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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 21

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-7

Eze 21:1-7


This chapter is called by many "The Song of the Sword." Why? The word "sword" occurs no less than thirteen times in 32 verses, being repeated over and over again, doubled and thrice doubled in its significance. It is God’s explanation of the parable of the great forest fire just presented in Ezekiel 20, which the stubborn sinners who heard it pretended not to understand. They certainly could not have missed the point of this explanation. It was the sword, the sword, the sword, the sword, etc. the sword sharpened, the sword polished, the sword swift as lightning, the sword of the Lord, but particularly the sword of Babylon the agent of God in his punishment of Israel.

Ezekiel 21:1-7

"And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the sanctuaries, and prophesy against the land of Israel; and say to the land of Israel, Thus saith Jehovah; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of its sheath against all flesh from the south to the north. And all flesh shall know that I, Jehovah, have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath; it shall not return any more. Sigh therefore, thou son of man; with the breaking of thy loins and with bitterness shalt thou sigh before their eyes. And it shall be when they say unto thee, Wherefore sighest thou? that thou shalt say, Because of the tidings, for it cometh; and every heart shalt melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and it shall be done, saith the Lord Jehovah."

The parable of the great fire is fully explained here. The South is Jerusalem; the field of the South is Palestine; the forest of the field of the South is the people; every green tree and every dry tree are references to the wicked and the righteous, both of whom are marked for destruction. The great fire stands for war, symbolized here as "the sword."

"Sigh, therefore, thou son of man ..." (Ezekiel 21:6). We have frequently noted the behavior of God’s prophets who actually confirmed the predictive nature of their prophecies by their bizarre behavior at the time of giving the prophecy. Isaiah went barefoot for two years; Jeremiah wore an ox yoke to the king’s court; Micah screamed like a jackal and wallowed in the dirt; here Ezekiel sighed and manifested great grief as a man with a broken heart, provoking an inquiry from the people, as to what it all meant. This behavior is the complete and irrevocable refutation of nonsense that Ezekiel "might not have written this chapter." No man would possibly have behaved in the manner indicated here concerning an event that had already happened.

"With the breaking of thy loins ..." (Ezekiel 21:5). The KJV and the Revised Standard Version are better here, reading "breaking of thy heart." In ancient times the loins (kidneys) were thought to be the seat of the emotions, now said to be "in the heart," not the physical heart, of course, but the brain, which is the seat of intelligence and the emotions.

Verses 8-13

Eze 21:8-13

Ezekiel 21:8-13

"And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith Jehovah: Say, A sword, a sword, it is sharpened, and also furbished; it is sharpened that it may make a slaughter; it is furbished that it may be as lightning: shall we then make mirth? the rod of my son, it contemneth every tree. And it is given to be furbished, that it may be handled: the sword, it is sharpened, yea, it is furbished, to give it into the hand of the slayer. Cry and wail, son of man; for it is upon my people, it is upon all the princes of Israel: they are delivered over to the sword with my people; smite therefore upon thy thigh. For there is a trial; and what if even the rod that contemneth shall be no more? saith the Lord Jehovah."

Bunn referred to this chapter as, "One of the most shocking and awesome passages” in the Bible.

"The rod of my son, it contemneth every tree ..." (Ezekiel 21:10). "’The rod of my son,.’ here, is the scepter of the House of David.” These words were spoken by the people who claimed not to fear the sword of punishment coming upon them, because the scepter of the House of David, whom God recognizes as his son, contemneth (despises) all other scepters as mere pieces of wood.

"Cry and wail, son of man ..." (Ezekiel 21:12). This behavior supplements that of Ezekiel 21:6, such bizarre actions being for the purpose of getting attention, and also for the purpose of emphasizing the predictive nature of these prophecies.

"Smite therefore upon thy thigh ..." (Ezekiel 21:12). "This was done as an expression of grief.” Efforts have been made to view this as a demonstration of glee or delight on Ezekiel’s part; but that could not possibly fit into the context here. Both this gesture and the clapping of hands, mentioned later, were bona fide expressions of extreme grief, especially when accompanied by the crying and walling of the prophet.

"What if the rod that contemneth shall be no more ..." (Ezekiel 21:13)? This stops a little short of prophesying the end of the earthly house of David; but, in context, that is certainly the meaning of it.

Verses 14-17

Eze 21:14-17

Ezekiel 21:14-17

"Thou therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite thy hands together; and let the sword be doubled the third time, the sword of the deadly wounded: it is the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded, which entereth into their chambers. I have set the threatening sword against all of their gates, that their hearts may melt, and their stumblings be multiplied: ah! it is made as lightning, it is pointed for slaughter. Gather thee together, go to the right, set thyself in array, go to the left, whithersoever thy face is set. I will also smite my hands together, and I will cause my wrath to rest; I, Jehovah, have spoken it."

