Ezekiel 21
Pulpit Commentary
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel,
Verses 2, 3. - The opening words, reproducing those of Ezekiel 20:46, indicate that the interpretation of that parable is coming. So the three variants of "south" are shown to mean respectively Jerusalem, the holy places, and the land of Israel. So, in ver. 3, the righteous and the wicked take the place of the "green" and the "dry" tree, and the fire is explained as meaning the sword of the invader. The teaching of ch. 18, had shown that Ezekiel had entered, as regards the ultimate judgment of individual men, into the spirit of Abram's words "That be far from thee to destroy the righteous with the wicked" (Genesis 18:25). But in regard to temporal judgments there would be in this case, as in the complaint of Job 9:22, no distinction. The sword went forth "against all flesh."
And say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked.
Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north:
That all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more.
Sigh therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins; and with bitterness sigh before their eyes.
Verse 6. - Sigh therefore, etc. As in other instances (Ezekiel 4:4; Ezekiel 5:1-4), the prophet dramatizes the coming calamity. He is to act the part of a mourner, whose sighs are so deep that they seem to "break his loins" (compare, for the gesture, Nahum 2:1, 10 Isaiah 21:3; Jeremiah 30:6). The strange action was meant to lead to questions. What did it mean? And then he is to answer that he does it "for the tidings" which are to him as certain as if they had already come. He is but doing what all would do, when the messenger brought word, as in Ezekiel 33:21, five years later, that the city was at last smitten.
And it shall be, when they say unto thee, Wherefore sighest thou? that thou shalt answer, For the tidings; because it cometh: and every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and shall be brought to pass, saith the Lord GOD.
Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Verses 8, 9. - A sword, a sword, etc. The new section (vers. 9-17) rises out of the thought of the unsheathed sword in ver. 3. More than most other portions of Ezekiel's writings, it assumes a distinctly lyrical character, and might be headed, "The Lay of the Sword of Jehovah." The opening words are probably an echo of Deuteronomy 32:41. The dazzling brightness of the sword is added to its sharpness as a fresh element of terror.
Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the LORD; Say, A sword, a sword is sharpened, and also furbished:
It is sharpened to make a sore slaughter; it is furbished that it may glitter: should we then make mirth? it contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree.
Verse 10. - The sceptre of my son, etc. The clause is obscure, possibly corrupt, and has received many interpretations.

(1) Taking the received text, the most probable explanation is that given by Keil and Kliefoth: Shall we rejoice (saying), The sceptre of my son despiseth all woods. Here the "rod" is the "sceptre" of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and the words are supposed to be spoken by those who hear of the destroying sword. They need not dread the sword, they say, because the sceptre of the house of David, whom Jehovah recognizes as his son, despises all wood, looks on every other rod that is the symbol of sovereignty, with scorn. It is urged, in favour of this interpretation, that ver. 27 contains an unmistakable refer, nee to the prophetic words of Genesis 49:10.

(2) Ewald: It is no weak rod of my son, the softest of all wood; i.e. the sword of Jehovah is no weak weapon such as might be used for the chastisement of a child (Proverbs 10:13; Proverbs 13:24).

(3) Hengstenberg: Shall we rejoice over the rod of my son, despising every tree? There is no cause for anything but the reverse of joy in the rod, the punishment which God appoints for Israel as his son, and which surpasses all others in its severity.

(4) The Authorized Version and Revised Version (margin) make the "sword" the nominative, and the words are those of Jehovah: It contemneth the rod (i.e. the sceptre) of my son, as it contemns every other tree (i.e. as in Ezekiel 20:4), every other national sovereignty.

(5) The Revised. Version and Authorized Version (margin): It (the sword) is the rod of my son (appointed for his chastisement), and it despiseth every tree, in same sense as in (4).

