CATASTROPHIC PUNISHMENT OF APOSTATE JERUSALEM EXECUTED BY THE ANGRY DIVINE JUDGE BEFORE A WATCHING WORLD
Privilege brings with it responsibility. The greater the light, the greater the accountability. Here the culpability of the privileged elect nation is exposed (especially focused on the abominations committed in the capital city of Jerusalem and its sacred temple). The wrath of God must be poured out in full measure by a zealous divine judge who wants the watching nations to see that He will not tolerate sin and unfaithfulness even among His covenant people. Still there is a glimmer of hope surrounding the remaining remnant. But there is no hope for those who want to maintain that God will spare Jerusalem from the ravages of divine punishment.
Leslie Allen: The last in the series of sign-acts concentrates on the grim fate of the people confined to Jerusalem, which they would undergo during and after the siege. The shift from the city, which featured in 4:1–3, to its inhabitants has been facilitated by the symbolism of siege food in 4:9–12, 14–17 and by the explicit plural references in 4:16–17. The symbolic action of shaving is a development of the metaphor of divine punishment in Isa 7:20, whereby Yahweh was to use Assyria as a razor that would shave off all bodily hair. The metaphor seems to mean that Ahaz would suffer the deep humiliation of being left with nothing (R. E. Clements, Isaiah 1–39 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980] 90; cf. 2 Sam 10:4–5). . .
God does not cease to be the judge of the apostate and of the backsliding believer. Ezekiel’s later role as watchman certainly involved a call to repentance and so a desire to save the lost among the people of God. But God’s will to save in no way cancels out his moral necessity to judge, wherever evil exists among “the community of Israel.” “Iniquity” is still abhorrent to him. The vision of the divine judge must still grip those who hear it read, and Ezekiel’s call to announce punishment for rebels against the will of God still stands. God’s “severity” survives as a real deterrent, even when his “kindness” has come to prevail—“kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off” (Rom 11:22).
I. (:1-4) THE INSTRUCTIONS REGARDING THE SIGN OF THE SHAVED HEAD AND DIVIDED HAIR –
THE PUNISHMENT OF JERUSALEM
A. (:1) Punishment of Jerusalem Acted Out
1. Shaving the Head
“As for you, son of man, take a sharp sword;
take and use it as a barber’s razor on your head and beard.”
Lamar Cooper: Just as a razor cuts away hair from the face and head, so the invading armies would cut away the population from the land. Shaving the head was a serious matter for a priest (Lev 19:27; 21:5) or a Nazirite (Num 6:5) because hair was the sign of their consecration to God. For this reason the loss of Samson’s hair (Judg 16:17) was a tragic sin. Shaving the head normally was regarded as a sign of humiliation (2 Sam 10:4–5) or mourning (Isa 15:2; Jer 41:5–6; 48:37; Ezek 9:3). It also was practiced in pagan rituals for the dead.
Peter Pett: Shaving the head or beard was a sign of mourning (Ezekiel 7:18; Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 22:12; Jeremiah 48:37; Amos 8:10), or even of disgrace (2 Samuel 10:4). It was also the sign of the end of a person’s separation to God (Numbers 6:5; Numbers 6:18). Ezekiel’s act in doing so was an indication that Jerusalem would be shorn, as a sign of disgrace, as a sign of mourning, and as a sign of the end of its separation to God.
MacArthur: The sign in shaving his hair illustrated the severe humiliation to come at the hand of enemies, emphasizing calamities to three segments of Jerusalem due to the Babylonian conquest.
2. Dividing the Hair
“Then take scales for weighing and divide the hair.”
Leslie Allen: As Ezekiel represented the divine punisher in 4:1–3, so he does here, by doing the shaving (cf. 5:11). But by being the one shaved, he assumes the role of the people in the city, as he represented them in 4:9–12, 14–17 (cf. Friebel, “Sign-Acts” 573).
B. (:2) Punishment of Jerusalem Takes Three Different Forms
1. Destruction Within the City
“One third you shall burn in the fire at the center of the city,
when the days of the siege are completed.”
