Ezekiel 5:1
And you, son of man, take you a sharp knife, take you a barber's razor, and cause it to pass on your head and on your beard: then take you balances to weigh, and divide the hair.
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(1) Take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber’s razor.—Rather, take thee a sharp sword, as a barber’s razor shalt thou take it to thee. The word knife is the same as that used twice in Ezekiel 5:2, and translated once by knife and once by sword. It is occasionally used for any sharp-cutting instrument, but is most commonly taken, as here, for a sword. The English version also neglects to notice the pronoun in the second clause. The thought is plainly that the prophet is to take a sword, on account of its symbolism, and use it instead of a razor.

Upon thine head, and upon thy beard.—The cutting off the hair was a common mark of mourning (see Job 1:20; Isaiah 22:12; Jeremiah 7:29); but the allusion here seems to be rather to Isaiah 7:20, in which God describes his coming judgments upon Israel as a shaving, “with a razor that is hired . . . by the king of Assyria,” of the head and the beard. The symbolism was the more marked because Ezekiel was a priest, and the priests were expressly forbidden in the law to shave either the head or the beard (Leviticus 21:5). The shaving, therefore, of a priest’s head and beard with a sword betokened a most desolating judgment.

Then take thee balances to weigh is not a mere detail introduced to give vividness to the symbolism, but seems designed to show the absolute certainty of the impending judgment.

Ezekiel 5:1. Take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber’s razor — The latter expression explains the former; and cause it to pass upon thy head, &c. — Hair being then accounted an ornament, and baldness a token of sorrow, therefore shaving denoted calamity or desolation. “Among the Arabs,” says Harmer, chap. 6. observ. 23, “there cannot be a greater stamp of infamy than to cut off any one’s beard: and many among them would prefer death to this kind of punishment. And as they would think it a grievous calamity to lose it, so they carry things so far as to beg for the sake of it, ‘By your beard, by the life of your beard, do.’ In like manner some of the benedictions are, ‘God preserve your blessed beard, God pour his blessings on your beard.’ And when they would express their value for a thing, they say, ‘It is worth more than his beard.’ I never had so clear an apprehension, I must confess, as after I had read these accounts, of the intended energy of that thought of Ezekiel, where the inhabitants are compared to the hair of the prophet’s head and beard. The passage seems to signify, that though the inhabitants of Jerusalem had been dear to God, as the hair of an eastern beard to its owner, yet that they should be taken away and consumed, one part by pestilence and famine, another part by the sword, and a third by the calamities of an exile.” See note on 2 Samuel 10:4. And then take the balances, &c. — A symbol of God’s justice, as the razor was of his wrath; to weigh and divide the hair — What the prophet is here commanded to do was by way of another emblematical representation of what was to happen to the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem. The hair signified the Jewish people; shaving the hair with a razor, the divine vengeance; the weighing of the hair in the balances, the divine equity, which metes out to every one what is just and right; the dividing of the hair, the punishments allotted to different persons of them.5:1-4 The prophet must shave off the hair of his head and beard, which signifies God's utter rejecting and abandoning that people. One part must be burned in the midst of the city, denoting the multitudes that should perish by famine and pestilence. Another part was to be cut in pieces, representing the many who were slain by the sword. Another part was to be scattered in the wind, denoting the carrying away of some into the land of the conqueror, and the flight of others into the neighbouring countries for shelter. A small quantity of the third portion was to be bound in his shirts, as that of which he is very careful. But few were reserved. To whatever refuge sinners flee, the fire and sword of God's wrath will consume them.Translate it: take thee a sharp sword, for a barber's razor thou shalt take it thee. Even if the action were literal, the use of an actual sword would best enforce the symbolic meaning. The "head" represents the chief city, the "hair" the inhabitants - its ornament and glory - the "hair cut from the head" the exiles cast forth from their homes. It adds to the force of the representation that "to shave the head" was a token of mourning Job 1:20, and was forbidden to the priests Leviticus 21:5. Thus, in many ways, this action of Ezekiel "the priest" is significant of calamity and ruin. The sword indicates the avenging power; the shaving of the head the removal of grace and glory; the scales and weights the determination of divine justice. Compare Zechariah 13:8-9. CHAPTER 5

Eze 5:1-17. Vision of Cutting the Hairs, and the Calamities Foreshadowed Thereby.

