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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 21". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ ezekiel-21.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 21". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Ezekiel 21:2, Ezekiel 21:3
The opening words, reproducing those of Ezekiel 20:46, indicate that the interpretation of that parable is coming. So the three variants of "south" are shown to mean respectively Jerusalem, the holy places, and the land of Israel. So, in Ezekiel 20:3, the righteous and the wicked take the place of the "green" and the "dry" tree, and the fire is explained as meaning the sword of the invader. The teaching of Ezekiel 18:1-32, had shown that Ezekiel had entered, as regards the ultimate judgment of individual men, into the spirit of Abram's words "That be far from thee to destroy the righteous with the wicked" (Genesis 18:25). But in regard to temporal judgments there would be in this case, as in the complaint of Job 9:22, no distinction. The sword went forth "against all flesh."
Sigh therefore, etc. As in other instances (Ezekiel 4:4; Ezekiel 5:1-4), the prophet dramatizes the coming calamity. He is to act the part of a mourner, whose sighs are so deep that they seem to "break his loins" (compare, for the gesture, Nahum 2:1, Nahum 2:10 Isaiah 21:3; Jeremiah 30:6). The strange action was meant to lead to questions. What did it mean? And then he is to answer that he does it "for the tidings" which are to him as certain as if they had already come. He is but doing what all would do, when the messenger brought word, as in Ezekiel 33:21, five years later, that the city was at last smitten.
Ezekiel 21:8, Ezekiel 21:9
A sword, a sword, etc. The new section (Ezekiel 21:9-17) rises out of the thought of the unsheathed sword in Ezekiel 21:3. More than most other portions of Ezekiel's writings, it assumes a distinctly lyrical character, and might be headed, "The Lay of the Sword of Jehovah." The opening words are probably an echo of Deuteronomy 32:41. The dazzling brightness of the sword is added to its sharpness as a fresh element of terror.
The sceptre of my son, etc. The clause is obscure, possibly corrupt, and has received many interpretations.
(1) Taking the received text, the most probable explanation is that given by Keil and Kliefoth: Shall we rejoice (saying), The sceptre of my son despiseth all woods. Here the "rod" is the "sceptre" of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and the words are supposed to be spoken by those who hear of the destroying sword. They need not dread the sword, they say, because the sceptre of the house of David, whom Jehovah recognizes as his son, despises all wood, looks on every other rod that is the symbol of sovereignty, with scorn. It is urged, in favour of this interpretation, that Ezekiel 21:27 contains an unmistakable refer, nee to the prophetic words of Genesis 49:10.
(2) Ewald: It is no weak rod of my son, the softest of all wood; i.e. the sword of Jehovah is no weak weapon such as might be used for the chastisement of a child (Proverbs 10:13; Proverbs 13:24).
(3) Hengstenberg: Shall we rejoice over the rod of my son, despising every tree? There is no cause for anything but the reverse of joy in the rod, the punishment which God appoints for Israel as his son, and which surpasses all others in its severity.
(4) The Authorized Version and Revised Version (margin) make the "sword" the nominative, and the words are those of Jehovah: It contemneth the rod (i.e. the sceptre) of my son, as it contemns every other tree (i.e. as in Ezekiel 20:4), every other national sovereignty.
(5) The Revised. Version and Authorized Version (margin): It (the sword) is the rod of my son (appointed for his chastisement), and it despiseth every tree, in same sense as in (4).
(6) Cornill, altering the text, almost rewriting it, gets the meaning: It (the sword) is for men who murder and plunder, and regard not any strength. Neither the LXX. nor the Vulgate help us, the former giving, "Slay, set at naught, reject every tree;" and the latter, "Thou who guidest the sceptre of my son, thou hast cut down." On the whole, (1) seems to rest on better ground than the others.
Terrors by reason of the sword; better, as in the Revised Version and margin of the Authorized Version, They (the princes of Judah, corresponding to the "rod" of Ezekiel 21:10) are delivered over to the sword with my people. At this stage, in contemplating the destruction alike of princes and of people, the prophet is bidden to make his gestures of lamentation yet more expressive, "crying, howling, smiting on his thigh" (Jeremiah 31:19).
Because it is a trial, etc. The verse has received as many interpretations, and is just as obscure as Ezekiel 21:10, with which it is obviously connected. I begin as before with that which seems most probable.
(1) Keil: For the trial is made, and what if the despising sceptre shall riot come? The "despising sceptre" is the kingdom of Judah, and the prophet asks, "What will happen, what extreme of misery is to be looked for, if that kingdom shall not appear, if Judah shall be left without a ruler?
(2) Ewald: For it is tried—and what? Whether it is also a soft rod! That will not be. Sc. men will find on trial that the sword of Jehovah is not a soft rod, but the sharpest of all weapons.
(3) Hengstenberg: And how? Shall the despising rod that outstript all other punishments not be? i.e. shall the sword of Jehovah not do its work effectively?
(4) Cornill, in part following Hitzig, again rewrites the text, and gets the meaning: How should I judge with favour? They have not turned themselves from their pollution. They shall find no place.
(5) The Authorized Version inserts t he word "sword," apparently with the meaning that the "trial" will show that the sword of the Lord contemns the rod, i.e. the sceptre of Judah, and that that rod shall be no more.
(6) The Authorized Version (margin): When the trial hath been, what then? Shall not they also belong to the despising rod? may have had a moaning for those who adopted it, but I fail to find it.
(7) The Revised Version relegates the Authorized Version text into the margin, and substitutes, For there is a trial, and what if even the rod that contemneth (i.e. the sceptre of Judah) shall be no more?
(8) The LXX and Vulgate connect "because there is a trial" with the preceding clause, rendering it respectively, "for it has been justified (δεδικαίωται)," and "because it has been tested (probatus)," and translate what follows—the LXX; "What if even a tribe be repulsed? It shall not be;" and the Vulgate, "And this when it (the sword!) has overturned the kingdom, and it shall not be," etc. This will be a sufficient summary of the difficulties of the exegetical problem. At the best, we must say that it remains unsolved.
Smite thine hands together, etc. Another gesture follows, either of horror and lamentation, or perhaps, looking to Ezekiel 21:17, of imperative command. The sword is to do its thrice-redoubled work (the words emphasize generally the intensity, and are scarcely to be taken numerically, of the repeated invasions of the Chaldeans); it is "the sword of the slain" (better, pierced ones, or, with Revised Version, the deadly wounded). The next clause should be taken, with the Revised Version, in the singular—the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded; sc. the sword should smite the king as well as the people. For entereth into their privy chambers, read, with the Revised Version (margin), Ewald, and Keil, it compasseth them about.
For their ruins shall be multiplied, read, with the Revised Version, that their stumblings; and for wrapped up, pointed, or sharpened.
Go thee one way or another, etc.; i.e. as in the following, to the right hand or the left—to the north or the south. Whichever way the prophet turned (Ezekiel 20:47), he would see nothing but the sword and its work of slaughter. Jehovah had given that command with the gesture of supreme authority. He would not rest till he had appeased his wrath by letting it work itself out even to the end. With these words the "Lay of the Sword of Jehovah" ends, and there is again an interval of silence.
The new section opens in a different strain. Ezekiel sees, as in vision, Nebuchadnezzar and his army on their march. He is told to appoint a place where the road bifurcated. Both come from one land, i.e. from Babylon; but from that point onwards one road led to Rabbath, the capital of the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 3:11; 2 Samuel 11:1), the other to Jerusalem. Apparently, the exiles and the people of Judah flattered themselves that the former was the object of the expedition. The answer to that false hope is a vivid picture of what was passing in the council of war which Nebuchadnezzar was holding at that parting of the ways. The prophet sees, as it were, the sign post pointing, as with a hand, to each of the two cities The king consults his soothsayers, and uses divinations. Of these Ezekiel enumerates three:
(1) He shakes the arrows to and fro (Revised Version). This was known among the Greeks as the βέλομαντεια The arrows were put into a quiver, with names (in this case probably Rabbath and Jerusalem) written on them. One was then drawn, or thrown, out as by chance, and decided the direction of the campaign.
(2) He consults the images (Hebrew, teraphim). The modus operandi in this case is not known, but Judges 18:18 and Hosea 3:4 point to some such use of them.
(3) There remains the sacrifice and the inspection of the liver, familiar alike in Greek, Etrurian, and Roman divination (Cicero, 'De Divin.,' 6:13).
At his right hand was, etc.; better, into his right hand came, etc.; sc. the arrow marked for Jerusalem was that which came into the king's hand as the quiver was shaken. To appoint captains; better, battering rams, in both clauses. The same Hebrew word is used in both (see note on Ezekiel 4:2). The verse paints the engineering operations of the besiegers, following on the issue of the divination. (For the mount, comp. Isaiah 37:33.)