2. Death in Fighting All Around the City
“Then you shall take one third
and strike it with the sword all around the city,”
3. Driven Into Exile – Dispersion among the Nations
“and one third you shall scatter to the wind;
and I will unsheathe a sword behind them.”
Iain Duguid: God’s judgment is not delivered in a haphazard fashion but is meticulously measured.
John Taylor: The symbolism is obvious: a third of the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be destroyed within the city, a third would be killed by the sword in fighting around the city, and a third would be scattered among the nations and would continue to be harried by hostile forces. From among these survivors would emerge the handful of those who would be preserved.
Christopher Wright: But the symbolism of the sword adds another element that would eventually have become clear to the shocked onlookers. For this sword must be none other than the sword of Yahweh’s anger. Ezekiel has changed identity again. No longer representing Yahweh alone besieging Jerusalem, no longer representing the Israelites alone—both the besieged and the exiled with their paltry and polluted diets, he now acts out both parts in a brilliant one-man double act. For the hand that wields the sword is the hand of Yahweh, but the body being shaved is the house of Israel. The hacked body of Ezekiel is Israel—Israel being shorn of its priestly role among the nations, Israel being shattered in the grief of national defeat, Israel being shamed before those nations among whom she should have shone (as the message of 5:5–17 makes clear). As Ezekiel’s horrified neighbours stared at the apparition before them—this gaunt spectre of a starving man, shaved bald with his hair in piles at his feet, tears of pain stinging his eyes and blood trickling from gashes in his taut malnourished skin—they were looking into the mirror of their own future as a people.
C. (:3) Punishment of Jerusalem Will Leave a Small Remnant
“Take also a few in number from them
and bind them in the edges of your robes.”
Leslie Allen: A few hairs that belong to the last third are to be retrieved from the ground where they have fallen and carried safely in the loose end of Ezekiel’s robe, which could be turned up and used as a bag (cf. Hag 2:12 and in general 1 Sam 25:29). But how safe are these individual hairs? Not very, for some of them are to be taken out and consigned to the fire of judgment that still burned on the brick. There is an ironic toying with the notion of hope of survival for a remnant. “It is … aimed at the destruction of all hope of surviving the judgment with a whole skin” (Eichrodt 87; cf. Friebel, “Sign-Acts” 590–91; Krüger, Geschichtskonzepte 125).
Lamar Cooper: One final significant act was the placement of a few remaining hairs in the folds of his garment. This represented the remnant who were the hope of the future (vv. 3–4). This theme of a remnant was similar to that of Amos when he saw the remnant of Israel like the remains of a sheep in the mouth of a lion (Amos 5:12). The theme of a remnant appears in other Old Testament prophets as well (Isa 6:13; 10:22; Jer 23:3; Zech 13:8–9) and after the exile became the dominant theme in prophecy. The few hairs that were preserved, like the scarlet cord in Rahab’s window (Josh 2:18, 21; 6:22–25), were a sign of deliverance. They were like the fringes on the priests’ garments (Num 15:37–39) that were to preserve the nation through a call to be obedient to the commands of God.
D. (:4) Punishment of Jerusalem will Extend to Exiles in Babylon
“And take again some of them and throw them into the fire,
and burn them in the fire; from it a fire will spread to all the house of Israel.”
Leslie Allen: The last clause of the verse draws a more general conclusion. The fate of Jerusalem and those Judeans who were besieged within its walls had a representative value: it would be decisive for the covenant people as a whole. The initial fire would lead to a conflagration of judgment that was to engulf the whole community of Israel. For the already exiled members of the community to whom Ezekiel ministered, the fate of the citizens of Jerusalem would entail the extinction of hope.
Daniel Block: As a final act, Yahweh commands Ezekiel to take some of the hair he had tucked away and throw it into the fire. This action serves as a warning to complacent exiles. By tucking the remnants of hair away in his garment, Ezekiel had indeed announced that the future of God’s people lay with the exiles. However, simply to have survived the conflagration in the city, the sword of the enemy, and dispersion among the nations should not be interpreted as a guarantee of safety. The fire that had begun in Jerusalem would spread to the entire house of Israel, even to those in exile. As Lev. 26:36–39 had predicted, the long arm of Yahweh’s wrath would extend far beyond the borders of his land. At this point the relevance of the sign-act for the prophet’s observers should have become apparent.