1. knife … razor—the sword of the foe (compare Isa 7:20). This vision implies even severer judgments than the Egyptian afflictions foreshadowed in the former, for their guilt was greater than that of their forefathers.

thine head—as representative of the Jews. The whole hair being shaven off was significant of severe and humiliating (2Sa 10:4, 5) treatment. Especially in the case of a priest; for priests (Le 21:5) were forbidden "to make baldness on their head," their hair being the token of consecration; hereby it was intimated that the ceremonial must give place to the moral.

balances—implying the just discrimination with which Jehovah weighs out the portion of punishment "divided," that is, allotted to each: the "hairs" are the Jews: the divine scales do not allow even one hair to escape accurate weighing (compare Mt 10:30).Under the type of the prophet’s hair, Ezekiel 5:1-4, is showed God’s judgment upon Jerusalem, Ezekiel 5:5-11, by pestilence, by famine, by the sword, and by dispersion, Ezekiel 5:12-17.

It is not unlikely that this command was given to the prophet so soon as he had understood the former chapter’s vision.

Song of Solomon of man: see Ezekiel 2:1.

Take thee; procure it by any means.

A sharp knife; a sword or knife very sharp, as the Hebrew; so the grievous judgment is expressed Ezekiel 21:9-11,14-16, and here the speedy, irresistible, and sweeping judgment against this people is aptly set forth.

A barber’s razor: this in different words is the same thing, and explains the former, and makes the emblem more exact, for by hair shaved and destroyed is the destruction of Jerusalem and its people represented to us, Now, that this may appear in the certainty of it, both a sword for strength, and sharp for cutting, nay, a razor much sharper, that shaves close, leaves nothing behind it, and cannot be resisted by the weak hair, so shall it be here with this people.

Cause it to pass; a Hebraism, shave close with it.

Thy head; the chief, as king and rulers, the city.

Thy beard; the common citizens; or, the towns round about.

Balances; just and exact scales, an emblem of Divine justice and equity.

To weigh: the prophet’s weighing represents God weighing these men and their ways.

The hair; these light, vain, and worthless ones, inhabitants of this sinful city, 2 Samuel 10:4,5 Jer 41:5 48:37. Thus foretell them their mourning, reproach, and deformity that is coming, for all this is signified by this shaving head and beard.

And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife,.... Or, "sword" (m). The word signifies any sharp instrument, by which anything is cut off, or cut asunder; what is here meant is explained by the following:

take thee a barber's razor. The Septuagint and Arabic versions read this in conjunction with the former, thus, "take thee a knife", or "sword, sharper than a barber's razor"; and so the Syriac version, "take thee a sword sharp as a barber's razor"; this sharp knife, sword, or razor, signifies, as Jarchi interprets it, Nebuchadnezzar; and very rightly; so the king of Assyria is called in Isaiah 7:20,

and cause it to pass upon thine head, and upon thy beard; the "head" was a symbol of the city of Jerusalem, the metropolis of Judea; the "beard", of the cities, towns, and villages about it; and the "hair" of both, of the common people; compared to hair for their numbers, for their levity and unsteadiness, and for their being the beauty and ornament of the places where they lived; and the shaving of them denotes their disgrace and destruction, and mourning on account thereof:

then take thee balances to weigh and divide the hair. The Syriac version adds, "into three parts"; signifying, that several distinct punishments would be inflicted on them, and these according to the righteous judgment of God; balances being a symbol of justice.

