Ezekiel 21

 

 

1 “And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

2  Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word

toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel,

3 And say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am

against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and

will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked.”  Man’s estimate of

righteousness and God’s estimate differ widely. In a nation every variety of

character will be found, and sin will exist in every shade and gradation. In

comparison with the blackest characters some will appear righteous who

are only less tainted with sin. These are the so called righteous. In the very

nature of things God will not and cannot treat alike the righteous and the

wicked. The truth, then, set before us here is this — that the whole nation

was corrupt, yea, ripe for slaughter. So few were the righteous, as to be

left out in this graphic and impressive description. The scourge should

sweep through the land, and penetrate every secret place.

 

4 “Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the

wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against

all flesh from the south to the north:

5 That all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my

sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more.”

The opening words, reproducing those of ch. 20:46, indicate that the

interpretation of that parable is coming. So the three variants of “south” are

shown to mean respectively Jerusalem, the holy places, and the land of Israel.

So, in v. 3, the righteous and the wicked take the place of the “green” and the

dry tree, and the fire is explained as meaning the sword of the invader. The

teaching of ch. 18, had shown that Ezekiel had entered, as regards the ultimate

judgment of individual men, into the spirit of Abram’s words “That be far from

thee to destroy the righteous with the wicked” (Genesis 18:25). But in regard to

temporal judgments there would be in this case, as in the complaint of Job 9:22,

no distinction. The sword went forth “against all flesh.”

 

 

The Common Fate of Righteous and Wicked (v. 4)

 

Both the righteous and the wicked are to be cut off. Though not equal in moral

character, they are to share in the same general calamities.

 

  • IT IS A FACT THAT THE RIGHTEOUS SUFFER WITH THE

WICKED. We see this fact in everyday experience, and it would be a

falsehood to formulate a doctrine which seemed to our short-sighted

judgment more just, if it did interpret events.

 

Ø      From human conduct. The bad policy of a king brings war and its

attendant miseries on a whole nation. The crime of a father bequeaths

poverty, shame, and misery to his whole family.

 

Ø      From natural calamities. An earthquake will shake down a church upon

the heads of the most devout worshippers, with as terrible a slaughter as

that which follows the overthrow of some theatre of sinful revelry.

 

  • THE COMMON LIFE OF MANKIND NECESSITATES THIS

COMMON FATE. There is a certain solidarity of man. We are members

one of another, so that if one member suffers, all the members suffer. This

is one penalty we pay for the union with our fellow men which on the

whole is immensely helpful.   Without such a union there would be no

society, no organic connection between individuals. The rich, full life that

grows out of the mutual ministries of man would then be impossible.

 

  • IT IS AN AGGRAVATION OF A CALAMITY THAT THE

RIGHTEOUS SHARE THE FATE OF THE WICKED. The wicked

could well be spared, and it might seem to be a good thing for the world

that their places should be vacant; but every good man has his good work

which suffers when he is taken away. The guilt of those who bring disaster

on the innocent is all the greater on this account. No worse thing can

happen to a people than that its saving elements should be taken away.

They are the salt of the land.

 

  • THE RIGHTEOUS WHO SUFFER WITH THE WICKED ARE

NOT ULTIMATELY INJURED.  The injustice is temporary.

 

Ø      The outward suffering is an inward blessing. The physical nature

of the suffering may be the same in both cases; but its moral character

differs entirely according as it is deserved or not. When it falls on

innocent men it is not punishment; there is no curse in it; it comes as

the fire that purges the silver.

 

Ø      The temporary suffering will be followed by eternal blessedness. We

may say of the righteous and the sinful who were victims of a common

calamity, “In their death they were not divided”  (II Samuel 1:23). 

But after death there is a swift and searching separation. Then it is seen

that the righteous were taken from the evil to come.  (Isaiah 57:1)

 

  • THE COMMON FATE OF THE RIGHTEOUS AND WICKED MAY

BE A MEANS OF SAVING BOTH. It was so in the Captivity. Good men

like Daniel and “The Three Children” were taken to Babylon together with

the corrupt courtiers of Jerusalem, and there they maintained the flame of

ancient Hebrew piety, so as to prepare for a renewed people’s restoration.

Christ died the sinner’s death that He might save the sinner, after

He Himself had been raised up from the dead in victory over sin.

 

What we know not now we shall know hereafter. The anomalies of the present state

of being are such as to suggest that this is only a probationary state, that we do not

now and here see the unfolding of the complete purposes of the Lord and Judge of all.

The Scriptures reveal a state in which retribution and compensation shall be complete,

as we know they are not here. The righteous and the wicked shall not always be

confused in one common category, and consigned to one common doom.

The discrimination which is not exercised now shall be exercised hereafter.

Prosperous sinners shall not forever elude the righteous judgment of God.

The suffering and patience of the virtuous and pious shall one day be

rewarded, not only by the approbation of the Judge, but by an everlasting

recompense.  (“Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to

judgment; and some men they follow after.  Likewise also the good works

of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be

hid.”  - I Timothy 5:24-25)

 

6  Sigh therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins; and

with bitterness sigh before their eyes.

7 And it shall be, when they say unto thee, Wherefore sighest thou?

that thou shalt answer, For the tidings; because it cometh: and

every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every

spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it

cometh, and shall be brought to pass, saith the Lord GOD.”

Sigh therefore, etc. As in other instances (ch.4:4; 5:1-4), the prophet

dramatizes the coming calamity. He is to act the part of a

mourner, whose sighs are so deep that they seem to “break his loins”

(compare, for the gesture, Nahum 2:1, 10 Isaiah 21:3; Jeremiah 30:6).

