Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Prophecies concerning heathen nations, from the time of Balaam down, mark every period of Scripture history. Sometimes, as in the case of Jonah, Obadiah, and Nahum, the utterance of the seer is against a single nation; sometimes, as in the case of Joel, and possibly also in that of Amos, the prophecies against the heathen are merely incidental and subsidiary to those concerning Israel; and sometimes, as in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, they are collected in a special portion of the book. Balaam, Jonah, and to some extent Daniel, addressed their warnings directly to the nations concerned; but in most of the other instances it seems unlikely that the prophecies were ever communicated to the people to whom they directly related. In all cases they appear to have been given by God for the sake of His Church as well as for that of its enemies; even that of Jonah was given to Nineveh probably but a little time before the conquest of Israel, and must have impressed upon its haughty monarchs some respect for the God whose people they were soon to make captive; while those of Daniel were given to kings who already held the chosen people in captivity, and who were thereby compelled to make some acknowledgment of the reverence due to the God of Israel.
The reasons for the more general prophecies against the heathen must be sought in the special circumstances of each case in which they were uttered. In the present instance these reasons are not far to seek, for both the nations mentioned and the one omitted suggest a common purpose in the prophecy. Those mentioned are seven in number—Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, and Egypt. All these were so far allies of Judah that they were in common hostility to Babylon; and it appears from Jeremiah 27:1-3 that an attempt had been made in the reign of Jehoiakim to unite five of them in a league against Babylon, while Egypt was continually looked to by the disobedient Jews for aid against their common enemy. It was, therefore, necessary for Israel to know that there was no help to be found against Babylon in any earthly power; all the enemies of Chaldæa were to fall alike. Moreover, it was important to show by these prophecies that the judgment about to come upon the surrounding heathen was from God, since it is thus made clear that all events are of His ordering, and hence that the punishment of His people also must be from His own hand. This was especially the place for the prophet to speak of these judgments when he had just finished his denunciations of wrath upon Israel, and when these denunciations were about to be fulfilled. Besides these general reasons, there were other special ones in the case of each nation. Egypt had been a broken reed piercing the hand of Judah as often as she leaned upon it; while of Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, and Tyre it is mentioned that they had exulted in the profanation of the Temple and the captivity of the people, and this especially from their hostility to the religion of Israel. It would help Israel to know that, while they were themselves punished for their unfaithfulness to their religion, those who altogether hated and rejected it were to suffer still more severely. It is remarkable that there is no prophecy in Ezekiel against Babylon, as there is in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others; for Babylon appears throughout this book as the executor of God’s judgments upon His people, and the effect of this would have been marred by the mention of her own ultimate punishment. For the present, all her enemies are to be overthrown, and she remains in strength; although she also would be punished for her sins when she should have accomplished the Divine purposes, yet it would have been worse than useless for the thoughts of Israel to be occupied with this now.
The number of seven nations against whom prophecies are uttered has been thought by many to be significant. It is made up by separating Zidon from Tyre, for which there were probably special reasons at the time. Zidon had long since lost its importance, and the prophecy against it is very short, (Ezekiel 28:21-24); yet its ancient enmity to God was not to be forgotten, as it might appear to be if left without distinct mention.
The prophecy against Edom is greatly expanded in Ezekiel 35, and there are other prophecies against foreign nations in Ezekiel 38, 39; but these have so much the nature of promises to Israel that they are more appropriately placed where they are than they would have been in this connection. Even here the prophecy against Zidon (Ezekiel 28:25-26) and that of the latest date against Egypt (Ezekiel 29:21) end with promises to Israel.
The utterances against the various nations are very unequal in fulness. Those concerning Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia are all included together in a single prophecy, occupying only one chapter (Ezekiel 25); Tyre is the subject of four separate prophecies, filling nearly three chapters (Eze 26:1 to Eze 28:19); Zidon is disposed of in the few following verses; while Egypt has seven distinct prophecies, filling chapters 29-32. The relative importance of these various nations is represented in this proportion.
