Ezekiel 21
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Ezekiel 21:1-5. These verses, though still figurative, are plainer than the preceding, of which they furnish the explanation. The sword of the Lord is drawn finally from its sheath, to which it shall not return (Ezekiel 21:5); it is drawn against Jerusalem and its sanctuaries (Ezekiel 21:2); it shall slay indiscriminately righteous and wicked (Ezekiel 21:3, cf. Ezekiel 20:47), and all flesh shall know that it is the sword of the Lord, and that it is his hand that wields it (Ezekiel 21:5).—Even to-day the study of Israel’s history occupies men, and its lessons are not yet exhausted.

Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel,
2. the holy places] Or, sanctuaries. These are not the rural sanctuaries or high places, but the holy buildings in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 7:24; Lamentations 2:6).

And say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked.
Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north:
That all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more.
Sigh therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins; and with bitterness sigh before their eyes.
6, 7. Agitation of the prophet at the tidings of the coming calamity. This agitation of his is only a symbol of the dismay and paralysis that shall overtake all when the calamity comes. On the figures in Ezekiel 21:7 cf. Ezekiel 7:17.

And it shall be, when they say unto thee, Wherefore sighest thou? that thou shalt answer, For the tidings; because it cometh: and every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and shall be brought to pass, saith the Lord GOD.
7. it cometh] i.e. the overwhelming disaster. The words, “and … to pass” are wanting in LXX.

Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
8–17. The destroying sword of the Lord. The violent agitation of the prophet at the thought of the coming destruction finds expression in a wild and irregular ode upon the sword of the Lord. The general sense of the poem is discernible, but as in ch. 7 the text is in several places very obscure (e.g. Ezekiel 21:10; Ezekiel 21:13). There appear to be four divisions:—

Ezekiel 21:9-11. A sword is furbished that it may glitter terribly in the eyes of men (cf. Ezekiel 32:10); it is sharpened for the slaughter—furbished and sharpened to give it into the hand of the slayer.

Ezekiel 21:12-13. The prophet must cry and howl and smite in wild excitement on his thigh, for the princes of Israel and the people are delivered over to the sword. His agitation is but the reflexion of the carnage which shall be witnessed.

Ezekiel 21:14-15. The sword is doubled and tripled; universal shall be the carnage.

Ezekiel 21:16-17. Wild apostrophe to the sword to execute its task in all directions. Sympathy of Jehovah with the terrible work.

Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the LORD; Say, A sword, a sword is sharpened, and also furbished:
It is sharpened to make a sore slaughter; it is furbished that it may glitter: should we then make mirth? it contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree.
10. should we then make mirth] lit., or shall we make mirth? These words with the rest to the end of the verse appear to have little meaning in the connexion. R V. renders the whole: “shall we then make mirth? the rod of my son, it contemneth every tree.” This is a literal rendering, the last words meaning probably that the rod (the sword of Babylon) with which Jehovah now chastises his son (the prince, or, people) contemneth (exceeds in severity) every tree, or, all wood, i.e. all rods of chastisement which are mere wood, for it is glittering steel. Some ingenuity is needed to extract the meaning, which, however, when extracted is difficult to harmonise with Ezekiel 21:13. The words “shall we then make mirth?” still appear meaningless. For “or” or “then” Frd. Del. would find some cohortative particle after the Assyr.,—ha! let us make mirth! the words being those of God (cf. Ezekiel 21:17), and the following words “contemneth every tree” meaning that in comparison with the rod he now uses all other rods of chastisement are only despicable, and useless for their purpose (Zeit. f. Keilschritftforschung, ii. 4 p. 385). The text appears to be in disorder, and though many emendations have been proposed none of them is satisfactory. Ges., … “glitter, against the prince of the tribe of my son (Judah), which despiseth all wood”—prince for “should we rejoice” (nasi’ for nasis), and the idea being expressed that as Judah has hitherto despised all ordinary chastisements with the rod of wood the sword shall now be drawn against the prince. Ew., “no weak rod of my son, the softest of all wood”—the words “rod of my son” being a phrase from the mouth of fathers and meaning a gentle rod. Apart from the unnatural constructions and the strong Aramaisms assumed, the sense is feeble and improbable. Smend, “woe O prince! thou hast despised the rod, contemned every tree (all wood)”—rod and wood being used of chastening as before. LXX. reads: “ready (= furbished) for paralysing (enfeebling); slay, despise, set at nought every tree”! The imperatives are addressed to the sword. The words “for paralysing” may be a rendering of present Heb. read with Aramean sense; but “for” is read for “or.” It is by no means certain that LXX. found imperatives, because it renders Ezekiel 21:9 also in the imperative. Partly following Sep. Corn., “for men who slay and plunder (lit. men of slaughter and plundering) who despise every stronghold”—viz. the Chaldeans, into whose hand the sword of the Lord is to be given. (Cf. Isaiah 33:8; Habakkuk 1:10.) This really gives a meaning, though it is gained at considerable cost, for some of the words assumed do not occur, the constructions are far from probable, and the changes of the text are serious. Further, in all the passage it is the sword itself that is dwelt upon and those whom it shall slay; those who are to wield it are only alluded to.