"Let the sword be doubled the third time ..." (Ezekiel 21:14) "This shows the tremendous size and power of the sword coming against Jerusalem. All hope of escape was gone.”

"It is the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded ..." (Ezekiel 21:14) This is a reference to Zedekiah, the king of Judah. "The sword shall smite the king as well as all the people.”

"Which entereth into their chambers ..." (Ezekiel 21:14). This meant that the King of Babylon would enter the city of Jerusalem and have access to everything in it, even the house of the king.

"I will also smite my hands together ..." (Ezekiel 21:17). It is impossible for this to refer to any sadistic glee on God’s part over the destruction of his wicked people. Repeatedly, all of the prophets have assured us that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. This is another instance of where a misinterpretation can lead to serious error. Bunn, for example, toyed with the idea that "the clapping of hands" here was a sign of elation, approval, or delight. If he had properly understood the meaning of it in this context, he could never have said:

These words almost depict Jehovah as a scheming, venal deity, who with deadly passion and sullen cruelty prepares for the total ravaging of his enemies.”

This is a slander of the paragraph above where God is depicted as clapping his hands in deep grief over the fate of his Once Chosen People. Barlow properly understood the meaning of the clapping of the hands. "Smiting the hands together is an indication of violent grief.” The Biblical proof of this viewpoint is found in Ezekiel 21:12 where the clapping of the hands is accompanied by the loud crying and wailing of the prophet.

Verses 18-23

Eze 21:18-23

Ezekiel 21:18-23

"The word of Jehovah came to me again, saying, Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the king of Babylon may come; they twain shall come forth out of one land: and mark out a place, mark it out at the head of the way to the city. Thou shalt appoint a way to come to Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and to Judah in Jerusalem the fortified. For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he shook the arrows to and fro, he consulted the teraphim, he looked in the liver. In his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to cast up the mounds to build forts. And it shall be unto them a false divination in their sight, who have sworn oaths unto them; but he bringeth iniquity in remembrance, that they may be taken."

"Appoint thee two ways ..." (Ezekiel 21:18). These lines seem to be God’s explanation to Ezekiel of the meaning of that divination sought by Nebuchadnezzar, at the head of the two ways. "Damascus was the point at which the ancient trade routes separated.”

"Mark out a place at the head of the way to the city ..." (Ezekiel 21:19). Since nothing is said of Ezekiel’s going all the way to Damascus, it could be that some crucial place on the road from Damascus to Jerusalem would be the place that Ezekiel was commanded to mark. In any case, the Jews did not believe it.

The three types of divination which Nebuchadnezzar consulted were: (1) he placed two arrows in a quiver, one marked Ammon, the other Jerusalem. He shook them and poured them out; the Jerusalem arrow came out first. We do not know how (2) the teraphim and (3) the liver were consulted. This is the first passage in which the terrible sword of the Lord is also identified as the sword of the king of Babylon.

"In his right hand is the divination for Jerusalem ..." (Ezekiel 21:22). This indicates that Nebuchadnezzar had reached into the bag with the arrows and pulled out the one marked Jerusalem, or that, after that arrow fell out, he picked it up with his right hand. In any case, it meant that Jerusalem would be attacked first. The whole verse, with its mention of battering rams, forts, the slaughter, the shouting, etc.

"It shall be unto them as a false divination ..." (Ezekiel 21:23). The remarkable thing in this verse is that the Jews themselves had depended upon such divinations, but now they refused to believe it. We believe that Ezekiel told the people of Nebuchadnezzar’s divination and the results of it, the information having come to the prophet by the direct revelation of God.

"He will call to remembrance ..." (Ezekiel 21:23). "This refers to Nebuchadnezzar, and the iniquity he will call to remembrance is the perjury and treason of the king of Israel, Zedekiah.”

Verses 24-27

Eze 21:24-27

Ezekiel 21:24-27

"Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear; because that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the land. And then, O deadly wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Remove the mitre, and take off the crown; this shall be no more the same; exalt that which is low; and abase that which is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall be no more. UNTIL HE COME WHOSE RIGHT IT IS; and I will give it to him."

This is one of the key passages in the Bible. Here is announced the end of the earthly House of David. Zedekiah’s "day is come." It is not merely the death of the king, but the end of the kingdom which is at hand. The mitre, standing for the high priest and the whole religious system, and the crown standing for the king and the nobility receive the sentence: "Remove them!" Take them off! "This (the kingdom) shall be no more." "I will overturn, overturn, overturn." (Ezekiel 21:26-27).