The prophecies of Ezekiel concerning these nations had been anticipated by the older prophets, especially Isaiah and Amos, and similar predictions also abound in the contemporary Jeremiah, but with this marked difference: Ezekiel foretells their utter overthrow, while other prophets look forward to a period of restoration and blessing after their punishment. Thus Isaiah (Isaiah 23:15-18) says that after a period of seventy years Tyre shall again rejoice, and shall ultimately be converted to the Lord; Jeremiah says of the Moabites, “I will bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter day, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 48:47), and the same thing of the Ammonites (Jeremiah 49:6); and of Egypt, that after its temporary subjection to Nebuchadnezzar, “afterward it shall be inhabited as in the days of old” (Jeremiah 46:26); Isaiah also describes the time when “Israel shall be the third with Egypt and Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land” (Isaiah 19:24-25). Yet it has generally been recognised that there is no inconsistency in these prophecies. Isaiah foretells a temporary resuscitation of Tyre, at the same time with Judah, in connection with the Medo-Persian conquest of Babylon; but Ezekiel’s prophecies look beyond this, to the final destruction of the Tyrian power. On the other hand, these various prophecies speak of an ultimate gathering of a remnant of the descendants of these nations into the Church of God; while Ezekiel speaks of them only as political powers, and foretells that utter desolation of them which has been so strikingly fulfilled in the course of history.
The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying,
Son of man, set thy face against the Ammonites, and prophesy against them;(2) Set thy face against the Ammonites.—It has already been mentioned that the utterances against the four contiguous nations of Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia are all contained in one prophecy, and that this prophecy was evidently spoken after the fall of Jerusalem, and, consequently, after the date of Ezekiel 26:1. The Ammonites, descended from Lot’s incest with his younger daughter, had been for centuries persistent enemies of Israel. They had joined the Moabites in their oppression of Israel under Eglon (Judges 3:13), and in a later attack had been subdued by Jephthah (Judges 11:32-33); they fought with extreme cruelty and insolence against Saul (1Samuel 11:2-11); they insulted and warred against David (2Samuel 10:1-6), and were utterly crushed by him (2Samuel 12:31); their idolatries were favoured by Solomon (1Kings 11:7); uniting with Moab and Edom, they attacked Judah under Jehoshaphat (2Chronicles 20:1-25), but utterly failed, and were tributary to his descendant, Uzziah (2Chronicles 26:8); again they fought with Jotham, and were reduced by him to heavy tribute (2Chronicles 27:5); and not long before this time they had occupied the vacant cities of Gad (Jeremiah 49:1). Now they had joined Nebuchadnezzar’s army against Judah (2Kings 24:2). From Ezekiel 25:3 it appears that their hostility arose not only from national jealousy, but from an especial hatred against the Jewish religion (comp. also Psalm 83:7). They are the frequent subject of prophetic denunciation (Isaiah 11:14; Jeremiah 49:1-6; Amos 1:13-15; Zephaniah 2:8-11).
Behold, therefore I will deliver thee to the men of the east for a possession, and they shall set their palaces in thee, and make their dwellings in thee: they shall eat thy fruit, and they shall drink thy milk.(4) To the men of the east.—Literally, sons of the east, i.e., the various nomadic tribes inhabiting the Eastern deserts, who occupy the country to this day. They are described as its possessors, not its conquerors; the conquest was effected by Nebuchadnezzar. In Ezekiel 21:20-23 he was represented as hesitating whether to attack first Judah or Ammon, and determined to the former by the Divine direction; in this attack some of the Ammonites joined his army, but he nevertheless afterwards carried out his purpose and desolated their country. (See Ezekiel 21:28.)