(6) Cornill, altering the text, almost rewriting it, gets the meaning: It (the sword) is for men who murder and plunder, and regard not any strength. Neither the LXX. nor the Vulgate help us, the former giving, "Slay, set at naught, reject every tree;" and the latter, "Thou who guidest the sceptre of my son, thou hast cut down." On the whole, (1) seems to rest on better ground than the others.
And he hath given it to be furbished, that it may be handled: this sword is sharpened, and it is furbished, to give it into the hand of the slayer.
Cry and howl, son of man: for it shall be upon my people, it shall be upon all the princes of Israel: terrors by reason of the sword shall be upon my people: smite therefore upon thy thigh.
Verse 12. - Terrors by reason of the sword; better, as in the Revised Version and margin of the Authorized Version, They (the princes of Judah, corresponding to the "rod" of ver. 10) are delivered over to the sword with my people. At this stage, in contemplating the destruction alike of princes and of people, the prophet is bidden to make his gestures of lamentation yet more expressive, "crying, howling, smiting on his thigh" (Jeremiah 31:19).
Because it is a trial, and what if the sword contemn even the rod? it shall be no more, saith the Lord GOD.
Verse 13. - Because it is a trial, etc. The verse has received as many interpretations, and is just as obscure as ver. 10, with which it is obviously connected. I begin as before with that which seems most probable.

(1) Keil: For the trial is made, and what if the despising sceptre shall riot come? The "despising sceptre" is the kingdom of Judah, and the prophet asks, "What will happen, what extreme of misery is to be looked for, if that kingdom shall not appear, if Judah shall be left without a ruler?

(2) Ewald: For it is tried - and what? Whether it is also a soft rod! That will not be. Sc. men will find on trial that the sword of Jehovah is not a soft rod, but the sharpest of all weapons.

(3) Hengstenberg: And how? Shall the despising rod that outstript all other punishments not be? i.e. shall the sword of Jehovah not do its work effectively?

(4) Cornill, in part following Hitzig, again rewrites the text, and gets the meaning: How should I judge with favour? They have not turned themselves from their pollution. They shall find no place.

(5) The Authorized Version inserts t he word "sword," apparently with the meaning that the "trial" will show that the sword of the Lord contemns the rod, i.e. the sceptre of Judah, and that that rod shall be no more.

(6) The Authorized Version (margin): When the trial hath been, what then? Shall not they also belong to the despising rod? may have had a moaning for those who adopted it, but I fail to find it.

(7) The Revised Version relegates the Authorized Version text into the margin, and substitutes, For there is a trial, and what if even the rod that contemneth (i.e. the sceptre of Judah) shall be no more?

(8) The LXX and Vulgate connect "because there is a trial" with the preceding clause, rendering it respectively, "for it has been justified (δεδικαίωται)," and "because it has been tested (probatus)," and translate what follows - the LXX., "What if even a tribe be repulsed? It shall not be;" and the Vulgate, "And this when it (the sword!) has overturned the kingdom, and it shall not be," etc. This will be a sufficient summary of the difficulties of the exegetical problem. At the best, we must say that it remains unsolved.
Thou therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite thine hands together, and let the sword be doubled the third time, the sword of the slain: it is the sword of the great men that are slain, which entereth into their privy chambers.
Verse 14. - Smite thine hands together, etc. Another gesture follows, either of horror and lamentation, or perhaps, looking to ver. 17, of imperative command. The sword is to do its thrice-redoubled work (the words emphasize generally the intensity, and are scarcely to be taken numerically, of the repeated invasions of the Chaldeans); it is "the sword of the slain" (better, pierced ones, or, with Revised Version, the deadly wounded). The next clause should be taken, with the Revised Version, in the singular - the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded; sc. the sword should smite the king as well as the people. For entereth into their privy chambers, read, with the Revised Version (margin), Ewald, and Keil, it compasseth them about.
I have set the point of the sword against all their gates, that their heart may faint, and their ruins be multiplied: ah! it is made bright, it is wrapped up for the slaughter.
Verse 15. - For their ruins shall be multiplied, read, with the Revised Version, that their stumblings; and for wrapped up, pointed, or sharpened.
Go thee one way or other, either on the right hand, or on the left, whithersoever thy face is set.
Verse 16. - Go thee one way or another, etc.; i.e. as in the following, to the right hand or the left - to the north or the south. Whichever way the prophet turned (Ezekiel 20:47), he would see nothing but the sword and its work of slaughter. Jehovah had given that command with the gesture of supreme authority. He would not rest till he had appeased his wrath by letting it work itself out even to the end. With these words the "Lay of the Sword of Jehovah" ends, and there is again an interval of silence.
I will also smite mine hands together, and I will cause my fury to rest: I the LORD have said it.
Verses 17-19. - The new section opens in a different strain. Ezekiel sees, as in vision, Nebuchadnezzar and his army on their march. He is told to appoint (better, make, or mark, as on a brick or tile, as in Ezekiel 4:1) a place where the road bifurcated. Both come from one land, i.e. from Babylon; but from that point onwards one road led to Rabbath, the capital of the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 3:11; 2 Samuel 11:1), the other to Jerusalem. Apparently, the exiles and the people of Judah flattered themselves that the former was the object of the expedition. The answer to that false hope is a vivid picture of what was passing in the council of war which Nebuchadnezzar was holding at that parting of the ways. The prophet sees, as it were, the sign post pointing, as with a hand, to each of the two cities The king consults his soothsayers, and uses divinations. Of these Ezekiel enumerates three:

