THE SWORD OF THE LORD WILL ACCOMPLISH ITS MISSION OF JUDGMENT
The last paragraph in chapter 20 starts a new chapter in the Hebrew bible since it fits with the context of chapter 21. The imagery of a consuming fire transfers over to the imagery of the sword of the Lord workings its devastating judgment. The ultimate executioner is God throughout, although He uses Babylon to wield the sword against the treacherous Zedekiah and the city of Jerusalem. Ammon thought themselves fortunate when Nebuchadnezzar chose to attack Jerusalem, but their fate is certain as well – just reserved for a later slaughter. There is no way to escape the devastation of the sword of the Lord. Once it has been unsheathed, it must accomplish its mission.
MacArthur: This is the sign of the sword against Jerusalem (vv. 1-17). God depicts His judgment in terms of a man unsheathing his polished sword for deadly thrusts. God is the swordsman (vv. 3, 4), but Babylon is His sword (v. 19). The historical background for this prophecy is Nebuchadnezzar’s 588 B.C. campaign to quell revolts in Judah, as well as Tyre and Ammon.
Leslie Allen: The chapter is dominated by the image of the sword of judgment. In the powerful poem that stands at its heart the sword functions as a destructive force unleashed by Yahweh and so an instrument of his providential will. In the first oracle it is described more precisely as Yahweh’s sword, seemingly wielded for breach of covenant, while in the third it is Nebuchadnezzar’s, who functions as Yahweh’s agent in punishing an immoral community. Divine and human factors are intertwined in Ezekiel’s representation of Judah’s grim future.
Iain Duguid: The common theme that binds these sections together is the catchword “sword” as an image of God’s judgment, which together with the associated image of fire, falls first on God’s people, then on the not-so-innocent bystanders, and finally on the agent of judgment, the Babylonians. [I would say the last section targets judgment against the Ammonites.]
I. (20:45-49) THE PARABLE OF THE SWORD OF THE LORD –
JUDGMENT COMING AGAINST JERUSALEM
“Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
Constable: A new chapter in the Hebrew Bible begins with 20:45. The section of the book that it begins contains four messages of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem with special emphasis on the judgment coming on the leaders of the people. The Lord explained the basis for His judgment of Judah (20:1- 44) and then proceeded to describe and to affirm the certainty of that judgment (20:45—21:32).
A. (:46-48) Directed Prophecy of Coming Judgment against Jerusalem
1. (:46-47a) Certain Target is Jerusalem
“Son of man, set your face toward Teman,
and speak out against the south,
and prophesy against the forest land of the Negev,
and say to the forest of the Negev, ‘Hear the word of the LORD:
thus says the Lord God,’”
Derek Thomas: Though Babylon is the immediate cause of Judah’s destruction, it is clear from the parable that the ultimate cause lies with God. It is God who uses the Babylonians in his judging work. To miss that point is to fail to understand the nature of history as ‘his story’.
2. (:47b) Consuming Fire of Comprehensive Scope and Catastrophic Severity
“Behold, I am about to kindle a fire in you,
and it shall consume every green tree in you, as well as every dry tree; the blazing flame will not be quenched,
and the whole surface from south to north will be burned by it.’”
Lamar Cooper: In order for the restoration to begin, judgment must be dispensed. The process of purging the land will begin with the refining fires of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem. As a sign of the coming purge, Ezekiel was told to turn toward the south and deliver the brief message of judgment. Use of the words for “south” and “forests of the southland” are references that point to Judah and Jerusalem (vv. 45–46). God promised a fire would consume all trees, green and dry, of the south (v. 47). Ezekiel portrayed, in this parable form, the invasion of Judah by the Babylonian armies and the destruction of Jerusalem that was inevitable. The destruction will be of a scope and severity that everyone would recognize it as an act of divine retribution (vv. 48–49).
John Taylor: Ezekiel may have reinforced his words by facing southwards as he uttered his oracle, predicting that the Lord will cause a forest fire to sweep through the land from south to north. All will see it and no-one will be able to avoid its heat (47; all faces … shall be scorched by it). Men will realize that it has been sent by the Lord as an act of judgment.
3. (:48) Recognition Refrain
“And all flesh will see that I, the LORD, have kindled it;
it shall not be quenched.”
Constable: Here it becomes clear that God was using the trees in the south to represent Judah’s people. The Lord announced that He was going to judge the Judahites as when a fire sweeps through a forest. All types of people would suffer, the outwardly righteous (green tree) and the outwardly unrighteous (dry tree), and the judgment would affect the whole land.