(m) "gladium", V. L. Pagninus, Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, Polanus, Starckius.

And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber's razor, and cause it {a} to pass upon thy head and upon thy beard: then take to thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair.

(a) To shave your head and your beard.

1. a sharp knife] lit. sword. The term may suggest the devouring divine sword, ch. Ezekiel 21:8 seq.

take thee a barber’s rasor] With R.V., as a barber’s razor shalt thou take it unto thee. Two weapons are not to be taken, the sword is to be used as a razor. Isaiah (ch. Isaiah 7:20) had already said: “In that day shall the Lord shave with the razor that is hired, even with the king of Assyria, the beard and the hair of the feet.” The land is likened to a man; the enemy sweeps off the population clean as the razor does the hair of the body.

balances to weigh] The divine justice is accurate, assigning to each part its destined chastisement; Jeremiah 15:2, “Such as are for death to death; and such as are for the sword to the sword; and such as are for the famine to the famine; and such as are for the captivity to the captivity.”

Ch. Ezekiel 5:1-4. Symbol shewing the fate of the population during the siege and after it, and their dispersion among the nations

The prophet is commanded to take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor. With this he is to shave off the hair of his head and beard. He is then to take balances in order accurately to weigh the hair into three parts. One third is to be burned in the fire within the city; a second third to be cut to pieces with the sword round about the city; and the last third is to be strewn to all the winds, and pursued by the sword. Of these last a few were to be taken and bound in the skirts of the prophet’s garment; though of these again some were to be thrown into the fire and consumed. The sense of the symbol is clear; a third part of the population shall be consumed by pestilence and famine within the city (Ezekiel 5:12); a third shall fall by the sword round about the city, on its capture; and a third shall be scattered among all nations, pursued by the sword. Of these a few shall meantime escape, but shall be subjected anew to consuming judgments.Verse 1. - Take thee a barber's razor, etc. The series of symbolic acts is carried further. Recollections of Isaiah and Leviticus mingle strangely in the prophet's mind. The former had made the "razor" the symbol of the devastation wrought by an invading army (Isaiah 7:20). The latter had forbidden its use for the head and beard of the priests (Leviticus 19:27; Leviticus 21:5). Once again Ezekiel is commanded to do a forbidden thing as a symbolic act. He is, for the moment, the representative of the people of Jerusalem, and there is to be, as of old, a great destruction of that people as "by a razor that is hired." The word for "barber" (perhaps "hair cutter") does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament, but its use may be noted as showing that then, as now, the "barber" was a recognized institution in every Eastern town. The word for "knife" (Joshua 5:2; 1 Kings 18:28) is used in ver. 2, and commonly throughout the Old Testament, for "sword," and is so translated here by the LXX. and Vulgate. The prophet is to take a "sword" and use it as a razor, to make the symbolism more effective. The second symbolical act. - Ezekiel 4:4. And do thou lay thyself upon thy left side, and lay upon it the evil deeds of the house of Israel; for the number of the days during which thou liest thereon shalt thou bear their evil deeds. Ezekiel 4:5. And I reckon to thee the years of their evil deeds as a number of days; three hundred and ninety days shalt thou bear the evil deeds of the house of Israel. Ezekiel 4:6. And (when) thou hast completed these, thou shalt then lay thyself a second time upon thy right side, and bear the evil deeds of the house of Judah forty days; each day I reckon to thee as a year. Ezekiel 4:7. And upon the siege of Jerusalem shalt thou stedfastly direct thy countenance, and thy naked arm, and shalt prophesy against it. Ezekiel 4:8. And, lo, I lay cords upon thee, that thou stir not from one side to the other until thou hast ended the days of thy siege. - Whilst Ezekiel, as God's representative, carries out in a symbolical manner the siege of Jerusalem, he is in this situation to portray at the same time the destiny of the people of Israel beleaguered in their metropolis. Lying upon his left side for 390 days without turning, he is to bear the guilt of Israel's sin; then, lying 40 days more upon his right side, he is to bear the guilt of Judah's sin. In so doing, the number of the days during which he reclines upon his sides shall be accounted as exactly equal to the same number of years of their sinning. נשׂא עון, "to bear the evil deeds," i.e., to take upon himself the consequence of sin, and to stone for them, to suffer the punishment of sin; cf. Numbers 14:34, etc. Sin, which produces guilt and punishment, is regarded as a burden or weight, which Ezekiel is to lay upon the side upon which he reclines, and in this way bear it. This bearing, however, of the guilt of sin is not to be viewed as vicarious and mediatorial, as in the sacrifice of atonement, but is intended as purely epideictic and symbolical; that is to say, Ezekiel, by his lying so long bound under the burden of Israel and Judah which was laid upon his side, is to show to the people how they are to be cast down by the siege of Jerusalem, and how, while lying on the ground, without the possibility of turning or rising, they are to bear the punishment of their sins. The full understanding of this symbolical act, however, depends upon the explanation of the specified periods of time, with regard to which the various views exhibit great discrepancy.

