Ezekiel 21:21
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.
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(21) To use divination.—Various particular forms of divination are mentioned just afterwards. This is a general term to include them all. Divination was always resorted to by the heathen on occasions of important questions. In this case, while Nebuchadnezzar thought in this way to determine his action, it was already fixed for him by a higher Power.

Made his arrows bright.—Rather, shook his arrows. This was a mode of divination in use among the ancient Arabs, as well as in Mesopotamia, and something very similar is mentioned by Homer as practised among the ancient Greeks (II., iii. 316). It continued to be used among the Arabs until the time of Mohammed, who strictly torbade it in the Koran (3:39, 5:4, 94). Several arrows, properly marked, were shaken together in a quiver or other vessel, and one drawn out. The mark upon the one drawn was supposed to indicate the will of the gods. It was thus simply one form of casting lots.

Consulted with images.—The particular images here mentioned were “teraphim,” small idols, which are often spoken of in Scripture as used in divination by the Israelites themselves, and common also among the heathen. (See 1Samuel 15:23, where the word “idolatry” is in the original “teraphim.”) Nothing is known of the way in which these were used in divination.

Looked in the liver.—The inspection of the entrails of sacrificial victims, and especially of the liver, as a means of ascertaining the will of the gods, is familiar to every reader of classical literature. There is evidence that the same custom prevailed also in Babylonia. The king is represented as employing all these different kinds of divination to make sure of the proper path.

Ezekiel 21:21-22. For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way — The prophet here expresses what was future as if it were past, according to the usual style of the prophets, when speaking of things soon to come to pass. And he explains the symbolical action spoken of in the two foregoing verses; he shows that it was designed to represent what the king of Babylon would do when he was on his march, and came to the place where the road was divided; that he would use divination to determine which of the roads he should take. He made his arrows bright — The Vulgate reads, Commiscens sagittas, Mingling his arrows; which sense of the verb קלקל, agrees better with the accounts given us by ancient writers of this kind of divination, and therefore is preferred by Dr. Pocock, who confirms it by the Arabic use of the word. It is also adopted by Bishop Newcome. The way of divining by arrows is thus described by St. Jerome in his commentary on this place: “They wrote on several arrows the names of the cities they intended to assault; and then, putting them all together promiscuously in a quiver, they drew them out thence as lots are drawn; and that city whose name was written on the arrow first drawn was the city they first made war upon.” A method of divining by arrows is still in use, it appears, among the idolatrous Arabs. Of this we read the following description, in Sale’s Preliminary Discourse to the Koran, p. 126: “Seven divining arrows were kept at the temple of Mecca; but generally, in divination, the idolatrous Arabs made use of three only, on one of which was written, My Lord hath commanded me; on another, My Lord hath forbidden me; and the third was blank. If the first was drawn, they looked on it as an approbation of the enterprise in question; if the second, they made a contrary conclusion; but if the third happened to be drawn, they mixed them, and drew over again, till a decisive answer was given by one of the others.” He consulted with images — The Hebrew word here is teraphim, the name given to the images, or gods, which Rachel stole from Laban, Genesis 31:19. In what way these were consulted cannot now be said, and all conjectures about it are vain. He looked in the liver — This was another way of divination used among these heathen; they determined for or against certain things, according to the state of the liver of sacrificed animals, whether mutilated or complete, sound or unsound, or from its colour, or some marks appearing in particular places of it, and this by rules laid down among them. At his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem — When the king of Babylon stood at the head of the two ways, to consult which of the two he should take, the tokens that were shown him, God so ordering it, induced him to march with his army to the right, that is, toward Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar must be considered as coming from Dan, and marching along the river Jordan. Rabbath was therefore situated to the left hand, and Jerusalem to the right: see Michaelis. From this, and many other instances in the Scriptures, we may conclude, that things apparently the most fortuitous, such as the coming up of lots, and the like, are subject to the direction of Divine Providence, and, when occasion requires it, are ordered to answer its purposes; to open the mouth in the slaughter — Or, to the slaughter; that is, to animate the soldiers to slay. To lift up the voice with shouting — To make the military cry, in order to strike the inhabitants with terror. We find it was usual, in almost all armies, to begin the attack of their enemies with a loud cry, which served to animate their own men, and to intimidate the enemy. To cast a mount — See note on Jeremiah 22:24.

