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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 21

 

 


Verses 1-3

The Riddle Explained.

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards Jerusalem, and drop your word towards the sanctuaries, and prophesy against the land of Israel, and say to the land of Israel, ‘Thus says Yahweh, behold I am against you and will draw out my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked.’ ” ’

The explanation of the parable is now given. Note the connection between Jerusalem, the idolatrous sanctuaries and the land of Israel (Judah). All are seen as one in their degradation (contrast Ezekiel 20:40 where in the future the mountain of Yahweh will be wholly acceptable). The fire has now become Yahweh’s sword. All therefore will suffer at Yahweh’s sword, both the totally wicked and those who were more righteous (compare 2 Samuel 24:16). None will be spared, for the wicked did evil and the righteous did nothing.

The drawing of the sword from its sheath is always a picture of imminent judgment. Compare the captain of Yahweh’s host in Joshua 5:13 who was about to bring judgment on Jericho, and contrast Jeremiah 47:6 where the judgment was with overflowing waters, which were also described as Yahweh’s sword which Jeremiah wanted to be sheathed, although it could not be because He still had work to do. See also Deuteronomy 32:41; Isaiah 31:8; Isaiah 34:5-8; Isaiah 66:16; Jeremiah 25:31; Jeremiah 50:35-38; Zephaniah 2:12. The One Who was once their defender has now become responsible for the attack on them.

For ‘I will draw out my sword from its sheath’ compare ‘I will kindle a fire in you’ (Ezekiel 20:47). Both are deliberate warlike actions whose intent is destruction.


Verse 4-5

“Seeing then that I will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked, therefore will my sword go forth out of its sheath against all flesh from the south to the north. And all flesh shall know that I Yahweh have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath. It shall not return any more.”

This time the judgment will be total and unrestrained. The whole land will be included, both those who think themselves righteous, as well as the very wicked. It will cover all, moving from the south upwards, and all will realise that this is indeed the work of Yahweh and that it is final. There comes a time for all when God’s moment for reaping comes.

For ‘it shall not return any more’ compare ‘it shall not be quenched’ (Ezekiel 20:48). The two sections are parallel.


Verse 6-7

“Sigh, therefore, you son of man. You will sigh with the breaking of your loins and with bitterness before their eyes. And it will be when they say to you, ‘Why do you sigh?’, that you will say, ‘Because of the tidings, for it comes.’ And every heart will melt, and all hands will be feeble, and every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold it comes and it will be done, says the Lord Yahweh.”

So Ezekiel was to audibly sigh. The ‘breaking of the loins’ represents deep emotions and fear (Psalms 69:23; Nahum 2:10). The ‘bitterness’ reveals his heartbreaking concern. This will then raise questions in his hearers (by now anything that Ezekiel did raised questions), and when they ask for its reason he will reply that it is because of the coming bad tidings, tidings which result in great dismay and regret, so that even the strong are made weak, and all suffer emotional collapse. The hands will be feeble, every spirit will be faint, the legs will be weak as water. They could hardly doubt that he was referring to the final destruction of Jerusalem and the collapse of all their hopes.

‘Behold it comes and it will be done, says the Lord Yahweh.’ God wants them to know that it will all happen at His will. There is nothing accidental about it. In our modern day we can so emphasise that God is love that we forget this side of Him, that God is also light and hates sin totally.


Verses 8-10

The Song of the Sword.

This song is intermingled with comments in prose and therefore its original form is difficult to work out. It may well originally have accompanied preparation for and march into battle.

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, prophesy, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh. Say,

“A sword, a sword, it is sharpened,

And polished as well.

To utterly slaughter it is sharpened,

To be as lightning it is polished.”

This fearsome warsong was a reminder that Yahweh of hosts was leading the warfare against His people. It reminds us of an earlier day when with His sword drawn He had led the way against Canaan (Joshua 5:13) once its iniquities had reached their full allowance (Genesis 15:16). Now it was Judah-Israel who must experience the same.


Verse 10

“Should we then make mirth? The rod of my son it condemns every tree.”