In the first place, the separation of the guilt into that of the house of Israel and that of the house of Judah is closely connected with the division of the covenant people into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. That Ezekiel now is to bear the sin of Israel upon the left, that of Judah on the right side, is not fully explained by the circumstance that the kingdom of the ten tribes lay to the left, i.e., to the north, the kingdom of Judah to the right, i.e., to the south of Jerusalem, but must undoubtedly point at the same time to the pre-eminence of Judah over Israel; cf. Ecclesiastes 10:2. This pre-eminence of Judah is manifestly exhibited in its period of punishment extending only to 40 days equals 40 years; that of Israel, on the contrary, 390 days equals 390 years. These numbers, however, cannot be satisfactorily explained from a chronological point of view, whether they be referred to the time during which Israel and Judah sinned, and heaped upon themselves guilt which was to be punished, or to the time during which they were to atone, or suffer punishment for their sins. Of themselves, both references are possible; the first, viz., in so far as the days in which Ezekiel is to bear the guilt of Israel, might be proportioned to the number of the years of their guilt, as many Rabbins, Vatablus, Calvin, Lightfoot, Vitringa, J. D. Michaelis, and others suppose, while in so doing the years are calculated very differently; cf. des Vignoles, Chronol. I. p. 479ff., and Rosenmller, Scholia, Excurs. to ch. iv. All these hypotheses, however, are shattered by the impossibility of pointing out the specified periods of time, so as to harmonize with the chronology. If the days, reckoned as years, correspond to the duration of their sinning, then, in the case of the house of Israel, only the duration of this kingdom could come into consideration, as the period of punishment began with the captivity of the ten tribes. But this kingdom lasted only 253 years. The remaining 137 years the Rabbins have attempted to supply from the period of the Judges; others, from the time of the destruction of the ten tribes down to that of Ezekiel, or even to that of the destruction of Jerusalem. Both are altogether arbitrary. Still less can the 40 years of Judah be calculated, as all the determinations of the beginning and the end are mere phantoms of the air. The fortieth year before our prophecy would nearly coincide with the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign, and therefore with the year in which this pious king effected the reformation of religion. Ezekiel, however, could not represent this year as marking the commencement of Judah's sin. We must therefore, as the literal meaning of the words primarily indicates, regard the specified periods of time as periods of punishment for Israel and Judah. Since Ezekiel, then, had to maintain during the symbolical siege of Jerusalem this attitude of reclining for Israel and Judah, and after the completion of the 390 days for Israel must lie a second time (שׁנית, Ezekiel 4:6) 40 days for Judah, he had to recline in all 430 (390 + 40) days. To include the forty days in the three hundred and ninety is contrary to the statements in the text. But to reckon the two periods together has not only no argument against it, but is even suggested by the circumstance that the prophet, while reclining on his left and right sides, is to represent the siege of Jerusalem. Regarded, however, as periods of punishment, both the numbers cannot be explained consistently with the chronology, but must be understood as having a symbolical signification. The space of 430 years, which is announced to both kingdoms together as the duration of this chastisement, recalls the 430 years which in the far past Israel had spent in Egypt in bondage (Exodus 12:40). It had been already intimated to Abraham (Genesis 15:13) that the sojourn in Egypt would be a period of servitude and humiliation for his seed; and at a later time, in consequence of the oppression which the Israelites then experienced on account of the rapid increase of their number, it was - upon the basis of the threat in Deuteronomy 28:68, that God would punish Israel for their persistent declension, by bringing them back into ignominious bondage in Egypt - taken by the prophet as a type of the banishment of rebellious Israel among the heathen. In this sense Hosea already threatens (Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3, Hosea 9:6) the ten tribes with being carried back to Egypt; see on Hosea 9:3. Still more frequently, upon the basis of this conception, is the redemption from Assyrian and Babylonian exile announced as a new and miraculous exodus of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, e.g., Hosea 2:2; Isaiah 11:15-16. - This typical meaning lies also at the foundation of the passage before us, as, in accordance with the statement of Jerome,