21:18-27 By the Spirit of prophecy Ezekiel foresaw Nebuchadnezzar's march from Babylon, which he would determine by divination. The Lord would overturn the government of Judah, till the coming of Him whose right it is. This seems to foretell the overturnings of the Jewish nation to the present day, and the troubles of states and kingdoms, which shall make way for establishing the Messiah's kingdom throughout the earth. The Lord secretly leads all to adopt his wise designs. And in the midst of the most tremendous warnings of wrath, we still hear of mercy, and some mention of Him through whom mercy is shown to sinful men.The Chaldaean king is depicted standing at the entrance of the holy land from the north, meditating his campaign, using rites of divination that really belonged to the Akkadians, a primitive race which originally occupied the plains of Mesopotamia. The Accadians and the Etruscans belong through the Finnish family to the Turanian stock; this passage therefore shows a characteristic mode of divination in use among two widely separated nations; and as the Romans acquired their divination from the conquered Etruscans, so the Chaldaeans acquired the same art from the races whose soil they had occupied as conquerors.

He made his arrows briqht - Rather, he shook his arrow; a mode of divination much in practice with the Arabians. It was usual to place in some vessel three arrows, on one of which was written, "My God orders me;" on the other, "My God forbids me;" on the third was no inscription. These three arrows were shaken together until one came out; if it was the first, the thing was to be done; if the second, it was to be avoided; if the third, the arrows were again shaken together, until one of the arrows bearing a decided answer should come forth.

Images - Teraphim (Genesis 31:19 note).

He looked in the liver - It was the practice both of the Greeks and the Romans (derived from the Etruscans) to take omens from the inspection of the entrails (especially the liver) of animals offered in sacrifice.

21. parting—literally, "mother of the way." As "head of the two ways" follows, which seems tautology after "parting of the way," Havernick translates, according to Arabic idiom, "the highway," or principal road. English Version is not tautology, "head of the two ways" defining more accurately "parting of the way."

made … bright—rather, "shook," from an Arabic root.

arrows—Divination by arrows is here referred to: they were put into a quiver marked with the names of particular places to be attacked, and then shaken together; whichever came forth first intimated the one selected as the first to be attacked [Jerome]. The same usage existed among the Arabs, and is mentioned in the Koran. In the Nineveh sculptures the king is represented with a cup in his right hand, his left resting on a bow; also with two arrows in the right, and the bow in the left, probably practising divination.

images—Hebrew, "teraphim"; household gods, worshipped as family talismans, to obtain direction as to the future and other blessings. First mentioned in Mesopotamia, whence Rachel brought them (Ge 31:19, 34); put away by Jacob (Ge 35:4); set up by Micah as his household gods (Jud 17:5); stigmatized as idolatry (1Sa 15:23, Hebrew; Zec 10:2, Margin).

liver—They judged of the success, or failure, of an undertaking by the healthy, or unhealthy, state of the liver and entrails of a sacrifice.

The prophet, by reason of the certainty of the thing, speaketh of what shall be as if it were already; he stood, i.e. he will make a halt, pitch his camp, and consult, on the borders of Arabia the Desert, to which one road brings travellers from Babylon, but henceforward it divides, and be comes two, one leading to Jerusalem, the other to Rabbath

To use divination; to consult with his gods, and to cast lots; and here the prophet foretells what divination he useth.

Made his arrows bright: this, the first kind of divination he used by arrows, (Begouanteia,) either writing on then the names of the cities and countries, then putting then into a quiver, and there mixing them, and thence drawing them out, and concluding according as the names were which were on the arrows, or perhaps by shooting the arrows and judging by the flight, or casting them up in the air and divining by their fall, as beggars are said to go a their staff falls. So then if Jerusalem were on the first arrow drawn out of the quiver, or if the arrows best ties or most fell that way, toward Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar will take that way. The next way of divining was by asking counsel of his idol, or image, which being made artificially by the skill of their juggling priests and conjurers, with little help they could give answers, and the image spake aloud what the sorcerer spake more softly, somewhat like the artificial whispering places which convey the voice, from unseen persons. Or by a Divine permission the devil gave them answers from those images. The third divination is by sacrifice, and judging of future prosperous or unprosperous events by the entrails, and more especially by the liver, its position and colour. All these he used, that with greater confidence of success he might proceed.

