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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 21". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ ezekiel-21.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 21". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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THE FIRE AND SWORD OF DIVINE JUSTICE GO FORTH AGAINST HEATHENISED JERUSALEM. (Chap. 21).
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The people had turned all their hopes towards the mother country,—the city and kingdom. The prophet shows this to be a delusion. The sword of the Lord will cut off Jerusalem and the land of Israel, both righteous and wicked. (Ezekiel 21:1-17). The instrument to be used is the king of Babylon, who will draw his sword against Jerusalem and the children of Ammon, first putting an end to the kingdom of Judah, and then destroying the Ammonites (Ezekiel 21:18-23). The design is, to withdraw the people from their delusions, and to teach them that they must trust no longer in human policy but rather in repentance towards God.
Ezekiel 21:1-7. The sword of the Lord is to be drawn against Jerusalem, in which the people placed all their confidence.
Ezekiel 21:2. “The holy places.” “Heb. sanctuaries. These include not only the temple with its holy places, but also the other edifices appropriated in purer times to Divine worship, and afterwards called synagogues” (Psalms 73:17)—(Henderson). Hengstenberg refers the plural to the glory of the one sanctuary, and understands it of “the spiritual abode of the people.” Others account for the plural form of the word by understanding it of the individual buildings of the temple, its two or three parts.” “The land of Israel.” Equivalent to “the forest of the south field.” (Ezekiel 20:46).
Ezekiel 21:3. “My sword.” “The fire kindled by the Lord is interpreted as being the sword of the Lord. It is true that this is a figurative expression; but it is commonly used for war, which brings with it devastation and death, and would be generally intelligible.”—(Keil.) “Out of his sheath.” The sword of God had rested in its sheath for above 400 years. In the days of David it was suspended over Jerusalem; but the arm of the Destroying Angel was then “stayed.” David by God’s direction offered burnt-offerings on the very place where the temple was afterwards built; and the destroying sword was returned “into the sheath thereof” (1 Chronicles 21:16; 1 Chronicles 21:27; 1 Chronicles 22:1). God’s forbearance was the sheath in which it rested so long. Now Israel had become heathenized, the vile profanation of God’s altar was no longer to be endured, and the sword must again leave its scabbard. “The righteous and the wicked.” “This is not in contradiction with Ezekiel 9:4, according to which the righteous, amidst the impending catastrophe, are the object of the protecting and sustaining activity of God. For if two suffer the same, yet it is not the same. To those who love God must all things be for the best” (Romans 8:28).—(Hengstenberg.) “There is no real contradiction between the doctrine taught in this passage, and that vindicated ch. 18. Though removed from their native land along with the wicked, inasmuch as they were nationally connected with them, yet the righteous were to be regarded only as the subjects of corrective discipline, whereas to the idolatrous Jews the sufferings were unmitigated punishment.”—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 21:4. “From the south to the north.” The whole extent of the country, from Dan to Beersheba.
Ezekiel 21:5. “It shall not return any more.” It shall go on to make a full end. The same idea as in Ezekiel 20:48, where it is stated that the fire of God’s judgments shall not be quenched.
Ezekiel 21:6. “Sigh, therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins.” The loins are said to be broken when acute pain robs a man of all power and strength (Deuteronomy 33:11). “The more deeply to affect his countrymen with a sense of the dire calamities which were so soon to overtake them, the prophet is commanded openly to assume the appearance of a person in deep distress, clasping his loins with his hands, as sadly bruised; and, giving utterance to piteous groans in the bitterness of his spirit, he was to present himself before them.”—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 21:7. “For the tidings, because it cometh.” “That which to others is merely tidings, is to the prophet already coming, or it is to him a ‘thing heard’ which is passing into fulfilment; therefore his pain. But they shall be compelled to experience in themselves what they perceive in him. In all, courage gives place to terror, activity to prostration, counsel to perplexity. NO one holds out any longer.”—(Lange.) “All knees shall be weak as water.” They become like water in laxity and incoherence. Their strength is, as it were, dissolved, flows away and is scattered in all directions.
Such fear should possess them upon the tidings of the Babylonish army’S approaching, as should make their rocky hearts melt as snow before the sun, or fat of lambs before the fire; and the hands, spirits, and knees of their stoutest man to be feeble, faint, and weak; so that they should be inept unto all services, especially military ones.
1. God will have the prophet to see what prophetical signs will do, when prophetical threats did nothing. “Sigh, son of man, with the breaking of thy loins,” &c. These were prophetical sighs, representing unto them the great evils which were coming upon them; that so they might consider, sigh in like manner for their sins, and prevent their destruction, or else certainly expect the same. God laid a heavy burden upon the prophet when he is called so to sigh.
2. Ill tidings sink the hearts and spirits of hypocrites and wicked ones. When they hear of wars and great forces coming against them, not only doth their mirth cease, but their hearts, hands, spirits, knees fail them. When Nebuchadnezzar came their hands were upon their loins, they knew not what to do, whither to go, where to hide themselves. But in Psalms 112:7, it is said of a godly man, “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.”—(Greenhill.)
GOD’S SWORD OF VENGEANCE AGAINST JERUSALEM
The parabolic character of Ezekiel 20:45-49 in the last chapter is continued. Then the destruction by fire was threatened; now it is the sword. Of this sword of vengeance against Israel for their sins we learn:—
I. It was lifted against those things in which the people trusted most. “Toward Jerusalem, the holy places, the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 21:2). The Jews turned their faces towards Jerusalem when they prayed in war, or in a foreign land. The sword of the Lord was to be drawn against all those glories of their country in which they most prided themselves. The candlestick will be removed from unfaithful churches.