The whole verse is obscure, and has been very variously interpreted. I follow the translation of the Revised Version, and explain it by inserting words which are needed to bring out its meaning: It (what Nebuchadnezzar has done) shall be as a vain divination in their sight (sc. in that of the men of Jerusalem), which have sworn unto them (sc. have taken oaths of fealty to the Chaldeans, and are ready to take them again), but he (Nebuchadnezzar) brings iniquity to remembrance. The fact represented is that when the people of Jerusalem heard of the divination at the parting of the ways, they still lulled themselves in a false security. They and Zedekiah had sworn obedience, and that oath would protect them. "Not so," rejoins the prophet; "the Chaldean king knows how those oaths have been kept." The LXX. omits all reference to "oaths." The Vulgate. taking the word for "oath" in its ether sense of "sabbath," gives the curious rendering, Eritque quasi consulens frustra oraculum in eorum oculis, et sabbatorum otium imitans. In spite of the reports that reached them, the men of Jerusalem thought themselves as safe as if the Chaldean king were keeping a sabbath day. Ewald partly follows the Vulgate, and renders, They believe they have weeks on weeks, i.e. will not believe that the danger is close at hand. Keil and Havernick: Oaths of oaths are theirs; i.e. they count on the oath of Jehovah, on his promises of protection, but he (Jehovah) brings iniquity to remembrance. That they may be taken; i.e. be seized by the invader and either slain or made prisoners
The prophet adds words which in part explain these that precede. The iniquity of the people has forced, not the Chaldean king only, but Jehovah himself, to remember and to punish them.
And thou, profane wicked prince of Judah, etc.; better, with the Revised Version, O deadly wounded, etc; as in Ezekiel 21:29, where the same word is translated in the Authorized Version as "slain" The Authorized Version follows the LXX. and Vulgate, apparently in order to make the word fit in with the fact that Zedekiah was not slain, but carried into exile. The word "deadly wounded," or "sorely smitten," may rightly be applied to one who fell, as Zedekiah did, from his high estate. From the sins of the people the prophet turns to the special guilt of Zedekiah, who had proved unfaithful alike to Jehovah and to the Chaldean king, whom he had owned as his suzerain. His day had at last come, the time of the iniquity of the end of the last transgression which was to bring down on him the final punishment.
Remove the diadem, etc. The noun is used throughout the Pentateuch (e.g. Exodus 28:4; Exo 37:1-29 :39; Le Exodus 8:9; Exodus 16:4) for the "turban" or "mitre" of the high priest, and Keil so takes it here, as pointing to the punishment of the priest as well as of the king. This shall not be the same; literally, this shall not be this; or, as the Revised Version paraphrases, this shall be no more the same; i.e. the mitre and the crown shall alike pass away—taken from their unworthy wearers. There was to be, as in the following words, a great upturning of all things; the high brought low, the lowly exalted.
I will overthrow. The sentence of destruction is emphasized, after the Hebrew manner, by a threefold iteration (Isaiah 6:3; Jeremiah 22:29). It shall be no more. The pronoun in both clauses probably refers to the established order of the kingdom and the priesthood. "That order," Ezekiel says, "shall be no more." Keil, however, takes the second "it"—the "this" of the Revised Version—as meaning the fact of the overthrow. That also was not final; all things were as in a state of flux till the Messianic kingdom hinted at in the next clause should restore the true order. Until he come whose right it is. The words contain a singularly suggestive allusion to Genesis 49:10, where a probable interpretation of the word "Shiloh" is "he to whom it belongs;" or, as the LXX. gives it, τὰ ἀποκείμενα αὐτᾷ. The passage is noticeable as being Ezekiel's first distinct utterance of the hope of a personal Messiah. Afterwards, in Ezekiel 34:23, it is definite enough.
Thus saith the Lord God concerning the Ammonites. Ezekiel has not forgotten that scene at the parting of the ways. The Ammonites, when they saw the issue of the divination, and the march of the Chaldean army to the west, thought themselves safe. They took up their reproach against Jerusalem, and exulted in its fall. They are warned, as in another strophe of the "Lay of the Sword of Jehovah," that their confidence is vain (comp. Zephaniah 2:8 for a like exultation at an earlier period).
Whiles they see, etc. The words may possibly refer to Nebuchadnezzar's diviners in Ezekiel 21:21, but more probably to those whom the Ammonites themselves consulted. The pronoun "thee" in both clauses refers to Ammon. The result of those who divined falsely was that the sword would be drawn against the necks of the Ammonites and threw them upon the heap of the slaughtered ones. For them, as in the words that end the verse, reproducing those of Ezekiel 21:25, punishment is decreed, and that punishment will come.
Shall I cause it, etc.? The question of the Authorized Version suggests a negative answer, as though the speaker were Jehovah, and the sheath that of his sword. The Revised Version, which translates it, with Keil, the LXX; and the Vulgate, as an imperative, deals with it as addressed to the Ammonites. They am told to sheath their sword; it would be of no avail against the sharp, glittering weapon of Jehovah. Their judgment would soon come on them in their own land, not, as in the case of Judah, in the form of exile (comp. Ezekiel 25:1-8 as an expansion of the prophet's thought).
I will blow against, etc. The imagery of fire takes the place of that of the sword. The brutish men (same word as in Psalms 49:10; Psalms 92:6) are the Chaldean conquerors. The fact that the adjective may also mean "those that burn" may, in part, have determined Ezekiel's choice of it.
For Ammon there is no hope of a restoration like that which Ezekiel speaks of as possible for Jerusalem, and even for Sodom and Samaria. Its doom is written in the words, it shall be no more remembered (comp. Ezekiel 25:7).
The common fate of righteous and wicked.
Both the righteous and the wicked are to be cut off. Though not equal in moral character, they are to share in the same general calamities.
I. IT IS A FACT THAT THE RIGHTEOUS SUFFER WITH THE WICKED. We see this fact in everyday experience, and it would be a falsehood to formulate a doctrine which seemed to our short-sighted judgment more just, if it did interpret events.
1. From human conduct. The bad policy of a king brings war and its attendant miseries on a whole nation. The crime of a father bequeaths poverty, shame, and misery to his whole family.
2. From natural calamities. An earthquake will shake down a church upon the heads of the most devout worshippers, with as terrible a slaughter as that which follows the overthrow of some theatre of sinful revelry.
II. THE COMMON LIFE OF MANKIND NECESSITATES THIS COMMON FATE. There is a certain solidarity of man. We are members one of another, so that if one member suffers, all the members suffer. This is one penalty we pay for the union with our fellow men which on the whole is immensely helpful Without such a union there would be no society, no organic connection between individuals. The rich, full life that grows out of the mutual ministries of man would then be impossible.
III. IT IS AN AGGRAVATION OF A CALAMITY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS SHARE THE FATE OF THE WICKED. The wicked could well be spared, and it might seem to be a good thing for the world that their places should be vacant; but every good man has his good work which suffers when he is taken away. The guilt of those who bring disaster on the innocent is all the greater on this account. No worse thing can happen to a people than that its saving elements should be taken away. They are the salt of the land.
IV. THE RIGHTEOUS WHO SUFFER WITH THE WICKED ARE NOT ULTIMATELY INJURED, The injustice is temporary.
1. The outward suffering is an inward blessing. The physical nature of the suffering may be the same in both eases; but its moral character differs entirely according as it is deserved or not. When it falls on innocent men it is not punishment; there is no curse in it; it comes as the fire that purges the silver.
2. The temporary suffering will be followed by eternal blessedness. We may say of the righteous and the sinful who were victims of a common calamity, "In their death they were not divided." But after death there is a swift and searching separation. Then it is seen that the righteous were taken from the evil to come.
V. THE COMMON FATE OF THE RIGHTEOUS AND WICKED MAY BE A MEANS OF SAVING BOTH. It was so in the Captivity. Good men like Daniel and "The Three Children" were taken to Babylon together with the corrupt courtiers of Jerusalem, and there they maintained the flame of ancient Hebrew piety, so as to prepare for a renewed people's restoration. Christ died the sinner's death that he might save the sinner, after he himself had been raised up from the dead in victory over sin.
The sword of war.
I. THE SWORD OF WAR BRINGS FEARFUL TROUBLE. When the hoarded judgment bursts over the head of the guilty nation of Israel, it falls in the form of war. Those people who speak lightly of war as being "good for trade," as "opening careers for men," and as "developing manly virtues," etc; would do well to consider that the fearful monster is regarded in the Bible as the worst of plagues. David was a man of war and he knew what its horrors meant. It was with no nervous fear like that of King James who shuddered at the sight of a sword, with no sentimental tremors of an effeminate nature, that the old warrior David chose the horrors of a pestilence in preference to those of war. Note some of its evils.
1. Destructiveness. It must be a fallacy to regard it as "good for trade." Whatever temporary and artificial fillip commerce may receive during the actual campaign is paid for ten times over by the subsequent collapse. England was thrown back for generations by the Napoleonic wars. The soldiers are withdrawn from productive work; ordinary commerce is stopped; and a vast amount of property is directly destroyed.