Scholars almost unanimously assume that there is ref. in the clause to former chastisement, hence “rod” and “all wood” are read in that sense. But such an idea seems little in place in the connexion; and the word rendered “rod” may mean sceptre or almost ruler (Ezekiel 19:11; Ezekiel 19:14), and “every tree” may be taken of other sceptres. The assumption that “contemneth every tree” (all wood) means: exceeds in severity of punishment every rod, or looks down on every other chastening rod, feeling its own superiority as an instrument of punishment, is a very far-fetched one. It is certainly possible that the word “prince” (princes) lurks in the strange “shall we then rejoice?” (Ges. Sm.). The prince and royal house are alluded to repeatedly in the chapter, e.g. Ezekiel 21:14; Ezekiel 21:25-27; Ezekiel 21:29. The rendering: “against the prince (princes), the sceptre of my son (that) despiseth all wood” (i.e. other sceptres, or royal powers, Ezekiel 19:11; Ezekiel 19:14), is not very natural. The expression “my son,” whether applied to the king or the people, has something unexpected about it in Ezek., though “my people” is used in the passage also (Ezekiel 21:12), and an undertone of pity, or at least a deep feeling of the terribleness of the coming calamity, runs through the passage. The words “shall we then make mirth?” can hardly stand in any case, even in this form: “or shall we make mirth (saying), The sceptre of my son contemneth all wood!” i.e. defies every other sceptre or royal power (La Bible Annotéc). Any reference in the passage to Genesis 49:9 or 2 Samuel 7:14 is without probability.

And 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.
Cry and howl, son of man: for it shall be upon my people, it shall be upon all the princes of Israel: terrors by reason of the sword shall be upon my people: smite therefore upon thy thigh.
12. terrors … the sword] With R. V. they (the princes) are delivered over to the sword with my people.

smite upon thy thigh] A gesture implying despair or the sense of a terrible and irreparable evil happening, Jeremiah 31:19.

Because it is a trial, and what if the sword contemn even the rod? it shall be no more, saith the Lord GOD.
13. Because it is a trial] Or, for there is a trial. So accented the word occurs again Isaiah 28:16, a stone of trial (tried stone). The word might be read as a verb: for trial has been made. In any case reference is not to the “sword” nor the Babylonian conqueror who wields it, as if the meaning were: trial has been made of what it or he can do! Such a sense has no probability. The word must refer to those on whom the calamity is to fall.

and what if … be no more] The same difficulties recur here as in Ezekiel 21:10, and the translation will follow that adopted there. Ew., “for it has been tried—and what? is it also a soft rod?—that will not be, saith” &c.; i.e. the rod (the sword) has been tried, and it will be found no soft one. This is wholly improbable. Boett., “for (as to) trial, what (is to be effected) with that, when thou hast even contemned the rod?” (Aehrenlese, ii. p. 174.) Others (Hitz., Corn.) point the word “trial” differently, and read: for with kindness what (should I accomplish)? &c.—which is quite destitute of probability. In spite of the grammatical harshness (cf. however Ezekiel 21:27) the construction followed in R.V. is perhaps the most probable: “for trial hath been made, and what if the sceptre (R. V. rod) that contemneth should be no more!”—reference being to the royal house of Judah which shall perish, cf. Ezekiel 21:25-27; Ezekiel 21:29?