B. (:49) Dismissive Response by the People
“Then I said, ‘Ah Lord God! They are saying of me,
Is he not just speaking parables?’”
Lamar Cooper: his section closes with the prophet’s complaint that he was not being taken seriously because he spoke in parables rather than plain, direct words. The message that follows in 21:1–27 therefore was presented in clear terminology in which all the subjective elements of the message were identified.
Judgment of sin is a prerequisite to blessing. The wrath of God’s judgment precedes the restoration of his blessings and the fulfillment of his promises. This pattern was true for Ezekiel’s day, and it is also the pattern of the end time when God will purge the earth (Rev 17–18) in preparation for the rule of the Messiah (Rev 19–20).
Douglas Stuart: Ezekiel faithfully preached the allegory to the people, as he was commanded, but at the time he may not have understood its point himself. At any rate, the audience certainly didn’t get it. They accused him of speaking “parables” (also translatable as “allegories,” since the Hebrew mashal can refer to virtually any figure of speech). By this they apparently meant that his prophecy was too obscure or complicated for them to understand, just as Jesus’ speaking in parables to people not willing to seek the kingdom of God was dismissed as purposeful obscuring of the message (Matt. 13:10).
In response to his appeal to God about the people’s accusation (v. 49) Ezekiel then receives a second, supplementary revelation (21:1–7) in which he (and his audience) learns what the allegory really meant because the figures of the allegory are now defined clearly (“fire” = war, “south” = Judah, etc.). He is also told to undertake a simple kind of enactment prophecy (going around sighing) so that the people in exile with him will be vividly warned that the news of the fall of Judah will greatly demoralize them.
Feinberg: Ezekiel was alert to the reactions of his contemporaries, and knew what they were saying of his method of presentation of truth. They refused to comprehend his message. Men find difficulty in understanding a message which is distasteful to them. Some even take the question as a statement of the people’s skepticism. It is well known that to the unwilling heart any message from God appears to be difficult of comprehension. The parable forms a transition to the next chapter where Ezekiel speaks in nonfigurative speech.
II. (21:1-7) THE UNSHEATHING OF THE SWORD OF THE LORD –
THE EXPLANATION OF THE RIDDLE – THE SWORD IS COMING
“And the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
A. (:2-3) Comprehensive Judgment Executed by the Sword of the Lord
1. (:2) Targets the City, the Sanctuaries and the Land
“Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem, and speak against the sanctuaries, and prophesy against the land of Israel;”
That which had been chosen by the Lord and intended to be set apart as holy for a witness to the nations was not going to come under siege from the Covenant God Himself.
Iain Duguid: The three Hebrew terms for “south” in the parable (têmān; dārôm; negeb) are matched by three objects of judgment: Jerusalem, the sanctuary, and the land of Israel (21:2).
2. (:3) Targets Both the Righteous and the Wicked
“and say to the land of Israel, ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am against you; and I shall draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off from you the righteous and the wicked.’”
Iain Duguid: The focus of the interpretation, like that of the parable, is the all-encompassing nature of the coming judgment. “Righteous” and “wicked,” like “green tree” and “dry tree,” operate together as a merism, a pair of opposites that includes everything in between. These two are not, however, a randomly chosen pair, which could be replaced by another stock pairing such as “young” and “old.” If the judgment includes even the righteous, whom one would expect normally to be spared (9:4), then indeed no one will escape. The coming judgment on Jerusalem will not be selective and short-lived, as was the invasion of 597 b.c., but all-encompassing and all-consuming. Nor is there any hope of a reprieve: The fire is kindled; the sword is drawn; there is only the fearful expectation of judgment.
B. (:4-5) Committed Judgment – No Turning Back of the Sword of the Lord
1. (:4) Sword Slaughters without Exception
“Because I shall cut off from you the righteous and the wicked, therefore My sword shall go forth from its sheath against all flesh from south to north.”
Peter Pett: This time the judgment will be total and unrestrained. The whole land will be included, both those who think themselves righteous, as well as the very wicked. It will cover all, moving from the south upwards, and all will realise that this is indeed the work of Yahweh and that it is final. There comes a time for all when God’s moment for reaping comes.
2. (:5) Recognition Refrain – Sword Cannot be Restrained
“Thus all flesh will know that I, the LORD, have drawn My sword out of its sheath. It will not return to its sheath again.”