II. It was manifestly the Sword of the Lord. “My sword” (Ezekiel 21:3). Human instruments were to be used, human passions; yet behind all these, and directing them, God was working out his own purposes. The swords were His, though men bare them. This will teach us to judge rightly of war, wherein the enmities of nations are so controlled by Providence that they are made to minister to the moral and intellectual welfare of the human race. God “maketh the wrath of man to praise Him,” and the “remainder” of that wrath, which might work but unmixed evil, He restrains from so futile a purpose. He can punish by whatever instrument He pleases. And because this judgment coming upon Jerusalem and the land of Israel is described as the sword of God, it follows that that judgment is a reality. The prophet is to drop his word of prophecy toward Jerusalem. That “word” was not a mere sound; but a sword, a real calamity. With God, words stand for things which have a real existence. The threatenings against sinners, however they may be disregarded in the present, will in the future have a terribly real meaning.
III. It was long threatened before it was drawn to smite. “And will draw forth My sword out of his sheath” (Ezekiel 21:3). It had lain in the sheath for 400 years, during all their wanderings and rebellions. The sheath in which God’s sword of vengeance lies unused is His forbearance.
IV. It still hangs over unrighteous nations. “It shall not return any more,” but “go forth against all flesh” (Ezekiel 21:4-5). This was the sword of the Chaldeans: it was followed by the sword of the Romans. And so the sword of God will rest not until the last Antichrist and his desolation. Israel fell beneath the stroke of God for her sins, and who then can escape? Whole nations have perished for lack of righteousness.
V. The thought of it should produce the greatest terror and alarm.
1. In the prophet who utters the threat of it. “Sigh therefore, thou son of man” (Ezekiel 21:6). The sigh is the momentary failure of the heart when suddenly overcome by the thought of sorrow. It answers to the tongue dumb with silence at the tidings of some overwhelming calamity. The prophet charged with the message is to sigh, as if completely overcome. Even God’s people may well tremble when they think of His judgments (Daniel 9:4, etc.). Christ wept over Jerusalem at the thought of her doom, and as if unwilling to abandon her to her enemies. It is with reluctance that the Almighty Judge pronounces sentence. Judgment is God’s “strange work.” The preacher who wishes to affect the feelings of others must feel himself. The thought of God’s sword of vengeance should produce the greatest terror and alarm,—
2. In the people to whom his message is delivered. If the prophet who simply announces the judgments is bidden to sigh, what must they do on whom the judgments are to fall! The prophet is to sigh for the tidings, “because it cometh.” He knows that they shall be fulfilled in grim reality. Therefore he announces that as concerning the people, “Every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water” (Ezekiel 21:17). They refused to hear, now they shall be made to feel. Those who were so insolent in prosperity, and defied God, become, when His judgments fall upon them, faint-hearted and desolate. “Weak as water:” the strength of the most daring sinners melts away before the righteous anger of God.
EXEGETICAL NOTES. (Ezekiel 21:8-17.) The sword is sharpened for slaying. As they are a people who refuse to understand, the judgment is announced in the plainest terms.
Ezekiel 21:9. “And also furbished.” As if the sword so long unused had rusted in its sheath. “The repetition—a sword, a sword, is not without effect—definitely pointing to the destructive weapon to be employed in the war. To augment the terror which the announcement was calculated to inspire, the sword is described as sharpened, prepared to do execution, and also polished. The glittering of a highly-polished sword, wielded in the sun, is truly terrific (Deuteronomy 32:41; Job 20:25”).—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 21:10. It is sharpened to make a sore slaughter. Heb. That slaying it may slay. It is made ready not for display, but for its terrible work of judgment. It is furbished that it may glitter. Heb. Have lightning, Comp. Ezekiel 21:28. This is the sword spoken of in Deuteronomy 32:41, where the expression, “My glittering sword “is literally” the lightning of My sword.” Such also is the sword wielded by the Cherubim (Ezekiel 1:13-14), and by those who were the avengers of God’s broken Law. (Exodus 19:16). “Should we then make mirth?” Nothing could be worse-timed than to make light of these judgments. “It contemneth the rod of My son, as every tree.” “My son,” is the same as “My people,” in Ezekiel 21:12. The expression, the rod of My son, is the genitive of object—i e., the instrument employed in punishing My son. In accordance with this is the rendering of the Revised Version, “The rod of My son, it contemneth every tree.” The sword of Nebuchadnezzar was the rod which punished God’s people, and that rod of the universal conqueror set at nought all others.
Ezekiel 21:11. “And He hath given it to be furbished that it may be handled.” “He hath given,” used impersonally for and it is given, according to an idiom common in Hebrew. “The instrument of destruction was quite prepared, and only required to be employed by Jehovah against His apostate people.”—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 21:12. “For it shall be upon My people.” The object of the Chaldean expedition is here clearly pointed out. The Jews were not to delude themselves with the idea that it was Egypt or any other neighbouring nation that was to come under the judgment of God’s avenging sword. The punishment would fall upon themselves.
Ezekiel 21:13. “Because it is a trial.” “These words point with the utmost brevity to the character of the impending time, which presented itself in rosy hues to the politically excited people. Trial is a terrible word to a people that suffers the deepest calamities. When the trial comes, nothing remains undisclosed, nothing unrequited; every varnish disappears, and all glitter vanishes.”—(Hengstenberg). “And what if the sword contemn even the rod? it shall be no more, saith the Lord God.” “With a view to the sanguine imaginations by which the people sought to banish the thought of the hardness of the times, the prophet then asks, ‘And how? should the despising rod (the punishment that far outstrips all other punishments, Ezekiel 21:10) not be?’ And the answer to this question he gives in the names of God, which utter a loud no to these illusions.”—(Hengstenberg.) “If Nebuchadnezzar should really despise the resistance made by the Jewish state, which he did (Ezekiel 21:10)—what was to be expected as the consequence? That state must necessarily come to an end, it shall not be. Such I regard as the meaning of this most difficult verse.”—(Henderson.) The general idea of the text is, what if, under this terrible judgment, Judah’s temporal power and royalty shall cease to exist? And in Ezekiel 21:27, we are told that this result shall certainly come to pass. But the kingdom shall be restored by One whose sceptre of righteousness despises every earthly power.
