And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber's rasor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thy beard: then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair.
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.
Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled: and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a knife: and a third part thou shalt scatter in the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them.
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.
Thou shalt also take thereof a few in number, and bind them in thy skirts.
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).
Then take of them again, and cast them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire; for thereof shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her.
Verse 5. - This is Jerusalem, etc. The strange acted parables cease, and we have the unfigurative interpretation. The words that follow point to the central position of Jerusalem in the geography, and therefore in the history, of the ancient East: Egypt to the south, Assyria and Babylon to the north, and in the nearer distance Moabites and Ammonites, and Edomites, and Phoenicians, and Philistines; to all of these Jerusalem might have been as a city set on a hill, as the light of the Gentiles. That had been her ideal position from the first, as in the visions of Micah 4:1 and Isaiah 2:1 it was to be in its ideal future. The words are not without interest, as probably having suggested the thought, prominent in mediaeval geography (Dante, 'Inf.,' 34:115, and the Hereford 'Mappa Mundi'), that Jerusalem was physically the central point of the earth's surface. So Moslems believe Mecca to be the earth's centre, and the Greek word omphalos was applied to Delphi as implying the same belief
And she hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations, and my statutes more than the countries that are round about her: for they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them.
Verse 6. - She hath changed, etc. To that calling Jerusalem had been unfaithful. Corruptio optimi pessima, and she had sunk to a lower level than the nations round about her. For changed my judgments into wickedness, read, with the Revised Version, hath rebelled against my judgments in doing wickedness. The pronoun refers, not to the nations, but to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and so in the next clause.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye multiplied more than the nations that are round about you, and have not walked in my statutes, neither have kept my judgments, neither have done according to the judgments of the nations that are round about you;
Verse 7. - Because ye multiplied, etc.; better, with the Revised Version, because ye are turbulent. The vereb is cognate with the noun translated "tumult" in 1 Samuel 4:14; Psalm 65:7; Isaiah 33:3, though it is more commonly rendered "multitude." It is not (as stated by Currey and Gardiner) the verb rendered "rage" in Psalm 2:1. The former meaning fits in fairly here, hot some critics (Smend) suppose that the text is corrupt. A conjectural emendation gives, "ye were counted with the nations." Neither have done according to the judgments; better, with the Revised Version, ordinances. Taking the words as they stand, the words find their explanation in Jeremiah 2:10, 11. In doing as the nations (Ezekiel 11:12; Ezekiel 16:47), Jerusalem had not done as they did, for they were at least true to the gods whom they worshipped, and she had rebelled against her God. Some Hebrew manuscripts and some versions omit the negative, but this is probably a correction made in order to bring about a verbal agreement with Ezekiel 11:12.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations.
Verse 8. - Therefore, etc. The conjunction is emphatic. It was because Jerusalem, in her high estate had sinned so conspicuously that her punishment was to be equally conspicuous (comp. Lamentations 4:6; Amos 3:2).
And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations.
Verse 9. - I will do in thee, etc. The like words were spoken by our Lord of the destruction of the city that was then future (Matthew 24:21); but the war, Is of Ezekiel manifestly refer to that which was within the horizon of his vision, and find their parallel in Daniel 9:12; Lamentations 1:12; Lamentations 2:13.
Therefore the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments in thee, and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter into all the winds.
Verse 10. - The fathers shall eat their sons, etc. An echo from Leviticus 26:29 and Deuteronomy 28:53. The words of Jeremiah 19:9 and Lamentations 4:10 imply that horrors such as these occurred during the siege of the city by the Chaldeans, as they had occurred before in the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:28, 29), and were to occur afterwards in that by the Romans (Josephus, 'Bell Jud.,' 6:4. § 4). The whole remnant, etc. (comp. ver. 2).
Wherefore, as I live, saith the Lord GOD; Surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also diminish thee; neither shall mine eye spare, neither will I have any pity.
Verse 11. - Because thou hast defiled my sanctuary, etc. For the full account of the nature of the abominations which are thus spoken of, see notes on ch. 8. This was, after all, the root evil of all other evils. Pollution of worship, the degradation of the highest element in man's nature, passed into pollution and degradation of his whole life. Even in our Lord's acted teaching, in John 2:15, 16 and Matthew 21:12, we have the same principle implied. Therefore will I also diminish thee, etc. The italics show that the last word is not in the Hebrew. The Revised Version margin suggests two other renderings.