(1) He shakes the arrows to and fro (Revised Version). This was known among the Greeks as the βέλομαντεια The arrows were put into a quiver, with names (in this case probably Rabbath and Jerusalem) written on them. One was then drawn, or thrown, out as by chance, and decided the direction of the campaign.

(2) He consults the images (Hebrew, teraphim). The modus operandi in this case is not known, but Judges 18:18 and Hosea 3:4 point to some such use of them.

(3) There remains the sacrifice and the inspection of the liver, familiar alike in Greek, Etrurian, and Roman divination (Cicero, 'De Divin.,' 6:13).
The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the king of Babylon may come: both twain shall come forth out of one land: and choose thou a place, choose it at the head of the way to the city.
Appoint a way, that the sword may come to Rabbath of the Ammonites, and to Judah in Jerusalem the defenced.
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.
At his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to appoint captains, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to appoint battering rams against the gates, to cast a mount, and to build a fort.
Verse 22. - At his right hand was, etc.; better, into his right hand came, etc.; sc. the arrow marked for Jerusalem was that which came into the king's hand as the quiver was shaken. To appoint captains; better, battering rams, in both clauses. The same Hebrew word is used in both (see note on Ezekiel 4:2). The verse paints the engineering operations of the besiegers, following on the issue of the divination. (For the mount, comp. Isaiah 37:33.)
And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, to them that have sworn oaths: but he will call to remembrance the iniquity, that they may be taken.
Verse 23. - The whole verse is obscure, and has been very variously interpreted. I follow the translation of the Revised Version, and explain it by inserting words which are needed to bring out its meaning: It (what Nebuchadnezzar has done) shall be as a vain divination in their sight (sc. in that of the men of Jerusalem), which have sworn unto them (sc. have taken oaths of fealty to the Chaldeans, and are ready to take them again), but he (Nebuchadnezzar) brings iniquity to remembrance. The fact represented is that when the people of Jerusalem heard of the divination at the parting of the ways, they still lulled themselves in a false security. They and Zedekiah had sworn obedience, and that oath would protect them. "Not so," rejoins the prophet; "the Chaldean king knows how those oaths have been kept." The LXX. omits all reference to "oaths." The Vulgate. taking the word for "oath" in its ether sense of "sabbath," gives the curious rendering, Eritque quasi consulens frustra oraculum in eorum oculis, et sabbatorum otium imitans. In spite of the reports that reached them, the men of Jerusalem thought themselves as safe as if the Chaldean king were keeping a sabbath day. Ewald partly follows the Vulgate, and renders, They believe they have weeks on weeks, i.e. will not believe that the danger is close at hand. Keil and Havernick: Oaths of oaths are theirs; i.e. they count on the oath of Jehovah, on his promises of protection, but he (Jehovah) brings iniquity to remembrance. That they may be taken; i.e. be seized by the invader and either slain or made prisoners
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are discovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear; because, I say, that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand.
Verse 24. - The prophet adds words which in part explain these that precede. The iniquity of the people has forced, not the Chaldean king only, but Jehovah himself, to remember and to punish them.
And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end,
Verse 25. - And thou, profane wicked prince of Judah, etc.; better, with the Revised Version, O deadly wounded, etc., as in ver. 29, where the same word is translated in the Authorized Version as "slain" The Authorized Version follows the LXX. and Vulgate, apparently in order to make the word fit in with the fact that Zedekiah was not slain, but carried into exile. The word "deadly wounded," or "sorely smitten," may rightly be applied to one who fell, as Zedekiah did, from his high estate. From the sins of the people the prophet turns to the special guilt of Zedekiah, who had proved unfaithful alike to Jehovah and to the Chaldean king, whom he had owned as his suzerain. His day had at last come, the time of the iniquity of the end of the last transgression which was to bring down on him the final punishment.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high.