Ezekiel 21:14. “And let the sword be doubled the third time.” “These words are designed to express the tremendous size and power of the sword to be employed. It was no ordinary foe that was to attack the Jews. All hopes of escape were vain. It was a sword that had been well tried, and proved successful in many a battle,—the sword of the slain.”—(Henderson.) “Which entereth into their privy chambers.” It will invade the sanctity of their houses (Deuteronomy 32:25). There may be some reference also to its penetrating into their secret “chambers of imagery” (Ezekiel 8:12).
Ezekiel 21:15. “I have set the point of the sword against all their gates.” The gates of their city are to be besieged by the naked sword. “And their ruins be multiplied.” Heb., And the fallen be numerous in all their gates. “Wrapped up for the slaughter.” Rather, made keen, or sharpened, for the slaughter.
Ezekiel 21:16. “Go thee one way or other, either on the right hand or on the left, whithersoever thy face is set.” The address is to the sword, as if it were an army. The “right” and “left” show how wide is the area over which God shall execute His judgments; so wide that it embraces not only Judea, but a whole group of peoples. The word “whithersoever” seems to imply the idea of direction by the “living creatures” (Ezekiel 1:9; Ezekiel 1:12).
Ezekiel 21:17. “I will also smite Mine hands together.” “By a strong anthropopathy Jehovah declares He will do what He had commanded the prophet to do (Ezekiel 21:14). Smiting the hands together is an indication of violent grief. “I will cause My fury to rest” signifies, not the forbearing to pour it out in judgment, but the full and permanent infliction of it” (Henderson.) The fury of God is said to “rest” when it reaches its object, thus abiding upon it. “Jehovah will smite His hands together and cool His wrath upon them” (Keil).
THE SACRED, TERRIBLE SWORD-SONG
The prophets doubtless treated politics both on their outward and inward side, but only the politics of the kingdom of God (Ezekiel 21:9). God shows us the sword, and waves it over our heads, so that we should be duly and profitably alarmed. He can use every creature as His sword; it is always prepared to execute His command. War as a divine judgment, therefore, for the punishment of evil doers; but it is also a preaching of repentance, when God sharpens the sword and makes it glitter. He who will not submit to the sword of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12) will be overtaken by the sword of the enemy. God Himself takes the offering which men will not give Him voluntarily (Ezekiel 21:10). There can be joy amid the deepest sufferings, but not over another’s suffering, especially when it is punishment for sin. The sin of the people presses the sword into the hand for war (Ezekiel 21:11). Sin was also interwoven with the conquering chaplets of the victors, as the dew upon these chaplets was innumerable tears and drops of blood. This must ever be remembered amid songs of triumph! Fortune of war, as men call it, what a sad fortune! God is the judge behind and in the conqueror. “Upon all the princes of Israel” (Ezekiel 21:12.) Even the great have no privilege to sin. Trial is a terrible word to a people that suffers the deepest calamities. A tried sword is a dreadful thing when it turns against a people whom God has given up to judgment. One day an end will be made of all despisers of God and man. The history of the world as the fulfiment of prophecy (Ezekiel 21:14). Symbolical prophecy—the emblems of punishment. Some must prophesy judgment who would so willingly speak of redemption, and redemption alone; men will not have the blessing, and therefore the curse must be exhibited. God’s sword draws not back from human elevation; it reaches the dwellers in the valley, and those also who sit on lofty seats. No earthly throne is a protection from the sword of God; the history of the world is filled with proofs of this. The last mighty pierced-through one is Antichrist. Alas, who can hide from the wrath of God!—(Lange.)
“Because it is a trial.” We may consider Ezekiel 21:12-13 as thus understood: There is cause thou shouldst cry, howl, smite upon thy thigh, because the sword shall be a trial; and what also if it shall not be a despising rod? If it be a trying rod, there is cause enough to mourn, but it shall be a despising rod, and so there is more cause to mourn. If this rod make them not try their ways, repent, and turn, it shall be a rod to despise the stoutest of them and to destroy them.
1. That the judgments of God are trials. They discover and make known what people are. The fire tries the metals, and declares what is good silver, good gold and what is reprobate. God kept the children of Israel forty years in the wilderness, to prove them, and know what was in their hearts (Deuteronomy 8:8). The hard things they met with there discovered some to be murmurers, some idolaters, some fornicators, some backsliders. “It shall come to pass that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God” (Isaiah 8:21). When evil was upon them, then their wickedness appeared. So Jehoram said, “This evil is of the Lord, why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” His vileness came out in the time of his distress. When great winds are abroad, they discover what trees are sound or rotten.
2. God tries before he destroys. Rods of trial came before rods of destruction. When the sword is drawn, furbished, and whet, the Lord tries men thereby, whether they will consider their ways, repent and turn to Him, before He cut and destroy therewith. Tidings and terrors of the sword precede the strokes of it. God tries His people by threatenings, by bringing judgments near unto them, by inflicting lesser judgments upon them, before He makes an utter destruction of them; that they may learn righteousness, humble themselves, and so either prevent the judgments, or have them turned into mercies.
3. When rods of trial do us no good, then follow rods of destruction. When the trying rod hath been despised, then comes the rod that will not regard high or low, prince or people. At first God did lightly afflict Zebulun and Napthali, but that being in vain, afterwards He afflicts them more grievously (Isaiah 9:1). When Dimon profited not by her first strokes, God laid more upon her (Isaiah 15:9). When smiting the lintel of the door, and shaking the posts, did not prevail, then did the Lord cut and slay with the sword (Amos 9:1). If fear work not, He hath a pit; if that do it not, He hath a snare (Isaiah 24:17-18). When paternal chastisements profit not, God hath destroying judgments. He will deal then with men, not as erring children, but as open enemies.—(Greenhill.)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—(Ezekiel 21:18-22). The sword of the king of Babylon will smite Jerusalem, and then the Ammonites.
