Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
On the exact day on which Nebuchadnezzar invested Jerusalem the fact was revealed to the prophet in Chaldæa, and he was commanded to declare the fate of the city by a parable (Ezekiel 24:3-14). Afterwards the sudden death of his wife was foretold, and he was forbidden to make any outward sign of mourning, that by this symbolical act he might further instruct the people (Ezekiel 24:15-24). At the close of the chapter he is told that the fall of the city will be announced to him by a fugitive, and after that he shall again prophesy to the people (Ezekiel 24:25-27).
Again in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,(1) In the tenth day of the month.—Jehoiachin’s captivity (by which all these prophecies are dated) coincided with Zedekiah’s reign. The date here given is therefore the same as in Jeremiah 39:1; Jeremiah 52:4; 2Kings 25:1, and was afterwards observed by the Jews as a fast (Zechariah 8:19). It was doubtless the day on which the investment of the city was completed.
Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this same day: the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day.(2) Write thee the name.—It is evident that especial attention was to be called to the exact date, and a note made of it at the time. The words “has set himself against” would be more accurately rendered has fallen upon. The supposition that the reference is to some point on his march from which Nebuchadnezzar advanced to the attack upon Jerusalem, and that tidings of this were brought to the prophet in the ordinary way, is quite inconsistent with the whole verse. It is plain that the prophet means to say, with especial emphasis and distinctness, that he was informed of what was taking place at Jerusalem on the same day in which it happened.
And utter a parable unto the rebellious house, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Set on a pot, set it on, and also pour water into it:(3) Utter a parable.—What follows (Ezekiel 24:3-14) was not a symbolical action, but was simply a parable spoken to the people, although the language is just that which would describe action.
Set on a pot.—Rather, the cauldron, the word being the same as in Ezekiel 11:3, and preceded by the definite article referring to that passage. Urgency is indicated by the repetition of the command “set on.” The people in Ezekiel 11:3 had called their city the cauldron; so let it be, the Divine word now says, and set that city upon the fire of the armies of my judgment, and gather into it for destruction the people who have boasted of it as their security.
Gather the pieces thereof into it, even every good piece, the thigh, and the shoulder; fill it with the choice bones.(4) The pieces thereof.—Literally, its pieces, the pieces which pertain to the cauldron, the Jews, whose centre and capital is Jerusalem. This was the natural effect of Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign; the people from every side sought refuge in the city. (Comp. Jeremiah 35:11.) The mention of the “good piece,” “the choice bones,” and “the choice of the flock” (Ezekiel 24:5), is not for the purpose of designating any particular class, but only to emphasise that all, even the best, are to be included.
Take the choice of the flock, and burn also the bones under it, and make it boil well, and let them seethe the bones of it therein.(5) Burn also the bones under it.—It is uncertain whether this is or is not the exact sense. The word for “burn” means, as is shown in the margin, heap, and is a noun. This is taken by many with a verb implied, in the sense of “make a heap of wood to burn the bones.” On the other hand, the sense of the text is that given in most of the ancient versions, and it is certain that bones, before the fat is extracted, may be used for fuel. It is better, therefore, to translate quite literally, heap the bones under it, leaving the same ambiguity as in the original as to whether the bones are to be burned upon the fuel or themselves used for fuel. In either case, the bones are those which are left after “the good pieces” have been put into the cauldron. No part of the people shall escape; the refuse alike with the choice is doomed to destruction.
Wherefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe to the bloody city, to the pot whose scum is therein, and whose scum is not gone out of it! bring it out piece by piece; let no lot fall upon it.(6-14) These verses contain the application of the parable in two distinct parts (Ezekiel 24:6-14), but in such wise that the literal and the figurative continually run together. A new feature, that of the rust on the cauldron, is also introduced. A somewhat similar figure may be found in Isaiah 4:4, but with the difference that Ezekiel, as usual, goes much more into minute details.