The strange action was meant to lead to questions. What did it

mean? And then he is to answer that he does it “for the tidings” which are

to him as certain as if they had already come. He is but doing what all

would do, when the messenger brought word, as in ch.33:21, five

years later, that the city was at last smitten.

 

Divine admonitions, through men, must be delivered with deep emotion!

“Sigh therefore, son of man, with the breaking of thy loins; and with bitterness

sigh before their eyes.” If it be possible, on our part, to impress our fellow, men

with the reality and severity of God’s judgments, we must do our utmost to

arouse earnest repentance, or we incur grave responsibility. God has constituted

human nature so that strong emotion in the preacher, seemingly manifested,

awakens strong emotion in the hearers. Men everywhere are susceptible of

influence from a superior or a holier man. Nothing God allows us to omit

which may serve to lead our fellows to repentance. We must make it clear

that the events of coming retribution adequately impress our own minds;

then, and then only, shall we arouse attention, promote inquiry, and lead to

reflection, self-examination, and return to God.

 

8 “Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

9 Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the LORD; Say, A

sword, a sword is sharpened, and also furbished:” A sword, a sword, etc.

The new section (vs. 9-17) rises out of the thought of the unsheathed sword

in v. 3. More than most other portions of Ezekiel’s writings, it assumes a

distinctly lyrical character, and might be headed, “The Lay of the Sword of

Jehovah.” The opening words are probably an echo of Deuteronomy 32:41.

The dazzling brightness of the sword is added to its sharpness as a fresh

element of terror.

 

The sword is the weapon of Divine retribution upon the nations.  Whilst it is

unquestionable that wars and fightings come from human lusts, it is to the

religious man, to the student of Scripture, equally plain that a Divine Providence

overrules all the conflicts of the nations to accomplish wise purposes, and even

purposes of. benevolence. The Assyrian power directed its forces against the

land of Israel, under the influence, doubtless, of human passions and purposes by

which those passions were suggested. But Assyria, Egypt, Persia, and Rome were

powers which the God of Israel employed to bring about the ends fixed upon by

His own wisdom and faithfulness. As an instrument by which punishment was

inflicted upon the idolatrous and rebellious, the sword was not only the sword

of Nebuchadnezzar, but the sword of the Lord of hosts.

 

 

The Sword of War (v. 9)

 

  • THE SWORD OF WAR BRINGS FEARFUL TROUBLE. When the

hoarded judgment bursts over the head of the guilty nation of Israel, it falls

in the form of war. Those people who speak lightly of war as being “good

for trade,” as “opening careers for men,” and as “developing manly

virtues,” etc., would do well to consider that the fearful monster is

regarded in the Bible as the worst of plagues. David was a man of war and

he knew what its horrors meant. It was with no nervous fear like that of

King James who shuddered at the sight of a sword, with no sentimental

tremors of an effeminate nature, that the old warrior David chose the

horrors of a pestilence in preference to those of war. (II Samuel 24).

Note some of its evils.

 

Ø      Destructiveness. It must be a fallacy to regard it as “good for trade.”

Whatever temporary and artificial stimulus commerce may receive

during the actual campaign is paid for ten times over by the subsequent

collapse.  England was thrown back for generations by the Napoleonic

wars. (The Iraq war of the 21st century has cost the United States much

- CY – 2014).  The soldiers are withdrawn from productive work;

ordinary commerce is stopped; and a vast amount of property is directly

destroyed.

 

Ø      Suffering. Every one who has witnessed the scenes of a battlefield turns

from the recollection of them with loathing and horror. War is not a

pageant of drums and trumpets and flying banners; it is a huge Inferno

 of groans and agonizing deaths. Thousands lie wounded on the field,

some trampled on by charging steeds, some anguished for want of the

drop of water which cannot be reached, sick with the blazing heat of

the sun or chilled to the marrow in snow and frost. Thousands are cut

off in the flower of their youth, sent prematurely to the grave before

their real life work is begun. And every death means a household of

bitter mourning in the old home.

 

Ø      Wickedness. War lets loose the lowest passions. Hatred and

bloodthirsty vengeance are engendered, and men are brought down

to the level of wild beasts. Too often savage lust follows, and the

vilest outrages are committed.

 

  • THE SWORD OF WAR MAY BE USED AS A DIVINE

CHASTISEMENT.

 

Ø      Sharpened by sin. National misconduct lays a people open to the

ravages of war. The curse may be earned immediately by insolent and

unrighteous dealings with other nations; or it may be brought less

directly and not as we could anticipate. Yet the awful fact remains —

NATIONAL SIN necessitates NATIONAL JUDGMENT,  and the

most awful and yet the most common national judgment is war.

 

Ø      Directed by God. This was the case with the wars of judgment that

visited Israel. Israel’s sin sharpened the sword, but God’s hand guided

it.  For the providence of God cannot be excluded, even from so

lawless and monstrous a thing as war.

 

o       This adds to its terror. It is fearful to know that God wills

us to suffer from so dire a calamity. Then there can be no

escaping it.

 

o       This suggests hope of final rescue. Wherever God is, LOVE IS!

 The God of battles is the God of Bethlehem. He who sends the

war to scourge also sends the gospel to save.

 

 

10 “It is sharpened to make a sore slaughter; it is furbished that it may

glitter: should we then make mirth? it contemneth the rod of my

son, as every tree.

11 And he hath given it to be furbished, that it may be handled: this

sword is sharpened, and it is furbished, to give it into the hand of

the slayer.” The rod (scepter) of my son, etc. The clause is obscure, possibly

corrupt, and has received many interpretations.