For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways,.... That is, he would stand there; the prophet knew that it was certain it should be, and therefore represents it as if it was; he had, by a spirit of prophecy, seen, that when the king of Babylon was come to such a place, on the borders of the desert of Arabia, where the road from Babylon parted, where two ways met, the one leading to Jerusalem on the right, and the other to Rabbath on the left, he should make a full stop with his army, and consider which way he should take, whether that which led to Jerusalem, or that which led to Rabbath. It is very probable, when he came out of Babylon, his scheme was to make an attempt on both these important places, and take them; but be had not determined which to attack first, and was still doubtful; and now being come to the two roads, which led to the one and the other, it was necessary to make a halt, consider, and conclude, which course to steer; to determine which, he thought proper "to use divination", which was performed in the following manner:

he made his arrows bright; being made of iron or steel; in the brightness of which diviners looked, and made their observations, and accordingly directed what was to be done; as they did by looking into the brightness of a man's nails, as David Kimchi observes; though his father, Joseph Kimchi, was of opinion that the word has the signification of casting of arrows, or causing them to fly in the air; and supposes that Nebuchadnezzar cast up arrows into the air, and observed on which side they fell, and so judged which way to take; to this agrees the Targum,

"with a bow he cast out arrows;''

so the Syriac and Arabic versions (b). Jerom says the way of divining by arrows was this: arrows, with the names of the cities inscribed upon them, were put into a quiver, and mixed together; and the city upon the arrow which came out first was first attacked. To this agrees the Vulgate Latin version, which renders the words, "mingling the arrows"; and Dr. Pocock (c) prefers this sense of the word, which he observes so signifies in the Arabic language; and who gives an account of the use of divination by arrows among the Arabians, who much used it; though forbidden by Mahomet, as Schultens (d) observes. Their custom was this; when a man was about to marry a wife, or go a journey, or do any business of importance, he put three arrows into a vessel; on one was inscribed,

"my lord hath commanded me;''

on another,

"my lord hath forbid me;''

the third had nothing on it. If the first he took out had the command upon it, then he proceeded with great alacrity: but if it had the prohibition, he desisted; and if that which had nothing inscribed on it, he laid it by, till one of the other two was taken out; and there is to this day a sort of divination by arrows used by the Turks; it is commonly for the wars, though it is also performed for all sorts of things; as to know whether a man should undertake a voyage, buy such a commodity, or the like. The manner of doing it, as Monsieur Thevenot (e) relates, is this; they take four arrows, and place them with their points against one another, giving them to be held by two persons; then they lay a naked sword upon a cushion before them, and read a certain chapter of the Alcoran; with that the arrows fight together for some time, and at length the one fall upon the other: if, for instance the victorious have been named Christians (for two of them they call Turks, and the other two by the name of their enemy), it is a sign that the Christians will overcome; if otherwise, it denotes the contrary. The Jews (f) say, that in the present case of Nebuchadnezzar, that when he or his diviner cast the arrow for Antioch, or for Tyre, or for Laodicea, it was broke; but when he cast it for Jerusalem, it was not broke; by which he knew that he should destroy it. This is that sort of divination which is called "belomancy": he consulted with images; or "teraphim"; images in which, as Kimchi says, they saw things future; Heathen oracles, from whence responses were made; these were images for private use, such as were the "lares" and "penates" with the Romans; these Laban had in his house in which Rachel stole from him; and are supposed to be such as are made under certain constellations, and their influences capable of speaking; see Zechariah 10:2, as Aben Ezra on Genesis 31:34 observes, with which men used to consult about things future or unknown; and this is thought to be one reason why Rachel took away these images from her father, that he might not, by consulting with them, know which way Jacob fled (g) with such as these the king of Babylon consulted, that he might know which way he should take:

he looked in the liver; of a beast slain, and made observations on that to direct him; as used to be done by the Aruspices among the Romans. This is that sort of divination which is called "hepatoscopy", or inspection into the liver; for though the Aruspices or Extispices, so called from their looking into the entrails of a beast, and making their observations on them, used to view the several inward parts, yet chiefly the liver, which they called the head of the intestines; and if this was wanting, or the head in it, the chief part of it, it was an ill omen; thus, in the month that Claudius Caesar was poisoned, the head of the liver was wanting in the sacrifice; or if the liver was livid, vicious, had any pustules upon it, or any purulent matter in it; or was touched, cut and wounded with the knife of the sacrificer, it foreboded great evils and misfortunes; or if the extreme part of the liver, which is called the fibre, was so placed, that from the lowest fibre the livers were replicated, or there was a double liver, this was a token for good, and portended joy and happiness (h): moreover, they used to divide the bowels or entrails into two parts, and so the liver; the one they called "familiaris", by which they judged what would befall themselves and their friends; the other "hostilis", what concerned their enemies; according to the habit, colour, and position they were in, they concluded what would befall the one and the other (i). Lucan (k) and Seneca (l) particularly have respect to this: and the king of Babylon here having two people to deal with, the Ammonites and the Jews, he inspects the liver of a creature slain for sacrifice, that he might judge which was best and safest for him to attack; which was less threatening, and more easy to be overcome (m): this divination used to be made with calves, kids, and lambs (n).