(6) Scum.—This word, which occurs five times in these verses (Ezekiel 24:6; Ezekiel 24:11-12), is found nowhere else. Interpreters are agreed in the correctness of the old Greek version of it, rust. The thought is, that not only the inhabitants of the city are wicked, but that this wickedness is so great that the city itself (represented by the cauldron) is, as it were, corroded with rust. It is therefore to be utterly destroyed, “brought out piece by piece” (see 2Kings 25:10); no lot is to fall upon it to make a discrimination, since nothing is to be spared. All previous judgments had been partial; this is to be complete.
For her blood is in the midst of her; she set it upon the top of a rock; she poured it not upon the ground, to cover it with dust;(7) Upon the top of a rock.—Crimes of violence are continually charged upon Jerusalem (Ezekiel 22:12-13; Ezekiel 23:37, &c.), but here she is further reproached with such indifference to these crimes that she did not even care to cover them decently. It was required in the law that the blood even of the sacrifices (Leviticus 4:7; Leviticus 16:15, &c.) and of animals slain for food (Deuteronomy 12:16) should be poured upon the ground, that it might be absorbed and covered out of sight; but Jerusalem had put the blood of her victims upon the hard rock, and not even covered it with dust, thus glorying in her shame. (Comp. Job 16:18; Isaiah 26:21.)
That it might cause fury to come up to take vengeance; I have set her blood upon the top of a rock, that it should not be covered.(8) I have set.—Here God Himself is said to do that which has just been charged upon Jerusalem. There is no inconsistency between the statements; Jerusalem gloried in her crimes, and God made those crimes conspicuous as the cause of her punishment.
Heap on wood, kindle the fire, consume the flesh, and spice it well, and let the bones be burned.(10) Spice it well.—With Ezekiel 24:9 the second part of the application of the parable begins, and is marked by great energy of description. In this verse the sense of the word translated “spice” is doubtful. If this be its true meaning, the idea must be, Go on thoroughly with the cooking; but the word is always used in connection with the preparation of compound incense or spices, and seems therefore to refer to the thoroughness of the work, and thus to mean, Boil thoroughly. In Job 41:31 (Heb. 23) its derivative is used as a simile for the raging sea. The process is to be continued until the water in the cauldron is all evaporated, the flesh consumed, and even the bones burned.
Then set it empty upon the coals thereof, that the brass of it may be hot, and may burn, and that the filthiness of it may be molten in it, that the scum of it may be consumed.(11) Set it empty upon the coals.—Keeping up the strong figure of the parable, after all the inhabitants have passed under judgment the city itself is to be purged by fire. It is unnecessary here to think of heat as removing the rust (scum) from the cauldron; the prophet’s mind is not upon any physical effect, but upon the methods of purifying defiled metallic vessels under the law (see Numbers 31:23). It was a symbolical rather than a material purification, and in the present case involved the actual destruction of the city itself. In Ezekiel 24:11-14, the obduracy of the people is set forth in strong language, together with the completeness of the coming judgment in contrast to the in-effectiveness of all former efforts for their reformation (Ezekiel 24:13); and, finally, the adaptation of the punishment to the sin (Ezekiel 24:14). The word translated “lies” in Ezekiel 24:12 means pains or labour. Translate, The labour is in vain; her rust does not go out of her, even her rust with fire. In Ezekiel 24:13 “lewdness” would be better rendered abomination.
Also the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,(15) Also the word.—What follows is distinctly separated from the utterance of the foregoing parable and its interpretation, yet Ezekiel 24:18 shows that it took place upon the same day. Ezekiel is warned of the sudden death of his wife, who is described as deeply beloved, and yet he is forbidden to make any sign of mourning for her.
Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead, bind the tire of thine head upon thee, and put on thy shoes upon thy feet, and cover not thy lips, and eat not the bread of men.(17) The tire of thine head.—This might be either the covering for the head usually worn by the people (see Ezekiel 24:23), or the special “mitre of fine linen” (Exodus 39:28) provided for the priests; but as the peculiar priestly garments were worn only when the priests were on duty within the tabernacle (Leviticus 6:10-11), it is not likely that Ezekiel used them in his captivity. The priests were expressly allowed to mourn for their nearest relations (Leviticus 21:2-3), and Ezekiel is therefore here made an exception. Among the ordinary signs of mourning was the covering of the head (2Samuel 15:30; Jeremiah 14:3), the sprinkling of dust upon it (Ezekiel 27:30; 1Samuel 4:12; 2Samuel 15:32), going barefoot (1Samuel 15:30; Isaiah 20:2), and covering the lips, or lower part of the face (Micah 3:7). All these things are now forbidden to the prophet in his sorrow.