2. Suffering. Every one who has witnessed the scenes of a battlefield turns from the recollection of them with loathing and horror. War is not a pageant of drums and trumpets and flying banners; it is a huge Inferno of groans and agonizing deaths. Thousands lie wounded on the field, some trampled on by charging steeds, some anguished for want of the drop of water which cannot be reached, sick with the blazing heat of the sun or chilled to the marrow in snow and frost. Thousands are cut off in the flower of their youth, sent prematurely to the grave before their real life work is begun. And every death means a household of bitter mourning in the old home.
3. Wickedness. War lets loose the lowest passions. Hatred and bloodthirsty vengeance are engendered, and men are brought down to the level of wild brutes. Too often savage lust follows, and the vilest outrages are committed.
II. THE SWORD OF WAR MAY BE USED AS A DIVINE CHASTISEMENT.
1. Sharpened by sin. National misconduct lays a people open to the ravages of war. The curse may be earned immediately by insolent and unrighteous dealings with other nations; or it may be brought less directly and not as we could anticipate. Yet the awful fact remains—National sin necessitates national judgment, and the most awful and yet the most common national judgment is war.
2. Directed by God. This was the case with the wars of judgment that visited Israel. Israel's sin sharpened the sword, but God's hand guided it. For the providence of God cannot be excluded, even from so lawless and monstrous a thing as war.
(1) This adds to its terror. It is fearful to know that God wills us to suffer from so dire a calamity. Then there can be no escaping it.
(2) This suggests hope of final rescue. Wherever God is, love is. The God of battles is the God of Bethlehem. He who sends the war to scourge also sends the gospel to save.
The satisfaction of God's fury.
This is a most awful subject. Gladly would we leave it alone. Oh for a fresh sight of God's eternal love, instead of this horror of great darkness, this vision of wrath and judgment unrestrained and fully satisfied! Yet the fearful words are before us and they invite our earnest regard.
I. GOD'S FURY IS FEARFULLY PROVOKED BY SIN. It is only against sinners that these dreadful words are written. The righteous may share the temporal calamities that smite the wicked (Ezekiel 21:4), but they incur none of the wrath of God that lies behind those calamities. Nevertheless, as we are all sinners, there is little comfort in this thought. Consider how greatly sin provokes wrath.
1. It is committed in full daylight. The Jews possessed the land. We know Christ. We cannot plead ignorance. Even the heathen have accusing consciences.
2. It is committed against love. We sin against our Father, to whom we ewe everything, and who has been infinitely gracious to us.
3. It is committed in spite of warnings. Israel had her grand procession of minatory prophets from Elijah to Ezekiel. We have the warnings of the Bible.
4. It is committed without necessity. There is a better way and a happier. Nothing but the most wilful perversity can make us choose the evil path. A saving hand has been held out to protect us. When we sin we reject that help.
5. It is committed after God's long suffering has been tried. He has long refrained from punishing. Yet men have made his long suffering an excuse for greater sin. Thus they have "treasured up wrath for the day of wrath."
II. GOD'S FURY CANNOT BE RESISTED.
1. It cannot be opposed by men's powers. The sinner has to contend with the Almighty and the All-wise. The stoutest must fall in such a contest, and the most cunning must fail in the foolish attempt to outwit God.
2. It cannot be opposed by any excuses. Unhappily, there is no doubt as to the guilt of the sinner. He had opportunities of return, and he rejected them. Conscience must paralyze resistance.
3. It cannot be opposed by God's love. There is no schism in the nature of God. Love itself must approve of wrath directed against hardened impenitence.
III. GOD'S FURY WILL BE SATISFIED.
1. It will not fail. Nothing that God attempts can fail. This we may infer as a conclusion from the observations under the previous head.
2. It will not endure forever. When it has accomplished its work it will rest. It may be that some of the results of it will endure forever. The slain man will not arise again on earth, but he is not being killed continuously. The ruined city may never be rebuilt, and yet the earthquake that overthrew temples and palaces has long subsided, and all is now still and calm.
3. It will be satisfied when it has accomplished its end. God's fury is not like his love. It does not spring unprovoked from his own heart. It is roused by sin, and when it has punished sin, it is satisfied. But this is the most awful satisfaction of it. There is another satisfaction, viz.:
4. It will be satisfied when it is propitiated. This is not stated in the verse before us. But it is the burden of the gospel. Christ our Advocate propitiates the wrath of God (1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:2). Then if we have confessed our sin, and sought the saving help of Christ, we need fear the wrath of God no longer. It is satisfied.
I. TRANSGRESSIONS ARE DISCOVERED BY GOD AS SOON AS THEY ARE COMMITTED. He is present when the deeds are done; his eyes are always open to observe the conduct of his creatures; he is not negligent of sin. We start, therefore, with the position that there is no such thing as secret sin. The appearance of secrecy arises from the fact that the great Witness withholds his evidence for the present. Such a position leads to the inevitable conclusion that some day the most hidden evil may be made manifest. God holds the key, and he will unlock the door whenever he sees fit.
II. TRANSGRESSIONS WILL BE DISCOVERED TO THE UNIVERSE IN THE FUTURE JUDGMENT. This must be what the judgment really means. We have been accustomed to the picture of a vast assize, as though God needed to go through the forms of a criminal trial with souls, every secret of whom has been perfectly known to him from the first. Such a trial would be an empty form, a mere theatrical display. But God will make the justice of his action apparent to all, and in doing so the secrets of all hearts will be revealed.
III. TRANSGRESSIONS ARE LIKELY TO BE DISCOVERED ON EARTH. It is scarcely possible for a man to play the hypocrite successfully till his secret is sealed in death. At some moment of inadvertency he is almost certain to lift the mask, and then the discovery of his deceit, once made, will destroy forever the reputation of years. Sin will work its fruits in the bad man's life. Though never confessed in words, it is expressed in tone and temper. The very features of the countenance set themselves to the character of the life within. Moreover, sudden surprises and unexpected turns of events will reveal a man to the world. The long buried secret comes to light. Achan's Babylonish garment is brought to light (Joshua 7:18-20). Ananias and Sapphira cannot conceal their lie (Acts 5:9). Eugene Aram cannot hide the corpse of his victim. Dimsdale is driven to reveal the scarlet letter that burns in fire on his breast.
IV. TRANSGRESSIONS MAY BE HIDDEN BY FORGIVENESS. In the expressive Hebrew phrase, they are then said to be "covered." The only way to have our transgression thus buried out of sight is for us first to confess it to God. Thus we need to pray that be will search us and try us, and see if there be any wicked way in us (Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24). Until our sins are brought home to our consciences, there is no hope that they will be permanently hidden. If we forget them, God will remember them. For God to forget them we must first remember them. When transgressions are thus owned to God, we are in the condition to receive his pardon, after which we may take the assurance, "Your sins and iniquities will I remember no more." The sins are then banished "as far as the east is from the west." They are "buried in the depth of the sea." God does not goad his restored children with their old sins.
Revolution and restoration.
I. REVOLUTION. God overturns Israel and its institutions by repeated acts in the successive invasions of Nebuchadnezzar. The ruin is utter. No city has sustained so many sieges as Jerusalem, or has been so often sacked and destroyed. Now, we are reminded that these terrible disasters are elements in a Divine judgment and discipline. It is God who overturns. There is, therefore, a providential purpose in the event.
1. Revolution must precede restoration. The Divine education of mankind is not a continuous, unbroken development. The earthquake has its mission as truly as the April shower. Evil must be overthrown before good can be built up. This may mean a violent process. We are too mild in some of our methods of treating sin. Undoubtedly, God has not committed his sword of judgment to us, but he expects his servants to testify against sin, and so to pull down the strong walls of Satan. Aggressive work is absolutely necessary. While we preach the gospel of peace, we have also to fight against intemperance, commercial corruption, and all evil customs and institutions.
2. This revolution must be universal. There is a sweeping comprehensiveness in our text. Political revolutions, indeed, may not be called for, for now we have to engage in spiritual work. But there must be revolution in every region of life.
(1) In the heart. Old prejudices and habits must be thrown down—every mountain made low.
(2) In the Church. Christ cleansed the temple. The Reformation was a great overturning. Much in the Church now needs to be overturned; e.g. worldly practices, human inventions, false ideas, Christless journalism, etc.
(3) In society. The apostles were regarded as firebrand revolutionists, who "turned the world upside down." Social injustice must be overturned, not, perhaps by "Red Republicanism," but by Christian brotherhood. We must not suppose that God will let the monstrous evils of Christendom go on forever. He will overturn much before we can see the millennium. The new wine cannot be contained in the old bottles.
1. The revolution prepares for a restoration. Mere destruction perfects nothing. It is necessary only as preliminary to something constructive. Blank nihilism is the most barren philosophy. The "everlasting no" is not a gospel for hungry humanity. After the revolution there must be a new order, and after repentance there must be a new life.
2. The restoration can only be accomplished by Christ. Until Christ came the Jews were never truly restored, though they had returned to their land. In Christ Israel had its long hoped for redemption (Luke 2:29, Luke 2:30), though, alas! most of the nation rejected it, and left it to others. It is easy to demolish an ancient effete system. The difficulties begin with building up a new and better one. We cannot establish a new social order, nor can we even stir up a better life in our own breasts. The weary world waits for the full coming of Christ to restore its overturned peace and order.