(1) Therefore will I also withdraw mine eye that it shall not spare; and
(2) Therefore will I hew thee down. To these we may add the LXX. I will reject, and the Vulgate I will break in pieces, which apparently, like (2), imply a different reading. Most recent critics suggest conjectural emendations of the text. I incline to rest satisfied with the Authorized Version, and to explain it by Ezekiel 16:27. The word implies not only the decrease, but the entire withdrawal of Jehovah's favour. Possibly there is an implied reference to the command of Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32. Jerusalem had "diminished" from the Law of God, had, as it were, erased the commandments which were of supreme obligation, and therefore, as by a lex talionis, God would diminish her. Neither will I have any pity. The words are, of course, anthropomorphic, and have therefore to be received with the necessary limitations. As the earthly minister of justice must not yield to a weak pity which would be incompatible with the assertion of the eternal law of righteousness, so neither will the Supreme Judge. There is a time for all things, and justice must do its work first, in order that there may be room for pity afterwards. For other assertions, which seems strange to us, of trials unpitying character of God, see Ezekiel 7:4, 9; Ezekiel 8:18; Ezekiel 9:10, et al.; Jeremiah 13:14.
A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee: and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them.
Verse 12. - A third part of thee, etc. (see note on ver. 2). The strange symbolic act is now interpreted. I will draw out a sword, etc. The phrase recurs in Ezekiel 12:14, and is found in Leviticus 26:33 - an echo, like so many other passages in Ezekiel, from what seems to have been his favourite storehouse of thought and language (Leviticus 17-26.).
Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted: and they shall know that I the LORD have spoken it in my zeal, when I have accomplished my fury in them.
Verse 13. - I will cause my fury to rest upon them, etc.; Revised Version, I will satisfy, etc. The phrase meets us again in Ezekiel 16:42; Ezekiel 21:17; Ezekiel 24:13. To "rest" here is to "repose" rather than to "abide." The thought is that a righteous anger, like that of Jehovah, rests (i.e. is quieted) when it has done its work, and that in this sense God is "comforted," either as rejoicing in the punishment of evil for its own sake (as in Deuteronomy 28:63; Isaiah 1:24), or because the punishment does its work in leading men to repentance. Israel may be comforted, because God is comforted as he sees that his judgments have done their work, and that his wrath can find repose. Have spoken in my zeal. The thought implied is that what is spoken in the earnest purpose of "zeal" will assuredly be carried into execution (comp. Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 37:32). Men might deride the prophet's warning as an idle threat. It would prove itself to have come from God.
Moreover I will make thee waste, and a reproach among the nations that are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by.
Verse 14. - In the sight of them that pass by. The phrase reminds us of Lamentations 1:12; Lamentations 2:15: and the latter was probably a conscious reproduction of it. The scorn and mockery of the heathen who rejoiced in her humiliation were to be the keenest pang in the punishment of the guilty city.
So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment unto the nations that are round about thee, when I shall execute judgments in thee in anger and in fury and in furious rebukes. I the LORD have spoken it.
Verse 15. - A reproach and a taunt, etc. An echo of Deuteronomy 28:37. The accumulation of synonyms in both clauses of the verse is eminently characteristic of Ezekiel's style. Word follows word, like the strokes of a sledge hammer. The word for "instruction" is that which occurs so often in the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 1:2, 3, and in twenty-two other passages). In Deuteronomy 11:12; Isaiah 53:5; Jeremiah 30:14, the Authorized Version renders it "chastisement," and that sense is manifestly implied here. Jerusalem was, as it were, to be the great object lesson in God's education of mankind. And the final stroke of all is that the words were not the prophet's own, but "I the Lord have spokes it." The words reappear in ver. 17.
When I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, which shall be for their destruction, and which I will send to destroy you: and I will increase the famine upon you, and will break your staff of bread:
Verse 16. - The evil arrows of famine, etc. The thought of the "arrows" of God's judgment may have been taken from Deuteronomy 32:23, 42, and occurs frequently also in the Psalms (Psalm 7:13; Psalm 38:2, et al.). Clothed in the language of poetry, the attributes of Jehovah included those of the Far-darter of the Greeks. Which shall be for their destruction, etc.; better, as Revised Version, that are for destruction. Ewald looks on the noun as a personification, like Abaddon, also translated "destruction" in Job 28:22 and Proverbs 15:11, and renders the words, "that are from hell;" but there seems no special reason for assuming such a meaning here. It is noticable that, as in the symbolism of Ezekiel 4:9-17, the laminae is more prominent in Ezekiel's thoughts than the other punishments.
So will I send upon you famine and evil beasts, and they shall bereave thee; and pestilence and blood shall pass through thee; and I will bring the sword upon thee. I the LORD have spoken it.
Verse 17. - Evil beasts, etc. These appear in like connection in Ezekiel's favourite textbooks (comp. Leviticus 26:6, 22; Deuteronomy 32:24). They reappear in Ezekiel 14:15, 21. Historically, we have an example of the suffering thus caused in the lions of 2 Kings 17:25, when towns and villages were deserted, and the unburied carcases of those who had died by famine, or pestilence, or the sword, were everywhere to attract them from afar. This was, of course, the natural and inevitable result. Pestilence and blood, etc. As this is followed by the work of the sword, "blood" probably points to some special form of plague, possibly dysentery (Acts 28:8, Revised Version), or carbuncles, like Hezekiah's boil (Isaiah 38:21). The same combination appears in Ezekiel 14:19; Ezekiel 28:23.