Ezekiel 21:19. “Appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the king of Babylon may come.” The force of this word, “appoint,” is to draw a symbolic sketch, to give an ocular demonstration. Ezekiel is to draw on a table or tablet a sketch of the siege of Jerusalem. The Hebrew word rendered “choose” in the latter part of the verse has the primary meaning of to cut, and points to the cutting or engraving of a representation. “Both twain shall come forth out of one land.” Or, the land of one, i.e., the land of the Babylonish king, from which both ways shall proceed. “Choose thou a place, choose it at the head of the way to the city.” “The ‘one land’ whence the two ways proceeded was that of Babylon, and the ways ran in a westerly direction; the more northerly by Riblah in Syria; and the more southerly by Tadmor, or Palmyra, in the desert. The former was that usually taken from Babylon to Jerusalem; the latter from the same city to Rabbah on the east of the Jordan. The prophet is directed to choose a place at the head of the way, or as it is literally, to cut a hand (Heb. yod, a hand or a sign), a sign pointing to the direction in which the Chaldean army was to proceed. This he was to place at the head or commencement of the way, where the two roads separated, each taking its own course; while we are necessarily to understand its being made to point towards that which the King of Babylon was to select, as we are taught in Ezekiel 21:21. Our authorised translators have adopted the secondary signification of the word to cut, by rendering it choose. That the hand is not supposed to have been formed by sculpture, would appear from the circumstance that, in case it had been so, a different Hebrew verb would have been employed. It may have been made of wood, just like our finger-posts, with the representation of a city cut in it. The word city is purposely indefinite, the Article being left to be supplied by the consciences of those whom the prophet addressed.”—Henderson.)
Ezekiel 21:20. “That the sword may come to Rabbah of the Ammonites.” “It may at first sight appear inappropriate that Rabbah, the metropolis of the country of the Ammonites, should be mentioned before Jerusalem, the guilty city against which the prophet was especially commissioned to denounce the Divine judgments; but, considering to what an extent the Jews had adopted the idols of the Ammonites, there was a singular propriety in first taking up the heathen city, to intimate that as the Jews had participated in its crimes so they might expect to share in its punishment. Rabbah of the children of Ammon, so called to distinguish it from a city of the same name in the tribe of Judah. It was built on the banks of the river Moret-Amman, which empties itself into the Jabbok.” (Henderson.) “Judah in Jerusalem the defenced.” The royal house of Judah was the special object of Nebuchadnezzar’s indignation. “The defenced”; same word as in Deuteronomy 28:52, “thy high and fenced walls, wherein thou trustedst.” It was Zedekiah’s trust in the strong fortifications of Jerusalem that led him to break faith with his sovereign. “Instead of simply expressing the name of Jerusalem, the other metropolis, that of the inhabitants is prefixed, to mark them as the guilty objects of the Divine indignation. The reason why Jerusalem is here said to be defenced would seem to be to intimate the vain confidence which the Jews reposed in their fortifications.” (Henderson.)
Ezekiel 21:21. “The King of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination; he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver.” “Nebuchadnezzar is supposed to have marched his army to a certain point to the west of Babylon, where the road branched off into the two referred to. The ‘parting’ (Heb. the mother of the way), so-called, not as generally supposed, because there the road divided, for that is immediately afterwards described as the head of the two ways, but because it was the principal road. Here the monarch is represented as having been at a loss to determine which of the routes he should take; and, in order to decide, as having recourse to divination. Of this as practised by the ancients there were different kinds, some of which are here mentioned. ‘Made his arrows bright;’ Heb. he shook the arrows—i.e., the helmet, quiver, or whatever else they were put into. It is most probable that he caused the name Jerusalem to be inscribed on one arrow, and Rabbah on another, and mixing them with others, determined to march against the city whose name was first drawn out. This mode of divining by arrows was practised by the Arabs till the time of Mohammed, who strictly prohibited it in the Koran. Another species of divination to which the King of Babylon had recourse, was that of looking into the liver or the entrails of a newly-killed sacrifice, and judging that any undertaking would be prosperous or otherwise according as they were found in a healthy or unhealthy state. This art is mentioned by Diodorus as practised among the Chaldeans. Not satisfied with the use of these two species of divination, Nebuchadnezzar consulted the Teraphim, which appear to have been penates or family gods, from whom it was thought possible to obtain information relative to future events (Genesis 31:19; Genesis 31:34; Judges 17:5; Judges 18:14).”—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 21:22. “At his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem.” The king with his right hand draws out the arrow on which was marked the name Jerusalem. The omen decides for him, and he is represented as holding up the arrow to encourage his army in their march against Jerusalem.“To open the mouth in the slaughter.” “This expression cannot well be taken in its usual signification of murder, but must be understood, as Gesenius explains, as an outbreak of the voice; both terms thus energetically expressing the horrible war-shout of the Chaldean soldiers when commencing the attack.”—(Henderson.) “The slaughter-cry of the besiegers is called slaughter, because the slaughter is virtually contained in it.”—(Hengstenberg).
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 21:23-27. Though this announcement of God’s judgments will appear to the people of Judea as a deceptive divination, yet it will surely come to pass. The prophet, however, sees beyond all these evils the hope of redemption. The Messiah is promised, who is to be the founder and restorer of perfect right on earth (Ezekiel 21:27). See also, Psalms 62:0; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 42:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:17.
Ezekiel 21:23 “And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, to them that have sworn oaths, but He will call to remembrance the iniquity, that they may be taken.” “Though the Jews were prone themselves to believe in divination, yet they affect to despise it when it tells against them. The second ‘to them’ may be understood to refer to the Jews, as they had come under solemn engagements to be subject to the Babylonians, but those engagements they had violated; and for this, as well as their other sins, they were now to be punished. The oaths were those the Jews had taken to the King of Babylon. ‘He will call to remembrance,’ refers to Nebuchadnezzar, to whom the Jews had proved faithless, and who now should recall to their mind the crime of perjury, of which they had been guilty.”—(Henderson).