David Guzik: The magnitude and severity of God’s judgment would be a revelation to the watching world. They would know that only God Himself could be behind such a great judgment.
C. (:6-7) Compassionate Concern of the Prophet
1. (:6) Prophetic Empathy for the Condemned People
“As for you, son of man, groan with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan in their sight.”
Peter Pett: The ‘breaking of the loins’ represents deep emotions and fear (Psalms 69:23; Nahum 2:10). The ‘bitterness’ reveals his heartbreaking concern. This will then raise questions in his hearers (by now anything that Ezekiel did raised questions), and when they ask for its reason he will reply that it is because of the coming bad tidings, tidings which result in great dismay and regret, so that even the strong are made weak, and all suffer emotional collapse. The hands will be feeble, every spirit will be faint, the legs will be weak as water. They could hardly doubt that he was referring to the final destruction of Jerusalem and the collapse of all their hopes.
Feinberg: He was not communicating a message toward which he had superficial feelings, but one which he felt deeply. . . This was a heartbroken sorrow, and doubtless Ezekiel’s anguish would not go unnoticed. In reply to the question of his people, Ezekiel would truthfully inform them of the coming devastating judgment, a visitation so thorough and terrifying that it would paralyze the people and render them incapable of resisting the enemy. Of the certainty of coming judgment there was no possible doubt. What God had purposed would be accomplished without fail.
2. (:7) Paralyzing Impact of the News of Imminent Attack
“And it will come about when they say to you, ‘Why do you groan?’
that you will say, ‘Because of the news that is coming;
and every heart will melt, all hands will be feeble, every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water.
Behold, it comes and it will happen,’ declares the Lord God.”
Trapp: Hebrew, Shall go into water – that is, they shall bepiss themselves for fear, saith Jerome; they shall be all on a cold sweat, say others; or their knees shall shake, instar aquae tremulae, like trembling water, and knock together, as Belshazzar’s did. [Daniel 5:6]
David Thompson: But do you see what response is missing? No repentance. People are scared; people are sad; but they do not turn to God and cry out for His mercy and grace because of their sin.
Daniel Block: Ezekiel exhorts his audience to abandon their false bases of security. Instead of smugly counting on Yahweh to rescue Jerusalem, they should react to the riddle and its interpretation the way people should have grieved over the city’s abominations (cf. 9:4). Instead of dismissing Ezekiel as a “prattler of proverbs” they should have imitated his behavior. After all, as the final statement asserts, And it will be fulfilled! (wĕnihyātâ). The prophetic event concludes with the divine signatory formula, Yahweh’s imprimatur on Ezekiel’s declaration.
Derek Thomas: No form of ministry for the Lord should be done without some measure of empathy with those to whom we minister. We are to weep with those who weep. We are even to weep for those who will not weep for themselves.
III. (21:8-17) THE WARSONG OF THE SWORD –
PREPARED TO EXECUTE THE SLAUGHTER OF DIVINE JUDGMENT
A. (:8-13) The Execution of the Slaughter Demonstrates the Power of the Sword and Grieves the Prophet of God’s People
“Again the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
1. (:9-11) Preparing the Sword for Action
a. (:9) Sharpening and Polishing the Sword
“Son of man, prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the LORD.
Say, A sword, a sword sharpened And also polished!”
Iain Duguid: The twin judgment images of cutting (the sword) and burning (the fire) are maintained in the twin actions of sharpening and burnishing (note the connection between polishing and lightning in 21:10, 15). Together, these actions serve to prepare the weapon for action. Once prepared, the sword is handed over to the executioner to use against God’s people and the princes of Israel.
Charles Dyer: God’s sword of judgment was sharpened with a whetstone to give it a keen cutting edge and polished and scoured to remove all rust and give the blade a gleam. Much like s soldier preparing for battle, God had honed His weapon so it would be effective.
b. (:10) Shocking People out of Complacency and False Security
“Sharpened to make a slaughter, Polished to flash like lightning!’ Or shall we rejoice, the rod of My son despising every tree?”
Feinberg: Should we then make mirth? “In view of the fearful prospect, Ezekiel asked whether this was the hour for mirth, an hour of enjoyment and complacency. The implication was that any imagined basis for confidence was false.
John Taylor: the prophet is rebuking his hearers for inattention (‘do you think I am joking?’), and accusing them of scorning all former instruments of punishment.