Having revealed the warlike picture God now challenged Israel. In spite of the warnings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel they continued to enjoy life and make mirth, confident in their security as though they had no care in the world. But what was about to happen would make neither them nor God laugh. For God has chosen ‘His son’ (Nebuchadnezzar -compare Cyrus as ‘His anointed’ - Isaiah 45:1) whose kingly authority (or rod of punishment) has already condemned them all to slaughter (compare here Isaiah 10:5 - ‘Assyria, the rod of my anger’). For men as ‘trees’ see Ezekiel 20:47.

The depicting of Nebuchadnezzar as ‘His son’ is particularly telling in view of the fact that he was dealing with those He had once called ‘My son, My firstborn’ (Exodus 4:22). Now they were displaced (temporarily) by a foreigner. God can use any instrument in His purposes.


Verse 11

“And the sword is given to be polished that it may be handled,

“It is sharpened, yes, it is polished, to give it into the hand of the slayer.”

The exultant warsong goes on. The purpose in sharpening and polishing it is so that it might be handled, used in the hand of the slayer. God’s final war on His erstwhile people in Jerusalem and Judah is beginning.


Verse 12-13

“Cry and howl, son of man, for it (the sword) is against my people, it is against all the princes of Israel. They are delivered over to the sword with my people. Smite therefore on your thigh. For there is a trial. And what if it condemn even the rod? It will be no more, (or alternately ‘what if even the rod that condemns shall be no more?’), says the Lord Yahweh.”

Ezekiel is not to exult in God’s judgment. Rather he is to cry aloud and wail like a mourner. For it would be God’s erstwhile people in Jerusalem/Judah, and their princes, who would be smitten, for they are undergoing trial. And that period will also result in the rod itself being condemned so that ‘it will be no more’. The puzzle of how Nebuchadnezzar could be used as God’s ‘son’ is solved, for having condemned others he will then himself be condemned.

‘Smiting on the thigh’ was presenting a picture of grief and despair. For this whole idea of God using such an instrument see Habakkuk.


Verses 14-16

A Vivid Picture of the Severity of the Judgment.

“You therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite your hands together, and let the sword be doubled the third time (or ‘be doubled, yes tripled’), the sword for those to be mortally wounded. It is the sword of the great one for those to be mortally wounded which enters into their chambers. I have set the point of the sword against all their gates that their heart may melt and that their stumblings may be multiplied. Ah, it is made like lightning, it is pointed for slaughter. Make yourself one (or ‘gather yourself’), go to the right, set yourself in array, go to the left, wherever your face is set.”

The slight differences in translation of this complicated Hebrew (complicated to us rather than necessarily to the early readers of Ezekiel) make little difference to the overall sense.

This is a vivid picture of the final slaughter, as the sword sent by Yahweh does its work, and the prophet is to smite his hands to reveal his intensity, because it is bringing about the fulfilling of God’s purposes. The picture is intended to amplify the impact of the passage. While God’s people grieve, as Ezekiel did (Ezekiel 21:12), at the need for such judgments, they must be filled with fierce joy that God’s purposes are being carried into effect.

The sword is to be multiplied because of the intensity of the judgment, the sword that will mortally wound. The ‘great one’ may be Yahweh Himself, or it may refer to the Babylonian king or army, but the sword will enter into their very houses in which they will be slain. It is set by God against their gates so that they have no effective defences and will be thrown into panic and disarray. It is invincible, made like lightning and with a sharpened point (compare the sword in Genesis 3:24). There will be no escape.

‘Make yourself one (or ‘gather yourself’), go to the right, set yourself in array, go to the left, wherever your face is set.’

The command may have been to Ezekiel as he portrayed in vivid mime the use of the sword, or it may be a general command to the wielders of the sword. But in either case the thought is that the handler of the sword would prepare himself and slay on all sides, right and left. There would be no avoiding it.


Verse 17

“I also will smite my hands together, and I will satisfy my fury, I Yahweh have spoken it.”

In Ezekiel 21:14 it was Ezekiel who smote his hands at what was to be. Here it is Yahweh Himself. For the set purposes of God were going forward and in the light of His final purposes His true people must feel along with Him. God’s anger (His righteous abhorrence of sin) at the sinfulness of His people has long been delayed but now it must be satisfied. God has spoken! It is His final word.


Verse 18-19

The Sword of the King of Babylon.