Ezekiel 21:24. “So that in all your doings your sins do appear.” They dragged their old sins into light again by the new enormities which they committed. Their rebellion against God is here spoken of as “your iniquity,” “transgressions,” “sins.” These words are the same as those mentioned in connection with the offerings on the day of Atonement, when “a remembrance was made of sins” (Leviticus 16:0; Hebrews 10:3). Then the people confessed their sins and were forgiven; but now they refuse to acknowledge their guilt (Ezekiel 18:2), and so their sin is “discovered,” it stands over for punishment.
Ezekiel 21:25. “And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel.” Zedekiah is pointed out by name as the prince whose wickedness had desecrated his character as the Lord’s anointed. “When iniquity shall have an end.” Heb., In the time of final iniquity. Their iniquity was now full, when justice can no longer stay her hand (Genesis 15:16). It was the treachery of Zedekiah towards Nebuchadnezzar that brought their national affairs to the crisis, to the time of judgment. In the person of that wicked prince the temporal sovereignty of David’s house received a wound from which it never recovered. He brought complete destruction upon the Jewish state.
Ezekiel 21:26.“Remove the diadem.” More accurately, “the mitre.” Besides this passage, the word is found only in Exodus 28:29, Exodus 28:39; Leviticus 8:16; and it is always used of the High Priest’s mitre. “The crown” The regal crown. This word occurs in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, but only in the history of David’s conquest of Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:30); 1 Chronicles 20:2).“Ideally regarded, the king bears, as the representative of the whole people, along with the crown, the head band, or priestly cap. The two are closely connected. The crown without the band is an empty show. The forgiveness of sins, which was secured by the mediation of the high priest, whose dignity was overthrown with the fall of the sanctuary forms the foundation of all the royal blessings of God. In the Messiah, in whom the kingdom attained to its full reality, a real union of the kingly and priestly offices is to take place (Zechariah 6:0), which were practically divided under the Old Testament on account of human weakness.”—(Hengstenberg). “This shall not be the same.” (Heb.) This is not this. The meaning is that there shall be a complete revolution in the existing state of things. By a sad reversal, the hallowed nation is unholy; the mitre which had written on it, “Holiness to the Lord,” is profaned, the regal crown disgraced by such wickedness is laid in the dust. All things, hitherto sacred, have now become unreal, and must be swept away by “a righteous judgment.” Exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high.” “In a general overthrow the low is exalted even by the fact that it becomes like the high, who are involved in the same downfall. The people have in their procedure turned the lowest into the highest, and in just retribution the same takes place in their experience. All is levelled.”—(Hengstenberg).“This is not to be taken as the enunciation of a general truth, but it is to be understood specifically of the Messiah and of Zedekiah. There is a direct reference to the Messiah in the following verse. The two are here placed in the strongest contrast:—the root out of the dry ground (Isaiah 53:2), whom the prophet sees in the future, and the haughty monarch immediately present to his view upon the royal Jewish throne. The commands given in this verse are a strong mode of declaring prophetically that the things should be done.”—(Henderson).
Ezekiel 21:27. “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it” (Heb.) An overthrow, overthrow, overthrow, will I make it. The threefold repetition is intensive, conveying the idea that there shall be overthrow upon overthrow. “And it shall be no more.” The words can be rendered, even this is no more. The kingdom, though constituted by God Himself, should perish, as though it had never been. “Until He come, whose right it is; and I will give it Him.” There is an evident reference here to Genesis 49:10. Judah’s royalty is taken away, but not for ever. His inherent dignity persists through all the wreck of his fortunes and hopes, until it is assumed by the Messiah, who has both the right and the power to rule. The outward royalty and priesthood must pass away, but the true King of Israel is coming, who is also a “Priest upon His throne.” (Zechariah 6:13; Acts 3:14; Hebrews 7:26; Zechariah 9:9). “Nowhere is there rest, nowhere security, all things are in a state of flux, till the coming of the Great Restorer and Prince of Peace. He to whom this right belongs, and to whom God will give it, is the Messiah, of whom the prophets from the times of David onwards have prophesied as the founder and restorer of purest right on earth (Psalms 72:0; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 42:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:17).”—(Keil). “It is not expressly said what was to be given Him, and should stand waiting for its proper possessor till He should come; but the context forbids us to understand anything less than what was taken away—the things represented by the priestly mitre and the royal crown. The true priestly dignity, and the proper regal glory, were to be gone for a time into abeyance; some partial, temporary and fluctuating possession of them might be regained, but nothing more; the adequate and permanent realization was only to be found in the person of Messiah, because in Him alone was there to be a fitting representation of the Divine righteousness. It is true that there was something like a restoration of the standing and honour of the presthood after the return from the Babylonian exile; and if the ideas currently entertained upon the subject were correct, there might appear in that a failure of the prophecy. But there was no right restoration of the priestly, any more than of the regal dignity at the time specified; it was but a shadow of the original glory. For there was no longer the distinctive prerogative of the Urim and Thummim, nor the ark of the covenant, nor the glory over-shadowing the mercy-seat; all was in a depressed and mutilated condition, and even that subject to many interferences from the encroachments of foreign powers. So much only was given, both in respect to the priesthood and the kingdom, as to show that the Lord had not forsaken His people, and to serve as a pledge of the coming glory. But it was to the still prospective, rather than the present state of things, that the eye of faith was still directed to look for the proper restoration. And lest any should expect otherwise, the prophet Zechariah, after the return from Babylon, took up the matter, as it were, where Ezekiel had left it, and intimated in the plainest manner, that what was then accomplished was scarcely worth taking into account; it was, at the most, but doing in a figure what could only find its real accomplishment in the person and work of Messiah (Zechariah 6:14). Thus the mitre and the crown were both to meet in Him, and the temple in its noblest verse be built and the glory be obtained, such as became the Lord’s Anointed to possess. Meanwhile, all was but preparatory and imperfect.”—(Fairbairn).