Douglas Stuart: Ezekiel’s prophecy of God’s sword is filled with violent descriptions and solemn language so that by its bluntness it might shock his audience into paying attention to what their complacency had been causing them to avoid thinking about: the ravages of war were coming soon, and many people would lose their lives.
Daniel Block: By despising every tree Ezekiel affirms that immunity from foreign invasion is not guaranteed even by the ancient promises to David.
c. (:11) Slaying about to Commence
“And it is given to be polished, that it may be handled; the sword is sharpened and polished, to give it into the hand of the slayer.”
Peter Pett: This fearsome warsong was a reminder that Yahweh of hosts was leading the warfare against His people. It reminds us of an earlier day when with His sword drawn He had led the way against Canaan (Joshua 5:13) once its iniquities had reached their full allowance (Genesis 15:16). Now it was Judah-Israel who must experience the same.
Constable: The figures of the rod and the son of God both describe Messiah elsewhere (cf. Gen. 49:9-10; 2 Sam. 7:14), so Ezekiel’s hearers were accustomed to thinking of these figures as representing their deliverer. But here they learned that God had another son with a scepter who would destroy them (cf. Isa. 10:5, where the rod is the Assyrians).
2. (:12) Mourning over the Targeting of both People and Princes
“Cry out and wail, son of man; for it is against My people,
it is against all the officials of Israel. They are delivered over to the sword with My people, therefore strike your thigh.”
Leslie Allen: As a concession the oracle is reissued, admittedly dominated by another metaphor, that of the sword, but now speaking plainly of the people of Judah and their total fate. The homeland and its capital—temple and all—would be the target of Yahweh’s weapon of judgment. Mention of the sword seems to echo the covenant curse of Lev 26:25, which thus provides an implicit reason for the onslaught. All would be caught up in a solidarity of judgment for the broken covenant. . . The divine sword would be wielded until it had done its grisly work. So radical would be the onslaught upon Judah that others to the north would be included, like the seeping contamination of a neighborhood after a nuclear attack. In a culture prone to religious explanations of overwhelming crisis (cf. Jonah 1:4, 5), the message would be inescapable and no natural explanation could satisfy. It must be Yahweh’s work.
Daniel Block: The land of Israel is not the only object under attack; the weapon is also directed at her population. But this sword is two-edged, being directed at two of the pillars on which Judean hopes for deliverance were based. First, it is aimed at the population of Israel, deliberately designated my people (ʿammî) twice in the verse. The form of the expression highlights the national theological significance of the event. Yahweh was turning on his own people; their claims to security based on his covenant with them were futile. Second, the sword is aimed at Judah’s nobility, all the princes of Israel (nĕśîʾê yiśrāʾēl; cf. 19:1; 22:6), which includes the remaining members of the
royal house. They will not be spared the fate awaiting the general population; all have been delivered over to the sword.
3. (:13) Recognizing there is No Defense against God’s Coming Judgment
“’For there is a testing; and what if even the rod which despises will be no more?’ declares the Lord God.”
Ellicott’s Commentary: The most satisfactory translation is this: “For it (the sword) has been proved (viz., on others), and what if this contemning rod shall be no more?” i.e., the power of the sword of Babylon has already been proved; and the sceptre of Judah, which despises it, shall be clean swept away. Various other translations, differing in detail, give the same general sense.
Matthew Poole: But if the king and kingdom of Judah despise this trial, and harden themselves against this sword, both shall be destroyed, and be no more, for nothing but a right use of this last trial could help them.
Cambridge Bible: “for trial hath been made, and what if the sceptre (R. V. rod) that contemneth should be no more!”—reference being to the royal house of Judah which shall perish, cf. Ezekiel 21:25-27; Ezekiel 21:29?
B. (:14-17) The Effectiveness of the Slaughter Secures both Prophetic and Divine Approval
1. (:14a) Prophetic Approval of Coming Judgment
“You therefore, son of man, prophesy,
and clap your hands together;”
John Taylor: Although the identity of the slayer is not given in verse 11, it is evident that Ezekiel has a part in the slaughter, if only in providing the applause to go with it. This indicates that he did in all probability act out this warning of impending judgment and play the part of an exultant onlooker as the swordplay went on. The sighings and groans that came earlier from his lips are sufficient evidence that it was not his nature to exult over the destruction, but we must understand it as a necessary and graphic accompaniment of the oracle which, as God’s spokesman, he had to fulfil. For in so doing he was demonstrating God’s approval at what was taking place: I also will clap my hands, says the Lord (17).