(Note: Alii vero et maxime Judaei a secundo anno Vespasiani, quando Hierusalem a Romanis capta templumque subversum est, supputari volunt in tribulatione et angustia et captivitatis jugo populi constitui annos quadringentos triginta, et sic redire populum ad pristinum statum ut quomodo filii Israel 430 annis fuerunt in Aegypto, sic in eodem numero finiatur: scriptumque esse in Exodus 12:40. - Hieronymus.)

it was already accepted by the Jews of his time, and has been again recognised in modern times by Hvernick and Hitzig. That Ezekiel looked upon the period during which Israel had been subject to the heathen in the past as "typical of the future, is to be assumed, because only then does the number of 430 cease to be arbitrary and meaningless, and at the same time its division into 390 + 40 become explicable." - Hitzig.

This latter view is not, of course, to be understood as Hitzig and Hvernick take it, i.e., as if the 40 years of Judah's chastisement were to be viewed apart from the 40 years' sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness, upon which the look of the prophet would have been turned by the sojourn in Egypt. For the 40 years in the wilderness are not included in the 430 years of the Egyptian sojourn, so that Ezekiel could have reduced these 430 years to 390, and yet have added to them the 40 years of the desert wanderings. For the coming period of punishment, which is to commence for Israel with the siege of Jerusalem, is fixed at 430 years with reference to the Egyptian bondage of the Israelites, and this period is divided into 390 and 40; and this division therefore must also have, if not its point of commencement, at least a point of connection, in the 430 years of the Egyptian sojourn. The division of the period of chastisement into two parts is to be explained probably from the sending of the covenant people into the kingdom of Israel and Judah, and the appointment of a longer period of chastisement for Israel than for Judah, from the greater guilt of the ten tribes in comparison with Judah, but not the incommensurable relation of the divisions into 390 and 40 years. The foundation of this division can, first of all, only lie in this, that the number forty already possessed the symbolical significance of a measured period of divine visitation. This significance it had already received, not through the 40 years of the desert wandering, but through the 40 days of rain at the time of the deluge (Genesis 7:17), so that, in conformity with this, the punishment of dying in the wilderness, suspended over the rebellious race of Israel at Kadesh, is already stated at 40 years, although it included in reality only 38 years; see on Numbers 14:32. If now, however, it should be supposed that this penal sentence had contributed to the fixing of the number 40 as a symbolical number to denote a longer period of punishment, the 40 years of punishment for Judah could not yet have been viewed apart from this event. The fixing of the chastisement for Israel and Judah at 390 + 40 years could only in that case be measured by the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, if the relations of this sojourn presented a point of connection for a division of the 430 years into 390 and 40, i.e., if the 40 last years of the Egyptian servitude could somehow be distinguished from the preceding 390. A point of contact for this is offered by an event in the life of Moses which falls within that period, and was fertile in results for him as well as for the whole of Israel, viz., his flight from Egypt in consequence of the slaughter of an Egyptian who had ill-treated an Israelite. As the Israelites, his brethren, did not recognise the meaning of this act, and did not perceive that God would save them by his hand, Moses was necessitated to flee into the land of Midian, and to tarry there 40 years as a stranger, until the Lord called him to be the saviour of his nation, and sent him as His messenger to Pharaoh (Exodus 2:11-3:10; Acts 7:23-30). These 40 years were for Moses not only a time of trial and purification for his future vocation, but undoubtedly also the period of severest Egyptian oppression for the Israelites, and in this respect quite fitted to be a type of the coming time of punishment for Judah, in which was to be repeated what Israel had experienced in Egypt, that, as Israel had lost their helper and protector with the flight of Moses, so now Judah was to lose her king, and be given over to the tyranny of the heathen world-power.

