiel 21:32). The land will be full of the blood of the defeated in the midst of it. Their role will be utterly finished and they will no longer be asked for. They will have disappeared from memory. It happens that way because the LORD has spoken it.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ezekiel 21". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/ezekiel-21.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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