2. (:14b-16) Effectiveness of the Sword in Executing the Slaughter
a. (:14b) Intensity of the Slaughter
“and let the sword be doubled the third time, the sword for the slain. It is the sword for the great one slain, which surrounds them,”
Clarke: The sword has been doubled, and it shall come the third time. Nebuchadnezzar came against Judea THRICE.
1. Against Jehoiakim.
2. Against Jeconiah.
3. Against Zedekiah.
The sword had already been doubled; it is to come now the third time, i.e., against Zedekiah.
Constable: The invasion would be unusually devastating. Living in an age of special visual effects in which images transform themselves, it is not difficult for us to visualize this sword multiplying and swashbuckling its way through Jerusalem. Even “the great one[s]” among the people would not escape. This may refer to “the great one,” King Zedekiah, or to “the great ones,” the leading men of Judah. The invaders would surround everyone.
b. (:15a) Impact Emotionally of the Slaughter
“that their hearts may melt, and many fall at all their gates.”
Daniel Block: Ezekiel elaborates on the ruthless function of the sword. This sword of the great slaughter is more than a symbol of war. Since elsewhere in the book ḥālāl refers to those who have been murdered or executed, this should also be interpreted as a judicial act. As the divine judge, Yahweh has charged the instrument of judgment to execute his sentence. According to the construction of v. 20 (Eng. 15), the executioner’s sword has been sent out deliberately to create panic in the people,136 and to hunt them down even to the gates of the cities. The latter expression conjures up two images. On the one hand, the gates of a city symbolized safety from the enemy. But Ezekiel affirms that the sword will catch up with all who seek safety within the walls of Jerusalem. On the other hand, since the city gate also functioned as the courtroom in ancient Israel (Amos 5:12, 15), one may recognize a legal significance to the statement. At every gate, viz., in every legal case, the result will be the same: Yahweh has sentenced all to death, and commissioned the flashing sword to perform his gruesome task.
c. (:15b) Speed and Power of the Slaughter
“I have given the glittering sword. Ah! It is made for striking like
lightning, it is wrapped up in readiness for slaughter.”
d. (:16) Pervasiveness of the Slaughter
“Show yourself sharp, go to the right; set yourself;
go to the left, wherever your edge is appointed.”
3. (:17) Divine Approval of Coming Judgment
“I shall also clap My hands together, and I shall appease My wrath;
I, the LORD, have spoken.”
Anton Pearson: The Lord exults over the coming vengeance.
Douglas Stuart: At least some of the problem that Ezekiel’s audience had in accepting such a gloomy picture of the future can be traced to the natural religious tendency to think of God as kindly and thus not really capable of punishing people decisively. Why would God destroy His own beloved people in whom He had invested such time and effort since He brought them out of Egypt centuries before? Some of the problem lay also in people’s natural, routine optimism. It is hard to imagine the country in which one grew up and enjoyed life in the past actually coming to an end, never again to be an independent nation, never again to have its own government and laws and economy and stable traditions. “Somehow, surely, we’ll get through all this,” thought the Judeans—both in exile and back in Judah. But it was not to be. God can be trusted to keep His promises. If He says that the punishment of those who reject Him is death, He means it. Wishful thinking will not change a thing.
IV. (21:18-27) THE TARGET OF THE SWORD = JERUSALEM –
NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S DECISION TO ATTACK JERUSALEM AND NOT AMMON
A. (:18-23) The Sword is Aimed at Jerusalem
“And the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
1. (:19-21) Discerning the Target
a. (:19) Displaying a Signpost
“As for you, son of man, make two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to come; both of them will go out of one land.
And make a signpost; make it at the head of the way to the city.”
Feinberg: The roads to both Judah and Ammon came from the one land of Babylon; south of Riblah the road southwest led to Judah and Jerusalem, that southeast to Rabbath and Ammon.
b. (:20) Distinguishing between Ammon and Jerusalem
“You shall mark a way for the sword to come to Rabbah of the sons of Ammon, and to Judah into fortified Jerusalem.”
c. (:21) Divination Consulted – 3 Types
“For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way,
at the head of the two ways, to use divination; he shakes the arrows, he consults the household idols, he looks at the liver.”