The word “overturn” is trebled, to show not only the certainty and evidence of the thing but the gradation and continuance of it; for the kingdom of Judah by certain degrees fell from its height. After that Zedekiah was deposed, there was no crown nor king more in Judah. After the captivity there were no kings, but governors, captains, rulers; after them the high priests had the power, in whose hands it continued, even to Hyrcanus, who usurping kingly authority was miserably stain—Herod, a stranger, succeeding. “Until He come whose right it is.” The crown shall neither fit, nor be fastened to any head, till He come that hath the right to it; and that is neither Nebuchadnezzar nor Zerubbabel; nor Aristobulus, Alexander, or Hyrcanus, who assumed kingly dignity to themselves, in time of the Maccabees; but Christ the Messiah, who is the true Heir and Successor of David, when He comes, shall raise up the kingdom of Judah, being miserably afflicted, destitute, and lost to the eye of the world; He changing it into a spiritual kingdom, shall restore it to a higher glory than ever it had. The crown here was reserved and laid up for the Lord Christ, who was born King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2); to whom the angel told Mary that the Lord should give the throne of His father David, and that He should reign over the house of Jacob for ever (Luke 1:32-33). Nathaniel called Him “the King of Israel” (John 1:40). The Father hath appointed Christ to be king of Israel, gave Him power (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2). Christ claimed to be such Himself (John 5:22). “And I will give it Him.” Christ, when He comes, shall not be kept off from His rights. Though He come in a mean and low way, yet He shall be king and reign.
I. The Lord doth lay the glory of crowns and sceptres in the dust when He pleases. “I will overturn.” There is no crown so sure to any mortal’s head, no kingdom so stable, but the Lord can pluck away the crown, shake the kingdom to pieces, throw out the possessors, and dispossess their heirs. Sometimes the Lord doth suddenly overturn empires and kingdoms (Daniel 5:30-31); sometimes He proceeds gradually as with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. “I will be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness. A moth eats up a garment by degrees, now it makes one hole in it, and anon another; so rottenness enters by degrees into a tree, first into one branch, then another, after into the body and root. So God, by degrees, wasted and consumed these kingdoms. Be it suddenly or gradually, He overturns them when He pleases. He breaks the slaves of the wicked, and the sceptres of the rulers (Isaiah 14:5).
II. When God overturns crowns and kingdoms He keeps those in such a condition while he pleases. “And it shall be no more, until He come, whose right it is.” This was near 500 years; for from Zedekiah’s deposal to the birth of Christ were 492 years, which was a long season for His crown and kingdom to lie in darkness, and a desolate condition. Hosea told us long since that the children of Israel should “abide many days without a king and without a prince” (Hosea 3:4). The kingdom of Israel was overturned by the hand of God above a hundred years before the kingdom of Judah, and lies overturned to this day; and so hath been above two thousand years in a sad, dark, distressed condition. Their sins were great, which caused the Lord to overturn them, and He lets them lie under the punishment of their iniquity many years. When kingdoms are down, many may strive to lift them up to their former dignity, but it cannot be till the Lord’s time come.
III. The Lord Christ; the promised Messiah, was the true King of Judah, and Prince of Zion. “Until He comes whose right it is, and I will give it Him.” The Father had appointed Him to be King, given Him the kingdom, and made it known long before His coming in the flesh. He was the Shiloh, the Prosperer, unto whom the gathering of the people should be; He gathered Jews and Gentiles together. He was spoken of as the “Star of Jacob,” and the “Sceptre” who “should rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). In many other places of Scripture, the kingdom of Christ, His right thereunto, and the Father’s donation thereof unto Him are spoken of. The people’s hearts were towards Him, and they would have made Him a king (John 6:15). However He appeared to the world, the Apostles beheld glory and majesty in Him (John 1:14; 2 Peter 1:16); and Pilate wrote over His head, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). Christ was born a king, died a king, He lives and reigns at this day King of Zion, and of all saints (Revelation 15:3).
IV. The wisdom and goodness of the Lord towards His people, that when He tells them of the severest judgment, He mingles some mercy. Though He threatens their Church and State for a long time, yet He tells them of the coming of Christ who should be their king, wear the crown, and raise up the kingdom again. This was a great mercy, in the depth of misery; if they lost an earthly kingdom, they should have a spiritual one; if they lost a profane and temporal king, they should have a king of righteousness, an eternal king. It is the method of the Lord, when He is bringing in dreadful judgments upon His people, that have provoked Him bitterly, to lay in something that may support and comfort those who have served Him faithfully (Amos 9:8-11). Here is goodness with severity.
V. That how contrary soever God’s actings appear, yet He will make good His promises. The Lord had promised to set up His son Christ to be King in Zion, the hill of His holiness (Psalms 2:6); that the Government should be upon His shoulder (Isaiah 9:6); that He would “cause a Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David, and He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land (Jeremiah 33:15). What likelihood was there that these things should be, when the Lord overturns the land, plucks up all by the roots, and lays all in a dead condition, and that for many days and years? They might have thought and said, Surely, this death of the crown, of Church and State, will be the death of all those and other promises; but it was not so. Though a sentence of death was upon the land, upon the Jews, yet the living God kept life in the promises, He remembered them, and said, I will give it to Him, He shall have this land, the kingdom and the crown, He shall sit upon Zion, reign and execute judgment. The actings of God sometimes are such, that to man’s apprehensions they will make void the promises of God. In Psalms 77:7-8; saith Asaph, “Will the Lord cast off for ever? And will He be favourable no more? Is His mercy clean gone for ever? Doth His promise fail for evermore? God’s hand was heavy upon him, his soul was greatly afflicted so that he questioned the truth of God’s promises, and was ready to despair. But what saith he in the tenth verse, “This was my infirmity.” There was no infirmity in God; He had not forgotten His promise, it was not out of His sight, though out of Asaph’s. Man’s faith may fail him sometimes, but God’s faithfulness never fails Him (Psalms 89:33). God’s operations may have an aspect that way; the devil’s temptations and our unbelieving hearts may not only make us think so, but persuade us it is so; whereas it cannot be so, for the Lord will not suffer it, He will not make a lie in His truth or faithfulness; so the Hebrew is: He is Truth, and not one of His promises can fail. This must afford strong consolation unto all that are under any promise of God.—Greenhill.