Palaces.—The word properly means an enclosure for folding cattle. The same word is used in connection with tribes of the desert in Genesis 25:16; Numbers 31:10, and in both is translated castles, a singularly inappropriate sense. It afterwards came to mean a dwelling-place of any kind. The Ammonites and Moabites appear to have practically constituted one nation, the latter being, for the most part, the settled, and the former the nomadic portion. After the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar the Ammonites gradually dwindled away, until lost from history. The Ptolemies founded the city Philadelphia on the site of Rabbah, and there are still extensive ruins there belonging to the period of the Roman occupation; but the Ammonites had no part in either of these successive cities. The place is now utterly without inhabitants, and the most recent traveller says, “Lonely desolation in a rich country was the striking characteristic.”
And I will make Rabbah a stable for camels, and the Ammonites a couchingplace for flocks: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.(5) Rabbah was the only important town belonging to the Ammonites. It has become literally a stable for the camels of the wandering Bedouins. In the parallel clause the “Ammonites” are put for the land which they inhabit.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thou hast clapped thine hands, and stamped with the feet, and rejoiced in heart with all thy despite against the land of Israel;(6) Clapped thine hands, and stamped with the feet.—See Ezekiel 6:11 and Note there.
Behold, therefore I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and will deliver thee for a spoil to the heathen; and I will cut thee off from the people, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries: I will destroy thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD.(7) For a spoil.—This is the sense of the margin of the Hebrew; its text is represented by our margin, meat or food. The word in the text occurs only here, but a compound of it is found in Daniel 1:5, Dan_11:26. The figure seems to be the same as that which speaks of devouring the people.
Shalt know that I am the Lord.—This frequent close of the denunciatory prophecies against Israel in the former chapters is here also used at the close of each message in this chapter, and of many of the other prophecies against foreign nations. It refers not to a penitent recognition of the Lord, but to an experience of His wrath so plain that they can no longer refuse to acknowledge His power (see Ezekiel 25:14).
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because that Moab and Seir do say, Behold, the house of Judah is like unto all the heathen;(8) Moab and Seir.—The two nations, here mentioned together, are afterwards treated separately—Moab, Ezekiel 25:8-11, and Edom, Ezekiel 25:12-14. Moab, springing from the same source with Ammon, was closely associated with it in its history and fortune, and is denounced in nearly the same prophecies. It was a more settled and stronger people, and also contributed its quota to the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. Additional prophecies in regard to it may be found in Numbers 24:17 and Isaiah 15, 16, besides those immediately connected with the prophecies expressly against Ammon already cited. The Moabites, so far as they were separated from the Ammonites, lay immediately to the south of them.
Therefore, behold, I will open the side of Moab from the cities, from his cities which are on his frontiers, the glory of the country, Bethjeshimoth, Baalmeon, and Kiriathaim,(9) Open the side of Moab—i.e., lay it open to the enemy. This is to be done “from the cities,” on which a special emphasis is placed. The cities named were all on the north of the Arnon, and before the time of Moses had been wrested from the Moabites by the Amorites, from whom in turn they were taken by the Israelites, and long formed a part of their territory. In the decay of the power of Israel they were re-conquered by Moab, and are here spoken of, perhaps in view of their being rightfully a possession of Israel, as appropriately the point from which desolation should go out over the whole of Moab.
The glory of the country.—The territory designated by the mention of these three cities is still considered by the Arabs as the best part of the land, and is called Belka. They have a proverb, “Thou canst find no land like Belka.” The sites of all the cities which are alluded to here have been probably identified by existing ruins.