Peter Pett: These were three ways of determining the will of the gods. The shaking up of arrows in their quiver (belomancy), in this case probably with the names of the cities on, and then drawing one out with suitable ritual (this was also a common practise among Arabs); consulting the teraphim, household cult objects used for divination (see 2 Kings 23:24); and examining the marks on the liver of a sacrificed animal (hepatoscopy), for which procedures were well known which were taught to the initiated, probably firstly by the use of clay models of which we have discovered examples.
Ezekiel no doubt in some way mimed each of these actions as the tension grew.
Charles Dyer: perhaps the idols were used in an attempt to contact departed spirits and hear their advice. Examining the liver was a form of divination known as hepatoscopy. The shape and markings of the liver of a sacrificed animal were studied by soothsayers to see if a proposed plan was favorable or not.
2. (:22-23) Deceiving the Inhabitants of Jerusalem
a. (:22) Babylonian Battle Preparation
“Into his right hand came the divination, ‘Jerusalem,’
to set battering rams, to open the mouth for slaughter,
to lift up the voice with a battle cry, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounds, to build a siege wall.”
Derek Thomas: Verse 22 outlines the battle plans, including ‘battering rams’ to break down the city walls, a ‘ramp’ to scale the city wall and ‘siege works’—wooden or stone structures which the enemy would use to gain cover from attack. Those in Judah will not believe it, partly because those left behind after the siege of 598 B.C. made an oath with King Nebuchadnezzar to be loyal to him (21:23). But they were mistaken; Nebuchadnezzar attacked.
b. (:23) Baseless False Security of the Jews in Jerusalem
“And it will be to them like a false divination in their eyes;
they have sworn solemn oaths.
But he brings iniquity to remembrance, that they may be seized.”
Peter Pett: The point here would seem to be that the waiters and watchers in Jerusalem would dismiss what was happening as vain divination. They would not be in suspense. They would be confident that they were well able to resist, for they were full of confidence, having sworn solemn oaths with each other, and with others such as Ammon, and were at the ready, and probably because they also counted on a solemn treaty with Egypt for assistance (which came and then melted away).
Constable: Nebuchadnezzar’s decision to come against Jerusalem would look like a mistake to the leaders of Israel. It would seem to them that God should have guided him to besiege the Ammonites since they were more wicked. Furthermore Israel’s leaders had sworn oaths of allegiance to Yahweh in response to His sworn promises to them. They thought surely He would defend them, but they were wrong. He would allow Nebuchadnezzar to capture them.
Iain Duguid: The irony is that this use of pagan means of discerning the will of the gods is here an accurate discernment of the will of the true God. The “lying divinations” that had found such favor with God’s people (Ezek. 13:7) now become the very means through which judgment comes on them (21:23). Their broken oath to the Lord is punished by the one with whom they have broken a human covenant. In this way, the king of Babylon is acting as divine prosecution counsel (mazkîr), bringing out into the open Israel’s guilt and arresting them for it. As in a court of law, the point is not so much that the guilty party is “reminded” of their sins, as the niv suggests, but rather that they are made public and therefore subject to the punishment they deserve (21:24).
B. (:24-27) The Sword Specifically Singles Out Zedekiah
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God,”
1. (:24) Remembering the Sins of Zedekiah
“Because you have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your deeds your sins appear– because you have come to remembrance, you will be seized with the hand.”
Leslie Allen: Zedekiah is singled out in a personal oracle. He is introduced not by name but by office (cf. 12:10, 12) and moral invective. There is a sinister allusion to the coming of the day of Yahweh in all its finality (cf. 7:2, 3, 6, 10, 12 and Brownlee, Ezekiel 1–19 114, 117, 119). Judah’s mounting history of sinfulness had reached a level that forced Yahweh to intervene (cf. Gen 15:16; 2 Kgs 21:11). Zedekiah’s own behavior had been “the last straw that breaks the camel’s back” (Ehrlich, Randglossen 83, cf. 17:11–21). He is to lose his royal status: Yahweh’s staccato orders already ring out, stripping his vassal of power. The social order was to be overthrown in the coming crisis, along with the regime of king and government.
2. (:25-26) Removing the Priestly and Royal Leadership
“’And you, O slain, wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day has come, in the time of the punishment of the end,’ 26 thus says the Lord God, ‘Remove the turban, and take off the crown; this will be no more the same. Exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high.’”
MacArthur: God, in the coming judgment on Judah in 588-586 B.C., removed the turban representing the priestly leadership, and the crown picturing the succession of kings. Neither office was fully restored after the captivity. This marked the commencement of “the times of the Gentiles” (Lk 21:24).
