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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 21

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3412. B.C. 592.

In this chapter we have,

(1,) An explication of the prophecy in the close of the last chapter, with directions to the prophet upon it, Ezekiel 21:1-7 .

(2,) A prediction of the sword that was coming on the land, Ezekiel 21:8-17 . A prospect given of the king of Babylon’s coming to Jerusalem, to which he was determined by divination, Ezekiel 21:18-24 .

(3,) Sentence passed on Zedekiah, Ezekiel 21:25-27 .

(4,) The destruction of the Ammonites, Ezekiel 21:28-32 .

Verses 1-5

Ezekiel 21:1-5. Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem Here God directs the prophet to declare in plain language, what he had ordered him to speak allegorically, from the 46th to the 48th verses of the foregoing chapter. And say to the land of Israel The prophet’s face being turned toward Judea and Jerusalem, he addresses them as if they were present before him. Behold, I am against thee I am become thine enemy because of thy sins; I hate thy practices, and will punish thee for them. And will draw forth my sword out of his sheath By the sword here is meant the same as by the fire in the foregoing chapter, namely, every thing which destroys. It may, however, be taken in a rather more literal sense than the fire is there to be understood, as the calamities of Judea were chiefly to arise from the sword of the king of Babylon, who was God’s instrument to execute his purpose on Judea. And will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked I will take away from thee the righteous by sending them into captivity; and the wicked by destroying them, either by the sword, or famine, or pestilence. My sword shall go forth against all flesh Against all the Jews that dwell in the land. It shall not return any more That is, into its sheath, till it hath executed all my purposes.

Verses 6-7

Ezekiel 21:6-7. Sigh, therefore, with the breaking of thy loins, &c. Show all the tokens of grief and concern; sigh and groan deeply; let the sense of these impending judgments so greatly affect thee, as to make thee stoop like one quite borne down under the weight of them. God’s judgments, as they were represented to the minds of the prophets, very often affected them with dreadful apprehensions, especially when they concerned their own people: see the margin. With bitterness sigh before their eyes Before the eyes of the elders of Israel, mentioned Ezekiel 20:1, or of the Jewish captives, who could not but be touched with a tender sense of the calamities ready to befall their brethren in Judea. Every heart shall melt, &c. Men’s hearts and strength shall fail them for fear.

Verses 9-10

Ezekiel 21:9-10. Say, A sword, a sword is sharpened The sword was unsheathed in the foregoing verses; here it is fitted to do execution, which the prophet is commanded to Lamentations 1:0. It is sharpened, that it may cut, and wound, and make sore slaughter. The wrath of God will put an edge upon it; and whatever instruments he shall be pleased to use in executing his judgments, he will fill them with strength, courage, and fury, according to the service they are employed in. 2. It is furbished, that it may glitter, to the terror of those against whom it is drawn. It shall be a kind of flaming sword. Though the glory of God’s justice may seem to have been eclipsed for a while, (like a sword rusting in the scabbard,) during the day of his patience, and the delay of his judgments; yet it will shine out again, and be made to glitter. 3. It is a victorious sword, nothing shall stand before it. It contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree It makes no distinction between the sceptre and common wood; between the branches of the royal family, descended from David and Solomon, (who were honoured with the title of God’s sons,) and the meanest of the people. This seems to be the meaning of the clause, provided our translation be just; but it is rendered very differently in some other versions. The Vulgate reads, Qui moves sceptrum filii mei, succidisti omne lignum, Thou who removest the sceptre of my son, hast cut down every tree; which Capellus understands of Nebuchadnezzar, who took away the sceptre, and overturned the kingdom. The marginal reading, It is the rod of my son, it despiseth every tree, may be understood in two senses. It may either mean, It is the rod whereby I chastise my son, namely, my people Israel. These, collectively considered, are termed God’s son, Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1; as being selected and chosen from all others, to stand to him in the relation of sons and daughters. Or, it may signify, It is the rod of my son, the Messiah, appointed by me to be the judge of the world, and invested with authority to execute judgment. This rod despiseth every tree; for it is the rod of iron, whereby the Son of God breaks the power of his enemies, Psalms 2:9, and dashes them in pieces like a potter’s vessel, without respect of persons.

Verses 12-13

Ezekiel 21:12-13 . Cry and howl, son of man As a mark of the vehemence of thy grief. For it shall be upon my people Namely, the devouring sword; upon all the princes of Israel Both princes and people shall be involved in one common destruction. Smite therefore upon thy thigh

Use all the outward expressions of grief and mourning. Because it is a trial As all great calamities are often styled: see the margin.