JERUSALEM’S FALL AND RISING
The prophet announces the fall of the temporal sovereignty of David’s house in the person of Zedekiah. He declares his message as the word of the Lord, “Exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high” (Ezekiel 21:26). This may be considered as the principle upon which God acts in His government of mankind throughout all ages. When the mother of our Lord thought of the honour which had been bestowed upon her, that one so obscure and lowly should be chosen to bring forth the Saviour of the world, she broke forth into a song of praise, saying, “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree” (Luke 1:52). Christ taught the general principle, “Everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 17:14). Even the great French sceptic, Bayle, says of these words, that they contain “the abridgment of all human history.” Such is the law of God’s kingdom. Jerusalem is to fall, but in due time to be raised to a better and nobler condition. Her true King will come unto her in the person of the Messiah. Her fall is to be unto rising (Ezekiel 21:27).
I. Jerusalem’s fall.
1. It is portrayed by an enigmatic representation. The event is now near and the prophet is bidden to portray the judgments which are to fall upon Jerusalem. He draws a symbolic sketch of the siege of the city, representing the advance of Nebuchadnezzar towards it from his own country. The King of Babylon is seen standing on the highway, at a point from which two roads diverge, one leading to Jerusalem, the other to Rabbah. Which road shall he take? He determines his course by augury in three of its branches, employing divination by arrows, by images, and by the appearance of the entrails of a newly killed sacrifice. The omens all point to Jerusalem as the first object of attack. Thus Providence so ordered it that judgment must begin at the house of God.
2. The threat of it is received with irreverent credulity. When the Jews hear that the King of Babylon is advancing against Jerusalem they make light of it. They say that the king has been misled by a false divination (Ezekiel 21:23). They forget that they themselves were deluded by vain divinations and lying prophets (Ezekiel 21:29; Exodus 13:6-7; Exodus 22:28). They despise augury when it is against themselves. In their infatuation they cannot read the signs of the times, nor see that their judgment is nigh at hand. They readily take refuge in any interpretation of events which can lend some support to their vain hope. They are blind to the sad facts of their own spiritual condition, which must inevitably draw these judgments upon them. They have the worst omens against them, their iniquities, transgressions, sins (Ezekiel 21:24); and, more particularly, their treason and perjury (Ezekiel 21:23). And all this was “discovered” sin, it affected the social and political life of the nation; it appeared before the eyes of all men (Ezekiel 21:24).
3. The instrument which was to bring it about was chosen of God. The human instrument who was to compass the fall of Jerusalem was the King of Babylon, who, in this instance, was God’s servant for judgment. Though an heathen king, and one who consulted augury, he was truly an instrument in the hands of God for the correction of His people and for working out His purposes towards mankind. God can guide even men’s appeals to chance, and overrule them for His own purpose (Proverbs 16:33). The Magi, who were worshippers of the hosts of heaven, and who thought that they could read in them the destinies of nations, were yet led to Christ by a star. Apart from all his consultation of omens, the King of Babylon had justice on his side. He was truly a chosen vessel to accomplish God’s righteous will concerning Jerusalem.
4. The blame must be charged upon the Jews themselves. “Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered” (Ezekiel 21:24). The King of Babylon must not be charged with their disasters, nor his resorting to divination, but to their own treason and perjury they must impute the blame. It was not their father’s sins but their own that brought destruction upon them.
5. Judgment was inevitable. “Jerusalem the defenced” (Ezekiel 21:20) must fall. The measure of her iniquity was full. Justice could forbear no longer. In Zedekiah the iniquity of the nation culminated. (Ezekiel 21:25). In him the sovereignty of David’s house came to an end.
II. Jerusalem’s rising. In one man Jerusalem fell, but a greater Man shall restore it. The sovereignty of David’s house came to an end in Zedekiah, but not for ever. Jerusalem has a future. She shall rise from her ruins in a far more glorious form than that in which she was lost, even as the “Jerusalem which is above, the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26).
1. The rising is to come through the Messiah. It is not by a doctrine, or a truth, but by a person that God will deliver His people. Zedekiah represented the nation in its fall; Christ in its rising. The Messiah is the rightful sovereign of men (Ezekiel 21:27). He is the true priest, and the true king. All others are but shadows of Him. He alone has the supreme right and power. Among the Israelites the offices of priest and king were jealously separated; but in Christ they can be united with perfect safety, for He is both holy and just.
2. The deliverance through the Messiah only comes after the complete wreck of the nation’s fortunes. “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more” (Ezekiel 21:24). This complete destruction issued in that fulness of time in which the Son of Man should come. The Messiah appeared upon the wreck of the world’s hopes. Judah’s royalty had long been laid in the dust, Greece had long ago fallen, and Rome was fast sinking into decay, when God sent His Son to redeem the world. Men were permitted to make the sad experiment of trying to live without God, in order that they might learn their need of a Redeemer who was the “Desire of all nations.”
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 21:28-32. The overthrow of the Ammonites. Israel is to rise after judgment, but Ammon is to be utterly destroyed.
Ezekiel 21:28. “Concerning the Ammonites, and concerning their reproach even say thou, the sword, the sword is drawn.” “Lest it should be supposed that because Nebuchadnezzar had taken the route to Jerusalem, and not that to Rabbah, therefore the Ammonites should escape being invaded by his army, the prophet is instructed to denounce judgment against them also. The reproach with which the Ammonites are here charged, was their opprobrious and insulting treatment of the Hebrews at different periods of their history, and especially when Jerusalem was taken by the Chaldeans.”—(Henderson). “The children of Ammon represents the world—power hostile to the kingdom of God. Yet the representative is not taken accidentally out of the multitude of the heathen peoples hostile to the kingdom of God; but the prophet takes occasion from the circumstances of the time. Ammon had at that time, no less than Judah, incurred the anger of the Chaldeans, and so it was natural to exemplify in him the general truth, the more natural because the vengeance was first to fall on Judah, while Ammon appeared to come out of the affair with high shoes, and mocked Judah, who had to pay the score. “Their reproval”—the insults which they heaped upon Judah. The prophet forsees that the Ammonites, on the approach of danger, will withdraw from the coalition (Lamentations 1:2), and on the catastrophe of Jerusalem, give free course to their ancient hatred against Judah. Judah exchanges the prophecy that was unfavourable to him for the divination (Ezekiel 21:23), and by this fatal exchange, falls; Ammon exchanges (Ezekiel 21:29) the divination favourable to him, for the prophecy, and thereby prepares himself at all events, for the downfall.”—(Hengstenberg).