Verse 26. - Remove the diadem, etc. The noun is used throughout the Pentateuch (e.g., Exodus 28:4; 37:39; Leviticus 8:9; Leviticus 16:4) for the "turban" or "mitre" of the high priest, and Keil so takes it here, as pointing to the punishment of the priest as well as of the king. This shall not be the same; literally, this shall not be this; or, as the Revised Version paraphrases, this shall be no more the same; i.e. the mitre and the crown shall alike pass away - taken from their unworthy wearers. There was to be, as in the following words, a great upturning of all things; the high brought low, the lowly exalted.
I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.
Verse 27. - I will overthrow. The sentence of destruction is emphasized, after the Hebrew manner, by a threefold iteration (Isaiah 6:3; Jeremiah 22:29). It shall be no more. The pronoun in both clauses probably refers to the established order of the kingdom and the priesthood. "That order," Ezekiel says, "shall be no more." Keil, however, takes the second "it" - the "this" of the Revised Version - as meaning the fact of the overthrow. That also was not final; all things were as in a state of flux till the Messianic kingdom hinted at in the next clause should restore the true order. Until he come whose right it is. The words contain a singularly suggestive allusion to Genesis 49:10, where a probable interpretation of the word "Shiloh" is "he to whom it belongs;" or, as the LXX. gives it, τὰ ἀποκείμενα αὐτᾷ. The passage is noticeable as being Ezekiel's first distinct utterance of the hope of a personal Messiah. Afterwards, in Ezekiel 34:23, it is definite enough.
And thou, son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning the Ammonites, and concerning their reproach; even say thou, The sword, the sword is drawn: for the slaughter it is furbished, to consume because of the glittering:
Verse 28. - Thus saith the Lord God concerning the Ammonites. Ezekiel has not forgotten that scene at the parting of the ways. The Ammonites, when they saw the issue of the divination, and the march of the Chaldean army to the west, thought themselves safe. They took up their reproach against Jerusalem, and exulted in its fall. They are warned, as in another strophe of the "Lay of the Sword of Jehovah," that their confidence is vain (comp. Zephaniah 2:8 for a like exultation at an earlier period).
Whiles they see vanity unto thee, whiles they divine a lie unto thee, to bring thee upon the necks of them that are slain, of the wicked, whose day is come, when their iniquity shall have an end.
Verse 29. - Whiles they see, etc. The words may possibly refer to Nebuchadnezzar's diviners in ver. 21, but more probably to those whom the Ammonites themselves consulted. The pronoun "thee" in both clauses refers to Ammon. The result of those who divined falsely was that the sword would be drawn against the necks of the Ammonites and threw them upon the heap of the slaughtered ones. For them, as in the words that end the verse, reproducing those of ver. 25, punishment is decreed, and that punishment will come.
Shall I cause it to return into his sheath? I will judge thee in the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy nativity.
Verse 30. - Shall I cause it, etc.? The question of the Authorized Version suggests a negative answer, as though the speaker were Jehovah, and the sheath that of his sword. The Revised Version, which translates it, with Keil, the LXX., and the Vulgate, as an imperative, deals with it as addressed to the Ammonites. They am told to sheath their sword; it would be of no avail against the sharp, glittering weapon of Jehovah. Their judgment would soon come on them in their own land, not, as in the case of Judah, in the form of exile (comp. Ezekiel 25:1-8 as an expansion of the prophet's thought).
And I will pour out mine indignation upon thee, I will blow against thee in the fire of my wrath, and deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, and skilful to destroy.
Verse 31. - I will blow against, etc. The imagery of fire takes the place of that of the sword. The brutish men (same word as in Psalm 49:10; Psalm 92:6) are the Chaldean conquerors. The fact that the adjective may also mean "those that burn" may, in part, have determined Ezekiel's choice of it.
Thou shalt be for fuel to the fire; thy blood shall be in the midst of the land; thou shalt be no more remembered: for I the LORD have spoken it.
Verse 32. - For Ammon there is no hope of a restoration like that which Ezekiel speaks of as possible for Jerusalem, and even for Sodom and Samaria. Its doom is written in the words, it shall be no more remembered (comp. Ezekiel 25:7).

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