‘The word of Yahweh came to me again, saying, “Also you son of man, appoint two ways that the sword of the king of Babylon may come. Those two shall come forth out of one land. And mark out a place, mark it out at the head of the way to the city.” ’

The theme of the sword continues, although the prophesy is a separate one and not directly linked with what has gone before, for it is a new word from Yahweh.

Ezekiel is instructed to depict the advance of the king of Babylon, possibly by means of marks on the ground or on a tablet. He is to depict two possible routes that the king may take after leaving Babylon when he comes to a fork which offers him two ways. He is to draw special attention to this point at which the road divides, where the final decision as to what city is to be first advanced on is determined. It is the head of the way that leads to ‘the city’, Jerusalem (and of the way that leads to Rabbah in Ammon).


Verse 20

“You will appoint a way for the sword to come to Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and to Judah, to Jerusalem the defenced.”

The watchers wait in suspense as they see what has been mapped out before them, and are aware of the decision that has to be made as to which rebel city will be advanced on first. What is the decision going to be? One way will take the sword to Rabbah in Ammon, the other will take it to Judah and Jerusalem waiting in fearful anticipation with its defences bristling. Both will of course eventually be involved (see Ezekiel 21:28).


Verse 21

“He shook the arrows to and fro, he consulted the teraphim, he looked in the liver.”

These were three ways of determining the will of the gods. The shaking up of arrows in their quiver (belomancy), in this case probably with the names of the cities on, and then drawing one out with suitable ritual (this was also a common practise among Arabs); consulting the teraphim, household cult objects used for divination (see 2 Kings 23:24); and examining the marks on the liver of a sacrificed animal (hepatoscopy), for which procedures were well known which were taught to the initiated, probably firstly by the use of clay models of which we have discovered examples.

Ezekiel no doubt in some way mimed each of these actions as the tension grew.


Verse 22

“In his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth for the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounts, to build forts.”

Ezekiel drew attention to the divination ‘in his right hand’ (which probably meant that it had been selected), that for Jerusalem, with all it portended. When it was followed it would result in the whole paraphernalia of warfare being applied against Jerusalem, the battering rams, the shouts for slaughter, the battlecries that chilled the blood, the casting up of mounts and the building of forts, all methods depicted in inscriptions. The second reference to battering rams amplifies the picture by depicting the attack on the gates, the vulnerable point of any city. Jerusalem was doomed.


Verse 23

“And it will be to them as vain divination in their sight, who have sworn solemn oaths to them (literally ‘oaths of oaths to them’). But he brings iniquity to remembrance that they might be taken.”

The point here would seem to be that the waiters and watchers in Jerusalem would dismiss what was happening as vain divination. They would not be in suspense. They would be confident that they were well able to resist, for they were full of confidence, having sworn solemn oaths with each other, and with others such as Ammon, and were at the ready, and probably because they also counted on a solemn treaty with Egypt for assistance (which came and then melted away).

‘Oath of oaths to them’ may possible be alternately translated ‘seven sevens to them’, and may indicate that they considered that there was plenty of time until victory was finally ensured at jubile - the fiftieth year. (Compare the seven sevens of Daniel 9:25 where the hope that victory would follow the seven sevens was dashed. Rather there would be seventy sevens).

Their hopes however would be in vain, because God would call to mind their iniquity with the result that only certain judgment awaited. They would be ‘taken’, that is defeated, and slain or made captive.


Verse 24

‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because you have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are discovered, so that in all your doings your sins appear, because you are come to remembrance you will be taken with the hand.”

The brief statement at the end of Ezekiel 21:23 is amplified and it is made clear why the judgment of God is so severe. Their sins are speaking out clearly and loudly. By their sinful behaviour they have forced God’s attention on what they are. Their transgressions are made openly apparent (there is no shame). In everything they do their sin appears. Thus they constantly come to His remembrance, and will be suitably dealt with.


Verses 25-27

“And you, Oh wicked one marked for death (literally ‘Oh slain wicked one’), the prince of Israel whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end, thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Remove the turban, and take off the crown, things will not be the same, exalt what is low and abase what is high. A ruin, a ruin, a ruin I will make it. This also will be no more until he come whose right it is. And I will give it to him.”