 

  • Taking the received text, the most probable explanation is that given by

Keil and Kliefoth: Shall we rejoice (saying), The sceptre of my son

despiseth all woods. Here the “rod” is the “sceptre” of the tribe of Judah

(Genesis 49:10), and the words are supposed to be spoken by those

who hear of the destroying sword. They need not dread the sword, they

say, because the sceptre of the house of David, whom Jehovah recognizes

as His son, despises all wood, looks on every other rod that is the symbol of

sovereignty, with scorn. It is urged, in favor of this interpretation, that

v. 27 contains an unmistakable reference to the prophetic words of

Genesis 49:10.

 

  • Ewald: It is no weak rod of my son, the softest of all wood; i.e. the

sword of Jehovah is no weak weapon such as might be used for the

chastisement of a child (Proverbs 10:13; 13:24).

 

  • Hengstenberg: Shall we rejoice over the rod of my son, despising every

tree? There is no cause for anything but the reverse of joy in the rod, the

punishment which God appoints for Israel as His son, and which surpasses

all others in its severity.

 

  • The Authorized Version and Revised Version (margin) make the

sword the nominative, and the words are those of Jehovah:

It contemneth the rod (i.e. the sceptre) of my son, as it contemns every

other tree (i.e. as in v. 10), every other national sovereignty.

 

  • The Revised. Version and Authorized Version (margin): It (the sword)

is the rod of my son (appointed for his chastisement), and it despiseth

every tree, in same sense as in the previous comment.

 

  • Cornill, altering the text, almost rewriting it, gets the meaning: It (the

sword) is for men who murder and plunder, and regard not any strength.

Neither the Septuagint nor the Vulgate help us, the former giving,

“Slay, set at naught, reject every tree;” and the latter, “Thou who guidest

the sceptre of my son, thou hast cut down.” On the whole, the first

comment seems to rest on better ground than the others.

 

12 “Cry and howl, son of man: for it shall be upon my people, it shall

be upon all the princes of Israel: terrors by reason of the sword

shall be upon my people: smite therefore upon thy thigh.”

Terrors by reason of the sword; better, as in the Revised

Version and margin of the Authorized Version, They (the princes of Judah,

corresponding to the “rod” of v. 10) are delivered over to the sword with

my people. At this stage, in contemplating the destruction alike of princes

and of people, the prophet is bidden to make his gestures of lamentation

yet more expressive, “crying, howling, smiting on his thigh” (Jeremiah 31:19).

 

Who were the victims of the sword in this slaughter? 

 

  • 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 v. 3.)

 

  • 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 (See 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” (v. 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.

 

13 “Because it is a trial, and what if the sword contemn even the rod? it

shall be no more, saith the Lord GOD.”  Because it is a trial, etc. The verse has

received as many interpretations, and is just as obscure as v. 10, with which it is

obviously connected. I begin as before with that which seems most probable.

 

  • Keil: For the trial is made, and what if the despising sceptre shall riot

come? The “despising sceptre is the kingdom of Judah, and the prophet

asks, “What will happen, what extreme of misery is to be looked for, if

that kingdom shall not appear, if Judah shall be left without a ruler?

 

  • Ewald: For it is tried and what? Whether it is also a soft rod! That

will not be. Men will find on trial that the sword of Jehovah is not

a soft rod, but the sharpest of all weapons.

 

  • Hengstenberg: And how? Shall the despising rod that outstript all

other punishments not be? i.e. shall the sword of Jehovah not do its work

effectively?

 

  • Cornill, in part following Hitzig, again rewrites the text, and gets the

meaning: How should I judge with favor? They have not turned

themselves from their pollution. They shall find no place.

 

  • The Authorized Version inserts the word “sword,” apparently with the

meaning that the “trial” will show that the sword of the Lord contemns the

rod, i.e. the sceptre of Judah, and that that rod shall be no more.

 

  • The Authorized Version (margin): When the trial hath been, what

then? Shall not they also belong to the despising rod? may have had a

meaning for those who adopted it, but I fail to find it.

 

  • The Revised Version relegates the Authorized Version text into the

margin, and substitutes, For there is a trial, and what if even the rod that

contemneth (i.e. the sceptre of Judah) shall be no more?

 

  • The Septuagitn and Vulgate connect “because there is a trial” with the

preceding clause, rendering it respectively, “for it has been justified

(δεδικαίωται dedikaiotai),” and “because it has been tested (probatus),”

and  translate what follows — the Septuagint, “What if even a tribe be

repulsed? It shall not be;” and the Vulgate, “And this when it (the sword!)

has overturned the kingdom, and it shall not be,” etc. This will be a

sufficient summary of the difficulties of the exegetical problem. At the best,

we must say that it remains unsolved.

 

14 “Thou therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite thine hands together,

and let the sword be doubled the third time, the sword of the slain: it is the

sword of the great men that are slain, which entereth into their privy

chambers.” Smite thine hands together, etc. Another gesture follows,

either of horror and lamentation, or perhaps, looking to v. 17, of

imperative command. The sword is to do its thrice-redoubled work (the

words emphasize generally the intensity, and are scarcely to be taken

numerically, of the repeated invasions of the Chaldeans); it is “the sword of

the slain” (better, pierced ones, or, with Revised Version, the deadly

wounded). The next clause should be taken, with the Revised Version, in

the singular — the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded; sc. the

sword should smite the king as well as the people. For entereth into their

privy chambers, read, with the Revised Version (margin), Ewald, and

Keil, it compasseth them about.