Thou therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite thine hands together, and let the sword be doubled the third time, the sword of the slain: it is the sword of the great men that are slain, which entereth into their privy chambers.
14. doubled the third time] The reading must mean: let the sword be doubled, tripled! lit. unto a third (sword), i.e. till it be three-fold. Of course there were not to be three swords or even two; what is called for is a double and triple intensity and operation of the one sword (cf. Ezekiel 21:16).

great men that are slain] Rather: the great one that is slain, i.e. doomed to be slain—ref. being to king Zedekiah, cf. Ezekiel 21:25. A different division of letters gives: the great sword of the slain (collective)—which is less probable as “slain” is plur. immediately before.

entereth … privy chambers] Rather: which compasseth them about—still descriptive of the sword.

I have set the point of the sword against all their gates, that their heart may faint, and their ruins be multiplied: ah! it is made bright, it is wrapped up for the slaughter.
15. the point of the sword] Or, the glitter, lit. whirl or swing. Others by changing a letter would read “slaughter,” which Frd. Del. (Baer, Ezek.) by comparison of Assyr. considers the word to mean as it stands.

ruins be multiplied] Or, stumbling-blocks, Jeremiah 6:21. Or, by a slight change in pointing: those overthrown may be multiplied; Jeremiah 18:23; cf. Jeremiah 46:16.

wrapt up] sharpened, as marg.

Go thee one way or other, either on the right hand, or on the left, whithersoever thy face is set.
16. Perhaps with R.V., “gather thee together, go to the right; set thyself in array, go to the left!” The sword is addressed by the Lord and bidden concentrate its force to smite on the right, and set itself on to slaughter on the left. Others by changes in the text find a command to the sword to smite in all the four directions (Boett.), which is more artificial.

thy face is set] Or, thine edge is appointed. Cf. same word “appointed” used of the sword, Jeremiah 47:7, of the rod, Micah 6:9.

I will also smite mine hands together, and I will cause my fury to rest: I the LORD have said it.
17. smite mine hands] The strong anthropomorphism suggests a tumult of emotion in the Divine mind, and sympathy with the terrible work.

cause my fury to rest] Appease, or, assuage my fury. Cf. ch. Ezekiel 5:13.

The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
18–27. He who is, or who wields, the sword, the king of Babylon. The verses furnish the interpretation of the preceding passage.

18–27. The prophet is commanded to represent a way which parts into two ways. At the parting of the ways he is to set up two guideposts, the one pointing to Rabbath Ammon, the other to Jerusalem. The king of Babylon, coming to the parting of the ways, hesitates which he shall take. He consults the oracle, draws lots by means of the arrows, and the arrow that he draws out in his right hand is the one inscribed “Jerusalem.”

Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the king of Babylon may come: both twain shall come forth out of one land: and choose thou a place, choose it at the head of the way to the city.
19. appoint thee two ways] Or, make thee. The prophet is to make a representation of a way branching into two ways, i.e. the way from Babylon, which at a certain point parts into two, there being two possibilities before the king, either Rabbah or Jerusalem. Naturally the action was not performed in reality by the prophet.

choose thou a place] and grave a hand, at the head of the way to the (each) city grave it. The “hand” is the pointer or sign-post indicating direction. LXX. reads somewhat differently.

Appoint a way, that the sword may come to Rabbath of the Ammonites, and to Judah in Jerusalem the defenced.
20. On Rabbah cf. Ezekiel 25:5.

in Jerusalem] unto Jerus. For “the defenced” LXX. reads: “in the midst of it,” i.e. of Judah.

For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver.
21. for the king … stood] standeth. All the verbs had better be put in the present.