(b) So R. So. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 25, 2, interprets the word. (c) Specimen Arab. Hist. p. 327. (d) Animadv. in Job, p. 169, 170. (e) Travels, par. 1. B. 1. ch. 6. p. 36. (f) Midrash Tillim in Psal. lxxix. 1.((g) See Godwin's Moses and Aaron, l. 4. c. 9. (h) Vid. Alex. ab flex. Genial. Dier. l. 5. c. 25. & Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 11. c. 37. (i) Vid. Valtrinum de Re Militari Roman. l. 1. c. 6. p. 27. Liv. & Ciceron. in ib. (k) "Cernit tabe jecur madidum, venasque minaces, Hostili de parte videt", &c. Pharsal. l. 1.((l) "Hostile valido robore insurlit latus." Oedipus, Acts 2. (m) Vid. Lydium de Re Militari, l. 1. c. 3. p. 9, 10. (n) Pausanias, l. 6. p. 345.

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 {r} the liver.

(r) He used conjuring and sorcery.

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.

Ezekiel 21:21The sword of the king of Babylon will smite Jerusalem, and then the Ammonites also. - Ezekiel 21:18. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Ezekiel 21:19. And thou, son of man, make to thyself two ways, that the sword of the king of Babylon may come by them; out of one land shall they both come forth, and draw a hand, at the cross road of the city do thou draw it. Ezekiel 21:20. Make a way that the sword may come to Rabbah of the sons of Ammon, and to Judah into fortified Jerusalem. Ezekiel 21:21. For the king of Babylon is stopping at the cross road, at the parting of the two ways, to practise divination. He is shaking the arrows, inquiring of the teraphim, looking at the liver. Ezekiel 21:22. The divination falls to his right: Jerusalem, to set battering-rams, to open the mouth with a death-cry, to lift up the voice with a war-cry, to set battering-rams at the gates, to heap up a rampart, to build siege towers. - After the picture of the terrible devastation which the sword of the Lord will produce, the last word of God in this prophecy answers the questions, in whose hand Jehovah will place His sword, and whom it will smite. The slayer into whose hand the sharpened sword is given (Ezekiel 21:11) is the king of Babylon, and it will smite not only Judah, but the Ammonites also. Jerusalem and Judah will be the first to fall, and then the arch-enemy of the covenant nation, namely Ammon, will succumb to the strokes of the sword of Jehovah, in order that the embittered enemies of the Lord and His people may learn that the fall of Jerusalem is not, as they fancy, a proof of the impotence, but rather of the omnipotence, of its God. In this way does our prophecy expand into a prediction of the judgment which will fall upon the whole of the world in hostility to God. For it is only as the arch-enemies of the kingdom of God that the Ammonites come into consideration here. The parallel between Israel and the sons of Ammon is carried out in such a way as to give constant prominence to the distinction between them. Jerusalem will fall, the ancient theocracy will be destroyed till he shall come who will restore the right (Ezekiel 21:26 and Ezekiel 21:27). Ammon, on the other hand, will perish, and not a trace be left (Ezekiel 21:31, Ezekiel 21:32).

This prediction is exhibited to the eye by means of a sign. The prophet is to make two ways, i.e., to prepare a sketch representing a road leading from a country, viz., Babylon, and dividing at a certain spot into two roads, one of which leads to Rabbath-Ammon, the capital of the kingdom of the Ammonites, the other to Judah, into Jerusalem. He is to draw the ways for the coming (לבוא) of the sword of the king of Babylon. At the fork of the road he is to engrave a hand, יד, i.e., an index. בּרא signifies in the Piel to cut away (Joshua 17:15, Joshua 17:18), to dig or hew (Ezekiel 23:47), here to engrave written characters in hard material. The selection of this word shows that Ezekiel was to sketch the ways upon some hard material, probably a brick or tile (cf. Ezekiel 4:1). יד does not mean locus spatium, but a hand, i.e., an index. ראשׁ , the beginning of the road, i.e., the fork of the road (Ezekiel 16:25), is explained in Ezekiel 21:21, where it is called אם, mother of the road, inasmuch as the roads start from the point of separation, and ראשׁ שׁני הדּרכים, beginning of the two roads. דּרך עיר, the road to a city. For Rabbath-Ammon, which is preserved in the ruins of Ammn, on the Upper Jabbok (Nahr Ammn), see the comm. on Deuteronomy 3:11. The road to Judah is still more precisely defined by בּירוּשׁלים בּצוּרה, into fortified Jerusalem, because the conquest of Jerusalem was the purpose of Nebuchadnezzar's expedition. The omission of the article before בּצוּרה may be explained from the nature of the participle, in which, even in prose, the article may be left out after a definite noun (cf. Ewald, 335a). The drawing is explained in Ezekiel 21:21 and Ezekiel 21:22. The king of Babylon is halting (עמד, to stand still, stop) to consult his oracles, and inquire which of the two roads he is to take. קסם, to take in hand, or practise divination. In order that he may proceed safely, he avails himself of all the means of divination at his command. He shakes the arrows (more strictly, the quiver with the arrows). On the practice itself Jerome writes as follows: "He consults the oracle according to the custom of his nation, putting his arrows into a quiver, and mixing them together, with the names of individuals inscribed or stamped upon them, to see whose arrow will come out, and which state shall be first attacked."