What is about to come will bring a total upheaval of society. The words are addressed to Zedekiah, ‘the prince of Israel’. He is depicted as ‘slain’, the overall meaning of the Hebrew word, and thus a marked man. In some contexts the word signifies disqualified because of some taint (Leviticus 21:7; Leviticus 21:14). Thus some translate ‘unhallowed’. His day has come in this time of final punishment for sin. Thus he is to decrown himself and put aside his insignia of office, for things are about to be turned upside down. Nothing will be the same again. What is low is to be exalted, what is exalted is to be abased. All they have prided themselves in will become a ruin.

The threefold repetition of ‘a ruin’ stresses the emphasis on the overturning of society. Nothing will be the same again until ‘he comes whose right it is’ (see Genesis 49:10). To him it will be given.

So Zedekiah is finally rejected. The people cannot hope in him. He is not the expected ‘coming one’ of Genesis 49:10, and what he has built up will be destroyed. We discover here the expectancy that the people already had that a coming son of David and of Judah would arise who would put all to rights. Until He comes full restoration cannot take place, but when He does come God will set all to rights. He will have the crown.

God’s Judgment on Ammon Because of Their Behaviour.

Originally Ammon had sided with Babylon and had aided them in the invasion of Judah (2 Kings 24:2). Then they had allied themselves with Judah along with others (Jeremiah 27:2), which was why they were included in Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion plans (Ezekiel 21:20). After the fall of Jerusalem they would exploit the situation to their advantage and deride Jerusalem (see Ezekiel 25:1-7 a). Thus they were uncomfortable allies.

This prophecy, added in here to connect with Ezekiel 21:20, probably refers to a slightly later period after the destruction of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 25:1-7 a) when Ammon, possibly smarting from her own defeat, will pour out reproaches on Judah and Jerusalem, and intend to take positive acquisitive action as well, for Jerusalem had borne the brunt of Nebuchadnezzar’s activities. But while God would bring His own judgment on Jerusalem, it was not open to others to do the same, and for it they would be condemned.

Its importance here cannot be overemphasised. It is another way of indicating that while Israel has been justly punished, it has not been forgotten before God.


Verse 28

“And say,

‘A sword, a sword is drawn for the slaughter, it is polished.

To cause it to devour, that it may be as lightning.’

Once again we have a warsong, this time depicted as sung by Ammon, for the command comes for them to sheathe their sword (Ezekiel 21:30 a) to await God’s judgment.


Verse 29

“While they portend (‘see’) vain things for you, while they divine lies to you, to lay you on the necks of the wicked who are mortally wounded, whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end.”

The Ammonites have resorted to divination and have ‘seen’ lying prophecies and false visions which portend misery and destruction on the remnants of Jerusalem, the idea then being that they themselves have to fulfil it. In other words it is their intention to benefit by the situation. Thus they plan to pile up the survivors on the necks of those already slaughtered, ‘the wicked who are mortally wounded, whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end’ (Ezekiel 21:25). This latter quotation stresses the finality of the misery that has come on Jerusalem, and God sees it as enough. The Ammonites have no right therefore to inflict further misery on them. They are still under God’s eye.


Verses 30-32

“Cause it to return to its sheath. In the place where you were created, in the land of your birth, I will judge you. And I will pour out my indignation on you, and I will blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and I will deliver you into the hand of brutish men, skilful to destroy. You will be for fuel for the fire. Your blood will be in the midst of the land. You will be no more remembered. For I Yahweh have spoken it.”

Their vindictiveness has brought them also under God’s judgment, and they must desist. Indeed they have determined their own fate. Only that judgment now awaits them, and it will come on them in their own native land where they were first established as a nation, where God had watched over them too (Deuteronomy 2:19).

It is depicted in severe terms. God’s indignation, the fire of His wrath, being subjected to the hands of brutish war-skilled men, fuel for the fire, their land covered in blood, a nation destroyed. And in the end oblivion, to become a forgotten people, to the ancient the worst of all fates. And it is God Who has said it.

So while Jerusalem has faced the awful and seemingly final judgment of God there is here the recognition that there is hope for the future, for God has not taken His eye off them, and those who take advantage of them will themselves be destroyed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 21:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-21.html. 2013.

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Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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