made his arrows bright] he shaketh the arrows, he consulteth the teraphim, he looketh in the liver. These ceremonies explain the phrase “to use divination,” The process has several parts: a sacrifice was offered to the deity or image, the liver of the animal apparently being inspected to see what intimations it suggested. Then arrows (among the Arabs they were pointless and unfeathered), inscribed with the names or things between which a decision was sought from the god (here Rabbah and Jerusalem), were cast into a vessel or bag; these were shaken and brought before the god from whom the decision was sought; one was then drawn, and the inscription it bore was the answer of the god to the alternative propounded for his settlement; in the present case the king’s right hand drew out the arrow inscribed “Jerusalem.” This method of divination by arrows was common among the Arabs (cf. Wellhausen, Skizzen, iii. p. 127), and apparently also in Chaldea (Lenormant, La Divination chez les Chaldéens, ch. ii. iv., Sayce, Trans. Soc. Bib. Archæology, vol. iii. 145). It is related of the poet Imru’ulḳais that he used this method of divination to ascertain whether he should avenge his father’s death or no, and the answer always coming out “no,” he became enraged and breaking the arrows flung them in the god’s face, telling him that if the case had been that of his own father he would not have given such a decision, and (in Arab fashion) applying many foul epithets to the god’s mother.—The teraphim are the deities which Nebuchadnezzar carried with him, who gave the oracle. The plur. does not imply the use of more than one image.

At his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to appoint captains, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to appoint battering rams against the gates, to cast a mount, and to build a fort.
22. at his right hand] in his right hand is the lot (or, oracle) “Jerusalem,” to set battering rams, to open the mouth with a cry. Though “battering rams” occurs again in the verse the word can have no other sense, such as “captains.” The word “cry” seems required by the parallel “shouting;” the letters have probably been transposed. On the apparatus of siege, cf. ch. Ezekiel 4:2.

And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, to them that have sworn oaths: but he will call to remembrance the iniquity, that they may be taken.
23. to them … sworn oaths] The words are obscure and wanting in LXX., and possibly are not original. Whether a gloss or no their purpose appears to be to explain why Israel considered this divination of the king’s to be false, i.e. believed that he would not besiege or at least capture Jerusalem. The natural sense is: they have those who have sworn oaths (to them), i.e. allies, viz, the Egyptians, &c., who will frustrate and falsify Nebuchadnezzar’s divination. Others: inasmuch as they (Israel) have sworn oaths to them (the Chaldeans). The construction is unnatural, and the sense without relevancy, because Israel had just broken its oath, a thing which Neb. came up to punish (ch. 17). Others still would change the pointing: they have weeks of weeks, i.e. weeks upon weeks—abundance of time to prepare for the siege, a sense feeble in the extreme.

he will call to remembrance] Or, calleth. The subject is most naturally Nebuchadnezzar, whose presence is an accusation before God of the king and people because of their breaking their allegiance to him (cf. ch. 17). The consequence of this accusation or bringing guilt to remembrance is that they shall be taken, i.e. captured, the city and people, by the foe. It is certainly possible that the clause “sworn oaths” may have been thrown in to explain this idea.

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; 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; because, I say, that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand.
24. so that in … appear] Or, so that your sins do appear, even all your evil doings. Cf. Ezekiel 29:16.

And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end,
25. profane wicked prince] Or, and thou wicked one, who art to be slain, prince of Israel. The sense “profane” is not quite certain, cf. fem., Leviticus 21:7; Leviticus 21:14.

when iniquity … an end] in the time of the iniquity of the end, i.e. when iniquity shall receive its final chastisement—in the downfall of the state and captivity of the king. Cf. Ezekiel 35:5.

Thus saith the Lord GOD; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high.
26. The term “diadem” is used of the mitre of the high-priest, Exodus 28:4. There can be no reference to the high-priest here, the passage refers exclusively to the royal house, which shall be discrowned.

this … the same] The somewhat enigmatical words mean probably: this is not that, i.e. the present royal house and régime is not that which shall be (the Messianic), as Ezekiel 21:27 explains. Or, this shall not remain this, i.e. what it is, it shall be removed and give place to something higher to come, Ezekiel 21:27.

exalt … that is high] let that be exalted which is low, and that which is high be abased. The words “overturn,” &c., Ezekiel 21:27 explain the idea. The present order shall disappear, the high shall be abased and at last that which is humble shall be exalted, cf. Ezekiel 17:24.

I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.
27. and it shall be no more] Or, yea this—it shall not be (or, it is gone!). “This” does not refer to the condition introduced by the overturning, but goes back and resumes the present condition of things, which shall be overturned till he comes who hath the right, the Messiah. On verb, cf. Isaiah 15:6; Job 6:21.

until he come … give it him] Rather: and I will give it him. He whose right it is, or, he who hath the right, is the Messiah. Reference is possibly to Genesis 49:10, where Ezek. read shelloh (whose), not as now Shiloh.