(Note: The arrow-lot (Belomantie) of the ancient Greeks (Homer, Il. iii. 324, vii. 182, 183) was similar to this; also that of the ancient Arabs (vid., Pococke, Specim. hist. Arab. pp. 327ff., and the passages from Nuweiri quoted by Reiske, Samml. einiger Arab. Sprichwrter von den Stecken oder Stben, p. 21). Another kind, in which the lot was obtained by shooting off the arrows, was common according to the Fihrist el Ulum of En-Nedm among the Hananian Ssabians (see Chwolsohn, Ssabier, ii. pp. 26 and 119, 200).)

He consults the Teraphim, or Penates, worshipped as oracular deities and gods of good fortune (see the comm. on Genesis 31:19 and my Biblical Archaeology, 90). Nothing is known concerning the way in which these deities were consulted and gave their oracles. He examines the liver. The practice of ἡπατοσκοπία, extispicium, in which signs of good or bad luck, of the success or failure of any enterprise, were obtained from the peculiar condition of the liver of the sacrificial animals, was a species of divination to which great importance was attached by both the Babylonians (vid., Diod. Sic. ii. 29) and the Romans (Cicero, de divin. vi. 13), and of which traces were found, according to Barhebr. Chron. p. 125, as late as the eighth century of the Christian era among the Ssabians of Haran.

The divination resulted in a decision for Jerusalem. בּימינו היה is not to be translated "in his right hand was," but "into his right hand there came." היה: ἐγένετο (lxx), נפיל (Chald.), קסם does not mean lot (Ges.), but soothsaying, divination. ירוּשׁלים is connected with this in the form of a noun in apposition: the divination which indicated Jerusalem. The right hand is the more important of the two. The meaning of the words cannot be more precisely defined, because we are not acquainted with the king of divination referred to; even if we were to take the words as simply relating to the arrow in this sense, that an arrow with the inscription "Jerusalem" came into his right hand, and thus furnished the decision, which was afterwards confirmed by consulting the Teraphim and examining the liver. But the circumstance itself, that is to say, the fact that the divination coincided with the purpose of God, must not be taken, as Hvernick supposes, as suggesting a point of contact between Hebraism and the soothsaying of heathenism, which was peculiar to Ezekiel or to the time of the captivity. All that is proved by this fact is, that even heathenism is subject to the rule and guidance of Almighty God, and is made subservient to the accomplishment of the plans of both His kingdom and His salvation. In the words, to set bettering rams, etc., the substance of the oracle obtained by Nebuchadnezzar is more minutely given. It is a double one, showing what he is to do: viz., (1) to set bettering rams, i.e., to proceed to the siege of Jerusalem, as still further described in the last portion of the verse (Ezekiel 4:2); and (2) to raise the war-cry for storming the city, that is to say, to take it by storm. The two clauses 'לפתּח וגו and 'להרים וגו are synonymous; they are not "pure tautology," however, as Hitzig affirms, but are chosen for the purpose of giving greater emphasis to the thought. The expression בּרצח creates some difficulty, inasmuch as the phrase "ut aperiat os in caede" (Vulg.), to open the mouth in murder or ruin, i.e., to put to death or lay in ruins, is a very striking one, and could hardly be justified as an "energetic expression for the battle-cry" (Hvernick). ב does not mean "to," and cannot indicate the intention, all the less because בּרצח is parallel to בּתרוּעה, where תרועה is that in which the raising of the voice expresses itself. There is nothing left then but to take רצח in the sense of field-or war-cry, and to derive this meaning either from רצח or, per metathesin, from צרח.

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