Ezekiel 5:2
You shall burn with fire a third part in the middle of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled: and you shall take a third part, and smite about it with a knife: and a third part you shall scatter in the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them.
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(2) Burn with fire a third art in the midst of the city.—It is better to suppose this done only in description than to imagine that the prophet carried it out in act upon the tile on which the city (Jerusalem) was portrayed. The meaning of this verse is explained in Ezekiel 5:12, and is made plainer by translating the same word uniformly “sword,” instead of changing to “knife.” The third, which is scattered, plainly signifies the small part of the people who, escaping destruction, shall be scattered among the heathen. A similar prophecy, referring however to a later time, may be found in Zechariah 13:8-9. The expression, “when the days of the siege are fulfilled,” of course refers to the symbolic siege of the prophet. The words, “I will draw out a sword after them,” are taken from Leviticus 26:33, and are repeated in Ezekiel 5:12, and again in Ezekiel 12:14. The suffering from the Divine judgments should still follow them in their exile. Plain prophecy is here mixed with the symbolism.

Ezekiel 5:2-4. Thou shall burn a third part in the midst of the city — In the midst of that portraiture of the city, which the prophet was commanded to make, chap. Ezekiel 4:1. This signified the destruction of the inhabitants within the city by famine and pestilence; for both famine and pestilence may be said to burn, as they make great havoc, and consume as fast as fire. Thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a knife — To show that a third part of the inhabitants should be slain with the sword; either in the sallies they made out of the city against the enemy, or when the city was taken by assault. A third part thou shalt scatter in the wind — This signified that a part of them should be dispersed into various countries, as the chaff is dispersed by the wind; I will draw out a sword after them — My vengeance shall pursue them in their dispersions, and they shall be everywhere exposed to suffer violence and injury. Also take a few and bind them in thy skirts — The Hebrew is, in thy wings. This signified that a small part of them should be preserved in the land; and accordingly we find that Nebuzar-adan, captain-general of the king of Babylon, left a few of them in the land under Gedaliah, as we read Jeremiah 40:5-6. Then take of them again, and cast them into the midst of the fire — This expressed the calamity and destruction which should arise from this small remnant differing among themselves: some espousing the part of Gedaliah, who had been set over them by the Babylonians, and was a good man; and others joining themselves to Ishmael, one of the blood of David, but a wicked man; who formed a conspiracy against Gedaliah, and treacherously slew him, which was the occasion of the utter ruin of that poor remainder of the Jews, which were left in their native country. For thereupon some of them went down into Egypt, where they were all consumed according to Jeremiah’s prophecy against them, Jeremiah 44:11, &c., and the rest who remained in the land were entirely carried away captive by Nebuzar- adan, Jeremiah 52:30.5:1-4 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."The third part burnt in the midst of the city" represents those who perished within the city during the siege; "the third part smitten about it" (the city) "with" the sword, those who were killed about the city during the same period: "the third part scattered to the wind" those who after the siege were dispersed in foreign lands.

In the midst of the city - The prophet is in exile, and is to do this in the midst of Jerusalem. His action being ideal is fitly assigned to the place which the prophecy concerns.

When the days of the siege are fulfilled - i. e., "when the days of the figurative representation of the siege are fulfilled."

2. Three classes are described. The sword was to destroy one third of the people; famine and plague another third ("fire" in Eze 5:2 being explained in Eze 5:12 to mean pestilence and famine); that which remained was to be scattered among the nations. A few only of the last portion were to escape, symbolized by the hairs bound in Ezekiel's skirts (Eze 5:3; Jer 40:6; 52:16). Even of these some were to be thrown into the fiery ordeal again (Eze 5:4; Jer 41:1, 2, &c.; Jer 44:14, &c.). The "skirts" being able to contain but few express that extreme limit to which God's goodness can reach. This verse tells you into how many parts the hair was to be divided, and how to be disposed of, and so plain it needs little explication.

With fire; so either pestilence, or famine, with the displeasure of God, and the burning of the city and of the citizens, is noted.

The city, described on the tile, Ezekiel 4:1, a type of what should be done in Jerusalem.