Daniel Block: Ezekiel’s tone reaches a fever pitch. Without warning he forgets completely about the king of Babylon and launches into a tirade against Zedekiah, unequalled in this book or any other prophet for its forthrightness and harshness. He begins with a quadrupled vocative, followed by an awkwardly constructed announcement of the end. In his address of the king he pulls no punches. O vile one (ḥālāl) derives from a root meaning “to defile, profane.” The prophet does not elaborate on how the king has defiled himself, but he undoubtedly had in mind the violation of his vassal oath, hereby considered as sacrilege. O criminal (rāšāʿ, lit. “O wicked one”) interprets this violation as a criminal act. As observed elsewhere, prince of Israel (nĕśîʾ yiśrāʾēl) is deliberately deprecating. V. 30b (Eng. 25b) is syntactically difficult, but the ominous ring is obvious. The Babylonian’s advance toward Jerusalem ushers in the “day of Zedekiah,” the final moment of truth. in time for your final punishment (bĕʿēt ʿăwōn qēṣ, lit. “in time of guilt, end!”) is pregnant with meaning, speaking not only of the moment of Zedekiah’s punishment but also of the termination of his iniquitous behavior.
3. (:27) Ruination until the Sceptre Passes to the Messiah
“A ruin, a ruin, a ruin, I shall make it. This also will be no more,
until He comes whose right it is; and I shall give it to Him.”
Chisholm: Jerusalem would no longer enjoy its former glories until One would come who had a divine right to replace both high priest and king (cf. Ps. 110:2, 4; 72; Isa. 9:6; Jer. 23:5; 33:17; Zech. 6:12-13). God would then give the city into His control (Gen. 49:10; Isa. 2:1-4). This is, I believe, a messianic prediction of Jesus Christ’s future earthly reign from Jerusalem (cf. Heb. 5-7).
Wright: Verse 27 is one of the great Messianic promises of the O.T., although it is often overlooked. It is similar to the promise of Genesis 49.10, (RSV). After the exile there were no more kings of David’s line. Zerubbabel, who was leader soon after the return, was of David’s line, but was never king.
Daniel Block: Ezekiel highlights the role of Yahweh in the chaotic events with the following verb, I will make it (ʾăśîmennâ). The anarchy in Jerusalem is not merely the result of social or political incompetence; it is Yahweh who turns the world upside down.
John Taylor: The triple repetition of a word is the strongest superlative the Hebrew language can give (cf. ‘Holy, holy, holy’ in Isa. 6:3, or the formula of Jer. 7:4). So Ezekiel spells out the overthrow of the kingly line, and he concludes with a cryptic reference back to Genesis 49:10 with its distant prospect of the one who had always been expected and to whom the right of kingship genuinely belonged. When he eventually appears, the crown and diadem will be given to him, for he will be the culmination of everything to which the Davidic house and the Messianic kingship in Israel have always pointed.
V. (21:28-32) THE SHEATHING OF THE SWORD –
PROPHECY OF JUDGMENT ON THE AMMONITES
“And you, son of man, prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God
concerning the sons of Ammon and concerning their reproach,’”
Douglas Stuart: Oracles against foreign nations are an aspect of God’s covenantal restoration promises to Israel (centrally located in Lev. 26:40–45 and Deut. 30:1–10). The reason for them is fairly simple: Israel’s foes must decrease if Israel is to increase. The promise of power over enemies is a reversal of the curses of subjugation by enemies, as Deut. 30:7 says: “The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies.” Such oracles, then, gave great reassurance to righteous Israelites that no matter how severe their own circumstances might be at the moment, the time was coming when the nation—in whatever future generation it might occur—would experience deliverance from exile and oppression and exaltation to God’s favor and blessing. From the point of view of orthodox Israelites, the oracles against foreign nations were oracles of hope.
John Taylor: In a passage which is very obscure but has obvious affinities with earlier parts of the chapter, especially verses 9–17, the Ammonites are represented as wielding a sword against Israel. This may reflect the period during or after the siege of Jerusalem when the Ammonites joined with others in taking advantage of Judah’s plight by attacking and plundering her lands. This apparently is done under the influence of false auguries and lying visions (29), but God stays their hand and calls upon them to return it to its sheath (30). Words of condemnation follow: in his own land Ammon will be judged and punished. He will suffer at the hands of brutish men, skillful to destroy (31), who are later designated as ‘the people of the East’ (25:4), i.e. the savage tribesmen of the desert. So the Ammonites’ vindictive plans will rebound back upon themselves, as the further oracle on their fate makes clear (25:1–7). Their ultimate fate will be worse than Israel’s and worse even than Egypt’s, for they will be no more remembered. To the Semitic mind nothing could be more terrible: no prospect of restoration, no continuance in succeeding generations, no memorial, not even a memory. Oblivion.