Feinberg: But event he remnant was to undergo further trial and ordeal. In Jeremiah 40-44 can be found their trials in the land which took place even after the destruction of the city and the sanctuary; in this category are the difficulties after the assassination of Gedaliah by Ishmael and the descent into Egypt under Johanan. In short, the judgment reached the entire nation. What Ezekiel had done to his hair, God would do to the inhabitant of Jerusalem and Judah.
II. (:5-17) THE INTERPRETATION OF THE SIGN –
THE CULPABILITY OF THE PRIVILEGED COVENANT NATION
A. (:5-6) Incomparable Privilege and Incomprehensible Rebellion
1. (:5) Incomparable Privilege
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘This is Jerusalem;
I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her.’”
Leslie Allen: While the symbolic action of 4:4–5 had accused the covenant community as a whole of a long history of guilt, here there is a concentration on the sinful role of the capital. The accusation is accentuated by setting it against a background of privilege. Jerusalem’s wrongdoing is represented as failure to live up to responsibilities that went with such a privileged position.
Lamar Cooper: Jerusalem was set “in the center of the nations” (v. 5). Some would argue that this was a reference to an archaic persuasion that Jerusalem was the geographical center of the earth. For those in Ezekiel’s day this impression was true to some extent. Jerusalem lay in the center of various world empires that rose and fell in the northern Mediterranean, Asia, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and North Africa. The land of Israel often was the battleground of those warring groups. Also because of its geographic location it was a trade and travel center. Today it is a center for three of the world’s great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Israel and Jerusalem have been an amazing focal point theologically and politically for the last four thousand years. From 38:12 some believe that Ezekiel was referring to Jerusalem’s central place in world affairs, calling it the “navel of the earth.”
There is another aspect to the position of Jerusalem and Israel seen by Ezekiel. The phrase “in the center of the nations” (v. 5) is one that has overtones of God’s elect purpose for Israel. Israel and especially Jerusalem was that “place which the Lord shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there” (Deut 12:5; cf. Ps 48:1–14). From the time they were constituted as a theocracy (Exod 19:1–8), there was a clear delineation of God’s elect purpose for the nation (Exod 19:5–6) as the channel of his redemption. In this sense also Israel was set in the “midst” of the nations as a kingdom of priests, and thus they were supposed to be instruments of God’s missionary purpose. But the nation dwelt on the privilege of being God’s chosen people rather than on their responsibilities. The nationalistic spirit created an isolationism that can be seen in the example of Jonah.
Christopher Wright: vv. 5-17 – This section very obviously interprets and explains the preceding record of Ezekiel’s actions during the year, leaving their meaning in no doubt at all. Reading it through as a whole presents the stark picture of the final destruction of Jerusalem, with accompanying horrors of famine-induced cannibalism, disease and slaughter, all of which are on the one hand the inescapable consequences of siege warfare in the ancient world and on the other hand the effect of the implacable punishment of Yahweh on his incorrigible people. From a literary point of view, it is uneven and involves several restarts and repetitions. For this reason some doubt whether it constitutes a single utterance given all at one time, namely at the ending of the acted siege. It may have been composed from recollections of the prophecies given as commentary on the acts themselves, especially that mentioned in 4:7, unless one takes the view (as suggested above) that Ezekiel was silent throughout the whole sequence, so that even his ‘prophesying’ against Jerusalem in 4:7 was mimed. Or it may be that Ezekiel’s original speech on the final day of his siege mime has been expanded by other oracles from later in his career. Whatever the detailed explanation of its rough structure, we may recognize three strong central threads running through it:
• the centrality of Jerusalem in the midst of the nations;
• the correspondingly worse nature of the sin of Jerusalem in comparison with the nations;
• and the public punishment of Jerusalem as a warning to the nations. . .