Eat not the bread of men—i.e., the bread furnished by other men. It was customary for friends and neighbours to send food to the house of mourning, a custom which seems to be alluded to in Deuteronomy 26:14; Jeremiah 16:7; Hosea 9:4; and out of this custom the habit of funeral feasts appears to have grown in later times.
So I spake unto the people in the morning: and at even my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded.(18) In the morning: and at even.—What the prophet “spake unto the people in the morning” was what he has recorded (Ezekiel 24:3-14). Shortly after this the warning of Ezekiel 24:15-17 must have come to him, and then his Wife died in the evening of the same day. Accordingly, on the following morning the strange conduct which had been commanded him was observed by the people; their curiosity is awakened, and, rightly surmising that there must be some especial significance in the strange doings of their prophet, they come to inquire the meaning of his actions. In reply (Ezekiel 24:20-24), he announces again the destruction of the Temple, and that in the depth of sorrow and trouble at its fall there shall be no outward show of mourning.
Then I answered them, The word of the LORD came unto me, saying,(20) That which your soul pitieth.—In the margin the pity of your soul. The word rather means in this connection love, in the sense of the object of love: “that which your soul loves.” The expression in the original is a difficult one, and is used by Ezekiel on account of the alliteration with the previous clause: “the machmad of your eyes, and the machmal of your souls.” (Comp. the parallel in Ezekiel 24:25 : “That whereupon they set their minds.”)
Speak unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the excellency of your strength, the desire of your eyes, and that which your soul pitieth; and your sons and your daughters whom ye have left shall fall by the sword.(21) Profane my sanctuary.—Not merely by its destruction, but by the manner of its destruction, the Gentiles being allowed to enter its most sacred precincts, and carry off in triumph its sacred vessels and treasures. It was in the confidence that God would protect this that the last hope of the Jews lay; He tells them that He will Himself profane it.
And your tires shall be upon your heads, and your shoes upon your feet: ye shall not mourn nor weep; but ye shall pine away for your iniquities, and mourn one toward another.(23) Ye shall pine away.—In the tumult, distress, and captivity of the approaching judgment there would be no opportunity for the outward display of grief; but all the more should it press upon them inwardly, and, according to the terrible threatening of Leviticus 26:39, they should “pine away in their iniquity” in their enemies’ land. In the original the preposition is the same here as in Leviticus, “in your iniquity.”
In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD.(27) Shall thy mouth be opened.—The close of the chapter (Ezekiel 24:25-27) tells the prophet that he shall be informed of the fall of Jerusalem by an escaped fugitive. After that his mouth shall again be opened to utter his prophecies to the captives. Meantime, for almost two years (comp. Ezekiel 24:1 with Ezekiel 33:21), from the investment of the city until he heard of its fall, Ezekiel gave no prophecy to the Israelites. He had abundantly foretold the result, and now awaited the issue in silence. He has, however, recorded a considerable number of prophecies against foreign nations (Ezekiel 25-32).
Here one great division of the prophecies of Ezekiel closes. They have been hitherto occupied almost exclusively with reproofs for sin and with warnings of impending judgment upon his people. The following prophecies, as far as Ezekiel 32, are indeed of the same character, but are directed entirely against foreign nations. This collection, as noticed in the Introduction, § 4, is not arranged chronologically like the rest of the book, but on the plan of putting together the prophecies against each nation. Ezekiel 29:17-21 is dated more than sixteen years after the fall of Jerusalem, and Ezekiel 32 about two months after the tidings of that event; all the others which are dated are before, but only a little before, the capture of Jerusalem. Most of those undated seem to be in their chronological place, except that the first of them (Ezekiel 25) was evidently after the fall of Jerusalem.
After that great judgment was made known to the prophet, there is a marked change in his utterances, and from that time his general tone is far more cheering and consolatory.