We have no patience at all with alleged scholars who cannot find any reference here to the Messiah. Such scholars remind one of the "elders" in these two chapters who could not understand the parable of the Great Fire!.

First, we call the reader’s attention to our discussion of the text in Genesis 49:10 (Vol. 1 of the Pentateuchal Series, pp. 566-569), to which there is a direct reference in Ezekiel 21:27, here.

The old, outdated and discredited fulminations against this text by the radical critics, are gradually being replaced in this last quarter of the 20th century by the dependable words of many scholars. A few of these, we enclose here:

"The only hope left to Judah in this passage was that `the ultimate scepter of Judah,’ the Messiah would yet come. When Judah was purified, the scepter, `the Messiah’, would rule over his people (Ezekiel 21:27.) ... Ezekiel 21:27 indicates the overthrow of Zedekiah’s throne, the end of the Davidic kingdom until the coming of the Messiah. ... The one to whom this right belongs, and to whom God will give it, is the Messiah, of whom the prophets from the times of David and onward have prophesied as the founder and restorer of perfect right on earth. ... These verses prophesy the end of the monarchic succession and of the state, which are to be brought into ruin until the Messiah comes. This echoes Genesis 49:10. "Until he comes, to whom it belongs" (Revised Standard Version) ... The Jewish rabbis paraphrase this in a Messianic sense. ... The promised king in Ezekiel 21:27 is the Son of David, the Messiah; thus the promise of Judah’s destruction here ends in a promised restoration, as in Ezekiel 20:40. ... Here we have a cryptic reference back to Genesis 49:10, where is given the expectation of one to whom the right of kingship really belonged; he will be that one to whom everything in the House of David and the Messianic kingship have always pointed. ... These verses (Ezekiel 21:26-27) express Ezekiel’s hope of a personal Messiah; there is an allusion here to Genesis 49:10. ... The Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, was the true King of Judah.

Babylon, God’s Sword of Judgment

Ezekiel 20:45 to Ezekiel 21:32

Open It

1. Do you consider yourself a pessimist or an optimist? Why?

2. From what calamities that confront other people do you consider yourself basically immune?

Explore It

3. Where did God tell Ezekiel to direct his prophecy? (Ezekiel 20:45-46)

4. What image of natural disaster did God use to illustrate what was about to happen to Judah? (Ezekiel 20:46-48)

5. What did Ezekiel tell God that the people were likely to say about his prophecy? (Ezekiel 20:49)

6. What new image did God use to describe the destruction to come? (Ezekiel 21:3)

7. Which of the people were to be "cut off" from the land of Judah and Jerusalem? (Ezekiel 21:3-4)

8. What did God intend for the people to understand through the immensity of disaster? (Ezekiel 21:5)

9. What sign was Ezekiel to give through his behavior? (Ezekiel 21:6-7)

10. How would the scepter of Judah (symbol of nationhood) stand up to the sharpened sword of God’s judgment? (Ezekiel 21:8-10)

11. What emotion was Ezekiel portraying by wailing and beating his breast? (Ezekiel 21:11-12)

12. According to the prophecy, what was going to become of the scepter of Judah? (Ezekiel 21:13-17)

13. What did God reveal in advance that the king of Babylon would decide to do, guided by pagan divination? (Ezekiel 21:18-22)

14. Since the people felt they were safe, how would they respond to the approach of the army of Babylon? (Ezekiel 21:23)

15. Why were the people of Jerusalem going to be taken captive? (Ezekiel 21:24)

16. What did Ezekiel say it would take to restore the throne of Judah? (Ezekiel 21:27)

17. How would the Ammonites be judged for their insulting delight in the destruction of Judah? (Ezekiel 21:28-32)

Get It

18. Why did the prophecies contain images of total destruction?

19. With what reasoning did the people who heard Ezekiel tend to minimize or explain away his words?

20. What nation was represented in the prophecy as the sharpened sword?

21. Why did God conquer Israel’s enemies, even when Israel was in need of discipline?

22. What gloomy predictions do you tend to minimize? Why?

23. What can you deduce about Ezekiel’s popularity among the exiles from the messages that he delivered?

24. How would you describe God’s wrath, once kindled?

Apply It

25. In what relationships do you need to ask God to strengthen you to be unpopular (if necessary) for His sake?

26. How can you reduce the security you feel in your circumstances and increase your dependence upon God?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 21". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/ezekiel-21.html.
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