For Jerusalem or Israel to be in the centre of the nations, then, meant much more than a territorial grid-reference. It was a shorthand way of expressing all the universality of God’s purposes among the nations that was bound up in the particularity of Israel’s election. That is, if Israel were the hub at the centre of the wheel, it was for the sake of the spokes and the rim that they were there at all. For we may note that 5:5 is not in any case simply a statement of natural fact. Jerusalem does not just happen to be at the centre as an accident of geography. No, it is in that position because of the divine will and action: Jerusalem, which I have set in the centre … And if that implied a degree of exaltation as well, as it certainly does elsewhere, then the ultimate purpose of that was to bring glory and honour to Yahweh himself. So the centrality of Jerusalem is a statement about Israel’s election. What follows shows that such a privilege was matched by enormous responsibility—a responsibility in which Israel had so horrendously failed as to put even their election in serious doubt.
2. (:6) Incomprehensible Rebellion
“But she has rebelled against My ordinances more wickedly than the nations and against My statutes more than the lands which surround her; for they have rejected My ordinances and have not walked in My statutes.”
Christopher Wright: Israel’s uniqueness in election exacerbated their uniqueness in disobedience. Thus, something which the psalmist celebrates as a mark of the distinction between Israel and the nations actually makes Israel’s sin all the worse.
Daniel Block: Yahweh’s expectations of his people are summarized in two key words: mišpāṭîm and ḥuqqôt. The first, from šāpaṭ, “to judge,” and usually rendered “judgments,” referred originally to legal verdicts by a judge, but with time was applied to customary and legislated regulations as well. The second derives from the verb ḥāqaq, “to engrave, incise,” suggesting formal unchangeable laws, decreed by a lawgiver and etched in rock or clay tablets. Together these terms constitute a standardized pair that occurs with great frequency in the Priestly and Deuteronomistic writings, and their distinctive nuances tend to merge.
The laws that the Israelites had violated were not simply statutes enacted by human courts or human rulers. The mišpāṭîm and ḥuqqôt represent Yahweh’s covenant stipulations as outlined in the Priestly writings and expounded in Deuteronomy. According to Deut. 4:7–8, Israel’s covenantal obligations to Yahweh were the envy of the nations; none of them had received such a just (ṣaddîq) set of laws from its god. However, instead of treasuring the revealed will of Yahweh as a sign of divine grace, Israel had adopted her neighbors’ wicked patterns of behavior. Given Jerusalem’s clear knowledge of the will of her God and the uniquely just nature of his ordinances, Ezekiel’s characterization of his people as more wicked than the nations is justified. Instead of being a light to the world, by failing to live in the light of God’s revelation, his chosen city had become the world’s darkest blot.
B. (:7-8) Distinctive Disobedience and Divine Judgments
1. (:7) Accusation of Distinctive Disobedience Compared to Pagan Nations
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Because you have more turmoil than the nations which surround you, and have not walked in My statutes, nor observed My ordinances, nor observed the ordinances of the nations which surround you,’”
Daniel Block: The shift from third to second person of direct address in v. 7 signals the transition from indictment to announcement of judgment. . .
2. (:8) Announcement of Divine Judgments on the World Stage
“therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I, even I, am against you, and I will execute judgments among you in the sight of the nations.’”
Douglas Stuart: Disobedience was exactly Jerusalem’s problem, as God’s words to Ezekiel make clear. Jerusalem was, in fact, more guilty than the pagan nations around it because Jerusalem knew God’s covenant (“statutes … judgments”) and broke it anyway (v. 6). Moreover, their disobedience literally exceeded the pagans’, inasmuch as in certain ways by any measure they were worse than their nonbelieving neighbors. Even the pagans thought so (v. 7). Accordingly, it was appropriate that Jerusalem be punished openly and internationally, by the Babylonian siege and by exile to various nations, that is, “in the sight of the nations” (v. 8).
Leslie Allen: vv. 7-10 –The accusatory interpretation develops into a regular judgment oracle that moves from recapitulated accusation (v 7) to announcement of punishment (vv 8–10). Both elements are lavishly introduced by the messenger formula. . . A hinge between cause and effect, “therefore,” regularly links accusation and announcement of punishment in prophetic oracles of judgment, and the messenger formula also characteristically introduces the announcement of divine reprisal.