And what if the sword contemn even the rod? Namely, the sceptre and royal family. The Hebrew, שׁבשׂ מאסת ומה אם נם , it seems, should rather be rendered, And what if even the rod, or sceptre, contemn? That is, if the king and kingdom of Judah despise this trial. It shall be no more, saith the Lord Both shall be destroyed, and be no more. The word rendered rod here, is continually put in Scripture for governor, or government; a rod, staff, or sceptre, being the usual signs of government. God, therefore, here foretels, that if the sceptre of Judah should despise, or not profit by, the correction or punishment brought upon it by the instrumentality of Nebuchadnezzar, it should be entirely broken, and be no more; which came to pass accordingly. The royal family was not amended by this severe judgment, and therefore was laid aside. “The sceptre here only means the kingly power in the house of David, and not that supreme authority which Jacob foretold should not forsake Judah till the coming of the Messiah.”

Verses 14-17

Ezekiel 21:14 ; Ezekiel 21:17. Prophesy, and smite thy hands together In token of amazement and sorrow. And let the sword be doubled the third time Bishop Newcome reads, Bring the sword twice; yea, bring it thrice; namely, that God’s judgments might be fully executed, and his justice satisfied. It is probable that the three great slaughters which should be made of the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem are here intended, namely, 1st, During the siege, in which, undoubtedly, great numbers fell who were without the walls of the city, and many within: 2dly, When the city was taken by assault, which certainly was not without great slaughter: and 3dly, The massacre of Gedaliah, and those that sided with him. The sword of the slain Wherewith many shall be slain. It is the sword of the great men, &c. Appointed for the slaughter of the great men, namely, the princes, rulers, and captains; which entereth into their privy chambers Where they were hidden in hopes of escaping. I have set the point of the sword against all their gates I have gathered together the Chaldeans round about Jerusalem, with their swords sharpened and drawn at every gate, to meet and slay all that shall attempt to come out, or to slay all they find on entering the city. Ah! it is made bright Hebrew, עשׂויה לברק , is made like lightning. The same metaphor which occurs in Virgil:

“Vaginaque eripit, ensem fulmineum.” ÆN. 4. 50:579.

“He drew his sword, which did like lightning blaze.”

It is wrapped Or rather, It is sharpened for the slaughter. So Kimchius and some others translate מעשׂה , deriving the word from עשׂ , a style, or iron pen: see Buxtorf. Go thee one way or other God is here represented as speaking, by way of apostrophe, to the sword, and giving it an unlimited commission to destroy wherever it should be drawn. I will also smite my hands together In token of my approbation. I will animate and encourage the slayers to go on. And I will cause my fury to rest I will satisfy my anger by a full execution of my judgments.

Verses 19-20

Ezekiel 21:19-20. Appoint thee two ways So as to represent them to the eyes of thy countrymen: see Ezekiel 4:1; “Designa in tabella, lapide, aut terra.” Mark on a map, a stone, or on the earth. Vatablus. That the sword of the king of Babylon may come Dr. Waterland translates this, “Appoint thee two roads for the king of Babylon’s sword to come by; let both go forth out of one land; and choose thou a way-mark; choose it at the head of the road toward the city: Ezekiel 21:20, Point out a road for the sword to go to Rabbath, and to Judah in Jerusalem the defenced.” Instead of the defenced, Houbigant reads, that he may besiege it. God here foreshows his prophet, that when the king of Babylon should come with his army into Syria, and find the Ammonites had entered into a confederacy with Egypt as well as Zedekiah, he would be in doubt against which of the two people he should first make war, and would commit the decision of the matter to his arts of divination, described Ezekiel 21:21; and that God should direct the divination to be for taking the road that leads to Jerusalem. The words, Let both go forth out of one land, seem to mean, that the single way should divide itself into two, leading to different places. This, as appears from what follows, was the road coming out of Arabia, which afterward parted into two, one leading to Rabbath, and the other to Jerusalem.