Unto the men of the east with the Ammonites, and will give them in possession, that the Ammonites may not be remembered among the nations.(10) With the Ammonites.—The division between the verses here seriously obscures the sense. The meaning is that God will throw open Moab, as well as Ammon, to the sons of the east, and will give both nations in possession to them, so that Ammon shall be no more remembered, and judgment shall be executed on Moab. They were to be conquered and desolated by Nebuchadnezzar, but possessed by the Bedouins. The Ammonites and Moabites were nations so closely connected together that nearly all which has been said of the one applies to the other.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because that Edom hath dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and hath greatly offended, and revenged himself upon them;(12) Edom hath dealt against the house of Judah.—The reason of Edom’s hostility to Israel is expressly said to be revenge. Descended from the elder son, they had never looked complacently on the spiritual superiority given to the descendants of the younger. They showed their hostility from the first in refusing, with a show of violence, a passage to the Israelites through their territory (Numbers 20:18-21); and although they were subdued and made tributary under David and Solomon (2Samuel 8:14; 1Kings 9:26), yet in the decline of the Jewish power they availed themselves of every opportunity for hostility (2Chronicles 28:17, &c). At this time they not only joined the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, but appear to have urged on the conqueror to greater cruelty, and to have themselves waylaid the fugitives to cut them off (Ezekiel 35:5; Psalm 137:7; Amos 1:11; Obadiah 1:11). They also, during the Captivity, took possession of many towns of Judea, including Hebron (Jos., Antt., xii. 8, § 6; B. J., 4:9, § 7), which were re-conquered in the time of the Maccabees. Other prophecies against Edom may be found in Numbers 24:18-19; Isaiah 11:14; Jeremiah 49:7-12; Joel 3:19, besides the extended prophecy of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 35.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also stretch out mine hand upon Edom, and will cut off man and beast from it; and I will make it desolate from Teman; and they of Dedan shall fall by the sword.(13) From Teman; and they of Dedan.—Teman (a word meaning south) was a southern district of Edom (Jeremiah 49:20-21; Habakkuk 3:3), famed for its wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7; Obadiah 1:8-9). Dedan is frequently mentioned by the prophets, but in such a way that it has not been certainly identified. A better translation would be, From Teman unto Dedan, meaning from one end of the country to the other, they shall fall by the sword.
And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel: and they shall do in Edom according to mine anger and according to my fury; and they shall know my vengeance, saith the Lord GOD.(14) By the hand of my people Israel.—This points distinctly to the fact that the Divine vengeance on Edom should be accomplished by the hand of the Israelites, a prophecy which was fulfilled when they were conquered by John Hyrcanus, and compelled to submit to circumcision as a mark of absorption into the Jewish people. Subsequently Herod (who was himself of Idumean origin), as king of the Jews, reigned over them, and their name disappeared from history.
Many commentators would see in this prophecy a further intimation of their ultimate conversion and incorporation into the Church; but this seems quite foreign, not only to the scope of this series of prophecies, but especially to the connection, “I will lay my vengeance upon Edom,” and “they shall know my vengeance.”
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with a despiteful heart, to destroy it for the old hatred;(15) The Philistines.—The historical books of the Old Testament are almost a continuous record of the hostility of the Philistines. At times they held the greater part of the land of Israel in subjection, and at times were subdued in their turn. Although belonging to another branch of the Hamitic family, their land was included with that of the Canaanites in the territory to be given to the Israelites (Joshua 13:2-3). It was never, however, occupied by them, although the cities were fortified and garrisoned by some of the kings. The land lay along the coast of the Mediterranean, on the highway between Egypt and Assyria and Chaldæa, and consequently, in the struggles of those nations with each other the Philistines were gradually more and more reduced, until they disappeared entirely. Among the many prophecies against them, the following may be especially referred to: Isaiah 14:29-32; Jeremiah 47; Amos 1:6-8; Zephaniah 2:4-7.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethims, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast.(16) Cherethims.—The Cherethim were a portion of the Philistines living on their southern coast (1Samuel 30:14; Zephaniah 2:5), and are sometimes put for the whole nation. The name is supposed by many to be equivalent to Cretans, and to indicate the origin of the Philistines from the island of Crete; but the etymology is doubtful. The reason for the introduction of their name here was probably a paronomasia in the original, the phrase “I will cut off the Cherethim” reading I will slay the slayers.