Ezekiel 5:3
You shall also take thereof a few in number, and bind them in your skirts.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) A few in number, and bind them in thy skirts.—A small remnant of the people was still left in the land after the great captivity (2Kings 25:22); but even of these some were to perish by violence (“cast them into the midst of the fire”) in the disorders which arose, and from this “shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel.” (See Jeremiah 40, 41) The ultimate result was the expatriation of all that remained in Judæa, and the entire emptying of the land of the chosen people.

At this point the use of symbolism ceases for a while, and the prophet now, for the first time, begins to utter his prophecies in plain language. Accordingly, he changes his style from prose to the more ordinary form of prophetic utterance in parallelisms, which constitute the distinctive feature of Hebrew poetry, and this continues until another vision begins with Ezekiel 8.

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.Of the third part a few are yet to be taken and kept in the fold of the garment (representing those still to remain in their native land), and yet even of those few some are to be cast into the fire. Such was the fate of those left behind after the destruction of Jerusalem Jeremiah 40; 41. The whole prophecy is one of denunciation.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. Thereof, i.e. of the last third which were to be dispersed.

A few, or small quantity.

In number; or, by number, as

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 also take thereof a few in number,.... These are they that were left in the land of Judea by Nebuzaradan, for vinedressers and husbandmen, and such as returned out of Egypt into the land of Judah, Jeremiah 44:28;

and bind them in thy skirts; in the pockets of them; signifying both the very small number of them, and their preservation. Jarchi and Kimchi interpret these of those that were carried captive to Babylon, and lived there, and were preserved, and returned again.

Thou shalt also take of them a few in number, and bind them in thy {c} skirts.

(c) Meaning, that a very few would be left, which the Lord would preserve among all these storms, but not without troubles and trial.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. few in number] Or, “by number,”—accurately numbering them. (Isaiah 40:26.) Of those dispersed a few shall meantime be preserved.Verses 3, 4. - Thou shalt also take, etc. The words may point

(1) either to those in Jerusalem who had escaped the famine and the sword, and were left in the land (2 Kings 25:22; Jeremiah 40:6; Jeremiah 40:6); or

(2) to those who should go into exile, and yet even there suffer from the "fire" of God's chastening judgments. They were, if saved at all, to be saved "so as by fire" (1 Corinthians 3:15), to be as "brands plucked from the burning" (Amos 4:11; Zechariah 3:2). Isaiah's thought of the "remnant" (Isaiah 10:20-22; Isaiah 11:11-16) seems hardly to come in here. The whole utterance is one of denunciation. The act of "binding in the skirts" implies only a limited protection. Omit "for," and for "thereof" read "therefrom," s.c. from the fire (Revised Version). 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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