When the days of the siege are fulfilled; when the three hundred and ninety days of thy lying against the portrayed city shall be ended; for when Jerusalem shall be taken at the end of the siege, the city shall be burnt; and who can say that none of the inhabitants were burnt, as the two false prophets Ahab and Zedekiah? Jeremiah 29:22. To be sure many that hid themselves under ground, in vaults and cellars, were burnt with the burning of the city.

A third part; it is not necessary this part should be equal to the former, if it be proportional it is enough; perhaps it might be somewhat less then the first third.

Smite about it with a knife; for these were such as fell, in either defending the walls, or sallying out during the siege, or were found in arms when the city was taken, or were overtaken in their flight with their most unhappy king or by law martial were adjudged to die by the conqueror. These many, yet weak ones, women and children, which died in the siege by famine and pestilence, might be a greater third.

A third part; those that fell to the Chaldeans, or fled to Egypt, or other countries, though they escape somewhat longer, yet carrying like sins are at last overtaken with like evils.

Thou shalt scatter; though these disposed of themselves, yet there was God’s hand also in it; he scattered those that of their own accord did flee.

In the wind; violent, uncertain, and troublesome should their enemies prove to them.

I will draw out; God will pursue them.

A sword; figuratively it is wasting punishment, literally it was fulfilled, Jeremiah 42:16,17,22 43:10,11 44:27. Thereof, i.e. of the last third which were to be dispersed. A few, or small quantity. In number; or, by number, as it may be read; tell out a small parcel of the hair. Bind them in thy skirts; as men tie up in a handkerchief, or in the skirt of their garment, what they would not lose. So some few shall be kept, God will not cut off the whole house of Israel, but reserves a remnant. Thou, shall burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city,.... Of Jerusalem, as portrayed upon the tile, Ezekiel 4:1; or the prophet was now in Chaldea. The burning of the third part of the hair with fire denotes such who were destroyed by the pestilence and famine during the siege; see Lamentations 5:10; or it denotes the burning of the city itself, when the siege was over; since it follows:

when the days of the siege are fulfilled; for, when it was taken, it was burnt with fire, Jeremiah 52:13;

and thou shall take a third part, and smite about it with a knife; which designs those that fled out of the city whim it was broken up, and were pursued after, and overtook by the Chaldean army, and cut off by the sword, Jeremiah 52:7;

and a third part thou shall scatter in the wind; which intends those that fled, and were dispersed into several countries, as Moab, Ammon, and especially Egypt, whither many went along with Johanan the son of Kareah, Jeremiah 43:5;

and I will draw out a sword after them; and destroy them; which, as it was threatened, Jeremiah 42:16; so it was accomplished when Egypt was subdued by Nebuchadnezzar. The Septuagint and Arabic versions, in every clause, read a "fourth part", instead of a "third"; but wrongly.

Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the {b} city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled: and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a sword: and a third part thou shalt scatter in the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them.

(b) That is, of that city which he had portrayed on the brick, Eze 4:1. By the fire and pestilence he means the famine, with which one part perished during the siege of Nebuchadnezzar. By the sword, those that were slain when Zedekiah fled and those that were carried away captive and by the scattering into the wind, those that fled into Egypt, and into other parts after the city was taken.

2. third part in the midst of the city] If we could suppose that the prophet were strict in his symbolism the “city” here would be that graven upon the brick (ch. Ezekiel 4:1). There is no reason to suppose that he has this in his mind.

smite about it with a knife] Rather: and smite it with the sword round about it, i.e. around the city (Ezekiel 5:12). This is the fate of many of those who seek to escape before and after the capture of the city.

draw out a sword] Comp. Jeremiah 9:16, “I will scatter them among the heathen … and will send the sword after them.” Lamentations 1:3, “Judah dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest; all her pursuers overtook her between the straits.” The phrase again Leviticus 26:33.Verse 2. - Thou shalt burn with fire, etc. The symbolism receives its interpretation in ver. 12. A third part of the people (we need not expect numerical exactness) was to perish in the city of pestilence and famine, another to fall by the sword in their attempts to escape, yet another third was to be scattered to the far off land of their exile, and even there the sword was to follow them. The words, in the midst of the city, and the days of the siege, find their most natural explanation in Ezekiel 4:1, 5, 6. 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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