3. This restoration will be fully satisfactory.
(1) Christ has a right to enjoy the headship over it: "Whose right it is." He is not only the Son of David, and Heir to the old throne; he is the Son of God, vested with Divine rights.
(2) Christ receives his kingdom worn his Father (Philippians 2:9-11): "I will give it him."
(3) This restoration will not be a return to the old position. If it were so, the whole process would be a profitless cycle. But Christ's kingdom of heaven is infinitely better than David's kingdom of Israel.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
It is a pathetic spectacle, this of the prophet, in his exile away in the northeast, turning by Divine command his gaze, sorrowful and sympathizing, towards Jerusalem, the holy places, the land of Israel. The present is sad enough, but Ezekiel has to bear the oppressive anticipation of the future. He hears the assurance of the God whom his countrymen have offended by their infidelity that worse calamity, even disaster, and death are about to befall the remnant in Palestine. The sword is about to be drawn out of its sheath, and the righteous and the wicked alike are about to feel the keenness of its edge.
I. PROVIDENCE REGARDS A NATION AS HAVING A CORPORATE LIFE. Israel was a unity, and the scattered tribes were regarded by the King of nations as one people. It is the same with other communities. Every nation has its own national life, its own organic unity. Each subject or citizen is a member of the body, and his existence has meaning in this relation and all that it involves.
II. RECTORAL LAW ACCORDINGLY DEALS WITH A NATION AS A WHOLE. The inhabitants of the earth are under moral government and control, are subject to law and to the Divine Lawgiver and Judge. God is the God of nations. So much is this the case that political authority is represented in Scripture as being a Divine institution: "The powers that be are ordained of God." As Providence designs that men should live in communities, so God determines the discipline, the moral education, through which nations must pass. God is in history; which is uninteresting and meaningless unless his hand is recognized, and the operation of his rule observed with admiring reverence.
III. THIS PRINCIPLE INVOLVES THAT THE WICKED PARTICIPATE IN THE PROSPERITY, AND THE GOOD IN THE ADVERSITY, WHICH COME UPON A NATION. Individuals are not always in sympathy with the community of which they form a part. There are other currents in a stream beside its main flow. Broadly speaking, the nation which publicly and flagrantly violates the moral law undermines its own life and prepares the way for its own dissolution. When the catastrophe comes, those who have protested against the nation's sins, and have endeavoured to stem the torrent of unbelief and ungodliness, are carried away in the general destruction.
IV. SUCH RETRIBUTION DOES NOT, HOWEVER, AFFECT THE INDIVIDUAL MORAL PROBATION OF MEN. God deals with men upon general principles—according to broad, intelligible laws. We cannot see how it could be otherwise. Yet this seems to involve many cases of individual hardship, and even injustice. How can this be avoided? The Judge of all the earth will surely do right. How, then, can we explain the fact that—in the language of Ezekiel—the Eternal, with his sword, cuts off the righteous and the wicked?
V. THIS ARRANGEMENT IS EXPLAINED BY, AND HARMONIZES WITH, THE JUDGMENT AND RETRIBUTION OF A FUTURE STATE. What we know not now we shall know hereafter. The anomalies of the present state of being are such as to suggest that this is only a probationary state, that we do not now and here see the unfolding of the complete purposes of the Lord and Judge of all. The Scriptures reveal a state in which retribution and compensation shall be complete, as we know they are not here. The righteous and the wicked shall not always be confused in one common category, and consigned to one common doom. The discrimination which is not exercised now shall be exercised hereafter. Prosperous sinners shall not forever elude the righteous judgment of God. The suffering and patience of the virtuous and pious shall one day be rewarded, not only by the approbation of the Judge, but by an everlasting recompense.—T.
Ezekiel 21:6, Ezekiel 21:7
The sign of sighing.
In the case of Ezekiel, perhaps more than in any other of the prophets, actions were adopted as prophetic signs, more effective than words. The tidings conveyed to the prophet, and through him to his fellow countrymen, were of so mournful an import that such indications of mental distress as sighing and weeping were natural expressions of the feelings which he could not but experience. It was appointed for him in this way to excite the curiosity of his people, and, in response to their inquiries, to inform them of coming evils.
I. THE CAUSE OF THE PROPHET'S SIGHING.
1. The trouble which was about to come upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and of the whole land of Israel, in the invasion of the country, the siege of the metropolis, and the violent death of many of the inhabitants.
2. The sinful rebelliousness of the people, by which they were bringing upon themselves these calamities and disasters.
3. Ezekiel's deep and sincere sympathy with sufferers, and his sorrow for their evil ways, so that he felt for his fellow countrymen as he would have felt for himself.
II. THE SEVERITY OF THE PROPHET'S SIGHING. It was "with bitterness," "with the breaking of the loins," i.e. sighing shaking the whole bodily frame, and evincing the pungent distress afflicting his spirit.
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROPHET'S SIGHING.
1. It was an evidence of patriotism; for Ezekiel himself was far from the scene of approaching retribution, and it did not affect him personally, but through his patriotic identification of himself with all that concerned his people.
2. It was an evidence of his faith in Divine assurances. There is no reason to suppose that mere political foresight enabled the prophet to anticipate the coming, evil; yet he realized its certain approach with such intensity as to call forth the manifestation of feeling here described.
3. It was a warning to the careless and insensible. There were many for whom Ezekiel sighed who sighed not for themselves; yet theirs was the sin, and theirs the punishment now imminent.
4. It was a summons to repentance. If the prophet cried and sighed for the abominations wrought among the people, how much more did it become those who by their sins had provoked the anger of the righteous God to consider their ways, to weep because of their guilty ingratitude and persistent disobedience, and to flee from the wrath to come! how much more did it behove them to call upon the Lord that he might have mercy upon them, and upon their God who could abundantly pardon!—T.
Among the great powers that have affected human history must be reckoned the sword. As the emblem of physical force, of the superiority of the great of the world, it has special significance for the student of human affairs. The vision of the sword revealed to Ezekiel the impending doom of the land of Israel, and particularly of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. When he saw in imagination the glittering blade and the keen edge, his mind anticipated the awful fate which was about to overtake his afflicted and sinful fellow countrymen.
I. THE SWORD IS THE IMPLEMENT OF HUMAN AMBITION AND VENGEANCE.
II. THE SWORD IS THE WEAPON OF DIVINE RETRIBUTION UPON THE NATIONS. Whilst it is unquestionable that wars and fightings come from human lusts, it is to the religious man, to the student of Scripture, equally plain that a Divine Providence overrules all the conflicts of the nations to accomplish wise purposes, and even purposes of. benevolence. The Assyrian power directed its forces against the land of Israel, under the influence, doubtless, of human passions and purposes by which those passions were suggested. But Assyria, Egypt, Persia, and Rome were pewees which the God of Israel employed to bring about the ends fixed upon by his own wisdom and faithfulness. As an instrument by which punishment was inflicted upon the idolatrous and rebellious, the sword was not only the sword of Nebuchadnezzar, but the sword of the Lord of hosts.
III. THE SWORD IS A SUMMONS TO HUMILIATION AND REPENTANCE. Ezekiel himself evidently regarded it in this light. He was directed to cry and howl, to smite upon his thigh, to smite his bands together, when he beheld in vision the weapon which was about to chastise his rebellious countrymen. There are minds which need to face the consequences of sin in order that they may admit the awfulness of sin itself. When the displeasure of the Almighty is revealed against the iniquities of men, they are sometimes roused to reflection and inquiry, and so it may be to repentance.
IV. THE SWORD IS THE SYMBOL OF THE POWER BY WHICH SIN IS SLAIN. The sons of Israel were not alone in the practice of sin, in ingratitude, and disobedience. Men in every age and in every place are found guilty of rebellion against the holy and. righteous God. Well is it when they turn against their own sins the edge of the spiritual sword, when they attack their vices, their follies, their crimes, as the enemies of God, and, by slaying with the Divine weapon the rebellious forces, avoid the otherwise inevitable judgment and retribution which overtake the impenitent.—T.
The impartiality of Divine justice.
Very picturesque and memorable is this portion of Ezekiel's prophecies. The prophet in his vision beholds the King of Babylon on his way to execute the purposes of God upon the rebellious and treacherous prince of Judah, and upon his partakers in sin. He sees him at some point of this expedition, standing on the northeast of Palestine, uncertain whether in the first instance to direct his arms against Rabbath, the capitol of the Ammonites, or Jerusalem, the metropolis of Judah. He is at "the parting of the way," and calls to his aid, to help him to a decision, not only the counsel of the politician and the commander, but that also of the diviner. The bright arrows, on which the names of the two cities are inscribed, are drawn as in a lottery, the images are consulted, the liver is inspected by the augur. The prophet sees the resolve taken to proceed against Jerusalem; yet at the same time, he predicts that the children of Ammon shall not escape the edge of the glittering sword of retribution and vengeance.