 

Here is an example of Divine and human cooperation.  This sword, which was

sharpened to destroy, was no less God’s sword, though it was wielded by

the captains of Babylon, The prophet had his part to take. The king and

statesmen of Babylon — yea, even the rank and file of the army — had

their part to take, with God, in the execution of His just fury. The prophet is

directed “to smite his hands together” — a matter of fact prophecy of the

coming event — the sign to summon the great army. And (in v. 17) God

describes Himself as about to do the same act: “I will also smite mine hands

together.” Men are often called to act in God’s stead — as God’s delegates.

 

15 I have set the point of the sword against all their gates, that their

heart may faint, and their ruins be multiplied: ah! it is made bright,

it is wrapped up for the slaughter.”  For their ruins shall be multiplied,

read, with the Revised Version, that their stumblings; and for wrapped up,

pointed, or sharpened.

 

16 “Go thee one way or other, either on the right hand, or on the left,

whithersoever thy face is set.  17 I will also smite mine hands together, and

I will cause my fury to rest: I the LORD have said it.”Go thee one way or

another, etc.; i.e. as in the following, to the right hand or the left — to the north

or the south. Whichever way the prophet turned (ch.20:47), he would see nothing

but the sword and its work of slaughter. Jehovah had given that command with

the gesture of supreme authority. He would not rest till He had appeased His

wrath by letting it work itself out even to the end. With these words the

“Lay of the Sword of Jehovah” ends, and there is again an interval of silence.

 

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.

 

 

The Satisfaction of God’s Fury (v. 17)

 

This is a most awful subject. Gladly would we leave it alone. Oh for a fresh

sight of God’s eternal love, instead of this horror of great darkness, this

vision of wrath and judgment unrestrained and fully satisfied! Yet the

fearful words are before us and they invite our earnest regard.

 

  • GOD’S FURY IS FEARFULLY PROVOKED BY SIN. It is only

against sinners that these dreadful words are written. The righteous may

share the temporal calamities that smite the wicked (v. 4), but they incur

none of the wrath of God that lies behind those calamities. Nevertheless,

as we are all sinners, there is little comfort in this thought. Consider how

greatly SIN PROVOKES WRATH!

 

Ø      It is committed in full daylight. The Jews possessed the land. We

know Christ. We cannot plead ignorance. Even the heathen have

accusing consciences.  (“…their conscience also bearing

witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else

excusing one another.”  - Romans 2:15)

 

Ø      It is committed against love. We sin against our Father, to whom we

owe everything, and who has been infinitely gracious to us.

 

Ø      It is committed in spite of warnings. Israel had her grand procession of

minatory prophets from Elijah to Ezekiel. We have the warnings of

the Bible.

 

Ø      It is committed without necessity. There is a better way and a happier.

Nothing but the most willful perversity can make us choose the evil path.

A saving hand has been held out to protect us. When we sin we reject

that help.

 

Ø      It is committed after Gods long suffering has been tried. He has long

refrained from punishing. Yet men have made His long suffering an

excuse for greater sin. Thus they have “treasured up wrath for THE

DAY OF WRATH!”  (Romans 2:5)

 

  • GOD’S FURY CANNOT BE RESISTED.

 

Ø      It cannot be opposed by mens powers. The sinner has to contend with

the Almighty and the All-wise. The stoutest must fall in such a contest,

and the most cunning must fail in the foolish attempt to outwit God.

 

Ø      It cannot be opposed by any excuses. Unhappily, there is no doubt as to

the guilt of the sinner. He had opportunities of return, and he rejected

them. Conscience must paralyze resistance.

 

Ø      It cannot be opposed by Gods love. There is no schism in the nature of

God. Love itself must approve of wrath directed against hardened

impenitence.

 

  • GOD’S FURY WILL BE SATISFIED.

 

Ø      It will not fail. Nothing that God attempts can fail. This we may infer as

a conclusion from the observations under the previous head. 

 

Ø      It will not endure forever. When it has accomplished its work it will rest.

It may be that some of the results of it will endure forever. The slain man

will not arise again on earth, but he is not being killed continuously. The

ruined city may never be rebuilt, and yet the earthquake that overthrew

temples and palaces has long subsided, and all is now still and calm.

 

Ø      It will be satisfied when it has accomplished its end. God’s fury is not

like His love. It does not spring unprovoked from His own heart. It is

roused by sin, and when it has punished sin, it is satisfied. But this is

the most awful satisfaction of it. There is another satisfaction, viz.:

 

Ø      It will be satisfied when it is propitiated. This is not stated in the verse

before us. But it is the burden of the gospel. CHRIST, OUR

ADVOCATE, propitiates the wrath of God (I John 2:1-2). Then if we

have confessed our sin, and sought the saving help of Christ, we need

fear the wrath of God no longer. IT IS SATISFIED!

 

18 The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,

19 Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of

the king of Babylon may come: both twain shall come forth out of

one land: and choose thou a place, choose it at the head of the way

to the city.  20 Appoint a way, that the sword may come to Rabbath of the

Ammonites, and to Judah in Jerusalem the defensed.  21 For the king of

Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways,

to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images,

he looked in the liver.” The new section opens in a different strain. Ezekiel sees,

as in vision, Nebuchadnezzar and his army on their march. He is told to

appoint (better, make, or mark, as on a brick or tile, as in ch. 4:1)

a place where the road bifurcated. Both come from one land, i.e. from

Babylon; but from that point onwards one road led to Rabbath, the capital

of the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 3:11; II Samuel 11:1), the other to

Jerusalem. Apparently, the exiles and the people of Judah flattered

themselves that the former was the object of the expedition. The answer to

that false hope is a vivid picture of what was passing in the council of war

which Nebuchadnezzar was holding at that parting of the ways. The

prophet sees, as it were, the sign post pointing, as with a hand, to each of

the two cities The king consults his soothsayers, and uses divinations. Of

these Ezekiel enumerates three:

 

  • He shakes the arrows to and fro (Revised Version). This was known

among the Greeks as the βέλομαντεια belomanteia.  The arrows

were put into a quiver,  with names (in this case probably Rabbath and

Jerusalem) written on them.  One was then drawn, or thrown, out as by

chance, and decided the direction of the campaign.