Verses 21-22

Ezekiel 21:21-22. For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way The prophet here expresses what was future as if it were past, according to the usual style of the prophets, when speaking of things soon to come to pass. And he explains the symbolical action spoken of in the two foregoing verses; he shows that it was designed to represent what the king of Babylon would do when he was on his march, and came to the place where the road was divided; that he would use divination to determine which of the roads he should take. He made his arrows bright The Vulgate reads, Commiscens sagittas, Mingling his arrows; which sense of the verb קלקל , agrees better with the accounts given us by ancient writers of this kind of divination, and therefore is preferred by Dr. Pocock, who confirms it by the Arabic use of the word. It is also adopted by Bishop Newcome. The way of divining by arrows is thus described by St. Jerome in his commentary on this place: “They wrote on several arrows the names of the cities they intended to assault; and then, putting them all together promiscuously in a quiver, they drew them out thence as lots are drawn; and that city whose name was written on the arrow first drawn was the city they first made war upon.” A method of divining by arrows is still in use, it appears, among the idolatrous Arabs. Of this we read the following description, in Sale’s Preliminary Discourse to the Koran, p. 126: “Seven divining arrows were kept at the temple of Mecca; but generally, in divination, the idolatrous Arabs made use of three only, on one of which was written, My Lord hath commanded me; on another, My Lord hath forbidden me; and the third was blank. If the first was drawn, they looked on it as an approbation of the enterprise in question; if the second, they made a contrary conclusion; but if the third happened to be drawn, they mixed them, and drew over again, till a decisive answer was given by one of the others.” He consulted with images The Hebrew word here is teraphim, the name given to the images, or gods, which Rachel stole from Laban, Genesis 31:19. In what way these were consulted cannot now be said, and all conjectures about it are vain. He looked in the liver This was another way of divination used among these heathen; they determined for or against certain things, according to the state of the liver of sacrificed animals, whether mutilated or complete, sound or unsound, or from its colour, or some marks appearing in particular places of it, and this by rules laid down among them. At his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem When the king of Babylon stood at the head of the two ways, to consult which of the two he should take, the tokens that were shown him, God so ordering it, induced him to march with his army to the right, that is, toward Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar must be considered as coming from Dan, and marching along the river Jordan. Rabbath was therefore situated to the left hand, and Jerusalem to the right: see Michaelis. From this, and many other instances in the Scriptures, we may conclude, that things apparently the most fortuitous, such as the coming up of lots, and the like, are subject to the direction of Divine Providence, and, when occasion requires it, are ordered to answer its purposes; to open the mouth in the slaughter Or, to the slaughter; that is, to animate the soldiers to slay. To lift up the voice with shouting To make the military cry, in order to strike the inhabitants with terror. We find it was usual, in almost all armies, to begin the attack of their enemies with a loud cry, which served to animate their own men, and to intimidate the enemy. To cast a mount See note on Jeremiah 22:24.

Verses 23-24

Ezekiel 21:23-24. And it shall be as a false divination to them that have sworn oaths That is, the Jews, when they shall hear of it, shall deride and despise it as a vain, lying divination, and so shall consider themselves as being unconcerned in it; and that though they have sworn homage to the king of Babylon, and afterward perfidiously broken their covenant with him. But he will call to remembrance the iniquity, that they may be taken Nebuchadnezzar will remember Zedekiah’s breach of his oath, and all his and his people’s treacheries, and will avenge himself by taking the city, and making him and his subjects prisoners of war. The form of expression seems to imply that the king of Babylon had had it chiefly in his mind to go against Rabbath; but the divinations all signifying that he should go against Jerusalem, caused him to reflect on the perfidious behaviour of the Jewish nation toward him, and so determined him to take the way to Jerusalem, in order severely to punish the inhabitants of it. Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered Not by yourselves, that it might be repented of, but by me, that it might be punished: because by your open and manifest continuance in your former sinful courses against me, and rebellions against the king of Babylon, you cause both me and him to call your iniquitous conduct to mind, and punish you for it: ye shall be taken by the hand As birds or beasts, entangled in the net, are easily taken with the hand, so shall you be taken in the easiest manner, and fall into the hands of the king of Babylon, whose anger you have justly provoked.

Verses 25-26

Ezekiel 21:25-26. And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel The words are directed to Zedekiah, whom the prophet calls profane and wicked, chiefly with respect to his breaking that solemn oath, uttered in the name of God, whereby he had engaged himself to be tributary to the king of Babylon. By this action he and his courtiers did great dishonour to the true God. The king of Babylon, it appears, kept the oath which he sware to them by his false gods, while they broke the oath which they sware to him by Jehovah! Thus disgracing the true God before the Babylonians and other heathen, who must needs entertain a contemptible opinion of that being, whose worshippers durst break the oath which they had sworn by him. Therefore with respect to this, as well as his unalterable regard to truth and the due observance of oaths, God could not but look with indignation upon the breach of their oath, and inflict punishment upon them for it. See note on Ezekiel 17:15. Whose day is come The day of whose calamity is near at hand, when he shall receive the due punishment of his iniquity. Remove the diadem The original word is often used for the priestly mitre, but here it means some kingly ornament, probably the royal tire of the head. Take off the crown Depose him from his kingly dignity. This shall not be the same The kingdom shall never be what it has been. Exalt him that is low This seems to be spoken of Jehoiachin, who was many years kept in prison at Babylon; but at length, as we read 2 Kings 25:27, was taken out of prison, kindly treated, and advanced to great honour by Evil-merodach, king of Babylon. And abase him that is high Namely, Zedekiah; who was to be pulled down from his throne, have his eyes put out, and be kept in prison the remainder of his days.