C. (:9-10) Unholy Abominations and Unspeakable Horrors
1. (:9) Unholy Abominations
“And because of all your abominations, I will do among you what I have not done, and the like of which I will never do again.”
2. (:10) Unspeakable Horrors
“Therefore, fathers will eat their sons among you, and sons will eat their fathers; for I will execute judgments on you, and scatter all your remnant to every wind.”
Douglas Stuart: Among the extreme horrors attendant to the whole process would be the practice of cannibalism (v. 10), itself a predicted judgment for violating the covenant (Lev. 26:29; Deut. 28:53–56). So great were the abominations of the people of Jerusalem that this awful fate also awaited them as they slowly were starved by the surrounding armies. The Book of Lamentations describes in considerable detail the fact that all these judgments did indeed come to pass upon Jerusalem at the time of its long siege and subsequent fall to Babylon in 588–586 b.c. (Lam. 1:7–14; 2:20–22; 4:4–10; etc.).
D. (:11-12) Defiling the Temple and Diverse Punishments
1. (:11) Defiling the Temple
“’So as I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘surely, because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable idols and with all your abominations, therefore I will also withdraw, and My eye shall have no pity and I will not spare.’”
John Taylor: On top of disobedience and rebellion came the defilement of God’s sanctuary with detestable things and abominations. This is the first reference in Ezekiel to the corrupt practices which were being carried on in the temple between the captivity of Jehoiachin and the final destruction of the city in 587 bc. Chapter 8 describes this in horrifying detail.
Iain Duguid: This covenant context is important because it demonstrates that the judgment that will befall Jerusalem is neither arbitrary nor unfair. The judgments coming on that city are not random afflictions thought up on the spur of the moment, as if God has lost his temper; they are the execution of the curses on the covenant breakers. Indeed, Israel has not merely failed to live up to God’s standards; they have not even lived up to the standards of the nations around them (Ezek. 5:7). Instead of being a light to the nations, they have led the nations further into the darkness. For this reason, God must act to judge. As in Deuteronomy 13:9, where Israelites were forbidden to show compassion toward even their nearest and dearest or to spare them if they were attempting to lead others into apostasy, so the Lord will not show pity or spare his beloved but rebellious people (Ezek. 5:11).
Leslie Allen: The definition of Jerusalem’s “shocking practices” or “abominations” (תועבת) reflects the term’s traditional links with impurity (see, e.g., Lev 18:24–30; Deut 14:3). In priestly thought the sins of the people had the effect of polluting the sanctuary with a miasma of uncleanness, which required removal by sacrifice to save the people from perishing (Lev 15:31; 16:19; Num 19:20).
Lamar Cooper: Using another oath formula, “as surely as I live,” God swore by his own life that he would judge Israel (v. 11). Not only was Israel guilty of idolatry and its accompanying detestable practices, but they had brought this abominable worship into the temple of God in Jerusalem. This is the first reference in Ezekiel to the problem of the defilement of the temple, discussed more completely in 8:1–18. Their unparalleled sin was the basis for unprecedented judgment. One-third were to be destroyed by plague and famine, one-third by the sword, and one-third scattered in every direction at the destruction of the nation (v. 12). These words of judgment are awesome when related to the declaration of v. 5, “This is Jerusalem,” and v. 11, “I will not look on you with pity or spare you.” The greatness of God’s love for his people demands a firm and severe response whenever that love is ignored or violated.
Daniel Block: The second major phase of this complex judgment speech opens abruptly with Therefore (lākēn). This opening links the following passage with the preceding and brings the series of four lākēn pronouncements to a climax. Unlike vv. 8 and 10, however, here lākēn lacks an antecedent rationale introduced by yaʿan, “because.” Instead, the order of yaʿan and lākēn is reversed. Custom and logic would have had v. 11 constructed as follows: “Because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable and abominable practices, therefore, as I live—declares the Lord Yahweh—I myself will cut off. My eye will show no pity; nor will I spare.” Alternatively, on the analogy of 34:7–9, after the opening lākēn, one might have expected a direct appeal for the attention of the audience, like “Therefore, O Jerusalem, hear the word of Yahweh,” followed first by a yaʿan statement, then by a second lākēn announcement. Rhetorically the present construction thrusts the divine initiator of the impending judgments into the foreground and highlights the irrevocability of his resolve to punish Jerusalem for her wickedness.