(Note: Another ingenious explanation of the numbers in question has been attempted by Kliefoth, Comment. p. 123. Proceeding from the symbolical signification of the number 40 as a measure of time for divine visitation and trial, he supposes that the prescription in Deuteronomy 25:3 - that if an Israelite were to be subject to corporal punishment, he was not to receive more than 40 stripes - is founded upon this symbolical signification - a prescription which, according to 2 Corinthians 11:24, was in practice so carried out that only 39 were actually inflicted. From the application and bearing thus given to the number 40, the symbolical numbers in the passage before us are to be explained. Every year of punishment is equivalent to a stripe of chastisement. To the house of Israel 10 x 39 years equals stripes, were adjudged, i.e., to each of the ten tribes 39 years equals stripes; the individual tribes are treated as so many single individuals, and each receives the amount of chastisement usual in the case of one individual. Judah, on the contrary, is regarded as the one complete historical national tribe, cause in the two faithful tribes of Judah and Benjamin the people collectively were represented. Judah, then, may receive, not the number of stripes falling to individuals, but that only which fell upon one, although, as a fair compensation, not the usual number of 40, but the higher number - compatible with the Torah - of 40 stripes equals years. To this explanation we would give our assent, if only the transformation into stripes or blows of the days of the prophet's reclining, or of the years of Israel's punishment, could be shown to be probable through any analogous Biblical example, and were not merely a deduction from the modern law of punishment, in which corporal punishment and imprisonment hold the same importance. The assumption, then, is altogether arbitrary irrespective of this, that in the case of the house of Israel the measure of punishment is fixed differently from that of Judah; in the former case, according to the number of the tribes; in the latter, according to the unity of the kingdom: in the former at 39, in the latter at 40 stripes. Finally, the presupposition that the later Jewish practice of inflicting only 30 instead of 40 stripes - in order not to transgress the letter of the law in the enumeration which probably was made at the infliction of the punishment - goes back to the time of the exile, is extremely improbable, as it altogether breathes the spirit of Pharisaic micrology.)

While Ezekiel thus reclines upon one side, he is to direct his look unchangingly upon the siege of Jerusalem, i.e., upon the picture of the besieged city, and keep his arm bare, i.e., ready for action (Isaiah 52:10), and outstretched, and prophesy against the city, especially through the menacing attitude which he had taken up against it. To be able to carry this out, God will bind him with cords, i.e., fetter him to his couch (see on Ezekiel 3:25), so that he cannot stir from one side to another until he has completed the time enjoined upon him for the siege. In this is contained the thought that the siege of Jerusalem is to be mentally carried on until its capture; but no new symbol of the state of prostration of the besieged Jerusalem is implied. For such a purpose the food of the prophet (Ezekiel 4:9.) during this time is employed.

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