 

  • He consults the images (Hebrew, teraphim). The modus operandi in

this case is not known, but Judges 18:18 and Hosea 3:4 point to

some such use of them.

 

  • There remains the sacrifice and the inspection of the liver, familiar alike

in Greek, Etrurian, and Roman divination (Cicero, ‘De Divin.,’ 6:13).

 

22 “At his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to appoint

captains, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice

with shouting, to appoint battering rams against the gates, to cast a

mount, and to build a fort.” At his right hand was, etc.; better, into his

right hand came, etc.; sc. the arrow marked for Jerusalem was that which

came into the king’s hand as the quiver was shaken. To appoint captains;

better, battering rams, in both clauses. The same Hebrew word is used in

both (see note on ch.4:2). The verse paints the engineering operations

of the besiegers, following on the issue of the divination. (For the mount,

compare Isaiah 37:33.)

 

23 “And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, to them that

have sworn oaths: but he will call to remembrance the iniquity, that they

may be taken.” The whole verse is obscure, and has been very variously

interpreted. I follow the translation of the Revised Version, and explain it

by inserting words which are needed to bring out its meaning: It (what

Nebuchadnezzar has done) shall be as a vain divination in their sight (sc.

in that of the men of Jerusalem), which have sworn unto them (sc. have

taken oaths of fealty to the Chaldeans, and are ready to take them again),

but he (Nebuchadnezzar) brings iniquity to remembrance. The fact

represented is that when the people of Jerusalem heard of the divination at

the parting of the ways, they still lulled themselves in a false security. They

and Zedekiah had sworn obedience, and that oath would protect them.

“Not so,” rejoins the prophet; “the Chaldean king knows how those oaths

have been kept.” The Septuagint omits all reference to “oaths.” The Vulgate.

taking the word for “oath” in its ether sense of “sabbath,” gives the curious

rendering, Eritque quasi consulens frustra oraculum in eorum oculis, et

sabbatorum otium imitans. In spite of the reports that reached them, the

men of Jerusalem thought themselves as safe as if the Chaldean king were

keeping a sabbath day. Ewald partly follows the Vulgate, and renders, They

believe they have weeks on weeks, i.e. will not believe that the danger is

close at hand. Keil and Havernick: Oaths of oaths are theirs; i.e. they

count on the oath of Jehovah, on His promises of protection, but He

(Jehovah) brings iniquity to remembrance. That they may be taken; i.e.

be seized by the invader and either slain or made prisoners

 

24 “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have made your

iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are

discovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear; because,

I say, that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the

hand.”  The prophet adds words which in part explain these that

precede. The iniquity of the people has forced, not the Chaldean king only,

but Jehovah himself, to remember and to punish them.

 

 

Transgressions Discovered (v. 24)

 

  • TRANSGRESSIONS ARE DISCOVERED BY GOD AS SOON AS

THEY ARE COMMITTED. He is present when the deeds are done; His

eyes are always open to observe the conduct of His creatures; He is not

negligent of sin. We start, therefore, with the position that THERE IS NO

SUCH THING AS SECRET SIN!   The appearance of secrecy arises from

the fact that the great Witness withholds His evidence for the present. Such

a position leads to the inevitable conclusion that some day the most hidden

evil may be made manifest. God holds the key, and He will unlock the door

whenever He sees fit.  (“For there is nothing covered, that shall not be

revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.  Therefore whatsoever

ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which

ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the

housetops  - Luke 12:2-3)

 

  • TRANSGRESSIONS WILL BE DISCOVERED TO THE

UNIVERSE IN THE FUTURE JUDGMENT. This must be what the

judgment really means. We have been accustomed to the picture of a vast

assize, as though God needed to go through the forms of a criminal trial

with souls, every secret of whom has been perfectly known to Him from the

first. Such a trial would be an empty form, a mere theatrical display. But

God will make the justice of His action apparent to all, and in doing so the

secrets of all hearts will be revealed.

 

  • TRANSGRESSIONS ARE LIKELY TO BE DISCOVERED ON

EARTH. It is scarcely possible for a man to play the hypocrite successfully

until his secret is sealed in death. At some moment of inadvertency he is

almost certain to lift the mask, and then the discovery of his deceit, once

made, will destroy forever the reputation of years. Sin will work its fruits in

the bad man’s life. Though never confessed in words, it is expressed in tone

and temper. The very features of the countenance set themselves to the

character of the life within. Moreover, sudden surprises and unexpected

turns of events will reveal a man to the world. The long buried secret

comes to light. Achan’s Babylonish garment is brought to light (Joshua

7:18-20). Ananias and Sapphira cannot conceal their lie (Acts 5:9).

Eugene Aram cannot hide the corpse of his victim. Dimsdale is driven to

reveal the scarlet letter that burns in fire on his breast.