I. DIVINE JUSTICE MAKES USE OF HUMAN AGENCIES OF RETRIBUTION, OFTEN THEMSELVES UNCONSCIOUS OF THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH THEY ARE EMPLOYED. The King of Babylon was appointed as the minister of righteous avenging upon both Judah and Ammon. Unawares to himself, he, in his military operations, was carrying out the predictions of God's prophets, and the decree of God himself. Infinite wisdom is never at a loss for means by which to bring to pass its own counsels and resolves.
II. DIVINE JUSTICE PUNISHES THE PRIVILEGED WHO ARE UNFAITHFUL TO THEIR PRIVILEGES AS WELL AS THOSE WHOSE PRIVILEGES HAVE NOT BEEN EXCEPTIONAL. Although the descendants of Abraham were selected from among the nations for a special purpose connected with God's plans for the moral government of the world, they were not thereby released from their righteous obligations, or from liability to punishment in case those obligations were repudiated. Israel's election did not secure exemption from the consequences of defection and rebellion. Rather was the guilt of the nation deemed to be aggravated by their neglect to use aright the many advantages with which they were favoured. On the other hand, the Ammonites were not secured against righteous retribution merely because they were less highly privileged than Israel. They had a measure of light, and they were responsible for walking in the light they enjoyed; and if they loved darkness rather than light, they secured their own condemnation.
III. DIVINE JUSTICE DECIDES WHICH GUILTY NATION SHALL BE CORRECTED, AND WHICH SHALL BE DESTROYED. Into the secret counsels of God it is not given us to enter. Facts are before us; and we see that, according to this prophecy, Ammon was committed as fuel to the fire, and was no more remembered; that the very name of the Ammonites vanished out of human history; and we see that the Jewish people survived, and were brought forth from the furnace into which they were cast. We can only apply to these facts our faith in the Divine righteousness, and hold fast by our conviction that in this, as in all his dealings with men, the Eternal Ruler has acted upon principles of unquestionable equity.
IV. DIVINE JUSTICE SUMMONS SINFUL NATIONS TO REPENTANCE AND NEWNESS OF LIFE. These predictions and their fulfilment in history have been recorded for our instruction. What we read in Scripture is fitted to deepen within our nature the conviction that this world is under the righteous government of God. And we shall be foolish indeed if we do not infer from this fact the necessity of repentance and of renewal; if we are not led to welcome the assurance that for the penitent there is mercy, and for the lowly, life. - T.
Ezekiel 21:26, Ezekiel 21:27
The Divine reversal.
The judgments of God are not in vain. The sword is not sheathed until the purposes of infinite righteousness are achieved. War leads to such an end, to such a place, as eternal wisdom approves. No good end would be answered by Divine interposition, did all things go on as before. A Divine reversal crowns the work.
I. THE HISTORICAL FACT. The primary reference of the prophet is doubtless to the downfall of the usurping, rebellious, treacherous, plotting prince of Judah, i.e. Zedekiah. His true policy lay in subjection to Nebuchadnezzar; instead of adopting and holding fast by this policy, he was ever endeavouring to free himself from the yoke, in the vain hope of independence. It was foreseen and predicted by Ezekiel that this should lead to his destruction.
II. THE MORAL, GOVERNMENTAL PRINCIPLE SUGGESTED BY THIS FACT. We learn that the Omnipotent Ruler is not indifferent to what happens among the nations, that he works in and through the ordinary laws of human action, and may sometimes work by extraordinary and exceptional means. Certain it is that his ways are not as men's ways. The great are often overthrown, and the feeble exalted, by the operation of his wise and merciful providence. God confounds all human policy and defeats all human expectations, exalts the low, and at the same time abases the high. The mitre and the crown are taken from the forehead of the powerful, and are placed upon the lowliest, brows.
III. THE TYPICAL AND SPIRITUAL APPLICATIONS OF THIS PRINCIPLE. There is a grandeur in this language which seems almost to compel its reference to greater events than those which happened in Jerusalem during the Eastern captivity. The kingdom of sin is mighty, and then have often felt how utterly vain it is to expect that kingdom to yield to any human attack. Ignorance and error, vice and crime, superstition and infidelity, have through millenniums of human history acquired over humanity a power which seems irresistible and invincible. But there is One "whose right it is" to reign, and he, the Son of God, has come in the flesh, and has come in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. In his favour, and in order to secure his universal conquest, his everlasting dominion, the Most High is overturning, ever overturning. He is the High Priest, the rightful King, of the humanity whose nature he assumed, and fur whose salvation he died. The mitre and the crown are his of right, and to him they shall be given. Every usurper shall be defeated and disgraced; and Christ, whose right it is to reign, shall receive the kingdom, and his dominion shall have no end.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The subject matter of this prophecy is substantially the same as the foregoing. The parable is now put into plainest language. There is an advantage in using the parable method. It awakens attention. It leads men to examine and reflect. There is an excitement in discovering a riddle. Yet God will speak also to men in language plain enough tot the simplest understanding. No lost man is able to cast any blame on our God. We have "line upon line, precept upon precept."
I. THE SCENE OF DIVINE DESTRUCTION. God's righteous anger is directed against the Holy Land, the holy places, the temple itself. Kings and priests alike are doomed. Traditional eminence and renown are impotent as a defence Against just retribution. God is no respecter of persons. Sin is equally detestable in an Israelite as in an Egyptian, and will be punished with equal severity. Oat of regard for a good man, God may employ a different method—more patience, perhaps—in dealing with his son; yet, in the end, there will not be the deviation of a hair's breadth from righteous principle. No man can cloak himself with privilege.
II. GOD'S VENGEANCE IRRESISTIBLE. "I have set the point of the sword against all their gates, that their heart may faint." As Samson lifted off the gates of Gaza from their hinges, much more can Samson's Creator pierce with his sword gates of brass and fortresses of iron. Who can withstand his thunderbolts? Who can raise a defence against his lightning? "Every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble." Did the antediluvians stop the rising of the Deluge? Could the families of Egypt protect their firstborn against the angel of destruction? Had the dwellers in Pompeii any power to prevent the overthrow of their city? How vain and impotent are men in league against an avenging God!
III. GOD'S VENGEANCE IS THOROUGH IS ITS ACTION. "I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked." Man's estimate of righteousness and God's estimate differ widely. In a nation every variety of character will be found, and sin will exist in every shade and gradation. In comparison with the blackest characters some will appear righteous who are only less tainted with sin. These are the so called righteous. In the very nature of things God will not and cannot treat alike the righteous and the wicked. The truth, then, set before us here is this—that the whole nation was corrupt, yea, ripe for slaughter. So few were the righteous, as to be left out in this graphic and impressive description. The scourge should sweep through the land, and penetrate every secret place.
IV. GOD'S VENGEANCE, THOUGH APPARENTLY, NOT REALLY, INDISCRIMINATE. Outwardly the same calamity may befall the righteous and the wicked, while the real and inward effect differs widely. The same sentence of death will send the righteous to their heavenly rest, the wicked to their final doom. The sun that hardens clay, melts wax. The storm that sends a leaky ship to the bottom, drives faster home the tight and gallant hark. The scourge that kills the wicked, only chastens the righteous. The furnace that destroys the alloy, refines the silver. To the few righteous this visitation of God "is a trial" (Ezekiel 21:13). The rod had not been severe enough, therefore the sword came. No ill can befall the righteous. Death is ours. "To die is gain."
V. DIVINE AND HUMAN COOPERATION. This sword, which was sharpened to destroy, was no less God's sword, though it was wielded by the captains of Babylon, The prophet had his part to take. The king and statesmen of Babylon—yea, even the rank and file of the army—had their part to take, with God, in the execution of his just fury. The prophet is directed (Ezekiel 21:14) "to smite his hands together"—a matter of fact prophecy of the coming event—the sign to summon the great army. And (in Ezekiel 21:17) God describes himself as about to do the same act: "I will also smite mine hands together." Men are often called to act in God's stead—as God's delegates.
VI. DIVINE ADMONITIONS, THROUGH MEN, MUST BE DELIVERED WITH DEEP EMOTION. "Sigh therefore, son of man, with the breaking of thy loins; and with bitterness sigh before their eyes." If it be possible, on our part, to impress our fellow, men with the reality and severity of God's judgments, we must do our utmost to arouse earnest repentance, or we incur grave responsibility. God has constituted human nature so that strong emotion in the preacher, seemingly manifested, awakens strong emotion in the hearers. Men everywhere are susceptible of influence from a superior or a holier man. Nothing God allows us to omit which may serve to lead our fellows to repentance. We must make it clear that the events of coming retribution adequately impress our own minds; then, and then only, shall we arouse attention, promote inquiry, and lead to reflection, self-examination, and return to God.—D.
The all-controlling providence of God.
We have here a striking instance of the superintending agency of God. From his invisible throne he controls all the plans, divinations, arts, and labours of kings and generals. All persons and all events are directed into the channel of his purpose, and aid in the final consummation of his righteous end.