Verse 27

Ezekiel 21:27. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it By several degrees I will utterly overthrow the kingdom of Judah; and it shall be no more It shall never recover its former lustre and dignity; until he come, &c. Till the Messiah come to take his kingdom. To the same purpose is Lowth’s paraphrase on the verse: “After that Zedekiah is deprived of his regal authority, there shall be no more kings of that family till Christ come, the King so often foretold and promised, who in due time shall reign upon the throne of his father David, and of whose kingdom there shall be no end, Luke 1:32-33. After the captivity, some of the priests of the Asmonean race assumed the style and title of kings; but not being of the tribe of Judah, they could have no just right to that honour. The expression, Whose right it is, seems to be peculiarly characteristic of the Messiah, who is always spoken of by the prophets as the true and right heir to the throne of David, and as one who was in an eminent manner to inherit the kingdom. His indeed the right was; for him was reserved the kingly dominion, not only over Judea, but the whole earth. The repetition of the word overturn, in the beginning of this verse, or, as the Hebrew expression עוה may be more literally rendered, an overturning, may probably be intended to predict the repeated subversions which the Jewish state was to undergo in future times, by the Chaldeans, Macedonians, Romans, and many others, and the multiplied destructions of their nation, by which they would be punished for their sins; which subversions and destructions will not come to any happy termination, till they submit to the easy yoke of their long- rejected Messiah, and in humility, faith, and gratitude, accept the salvation which he waits to confer upon them. Nay, and the expression might be intended “to predict all the convulsions in states and kingdoms, which shall make way for the establishment of his kingdom throughout the earth.” Scott.

Verses 28-29

Ezekiel 21:28-29. Thus saith the Lord concerning the Ammonites Because the Ammonites were reprieved by Nebuchadnezzar’s decision to besiege Jerusalem, they were ready to promise themselves security, and to insult over the calamities brought on the Jews; a practice for which they are often reproved very severely by the prophets, and threatened with the like judgments. And concerning their reproach Wherewith they reproached Israel in the day of Israel’s afflictions; say thou, The sword is drawn, is drawn Warlike preparations are made against you, the war is declared, and your enemy hath drawn the sword. For the slaughter it is furbished It is prepared to make dreadful destruction, to lay waste your country, and consume its inhabitants. While they see vanity unto thee While the soothsayers and pretenders to divination foretel nothing but happy events to thee, O Ammon! the sword is preparing to destroy thee. To bring thee upon the necks of them that are slain To add thy people to the number of those who are slain in Judea, (Ezekiel 21:14-15,) and to make thy condition like theirs; whose day is come See Ezekiel 21:25. When their iniquity shall have an end When their deserved punishment, coming upon them, shall put a stop to their wickedness. This prophecy concerning the Ammonites was fulfilled by the Babylonians, about five years after the destruction of Jerusalem, because the Ammonites assisted Ishmael to wrest the government of Judea out of the hands of Gedaliah, whom the king of Babylon had fixed there as his deputy.

Verses 30-32

Ezekiel 21:30-32. Shall I cause it to return into his sheath? Shall the sword that is drawn to execute the judgments of God upon Ammon be put up in its sheath before it has done its work? Surely not. I will judge thee in the place where thou wast created That is, where thy nation first received its existence: thou shalt not be carried captive, but shalt be destroyed in thy own land. I will pour out mine indignation upon thee Which shall overwhelm thee as with a flood, and sweep thy nation into ruin. I will blow against thee, &c. To melt thee as it were in a furnace. See Ezekiel 22:20-21. And deliver thee into the hand of brutish men The LXX. read, ανδρων βαρβαρων τεκταινοντων διαφθορας , of barbarous men, artificers of destruction; or, as we render it, skilful to destroy. Thou shalt be for fuel to the fire Thy country and cities shall be destroyed by fire. Thy blood shall be in the midst of the land A slaughter shall be made of thee in every part of thy country, and thy blood shall appear everywhere. Thou shalt be no more remembered The Jewish people still subsist, but the Ammonites are lost in the mass of mankind, and have been long forgotten.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezekiel 21". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/ezekiel-21.html. 1857.
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