 

  • TRANSGRESSIONS MAY BE HIDDEN BY FORGIVENESS. In

the expressive Hebrew phrase, they are then said to be “covered.” The only

way to have our transgression thus buried out of sight is for us FIRST TO

CONFESS IT TO GOD!  Thus we need to pray that He will search us and

try us, and see if there be any wicked way in us (Psalm 139:23-24). Until our

sins are brought home to our consciences, there is no hope that they will be

permanently hidden. If we forget them, God will remember them. For God

to forget them we must first remember them. When transgressions are thus

owned to God, we are in the condition to receive HIS PARDON after which

we may take the assurance, “Your sins and iniquities will I remember no

more(Isaiah 43:25; Romans 11:27; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17).  The sins are then

banished “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). They are

buried in the depth of the sea” (Micah 7:19).  God does not goad His

restored children with their old sins.

 

25 “And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity

shall have an end,”  And thou, profane wicked prince of Judah, etc.; better,

with the Revised Version, O deadly wounded, etc., as in v. 29, where the

same word is translated in the Authorized Version as “slain” The

Authorized Version follows the Septuagitn and Vulgate, apparently in order to

make the word fit in with the fact that Zedekiah was not slain, but carried

into exile. The word “deadly wounded,” or “sorely smitten,” may rightly be

applied to one who fell, as Zedekiah did, from his high estate. From the

sins of the people the prophet turns to the special guilt of Zedekiah, who

had proved unfaithful alike to Jehovah and to the Chaldean king, whom he

had owned as his suzerain. His day had at last come, the time of the

iniquity of the end of the last transgression which was to bring down on

him the final punishment.

 

26 “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Remove the diadem, and take off the

crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase

him that is high.”  Remove the diadem, etc. The noun is used throughout the

Pentateuch (e.g. Exodus 28:4; 37:39; Leviticus 8:9; 16:4) for the

turban” or “mitre” of the high priest, and Keil so takes it here, as pointing

to the punishment of the priest as well as of the king. This shall not be the

same; literally, this shall not be this; or, as the Revised Version

paraphrases, this shall be no more the same; i.e. the mitre and the crown

shall alike pass away — taken from their unworthy wearers. There was to

be, as in the following words, a great upturning of all things; the high

brought low, the lowly exalted.

 

Persistence in sin leads to the punishment of their sins. “Because that ye

are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand. And thou, O

deadly wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel,” etc. (vs. 25-26). The

people were to “be taken with the hand”  (v. 24).  God would deliver them

into the hand of the Chaldeans, who would inflict upon them the dreadful

judgments already predicted by the prophet:

 

  • sword,
  • famine,
  • pestilence, and
  • captivity.

 

The glory of the priesthood would be taken away; for the Lord

God would “remove the diadem,” or mitre.” The king would be carried

into a miserable captivity, after enduring the most terrible sufferings (II Kings

25:4-7), and the kingdom would be destroyed; for God would “take

off the crown.” Their most valued institutions would be overthrown. The

then existing state of things would be destroyed. “This shall be no more the

same: exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high.” All would be

brought to ONE MELANCHOLY CONDITION OF MISERY!   

NATIONAL RUIN was to be THE PENALTY OF NATIONAL SIN!

Persistence in sin must ever lead to ITS JUST PUNISHMENT!

 

27 “I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until

He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him.” I will overthrow.

The sentence of destruction is emphasized, after the Hebrew manner, by a

threefold iteration (Isaiah 6:3; Jeremiah 22:29). It shall be no more. The pronoun

in both clauses probably refers to the established order of the kingdom and the

priesthood. “That order,” Ezekiel says, “shall be no more.” Keil, however, takes

the second “it” — the “this” of the Revised Version — as meaning the fact of

the overthrow. That also was not final; all things were as in a state of flux

till THE MESSIANIC KINGDOM  hinted at in the next clause should

RESTORE THE TRUE ORDER.   Until He come whose right it is. The

words contain a singularly suggestive allusion to Genesis 49:10, where a probable

interpretation of the word Shiloh is “He to whom it belongs.”  The passage is

noticeable as being Ezekiel’s first distinct utterance of the hope of a personal

Messiah.  Afterwards, in ch.34:23-24, it is definite enough.

 

“This also shall be no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him.”

Until our Lord shall reign over the whole world, these revolutions will occur with

Greater or less frequency. But when He, the rightful Sovereign, shall take

possession of the kingdoms of this world, THESE OVER-TURNINGS WILL

FOR EVER CEASE!  The reign of the Christ precludes revolution. The character

of His reign shows this. Under it the sacredness of human life will be practically

recognized, and thus war will be precluded. Under His reign the universal

brotherhood of man will also be practically recognized; and thus the cruel

oppressions and base wrongs of man by man, which have often led to

terrible revolutions, will be precluded. The reign of the “strong Son of

God” is the sovereignty of His Spirit and principles in the hearts and lives of

men; and these are entirely opposed to the crimes and ills which generate

revolutions. His perpetual and universal sovereignty is founded upon His

mercifulness and kindness, His justice and love (Psalm 72:11-17).

Such a sovereignty is incompatible with revolution. Under it men will have

neither cause nor occasion for anything of the kind. Animated and

governed by His Spirit and principles, they will advance calmly and

regularly towards perfection.

 

International exhibitions, commercial interests, peace treaties,

political economics, can never bring about the abolition of revolution,

because they are not able to curb and conquer the strong and stormy

passions of evil men. The gospel of the Lord Jesus is the only power that

can abolish revolution, and bring in a state of peaceful and blessed

progress. When it is heartily accepted it becomes a power in the heart,

making man true and righteous, pure and loving, and so promotes peace on

earth and good will toward men.  Be encouraged, then, in your efforts to

promote it. “Men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed”

(Psalm 72:17); “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom

from generation to generation.” (Ibid. ch. 145:13; Daniel 7:14)

 

We learn that the Omnipotent Ruler is not indifferent to what

happens among the nations, that He works in and through the ordinary laws

of human action, and may sometimes work by extraordinary and exceptional

means. Certain it is that His ways are not as men’s ways (Isaiah 55:8).  The

great are often overthrown, and the feeble exalted, by the operation of His

wise and merciful providence. God confounds all human policy and defeats

all human expectations, exalts the low, and at the same time abases the

high. The mitre and the crown are taken from the forehead of the powerful,

and are placed upon the lowliest, brows.