I. GOD USES EVES WICKED MEN TO DO HIS WORK. If he employed only righteous men, he would have to reject the service of the human species. There is a class of services which men render consciously and intentionally, and for which they obtain reward. They are blessed in their deeds. There is also a class of services which men render unconsciously and without intention. These have no excellence, and bring the doer no advantage. With his infinite skill God can turn all streams to work his mill. Sin shall be overruled to bring about a greater good. The wicked are God's hand.
II. HEATHEN DIVINATIONS ARE MADE TO CONVEY GOD'S WILL. The choice and will of men have a certain sphere in which to move freely. Yet, after all, they are but parts, minor parts, of larger machinery. Proud and presumptuous men may choose to go either east or west: they think they have their own way; yet, in the final result, it simply contributes to bring about God's way. The ends which some men seek, and which they often attain, are only means to an end in God's larger plan. The responses which foolish men imagine they obtain from heathen oracles or from human diviners are decrees and edicts from the unknown God. Nebuchadnezzar flattered himself that he had gained a splendid triumph, in Judaea, while he was only doing servile work as a vassal of the King of kings.
III. ALL MILITARY INVENTIONS AND EXERTIONS SERVE THE CAUSE OF GOD. How instructive is it to perceive that all the martial preparations then about to be made by Nebuchadnezzar were all prearranged by God—all sketched in outline by his prophet! How this fact humiliates man! How it exalts God in our esteem! How small a thing, afar all, is human ambition! Men who rail against God yet serve him. And if this fact is so transparently seen in the case of the King of Babylon, may we not conclude that this is a sample of every event in human life? As every atom in the mountains occupies the place allotted to it by God, so every event in human history fills a place according to God's purpose.
IV. WICKED MEN, ALTHOUGH EMPLOYED AS INSTRUMENTS FOR CHASTISING OTHERS, BECOME VICTIMS OF GOD'S DISPLEASURE. "Thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, thy day is come, when iniquity shall have an end." To unreflecting minds, the defeat of a king would seem a commonplace thing—a chance of war. Yet the hand of God is in the matter. "He setteth up one, and putteth down another." As a king has larger scope for evil or for good, so proportionately is his accountability. At the best, we see but a tiny fragment of God's method of rule; if we could comprehend the whole, we should admire the skill and power and beneficence of his vast administration.
V. SUBVERSION OF HUMAN SYSTEMS SHALL MAKE FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it … until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." There is no question but that this Coming One is "Jesus Christ the Righteous." "Because he loveth righteousness and hateth wickedness," therefore his throne shall be forever and ever. The only solid foundation for a throne is righteousness. The dynasty founded in might shall be demolished by a greater might. Mere power has an ephemeral tenure. The mightiest thing in heaven or earth is holiness. This is the thing that cannot be shaken: this shall remain. Today the strongest kingdom upon the earth is the most righteous. "There shall be new heavens, and a new earth!" And what shall be their distinctive principle—their special glory? In them "dwelleth righteousness." The man of right is the man of might.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The sacred song of the sword.
"Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the Lord; Say, A sword, a sword is sharpened," etc. The passage before us is written in the form of Hebrew poetry. The poem does not present any new truths or ideas, but is chiefly an amplification of the preceding twelve verses. There are in this song some words and phrases of considerable difficulty, in the interpretation of which a wide diversity of opinion exists. The chief features of the poem may be noticed homiletically in the following order.
I. THE PREPARATION OF THE SWORD FOR SLAUGHTER.
1. It was sharpened for daughter. "A sword is sharpened,… it is sharpened to make a sore slaughter." In the providence of God, Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldean forces had become ready for their dread work at Jerusalem and among its inhabitants.
2. It was furbished for terror. "And also furbished,…it is furbished that it may glitter." The sword was burnished, that by its glittering it might dismay those against whom it was drawn (cf. Deuteronomy 32:41). The truth thus taught seems to be that the actual attack of the Chaldeans would strike terror into the hearts of the people of Jerusalem. Says Greenhill, "When God is bringing judgments upon a people, he will fit instruments for accomplishing of the same, and that to purpose. He will make that which is blunt, sharp; that which is rusty, glittering; and those who are spiritless, full of spirit; he can make one to chase ten, ten a hundred, and a hundred a thousand. His works shall never fail for want of instruments."
II. THE PRESENTATION OF THE SWORD TO THE SLAYER. "He hath given it to be furbished, that it may be handled: this sword is sharpened, and it is furbished, to give it into the hand of the slayer." The sword was not prepared for nought. It was, as it were, given by the Lord into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar to be used by him. That monarch could not have slain one of the sons of Israel unless permission had been given him by the Supreme; an that permission would not have been given to him but for the heinous and long continued sins of Israel. So also Pilate had no power against our Lord save what was given to him from above (John 19:11). The mightiest sovereign or government can do nothing without the permission of the great God.
III. THE VICTIMS OF THE SWORD IN SLAUGHTER.
1. It was to wage war against the chosen people. "It is upon my people." (We have frequently noticed this point; e.g. on Ezekiel 20:46, and Ezekiel 20:3.)
2. It was to wage war against the most eminent of the chosen people. "It shall be upon all the princes of Israel." These princes were strong advocates of the alliance with Egypt, and of resistance to the authority of Nebuchadnezzar. They did this in defiance of the word of the Lord by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and against the judgment of the weak minded King Zedekiah, when he was in his better moods (cf. Jeremiah 37:1-21, and Jeremiah 38:1-28.). By this course of action they hastened the destruction of Jerusalem. It was fitting that, when the sword came, they should not escape its terrible strokes. And King Zedekiah is probably referred to by the prophet. "It is the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded, which entereth into their chambers" (verse 14, Revised Version); or, "that pierces into them" (Hengstenberg); "that penetrates to them" (Schroder). His sons were slain before his eyes; then his eyes were put out; then, bound in fetters, he was carried to Babylon, and there in prison he died (Jeremiah 52:8-11); surely the glittering sword pierced him. This sharp sword recognized no distinction of rank or riches, of place or power.
3. It was to destroy the national existence of the chosen people. "It contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree … And what if the sword contemn even the rod? it shall be no more, saith the Lord God." The view of these difficult clauses which is taken by the 'Speaker's Commentary' seems to us correct. "The rod is the sceptre of dominion assigned to Judah (Genesis 49:10). The destroying sword of Babylon despises the sceptre of Judah; it despises every tree (comp. Ezekiel 20:47; Ezekiel 21:4; also Ezekiel 17:24)." And on verse 13, "The Karlsruhe translator of the Bible gives the best explanation: 'What horrors will not arise when the sword shall cut down without regard the ruling sceptre of Judah?'"
IV. THE EXECUTION OF THE SWORD IN SLAYING. Several things in this poem are indicative of this. The thrice-doubled sword (verse 14) points to the dread violence of the slaughter, or to "the earnestness and energy of the Divine punishment." The sword set against all their gates, and the multiplication of their stumblings (verse 15, Revised Version), refer to the fierce conflicts by the gates of the city and the bodies of the slain there, over which the living would stumble. And two of the directions addressed to the sword in verse 16 suggest the terrible work it was commissioned to accomplish. Revised Version, "Gather thee together;" margin, "Make thyself one;" Hengstenberg, "Unite thyself." The allusion is "to the thrice-doubled sword in verse 14. In reality, the terrible weight is designated with which the Divine judgment falls on him whom it is to strike." Very similar in its signification is the direction, "Set thyself in array" (verse 16, Revised Version); It denotes the determination and zeal with which the Divine judgment would be executed. All these things point to the terrible sufferings and the fierce slaughter of the guilty people of Jerusalem by the Chaldean hosts.
V. THE FEELINGS EVOKED BY THE SLAUGHTER OF THE SWORD.
1. The sorrow of the prophet in anticipation of the slaughter. "Cry and howl, son of man: for it is upon my people, it is upon all the princes of Israel: terrors by reason of the sword shall be upon my people: smite therefore upon thy thigh." Smiting upon the thigh was a token of intense grief, corresponding to smiting upon the breast (cf. Jeremiah 31:19; Luke 23:48). And the prophet was to do this, and to cry and howl, not simply to express his own grief, but to indicate the anguish which would wring the hearts of the people.
2. The dismay of the people because of the slaughter. "That their heart may faint," or "melt" (verse 15; cf. verse 7, and see our remarks thereon).
CONCLUSION. This terrible judgment was the expression of the righteous anger of the Lord God, because of the persistent and aggravated sins of the people. And when it was thus expressed, it rested. It was satisfied with the vindication of the holy Law, which had been so basely set at naught.
1. Let no man, let no community, presume upon the patience and mercy of God. He is a Being of awful justice and of terrible wrath.
2. Let no one persist in sin. Such a course must meet with the stern judgment of the Most High.—W.J.
The approaching judgment.
"The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways," etc. The following homiletic points are suggested by this paragraph.
