The Sacred Song of the Sword
Ezekiel 21:8-17
Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying,…

Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the Lord; Say, A sword, a sword is sharpened, etc. The passage before us is written in the form of Hebrew poetry. The poem does not present any new truths or ideas, but is chiefly an amplification of the preceding twelve verses. There are in this song some words and phrases of considerable difficulty, in the interpretation of which a wide diversity of opinion exists. The chief features of the poem may be noticed homiletically in the following order.


1. It was sharpened for daughter. "A sword is sharpened,... it is sharpened to make a sore slaughter." In the providence of God, Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldean forces had become ready for their dread work at Jerusalem and among its inhabitants.

2. It was furbished for terror. "And also furbished, is furbished that it may glitter." The sword was burnished, that by its glittering it might dismay those against whom it was drawn (cf. Deuteronomy 32:41). The truth thus taught seems to be that the actual attack of the Chaldeans would strike terror into the hearts of the people of Jerusalem. Says Greenhill, "When God is bringing judgments upon a people, he will fit instruments for accomplishing of the same, and that to purpose. He will make that which is blunt, sharp; that which is rusty, glittering; and those who are spiritless, full of spirit; he can make one to chase ten, ten a hundred, and a hundred a thousand. His works shall never fail for want of instruments."

II. THE PRESENTATION OF THE SWORD TO THE SLAYER. "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." The sword was not prepared for nought. It was, as it were, given by the Lord into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar to be used by him. That monarch could not have slain one of the sons of Israel unless permission had been given him by the Supreme; an that permission would not have been given to him but for the heinous and long continued sins of Israel. So also Pilate had no power against our Lord save what was given to him from above (John 19:11). The mightiest sovereign or government can do nothing without the permission of the great God.


1. It was to wage war against the chosen people. "It is upon my people." (We have frequently noticed this point; e.g. on ch. 20:46, and ver. 3.)

2. It was to wage war against the most eminent of the chosen people. "It shall be upon all the princes of Israel." These princes were strong advocates of the alliance with Egypt, and of resistance to the authority of Nebuchadnezzar. They did this in defiance of the word of the Lord by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and against the judgment of the weak minded King Zedekiah, when he was in his better moods (cf. Jeremiah 37, and 38.). By this course of action they hastened the destruction of Jerusalem. It was fitting that, when the sword came, they should not escape its terrible strokes. And King Zedekiah is probably referred to by the prophet. "It is the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded, which entereth into their chambers" (ver. 14, Revised Version); or, "that pierces into them" (Hengstenberg); "that penetrates to them" (Schroder). His sons were slain before his eyes; then his eyes were put out; then, bound in fetters, he was carried to Babylon, and there in prison he died (Jeremiah 52:8-11); surely the glittering sword pierced him. This sharp sword recognized no distinction of rank or riches, of place or power.

3. It was to destroy the national existence of the chosen people. "It contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree... And what if the sword contemn even the rod? it shall be no more, saith the Lord God." The view of these difficult clauses which is taken by the 'Speaker's Commentary' seems to us correct. "The rod is the sceptre of dominion assigned to Judah (Genesis 49:10). The destroying sword of Babylon despises the sceptre of Judah; it despises every tree (comp. Ezekiel 20:47; Ezekiel 21:4; also Ezekiel 17:24)." And on ver. 13, "The Karlsruhe translator of the Bible gives the best explanation: 'What horrors will not arise when the sword shall cut down without regard the ruling sceptre of Judah?'"

IV. THE EXECUTION OF THE SWORD IN SLAYING. Several things in this poem are indicative of this. The thrice-doubled sword (ver. 14) points to the dread violence of the slaughter, or to "the earnestness and energy of the Divine punishment." The sword set against all their gates, and the multiplication of their stumblings (ver. 15, Revised Version), refer to the fierce conflicts by the gates of the city and the bodies of the slain there, over which the living would stumble. And two of the directions addressed to the sword in ver. 16 suggest the terrible work it was commissioned to accomplish. Revised Version, "Gather thee together;" margin, "Make thyself one;" Hengstenberg, "Unite thyself." The allusion is "to the thrice-doubled sword in ver. 14. In reality, the terrible weight is designated with which the Divine judgment falls on him whom it is to strike." Very similar in its signification is the direction, "Set thyself in array" (ver. 16, Revised Version); It denotes the determination and zeal with which the Divine judgment would be executed. All these things point to the terrible sufferings and the fierce slaughter of the guilty people of Jerusalem by the Chaldean hosts.


1. The sorrow of the prophet in anticipation of the slaughter. "Cry and howl, son of man: for it is upon my people, it is upon all the princes of Israel: terrors by reason of the sword shall be upon my people: smite therefore upon thy thigh." Smiting upon the thigh was a token of intense grief, corresponding to smiting upon the breast (cf. Jeremiah 31:19; Luke 23:48). And the prophet was to do this, and to cry and howl, not simply to express his own grief, but to indicate the anguish which would wring the hearts of the people.

2. The dismay of the people because of the slaughter. "That their heart may faint," or "melt" (ver. 15; cf. ver. 7, and see our remarks thereon).

CONCLUSION. This terrible judgment was the expression of the righteous anger of the Lord God, because of the persistent and aggravated sins of the people. And when it was thus expressed, it rested. It was satisfied with the vindication of the holy Law, which had been so basely set at naught.

1. Let no man, let no community, presume upon the patience and mercy of God. He is a Being of awful justice and of terrible wrath.

2. Let no one persist in sin. Such a course must meet with the stern judgment of the Most High. - W.J.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

WEB: The word of Yahweh came to me, saying,

The Sign of Sighing
Top of Page
Top of Page