Ezekiel 21:29. “Whiles they see vanity unto thee, whiles they divine a lie unto thee.” (Heb). They have seen falsehood for thee, they have divined for thee a lie. The Ammonites also had those among them who practised divination. But these had divined a “lie” for them, promising them peace and safety when judgment was hard at hand. “To bring thee upon the necks of them that are slain.” The Ammonites are to be involved in one common ruin with the Jews.
Ezekiel 21:30. “I will judge thee in the place where thou wast created.” “The Ammonites were not to be carried away captives, like the Jews to Babylon, but were to perish in their own land. While the Jews were to be restored after the captivity had cured them of idolatry, the Ammonitish kingdom was to cease for ever. The prophecy was fulfilled five years after the destruction of Jerusalem.”—(Henderson.)
Ezekiel 21:31. “I will blow against thee in the fire of my wrath.” The idea is not to blow with fire—which is an unnatural figure—but rather a blowing which increases the intensity of the flame. “Brutish men, and skilful to destroy.” “The word must be explained from Psalms 92:7, ‘brutish,’ foolish, always bearing in mind that the Hebrew associated the idea of Godlessness with folly, and that cruelty naturally follows in its train.”—(Keil)
Ezekiel 21:32. “Thou shalt be no more remembered.” Ammon was to perish utterly. For her there was no hope of restoration, like that held out to Israel in Ezekiel 21:27. “From the times of the Maccabees, the Ammonites and Moabites have quite disappeared out of history.”—(Hengstenberg.)
1. When God brings judgments upon His people for their iniquities, then their enemies take advantage and revile them. The Ammonites were glad that the calamity of Jerusalem was at hand. They were neighbours of the Jews, brethren also as coming from the brother of Abraham; yet they reproached the Jews and added affliction to affliction (Zephaniah 2:8). The rabbies say, that when the Chaldeans carried the Jews captive, through the land of the Ammonites and Moabites, the Jews wept, and they reproached them saying, why do ye afflict yourselves? Why do you weep? Are you not going to your father’s house? They meant Chaldea, which was Abraham’s country and habitation. These and many other reproachful speeches they used against the Jews, when they were spoiled and led into capitivity, and “magnified themselves against their border.” They said, now their border—their land—should become theirs. Thus they reproached and wronged the Jews. So likewise did the Edomites in “the day of Jerusalem” (Psalms 137:7), that was in the day when Nebuchadnezzar’s force took and plundered it. They cried, “Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation.” The adversaries saw Jerusalem, and did mock at her Sabbaths; they scoffed at all her festivals, religion, and worship. Where is your God, whose days you have so religiously observed? Why did He not defend you from this day of your sufferings? Either He was infirm, and could not, or unfaithful, and would not.
2. The Lord takes notice of the enemies reproaching His people. He tells the prophet of the reproachings of the Ammonites. Ezekiel was in Babylon, and knew nothing of it, but God heard and observed it (Zephaniah 2:8). God saith in His indignation unto Moab, “Was not Israel a derision unto Thee?” Deny it, if thou darest. I saw it; I heard it This is some comfort to the Church and people of God, that He observes not only the wrongs wicked men do unto His people, but also the reproaching speeches they utter against them (Lamentations 3:6.)
3. Reproaching and reviling God’s people, when they are in affliction, draws judgments upon the reproachers and revilers. The Ammonites reproached the Jews when the Babylonish sword came upon them, and here the prophet must tell them the sword is drawn and furbished for slaughter. Reproach of this kind is a provoking sin; God’s name, truth, ordinances, suffer when His people are reproached for His correcting hand upon them for their iniquities. Moab for reproaching should be reproached; yea, grievously afflicted, yea, utterly destroyed.
4. When the Lord threatens sinful nations with sore judgments, they have those amongst them which divert them from the truth, possess them with delusions, and put them upon destructive practices. The Ammonites were threatened here with the Babylonish sword, but they neither believed Ezekiel nor Jeremiah, who told them the same thing. Their false prophets, their diviners, beat them off from it, possessed them with vanities and lies, put them upon insulting over the Jews when the hand of the Lord was most heavy upon them, and so brought them to suffer by the same sword the Jews did. It is just with God to give men and nations over to believe lies and lying prophets, which shall lead them to destruction, when they have stopped their ears against the true prophets. Ahab would not believe Micaiah, but the false prophets who spake words according to his mind; but they were vanity, lies and he smarted for it (1 Kings 22:0)
5. Though the Lord bears long with sinful nations, yet He hath His days and times of reckoning with them. The day of the Jews was come, and their iniquity had an end. The day of the Ammonites came, and their iniquity had an end. God punished them severely for their sins (Ezekiel 25:0) Babylon and its king had a time to sin and a time to suffer. God stayed many days, yet had His day, and came at the day appointed (Jeremiah 50:31; Jeremiah 51:13). Babylon was insatiably covetous, robbing the nations of their riches, but all her wealth could not purchase one day’s respite from the wrath of God, nor all her waters preserve her from the fire of His indignation. The fire God sent in His day burnt up their habitations, and licked up the water of Euphrates whereon Babylon sat. God bare long with us, and the nations about us, but His day is come, He is visiting; we, they, have had our times of sinning, and must now have our times of suffering.—(Greenhill.)