I. THE DESTINATION OF THE APPROACHING JUDGMENT DETERMINED BY GOD, THOUGH THE AGENTS THEREOF WERE UNCONSCIOUS OF HIS INFLUENCE. "Son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the King of Babylon may come," etc. (Ezekiel 21:18-22). The prophet is here summoned to make upon a tablet, or parchment, or other material, a sketch in which two ways branch out of one principal way—the one leading to Rabbath, and the other to Jerusalem; and at the head of one of the ways to make a hand, or finger post, pointing to a city; and at the head of the two ways the King of Babylon employing divination to ascertain whether he shall proceed first against Rabbath or Jerusalem, and being directed to go to Jerusalem and besiege it. Thus he was to represent symbolically the judgment that was approaching Jerusalem from Chaldea. Notice:
1. The use of superstitious means for obtaining direction in conduct. "The King of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination," etc. (Ezekiel 21:21). "Divination" is a general term. Three different kinds thereof are here mentioned.
(1) "He shook the arrows to and fro." The method referred to was probably this: Three arrows were taken, on one of them was written "Jerusalem," on another "Rabbath," while the third was without any inscription. These arrows were placed in a helmet or in some vessel, which was shaken until one came out; if this one bore any name, to the place thus named the king must proceed; but if the arrow without an inscription first came out, they all had to be shaken again until one bearing a name came forth and indicated the course to be taken.
(2) "He consulted the teraphim." "The teraphim were wooden images consulted as idols, from which the excited worshippers fancied that they received oracular responses" (cf. Genesis 31:19, Genesis 31:30, Genesis 31:32, Genesis 31:34; 1 Samuel 19:13). The mode of consulting them is unknown.
(3) "He looked in the livery of animals offered in sacrifice the liver was looked upon as the most important part; and from an inspection of it, as to its size and condition, omens were drawn amongst several ancient nations. Nebuchadnezzar is represented by the prophet as feeling his need of direction as to whether he shall proceed first against Jerusalem or against Rabbath, and as using these modes of divination to obtain such direction. This need of our nature is recognized by God, and he has graciously provided for it (cf. Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 3:5, Proverbs 3:6).
2. The use of superstitious means controlled by God for the accomplishment of his own purposes. Rabhath as well as Jerusalem had incurred the resentment of the King of Babylon. The antecedent probability was that he would first attack that place, seeing that it was somewhat nearer Chaldea than was Jerusalem. But God had determined otherwise, and accordingly the divination points Nebuchadnezzar to Jerusalem. "What a sublime proof," says Fairbairn, "of the overruling providence and controlling agency of Jehovah! The mightiest monarch of the world, travelling at the head of almost unnumbered legions, and himself consciously owning no other direction than that furnished by the instruments of his own blind superstition, yet having his path marked out to him beforehand by this servant of the living God! How strikingly did it show that the greatest potentates on earth, and even the spiritual wickedness in high places, have their bounds appointed to them by the hand of God, and that, however majestically they may seem to conduct themselves, still they cannot overstep the prescribed limits, and must be kept in all their operations subservient to the higher purposes of Heaven!" "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord."
"There's a divinity doth shape our ends,
Rough-hew them holy we will."
II. THE DIVINELY COMMISSIONED ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE APPROACHING JUDGMENT TREATED WITH CONTEMPT BY THE FAVOURED PEOPLE. "And it shall be unto them as a vain divination in their sight, which have sworn oaths unto them: but he bring the iniquity to remembrance that they may be taken." The meaning of part of this verse is difficult to determine. Many and various are the interpretations of the "oaths" here mentioned. Two of these, each of which seems to us probably correct, we adduce.
1. That they refer to the awful declarations of the coming judgments which the prophet had made to them, which he generally introduced by the solemn formula, "As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah" (Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 14:16, Ezekiel 14:18, Ezekiel 14:20; Ezekiel 16:48; Ezekiel 17:16, Ezekiel 17:19; Ezekiel 20:3, Ezekiel 20:33). Notwithstanding the solemnity of these assertions, they looked upon the prophet's announcement of impending judgment "as a vain divination."
2. That they refer to the oaths of fealty which the Jews had sworn to Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 17:18, Ezekiel 17:19; 2 Chronicles 36:13), and which they had so shamefully broken. Because they were his sworn vassals, they thought that he would not attack them. But he would call their iniquity to remembrance, and bring home to them their perjury by the stern punishment thereof. Whatever interpretation of the clause in question be adopted, it is clear that the Jews made light of the announcement of judgment by the prophet. While the Chaldeans accepted the directions of their divinations, and acted upon them, the favoured Jews treated the word of Divine inspiration "as a vain divination." And these same Jews eagerly accepted as true the messages of false prophets which assured them of peace and safety. They had so trifled with the truth of God that they had almost destroyed their moral capacity for recognizing it when it was proclaimed unto them.
III. THE INFLICTION OF THE APPROACHING JUDGMENT VINDICATED BY THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SINS OF THOSE UPON WHOM IT WAS COMING. "Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered," etc. (Ezekiel 21:24-26).
1. Persistence in sin leads to the discovery of their sins. "Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are discovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear." Their unbelief of the word of the Lord by Ezekiel, and their treachery towards Nebuchadnezzar, which led to their dread punishment, brought to light their other sins, showing the wickedness of their entire conduct. When thieves are "taken in some wicked acts," says Greenhill, "their former villanies come to light. As one sin begets another, so one sin discovers another."
2. Persistence in sin leads to the punishment of their sins. "Because that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand. And thou, O deadly wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel," etc. (verses 25, 26). The people were to "be taken with the hand." God would deliver them into the hand of the Chaldeans, who would inflict upon them the dreadful judgments already predicted by the prophet—sword, famine, pestilence, captivity. The glory of the priesthood would be taken away; for the Lord God would "remove the diadem," or "mitre." The king would be carried into a miserable captivity, after enduring the most terrible sufferings (2 Kings 25:4-7), and the kingdom would be destroyed; for God would "take off the crown." Their most valued institutions would be overthrown. The then existing state of things would be destroyed. "This shall be no more the same: exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high." All would be brought to one melancholy condition of misery. National ruin was to be the penalty of national sin. Persistence in sin must ever lead to its just punishment.
3. The manifestation of sin vindicates the punishment thereof. It brings to light the justice of such punishment. That the Jews brought upon themselves the terrible sufferings which they endured at the hand of the Chaldeans was made unmistakably clear. And it was also shown that the terrible fate of the king was but the harvest of which he himself had sown the seed. In due season God himself will justify all his dealings with men.
IV. REVOLUTIONS IN HUMAN HISTORY LEADING TO THE ADVENT OF THE RIGHTFUL SOVEREIGN OF MAN. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." Three points are suggested by this verse.
1. The completeness of the national downfall. The repetition of the "overturn" indicates the thoroughness of the destruction. No attempt to restore the kingdom to prosperity and power would fully succeed.
2. The duration of the national downfall. "This also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is." The regal authority and the priestly dignity were not restored to the Jews. "As to the kingdom, Zerubbabel, the leader of the people after the exile, although of David's line, was no king on David's throne. But Herod, who becomes king over Israel, is of Edomite origin" (Schroder). There was a partial restoration of the functions of the priesthood after the return from Babylon, but it never recovered its former dignity and glory. For, as Fairbairn observes, "there was no longer the distinctive prerogative of the Urim and Thummim, nor the ark of the covenant, nor the glory overshadowing 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 pledge of the coming glory."
3. The advent of the rightful Sovereign. "Until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." Undoubtedly these words point to the Messiah. They probably contain a reference to Psalms 72:1, "Give the King thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the King's Son." He is the great High Priest. He is the divinely anointed King. Previous to his coming into our world all revolutions in human history were overruled by God to lead on to that event. And all subsequent revolutions, and all revolutions in the present, are being overruled by him for the establishment of his gracious rule over the hearts and lives of men throughout the whole world. "Of his kingdom there shall be no end." Thus in the declaration of dread judgments mercy was not forgotten by God. "Even now, when he is in a full career of overturning, 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" (Greenhill). Even in wrath he remembers and exercises mercy.—W.J.
"I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more," etc.
I. THE CONTINUITY OF MUNDANE REVOLUTIONS. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it." The Lord thus declares his determination to overthrow again and again the government of the Jews, until the coming of the Messiah, their rightful Sovereign. The words may also point, as Scott remarks, to "the repeated subversions of the Jewish nation by the Chaldeans, Macedonians, Romans, and many others to the present day; which will not come to any happy termination fill they submit to their long rejected Messiah. Nay, they seem to predict all the convulsions in states and kingdoms, which shall make way for the establishment of his kingdom throughout the earth." Revolutions in governments, in society, in science, have always been. They are rife at present. While men continue ignorant, selfishly ambitious, and wicked, they will continue. These overturnings will not cease until human character is radically altered, until it is fashioned after the Divine model. It is not one overturning, and then settled order and progress. In our world change succeeds change as wave follows after wave on the face of old ocean. Unsettledness characterizes all things here.