A. (:28-29) Taunt Directed Against Jerusalem –
Ammonite Version of the Sword Song
“and say: ‘A sword, a sword is drawn, polished for the slaughter, to cause it to
consume, that it may be like lightning– 29 while they see for you false visions,
while they divine lies for you– to place you on the necks of the wicked who are
slain, whose day has come, in the time of the punishment of the end.’”
Peter Pett: Once again we have a warsong, this time depicted as sung by Ammon, for the command comes for them to sheathe their sword (Ezekiel 21:30 a) to await God’s judgment.
Daniel Block: Vv. 28b–29 (Eng. 23b–25) do not constitute an oracle against the Ammonites, but a quotation of their taunt of Israel, once they realized that the omen had pointed Nebuchadnezzar in the direction of Jerusalem instead of toward them (vv. 26–27 [Eng. 21–22]). It is fitting that their taunt song should be cast as an echo of the earlier sword song (vv. 14–15 [Eng. 9–10]). Second, this interpretation integrates the oracle into its present literary context and obviates the need to date it after the fall of Jerusalem. The taunt leaves the impression that the sword is still poised; its deadly mission has not yet been fulfilled. Third, it eliminates the problem of an oracle against a foreign nation appearing prematurely at this point in the book. Not only are most of Ezekiel’s oracles against foreign nations gathered in chs. 25–32; those that address the same nation appear together. Had the editor understood this text as a prophecy against Bene Ammon, he should have placed it in ch. 25. Fourth, it accounts for the apparently redundant wĕʾāmartā in v. 33 (Eng. 28). The duplication serves the rhetorical function of focusing the hearers’ attention on what follows, as in v. 14 (Eng. 9): “A sword! A sword!” Furthermore, the two occurrences of the word here appear to be directed at two different objects. The first, combined with hinnābēʾ, is clearly intended for Ezekiel; the second is part of the prophet’s speech directed at Bene Ammon. Yahweh hereby commands the prophet to instruct the Ammonites regarding their taunt, encouraging them to scorn Israel by singing the sword song themselves. The rhetorical strategy is impressive. No longer is it only the voice of the prophet announcing Israel’s doom; even the nation’s enemies have picked up the tune.
B. (:30-32a) Turning the Tables on the Ammonites
Key: Is this a prophecy against Babylon or against the Ammonites who had just mocked Jerusalem)? Appears to be directed against the Ammonites.
1. (:30a) Sword of the Ammonites Must Be Sheathed
“Return it to its sheath.”
2. (:30b) Security of Home Country No Refuge
“In the place where you were created, in the land of your origin,
I shall judge you.”
3. (:31) Wrath of God Unleashed in Brutal Fashion
“And I shall pour out My indignation on you;
I shall blow on you with the fire of My wrath,
and I shall give you into the hand of brutal men, skilled in destruction.”
4. (:32a) Consuming Fire Will Leave Nothing but the Blood of the Slaughtered
“You will be fuel for the fire;
your blood will be in the midst of the land.”
Peter Pett: So while Jerusalem has faced the awful and seemingly final judgment of God there is here the recognition that there is hope for the future, for God has not taken His eye off them, and those who take advantage of them will themselves be destroyed.
Ralph Alexander: God would judge Ammon by the sword in their own land (v. 30b; cf. 25:1-7), where he would pour out indignation on them with the fire of his wrath, delivering them to men skilled in destruction who would devour them (vv. 31-32). This judgment on Ammon was not forgotten just because Babylonia chose to attack Jerusalem first. It was certain!
C. (:32b) Targeting Ammon for Irreversible Eradication
“You will not be remembered, for I, the LORD, have spoken.”
Douglas Stuart: Ammon’s eradication is the subject of three metaphors in verse 32: being burned up, having their blood shed, and not being remembered. Thus, in contrast to the fate of Israel, which will be decimated and exiled, destroyed as an independent nation but not wiped out, with a promised future of hope, the Ammonites can look forward only to annihilation.