And thou, son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning the Ammonites, and concerning their reproach; even say thou, The sword, the sword is drawn: for the slaughter it is furbished, to consume because of the glittering:
28. the sword … is drawn] Rather with disregard of the accents: a sword, a sword is drawn for slaughter; it is furbished to the uttermost in order that it may glitter.

to consume] Rather: to the uttermost, lit. as far as it can hold or receive. Corn. amends: to flash (hahel for hakil).

Appendix. 28–32. Threatening prophecy against Ammon

The passage is obscure, but several things seem evident. 1. In spite of the similarities between the language of Ezekiel 21:28 and that in Ezekiel 21:9-10, the sword here is that of Ammon. This is certain from the words Ezekiel 21:30 “return it to its sheath.” 2. It is against Israel, not against the Chaldeans, that the Ammonites furbish and draw their sword. This appears from the words “concerning Ammon, and concerning their reproach” Ezekiel 21:28. Deceived by false prophecies they cherish purposes of conquest outside their own borders, which shall be far from being realized; on the contrary they shall be assailed in their own home and there annihilated (Ezekiel 21:25, cf. Ezekiel 25:4). History does not enable us to follow the progress of events. It is possible that simultaneously with Judah all the neighbouring peoples threw off the yoke of Babylon, so that it might be doubtful which of them Nebuchadnezzar would attack first (Ezekiel 21:20-21), but that in the course of events Ammon, true to its instincts, assumed an attitude hostile to Judah (cf. 2 Kings 24:2). The date of the present passage is no doubt later than that of the rest of the chapter, and may owe some of its colour to events subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem. Cf. Ezekiel 25:1-7.

Whiles they see vanity unto thee, whiles they divine a lie unto thee, to bring thee upon the necks of them that are slain, of the wicked, whose day is come, when their iniquity shall have an end.
29. they see vanity unto thee] i.e. Ammon’s soothsayers falsely hold out the prospect to it of victory and conquest.

bring thee upon the necks] The sense is doubtful, the phrase “bring, or, put, upon the necks” not occurring again. The “wicked, whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end,” can hardly be any other than the princes and people of Jerusalem, Ezekiel 21:25. 1. The clause “to bring thee,” &c., might express the contents of the lying prophecy: they divine a lie and bring thee—they promise that thou shalt fall upon Israel, and conquer them. 2. The clause may express the issue of the lying divination, the eventual issue of it in God’s hand. These lying prophecies lead the Ammonites to enterprises or to purpose enterprizes the issue of which in God’s hand (or, his judgment because of which) will be that they shall have a common fate with the princes and people of Jerusalem, upon whose necks (bodies) they shall be flung slain. 3. Others (Hitz. Corn.) would alter the text reading it (the sword) for thee, and connecting closely with Ezekiel 21:28 : that it may glitter (whiles they divine a lie unto thee, &c.), in order to bring it (the sword) upon the necks, &c., i.e. assail and slay them with it. This is simpler, though against LXX.

upon the necks … wicked] More plainly: upon the necks of the wicked that are (to be) slain, i.e. the princes, &c. in Jerusalem, Ezekiel 21:25.

when their iniquity … end] At the time of the iniquity (or, punishment) of the end, cf. Ezekiel 21:25.

Shall I cause it to return into his sheath? I will judge thee in the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy nativity.
30. Shall I … return] Return it into its sheath! Ammon is commanded to put back his sword to its sheath; his dreams of conquests abroad are vain, he shall be visited and destroyed in his own land. On “nativity” cf. Ezekiel 16:3.

And I will pour out mine indignation upon thee, I will blow against thee in the fire of my wrath, and deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, and skilful to destroy.
31. brutish men] i.e. wild and savage men. So in Ezekiel 25:4 it is the “men of the east,” the children of the desert, who are to execute the judgment on Ammon.

skilful to destroy] lit. the smiths or forgers of destruction. Ewald’s “smiths of hell,” i.e. demons who forge in hell, is fanciful.

Thou shalt be for fuel to the fire; thy blood shall be in the midst of the land; thou shalt be no more remembered: for I the LORD have spoken it.
32. Cf. Ezekiel 25:10. Ammon shall perish in his own land.

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