 

There is a grandeur in this language which seems almost to

compel its reference to greater events than those which happened in

Jerusalem during the Eastern captivity. The kingdom of sin is mighty, and

then have often felt how utterly vain it is to expect that kingdom to yield to

any human attack. Ignorance and error, vice and crime, superstition and

infidelity, have through millenniums of human history acquired over

humanity a power which seems irresistible and invincible. But there is One

“WHOSE RIGHT IT IS” to reign, and He, the Son of God, has come in the

flesh, and has come in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. In His favor, and in

order to secure His universal conquest, His everlasting dominion, the Most

High is overturning, ever overturning. He is the High Priest, the rightful

King, of the humanity whose nature He assumed, and for whose salvation

He died. The mitre and the crown are His of right, and TO HIM THEY

SHALL BE GIVEN!   Every usurper shall be defeated and disgraced;

and Christ, whose right it is to reign, shall receive the kingdom, and His

dominion shall have no end.  (Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 2:44; Luke 1:32-33)

 

 

Revolution and Restoration (v. 27)

 

  • REVOLUTION. God overturns Israel and its institutions by repeated

acts in the successive invasions of Nebuchadnezzar. The ruin is utter. No

city has sustained so many sieges as Jerusalem, or has been so often sacked

and destroyed. Now, we are reminded that these terrible disasters are

elements in a Divine judgment and discipline. It is God who overturns.

There is, therefore, a providential purpose in the event.

 

Ø      Revolution must precede restoration. The Divine education of

Mankind is not a continuous, unbroken development. The earthquake

has its mission as truly as the April shower. Evil must be overthrown

before good can be built up. This may mean a violent process. We are

too mild in some of our methods of treating sin. Undoubtedly,

God has not committed His sword of judgment to us, but He

expects His servants to testify against sin, and so to

pull down the strong walls of Satan. Aggressive work is absolutely

necessary. While we preach the gospel of peace, we have also to

fight against intemperance, commercial corruption, and all evil

customs and institutions.

 

Ø      This revolution must be universal. There is a sweeping

comprehensiveness in our text. Political revolutions, indeed, may not

be called for, for now we have to engage in spiritual work. But there

must be revolution in every region of life.

 

o       In the heart. Old prejudices and habits must be thrown down —

every mountain made low.

 

o       In the Church. Christ cleansed the temple. The Reformation

was a great overturning. Much in the Church now needs to be

overturned; e.g.:

 

§         worldly practices,

§         human inventions,

§         false ideas,

§         Christless journalism, etc.

 

o       In society. The apostles were regarded as firebrand revolutionists,

who “turned the world upside down”  (Acts 17:6).  Social injustice

must be overturned, not, perhaps by Republicans or Democrats

but by Christian brotherhood. We must not suppose that God

will let the monstrous evils of Christendom go on forever. He will

overturn much before we can see the millennium. The new

wine cannot be contained in the old bottles.  (Mark 2:22)

 

  • RESTORATION.

 

Ø      The revolution prepares for a restoration. Mere destruction perfects

nothing. It is necessary only as preliminary to something constructive.

Blank nihilism is the most barren philosophy. The “everlasting no” is

not a gospel for hungry humanity. After the revolution there must be

 a new order, and after repentance there must be a new life.

 

Ø      The restoration can only be accomplished by CHRIST!   Until Christ

came the Jews were never truly restored, though they had returned

to their land.  IN CHRIST Israel had its long hoped for redemption

(Luke 2:29-30), though, alas! most of the nation rejected it, and left it

to others.  (“Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God

is sent unto the Gentiles, AND THEY WILL HEAR IT!”  (Acts 28:28).

It is easy to demolish an ancient effete system. The difficulties begin

with building up a new and better one. We cannot establish a new social

order, nor can we even stir up a better life in our own breasts. The weary

world waits for THE FULL COMING OF CHRIST TO RESTORE

 its overturned PEACE and ORDER.

 

Ø      This restoration will be fully satisfactory.

 

o       Christ has a right to enjoy the headship over it: “Whose right

it is.”  He is not only the Son of David, and Heir to the old

throne; He is THE SON OF GOD,  vested with Divine rights.

 

o       Christ receives His kingdom from His Father (Philippians 2:9-11):

“I will give it Him.”

 

o       This restoration will not be a return to the old position. If it

were so, the whole process would be a profitless cycle. But

Christ’s kingdom of heaven is infinitely better than David’s

kingdom of Israel.

 

28 “And thou, son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD

concerning the Ammonites, and concerning their reproach; even

say thou, The sword, the sword is drawn: for the slaughter it is

furbished, to consume because of the glittering:”

Thus saith the Lord God concerning the Ammonites.

Ezekiel has not forgotten that scene at the parting of the ways. The

Ammonites, when they saw the issue of the divination, and the march of

the Chaldean army to the west, thought themselves safe. They took up their

reproach against Jerusalem, and exulted in its fall. They are warned, as in

another strophe of the “Lay of the Sword of Jehovah,” that their confidence

is vain (compare Zephaniah 2:8 for a like exultation at an earlier period).