II. THE DIVINE AGENCY IN MUNDANE REVOLUTIONS. "Thus saith the Lord God …I will overturn, overturn, overturn it." These revolutions are not accidental; they do not occur by chance. They are brought about under Divine arrangements. God being the great "Ruler over the nations," they cannot take place, to say the least, without his permission. Being Supreme, all things are either originated or allowed by him. The sacred Scriptures assert this. "Neither from the east, nor from the west, nor yet from the south, cometh lifting up. But God is the Judge. He putteth down one, and lifteth up another;" "He bringeth princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity;" "The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will;" "His kingdom ruleth over all." He removes the leader of a nation's affairs, and disorder, disturbance, and immense change follow. He sends the light of truth to oppressed peoples, and they arise and claim their freedom. But what shall we say of dark and terrible changes? Let us take an example—the carrying of the Jews captive into Babylon. Whether we look at the sacred temple, or the celebrated city, or the fertile country, or the favoured people, how dark and sad it was! But look again. It saved the people, of whom the Messiah was to come, from idolatry, and so from utter ruin. Viewed in their Divine aspect, these revolutions are benevolent. Holy beings may advance calmly and evenly towards perfection. But disordered, sinful beings need great changes and rude shocks to banish hoary superstitions, and abolish cruel despotisms, and prevent ruinous inaction. While sin is here there must be unrest and change.
III. THE END OF MUNDANE REVOLUTIONS. "This also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." Until our Lord shall reign over the whole world, these revolutions will occur with greater or less frequency. But when he, the rightful Sovereign, shall take possession of the kingdoms of this world, these over-turnings will forever cease. The reign of the Christ precludes revolution. The character of his reign shows this. Under it the sacredness of human life will be practically recognized, and thus war will be precluded. Under his reign the universal brotherhood of man will also be practically recognized; and thus the cruel oppressions and base wrongs of man by man, which have often led to terrible revolutions, will be precluded. The reign of the "strong Son of God" is the sovereignty of his Spirit and principles in the hearts and lives of men; and these are entirely opposed to the crimes and ills which generate revolutions. His perpetual and universal sovereignty is founded upon his mercifulness and kindness, his justice and love (cf. Psalms 72:11-17). Such a sovereignty is incompatible with revolution. Under it men will have neither cause nor occasion for anything of the kind. Animated and governed by his Spirit and principles, they will advance calmly and regularly towards perfection.
1. Our subject supplies an argument for promulgating the gospel of Jesus Christ. International exhibitions, commercial interests, peace treaties, political economics, can never bring about the abolition of revolution, because they are not able to curb and conquer the strong and stormy passions of evil men. The gospel of the Lord Jesus is the only power that can abolish revolution, and bring in a state of peaceful and blessed progress. When it is heartily accepted it becomes a power in the heart, making man true and righteous, pure and loving, and so promotes peace on earth and good will toward men.
2. Our subject supplies encouragement for promulgating the gospel of Jesus Christ. We see that painful changes, wicked and cruel persecutions, and criminal and sanguinary strife, are being graciously overruled to bring in the worldwide empire of him "whose right it is." All changes, all overturnings, are bringing his glorious universal reign nearer. Be encouraged, then, in your efforts to promote it. "Men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessed;" "His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation."—W.J.
The judgment of Ammon.
"And thou, son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord God concerning the children of Ammon," etc. The following points are presented to our notice.
I. THE CAUSE OF THIS JUDGMENT. This was threefold.
1. They had provoked the anger of the Chaldeans by joining the coalition against them. (Cf. Ezekiel 21:20; Jeremiah 27:2-10.)
2. They had cast bitter reproaches upon the Jews. "Thus saith the Lord God concerning the children of Ammon, and concerning their reproach." Reproach is injury by words; and it may be inflicted directly by reviling another, or indirectly by self-aggrandizement. The Ammonites reproached the Israelites:
(1) By words. As Kitto remarks, they were particularly loud and offensive in their exultation at the downfall, first of the kingdom of Israel, and then of Judah, with the desolation of the land and the destruction of the temple" (cf. Ezekiel 25:3, Ezekiel 25:6; Zephaniah 2:8). It is probable that when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, the Ammonites upbraided the people of Judah that Jehovah their God had not protected them from his attack, while Moloch, which they worshipped as god, had not permitted the conquering monarch to attack their city, Rabbath. Reproach is a hitter thing, and hard to bear. David found it so, and said, "Reproach hath broken my heart." And it is a mean and cruel thing to inflict reproaches, especially upon the weak, the unfortunate, or the suffering. The Ammonites reproached the Israelites:
(2) By deeds. Rabbath, their capital city, was situated "in the country east of the Jordan, and east of the possessions of the Israelites on that side the river. David, in his war with the Ammonites, took it from them, and annexed it to the territories of the tribe of Gad On the separation of the realm into two kingdoms, this, with all the territory beyond the Jordan, went to the kingdom of Israel; and when that kingdom was dissolved by the Assyrians, or rather, probably, when the tribes beyond the Jordan were first of all led into captivity, the Ammonites quietly took possession of their ancient territories, and apparently of something more" (Kitto). This seizure of a portion of the territory of the former kingdom of Israel is sternly denounced by the prophets (cf. Jeremiah 49:1, Jeremiah 49:2; Amos 1:13-15; Zephaniah 2:8). It was a practical reproach of the vanquished people.
3. They had trusted in their diviners. "Whiles they see vanity unto thee, whiles they divine lies unto thee." The Ammonites preferred false divinations to true prophets, especially as their diviners buoyed them up with vain assurances of their safety. If men will believe a lie, the lie will prove disastrous to them.
II. THE NATURE OF THIS JUDGMENT.
1. Terrible slaughter. "A sword, a sword is drawn: for the slaughter it is furbished, to cause it to devour, that it may be as lightning." The seer beheld a sword drawn for execution, sharpened for slaughter, and glittering so as to strike terror into those against whom it was drawn. The line, "To cast thee upon the necks of them that are slain," is rendered in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' "To give thee over to the heaps of the slain," and is thus explained: "'The necks of them that are slain' is simply a poetical expression for the slain, perhaps because the corpses were headless." It seems to indicate that the slaughter of the Ammonites would be so terrible that the slain would not lie apart, but in revolting heaps. The clause, "Thy blood shall be in the midst of the land," probably also points to the dreadful extent of the slaughter.
2. Complete overthrow. "Thou shalt be no morn remembered." The ruin of the Ammonites was to be irreparable. Thus saith the Lord God to them, "I will cut thee off from the peoples, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries" (Ezekiel 25:7). Not until long after the time of Ezekiel was this part of the judgment executed, but in due season it was completely accomplished. "From the times of the Maccabees, the Ammonites and Moabites have quite disappeared out of history" (Hengstenberg).
III. THE AUTHOR OF THIS JUDGMENT. "I will judge thee …. and I will pour out mine indignation upon thee; I will blow upon thee with the fire of my wrath, and I will deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, skilful to destroy." God himself was the Author of this judgment. The sword was his, though it was wielded by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. By their sins the Ammonites had aroused the indignation of the Lord; and he would pour out that indignation upon them.
1. That this judgment proceeded from him was a guarantee of its irresistibleness. When he puts forth his hand to smite his obdurate foes, he breaks them as "with a rod of iron," or dashes "them in pieces like a potter's vessel." To attempt to resist him is utterly useless, vain, and ruinous. "Hast thou an arm like God's?" "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and prospered?"
2. That this judgment proceeded from him was a guarantee of its righteousness. "He loveth righteousness and judgment" "His work is perfect; For all his ways are judgment: A God of faithfulness and without iniquity. Just and right is he."
IV. THE INSTRUMENTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. "I will deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, skilful to destroy;" margin, "burning men." So also Hengstenberg, Schroder, "consuming men." Thus the Chaldeans are designated. They are so called because they were to prepare "the fire," or because they were filled with glowing anger. They were the unconscious instruments accomplishing the purpose of the Lord Jehovah. Thus he made the wrath of man to praise him. He can never lack fitting instruments for the execution of his designs; for he can employ whomsoever and whatsoever he will.
V. THE SCENE OF HIS JUDGMENT. "In the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy birth, will I judge thee." They were not to be carried into captivity as the people of Israel and Judah were. In their own land they were to suffer the retribution of their evil doings. The scene of their sin was to be also the scene of their punishment. The Lord can find out the wicked anywhere; and no place can hide them from his judgments when the time for their infliction arrives. "Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them," etc. (Amos 9:2, Amos 9:3).
VI. THE CERTAINTY OF THIS JUDGMENT. "I the Lord have spoken it." The Ammonites deemed themselves quite safe when Nebuchadnezzar turned away from Rahbath, and went to besiege Jerusalem; and in their triumph they reproached the suffering people of Judah. But they had to learn that the postponement of their judgment was not its revocation; that their reprieve was not their pardon. Sentence against them here goes forth from Jehovah. Its fulfilment was rendered certain by both his power and his faithfulness. He is all-mighty. He "is not a man, that he should lie," etc. (Numbers 23:19). And, according to Josephus ('Ant.,' 10.9. 7), in the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar made war against the Ammonites, and subdued them. "God's words of mercy and of judgment are alike sure."—W.J.