2. (:12) Diverse Punishments
a. Punishment by Plague and Famine
“One third of you will die by plague
or be consumed by famine among you,”
b. Punishment by the Sword
“one third will fall by the sword around you,”
c. Punishment by Dispersal among the Nations
“and one third I will scatter to every wind,
and I will unsheathe a sword behind them.”
Daniel Block: The attention shifts momentarily from Yahweh’s disposition toward his agenda to the devastating effects of his actions.
Leslie Allen: The burning of one third of the cut hair “inside the city” (v 2) is interpreted as a metaphor for the rigors of a siege, specifically the fatal outbreak of plague and onset of famine (cf. 2 Kgs 25:3). The slashing of the next third of the pile of hair with the sword “around” the model of the city is sufficiently clear as to need little explanation. It found fulfillment in a royal attempt to escape the besieged city (2 Kgs 25:4–7). The fate of the last pile of hair is simply repeated in v 12b from the end of v 2, with the necessary change of the first of the two verbs to the divine first person, to match the second verb. The change of person brings v 12b even closer to its prototype in Lev 26:33a. The divine curse for the people’s radical breach of Yahweh’s covenant with them was to come tragically true. The triple formula of fatalities caused by plague, famine, and sword in warfare was also used by Jeremiah (e.g., Jer 21:13; 27:13). It recurs in Ezek 6:11, 12; 7:15. The formula, which may have been borrowed from Jeremiah by Ezekiel, is used rather more freely by the latter (see Illman, OT Formulas 94–97).
E. (:13) Satisfying Divine Wrath and Speaking of Divine Vindication
1. Satisfying Divine Wrath
“Thus My anger will be spent, and I will satisfy My wrath on them,
and I shall be appeased;”
2. Speaking of Divine Vindication
“then they will know that I, the LORD, have spoken in My zeal
when I have spent My wrath upon them.”
Daniel Block: The final statement in v. 13 is the key to the chapter, if not to Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry as a whole. Yahweh’s announcement of the impending destruction of Jerusalem and the decimation of its population has been driven by his passion. The word qinʾâ occurs frequently in Ezekiel’s preaching. Rather than interpreting this term as “jealousy,” which is often associated with envy, one should understand qinʾâ to represent the fire of divine passion, Yahweh’s enthusiasm for his covenant relationship with Israel. He had not entered into this relationship lightly, and he cannot stand idly by while it is threatened. The intensity of his wrath at the defilement of his sanctuary and the repudiation of his will arises out of the profundity of his covenant love. Because he loves so deeply, he must respond vigorously. His relationship with his people has been violated.
Lamar Cooper: vv. 13-17 — The closing verses of chap. 5 present one of the major themes of the book: the nature and character of God. Whether God acted in judgment or deliverance, his motive was redemptive and salvific. Ezekiel used four expressions in v. 13 to suggest the fury of God that diminished with the exercise of his judgment. Ezekiel said his anger would “cease,” his wrath would “subside,” he would be “avenged,” and his wrath would be “spent.” Therefore God was zealous to judge the people and vindicate his holiness and righteousness. His zeal works two ways to promote redemption. It moves him to punish sin so people will know he is not indifferent to unrighteousness, and it moves him to redeem and restore a remnant lest the unbelieving nations should question his faithfulness.
F. (:14-15) Reviling Reproaches and Raging Rebukes
1. (:14) Reviling Reproaches
“Moreover, I will make you a desolation and a reproach among the nations which surround you, in the sight of all who pass by.”