 

29 “Whiles they see vanity unto thee, whiles they divine a lie unto thee,

to bring thee upon the necks of them that are slain, of the wicked,

whose day is come, when their iniquity shall have an end.”

Whiles they see, etc. The words may possibly refer to

Nebuchadnezzar’s diviners in v. 21, but more probably to those whom

the Ammonites themselves consulted. The pronoun “thee” in both clauses

refers to Ammon. The result of those who divined falsely was that the

sword would be drawn against the necks of the Ammonites and threw them

upon the heap of the slaughtered ones. For them, as in the words that end

the verse, reproducing those of v. 25, punishment is decreed, and that

punishment will come.

 

30 “Shall I cause it to return into his sheath? I will judge thee in the place

where thou wast created, in the land of thy nativity.”  The question of the

Authorized Version suggests a negative answer, as though the speaker were

Jehovah, and the sheath that of His sword. The Revised Version, which translates

it, with Keil, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate, as an imperative, deals with it as

addressed to the Ammonites. They are told to sheath their sword; it would

be of no avail against the sharp, glittering weapon of Jehovah. Their

judgment would soon come on them in their own land, not, as in the case

of Judah, in the form of exile (compare ch.25:1-8 as an expansion of

the prophet’s thought).

 

31 “And I will pour out mine indignation upon thee, I will blow against

thee in the fire of my wrath, and deliver thee into the hand of

brutish men, and skilful to destroy.”  I will blow against, etc. The imagery of

fire takes the place of that of the sword. The brutish men (same word as in

Psalm 49:10; 92:6) are the Chaldean conquerors. The fact that the adjective may

Also mean “those that burn” may, in part, have determined Ezekiel’s choice of it.

 

32 “Thou shalt be for fuel to the fire; thy blood shall be in the midst of

the land; thou shalt be no more remembered: for I the LORD have

spoken it.”  For Ammon there is no hope of a restoration like that which

Ezekiel speaks of as possible for Jerusalem, and even for Sodom and

Samaria. Its doom is written in the words, it shall be no more

remembered (compare ch. 25:7).

 

 

The Impartiality of Divine Justice (vs. 18-32)

 

Very picturesque and memorable is this portion of Ezekiel’s prophecies.

The prophet in his vision beholds the King of Babylon on his way to

execute the purposes of God upon the rebellious and treacherous prince of

Judah, and upon his partakers in sin. He sees him at some point of this

expedition, standing on the northeast of Palestine, uncertain whether in the

first instance to direct his arms against Rabbath, the capitol of the

Ammonites, or Jerusalem, the metropolis of Judah. He is at “the parting of

the way,” and calls to his aid, to help him to a decision, not only the

counsel of the politician and the commander, but that also of the diviner.

The bright arrows, on which the names of the two cities are inscribed, are

drawn as in a lottery, the images are consulted, the liver is inspected by the

augur. The prophet sees the resolve taken to proceed against Jerusalem;

yet at the same time, he predicts that the children of Ammon shall not

escape the edge of the glittering sword of retribution and vengeance.

 

  • DIVINE JUSTICE MAKES USE OF HUMAN AGENCIES OF

RETRIBUTION, OFTEN THEMSELVES UNCONSCIOUS OF THE

PURPOSES FOR WHICH THEY ARE EMPLOYED. The King of

Babylon was appointed as the minister of righteous avenging upon both

Judah and Ammon. Unawares to himself, he, in his military operations, was

carrying out the predictions of God’s prophets, and the decree of God

Himself. Infinite wisdom is never at a loss for means by which to bring to

pass its own counsels and resolves.

 

  • DIVINE JUSTICE PUNISHES THE PRIVILEGED WHO ARE

UNFAITHFUL TO THEIR PRIVILEGES AS WELL AS THOSE

WHOSE PRIVILEGES HAVE NOT BEEN EXCEPTIONAL. Although

the descendants of Abraham were selected from among the nations for a

special purpose connected with God’s plans for the moral government of

the world, they were not thereby released from their righteous obligations,

or from liability to punishment in case those obligations were repudiated.

Israel’s election did not secure exemption from the consequences of

defection and rebellion. Rather was the guilt of the nation deemed to be

aggravated by their neglect to use aright the many advantages with which

they were favored. On the other hand, the Ammonites were not secured

against righteous retribution merely because they were less highly

privileged than Israel. They had a measure of light, and they were

responsible for walking in the light they enjoyed; and if they loved

darkness rather than light, they secured their own condemnation.

 

  • DIVINE JUSTICE DECIDES WHICH GUILTY NATION SHALL

BE CORRECTED, AND WHICH SHALL BE DESTROYED. Into the

secret counsels of God it is not given us to enter. Facts are before us; and

we see that, according to this prophecy, Ammon was committed as fuel to

the fire, and was no more remembered; that the very name of the

Ammonites vanished out of human history; and we see that the Jewish

people survived, and were brought forth from the furnace into which they

were cast. We can only apply to these facts our faith in the Divine

righteousness, and hold fast by our conviction that in this, as in all His

dealings with men, the Eternal Ruler has acted upon principles of

unquestionable equity.

 

  • DIVINE JUSTICE SUMMONS SINFUL NATIONS TO

REPENTANCE AND NEWNESS OF LIFE. These predictions and their

fulfillment in history have been recorded for our instruction. What we read

in Scripture is fitted to deepen within our nature the conviction that this

world is under the righteous government of God. And we shall be foolish

indeed if we do not infer from this fact the necessity of repentance and of

renewal; if we are not led to welcome the assurance that:

 

Ø      for the penitent there is mercy, and

Ø      for the lowly, life!

 

 

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