Feinberg: God’s honor, flouted by the people in the sight of the nations, had to be vindicated before the eyes of those very nations. The prophet stressed zeal or jealousy as a determining motive in God’s action: to punish His people in order to reveal to them that He could not tolerate sin (16:38, 42), and to restore them so that the nations would not doubt His power (36:5; 38:19; 39:25-29). Then Israel would know by bitter experience that it was the Lord indeed who had spoken. They would have ample time to contemplate it when they became the taunt, reproach and instruction of all the nations. Israel, suffering for her sins under God’s righteous wrath, would be an object lesson to the nations. The heathen would be amazed because they had not seen a national deity so deal with a people who professed his worship (cf. Deut. 28:37).
2. (:15) Raging Rebukes
“So it will be a reproach, a reviling, a warning and an object of horror to the nations who surround you, when I execute judgments against you in anger, wrath, and raging rebukes. I, the LORD, have spoken.”
Daniel Block: Now the attention shifts away from Yahweh’s emotional reaction to Jerusalem’s infidelity, returning to the effects that his rage will have on the city: a complete reversal of fortunes. She who had previously enjoyed an honorific status among the nations would become a total ruin; instead of inspiring the nations, she would become an object of scorn and derision by all passersby. The list of expressions describing the observers’ reaction reflects the richness of the Hebrew vocabulary of contempt.
David Thompson: Verse 15 says this judgment will specifically make a statement to the nations. It will be:
1) Israel is a reproach;
2) Israel is a reviling nation;
3) Israel is a warning to the nations;
4) Israel is an object of anger and wrath to the nations.
Matthew Henry: Those who will not observe the judgments of God’s mouth shall not escape the judgments of his hand.
G. (:16-17) Deprivation by Famine and Destruction by Violent Means
1. (:16) Deprivation by Famine
“When I send against them the deadly arrows of famine which were for the destruction of those whom I shall send to destroy you, then I shall also intensify the famine upon you, and break the staff of bread.”
2. (:17) Destruction by Violent Means
“Moreover, I will send on you famine and wild beasts, and they will bereave you of children; plague and bloodshed also will pass through you, and I will bring the sword on you. I, the LORD, have spoken.”
Daniel Block: The finale to Ezekiel’s first judgment speech approaches the demise of Jerusalem from a different angle, the means whereby Yahweh achieves his designs. Vv. 16–17 catalogue a series of agents standing at Yahweh’s disposal, ready to fulfill his missions of death. What distinguishes these calamities as divine agents is the presence of the verb šillaḥ, with Yahweh as the subject. The intensive Piel carries the sense “to unleash, to loose.”
Peter Pett: The desolations were now spelled out. Firstly famine. This would be like hurtful arrows (Deuteronomy 32:23), arriving suddenly, destroying men when no one was near. And the famine would increase and get worse, and the provisions on which they had leant for so long would be taken from them. They would no longer have anything to depend on.
And, as was inevitable with such famine, starving evil beasts would seek human flesh in order to survive, resulting in many bereavements, and pestilence and blood would follow on people starved of nourishment. Note the combination of ‘pestilence and blood’. The two words in Hebrew are an alliteration, ‘deber wa dam’. Elsewhere ‘blood’ often signifies pestilence. Then on top of this will come the sword. Men of violence would take advantage of the weakness resulting from their parlous state. And all this would come on them because Yahweh had allowed it. It is Yahweh Who says so.
Famine, wild beasts, pestilence, sword, these types of the judgment of God are fairly common in Scripture. See especially ‘God’s four sore judgments’ (Ezekiel 14:21); ‘God’s seven times more plagues’ (Leviticus 26:21-26); see also Deuteronomy 32:23-25; Revelation 6:8. They are His ‘reward’ for covenant unfaithfulness.
Throughout this passage we are made aware of Ezekiel’s profound sense of the holiness of God, of the awfulness and sublimity of the divine King, of the greatness of His glory, accentuated by his great vision, and of his awareness of the sacredness and authority of the Law, the divine instruction, so that all disobedience totally outraged him. It may be that we live in the age of mercy and abundant salvation, but we need to be aware that God has not changed. He still hates sin just as bitterly.