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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
The prophet goes on to denounce the fate of Jerusalem and Judea; using signs of vehement grief, to denote the greatness of the calamity, Ezekiel 21:2-7. He then changes the emblem to that of a sharp and bright sword, still denoting the same sad event, Ezekiel 21:8-17; and, becoming yet more explicit, he represents the king of Babylon, who was to be employed by God in this work, as setting out to take vengeance on both the Jews and the Ammonites, for joining with Egypt in a confederacy against him. He is described as standing at the parting of the roads leading to the respective capitals of the Jews and Ammonites; and doubting which to attack first, he commits the decision of the matter to his arts of divination, performed by mingling arrows inscribed with the names of the different nations or cities, and then marching against that whose name was written on the arrow first drawn from the quiver. In this case the name Jerusalem comes forward; and therefore he proceeds against it, Ezekiel 21:18-24. History itself could scarcely be more explicit than this prophecy. The profane prince Zedekiah as then declared to be given up by God, and his kingdom devoted to utter destruction, for that breach of oath of which the prophet foretells he should be guilty, Ezekiel 21:25-27. The remaining verses form a distinct prophecy relating to the destruction of the Ammonites, which was fulfilled about five years after the destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel 21:28-32.
1And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
2Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel,
Set thy face toward Jerusalem - This is a continuation of the preceding prophecy; and in this chapter the prophet sets before them, in the plainest language, what the foregoing metaphors meant, so that they could not complain of his parables.
3And 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.
Behold, I am against thee - Dismal news! When God is against us, who can be for us?
And will draw forth my sword - War.
And will cut off from thee - The land of Judea.
The righteous and the wicked - All shall be removed from thee. Some shall be cut off - removed by the sword; shall be slain in battle, or by the pestilence; and some shall be cut off - die by the famine; and some shall be cut off - removed from the land by captivity. Now, among the two latter classes there might be many righteous as well as wicked. And when all the provisions were consumed, so that there was no more bread in the city, during the siege by Nebuchadnezzar, the righteous must have suffered as well as the wicked; for they could not be preserved alive, but by miracle, when there was no bread; nor was their perishing for want any loss to them, because the Lord would take them straight to his glory. And however men in general are unwilling to die, yet there is no instance, nor can there be, of any man's complaint that he got to heaven too soon. Again, if God had permitted none to be carried off captive but the wicked, the case of these would be utterly hopeless, as there would be none to set a good example, to preach repentance, to reprove sin, or to show God's willingness to forgive sinners. But God, in his mercy, permitted many of the righteous to be carried off also, that the wicked might not be totally abandoned, or put beyond the reach of being saved. Hence, both Ezekiel and Daniel, and indeed several others, prophets and righteous men, were thus cut off from the land, and carried into captivity. And how much was God's glory and the good of men promoted by this! What a seed of salvation was sown, even in the heathen countries, by thus cutting off the righteous with the wicked! To this we owe, under God, many of the Psalms, the whole of the Book of Ezekiel, all the prophecies of Daniel, the bright example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, the decrees passed in favor of the religion of the true God by Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, etc. And to this dispensation of God's merciful providence we owe the Books and example of Ezra and Nehemiah. Where then is the injustice, so loudly declaimed against, of God's thus cutting off from the land of Judea the righteous with the wicked? The righteous were not cut off for the crimes of the wicked, (see chap. 18), nor were these crimes visited upon them, yet several of them shared in the common calamity, but none perished. Those that were removed by a violent death, (and I believe we shall find few such), got a speedier entrance into eternal glory.
4Seeing 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:
From the south to the north - The whole land shall be ravaged from one end to the other.
5That all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more.
It shall not return any more - That is, till all the work that I have designed for it is done. Nor did it; for Nebuchadnezzar never rested till he had subdued all the lands from the south to the north, from the Euphrates to the Nile.
6Sigh therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins; and with bitterness sigh before their eyes.
Sigh - with the breaking of thy loins - Let thy mourning for this sore calamity be like that of a woman in the pains of travail.
7And 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.
Wherefore sighest thou? - The prophet was a sign unto them.
His sighing and mourning showed them how they should act.
All knees shall be weak as water - See the note on Ezekiel 7:17.
8Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
9Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the LORD; Say, A sword, a sword is sharpened, and also furbished:
10It 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.
It contemneth the rod of my son - "It," the sword of Nebuchadnezzar, "contemneth the rod," despises the power and influence of my son - Israel, the Jewish people: "Out of Egypt have I called My Son."
As every tree - As all the stocks, kindreds, and nations, over which I have already given him commission. Can the rod of Israel be spared, when the trees of Assyria, Egypt, etc., have been cut down?
11And 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.
This sword is sharpened - It is prepared for the slaughter, it is furbished; from the French, foubir, to polish, brighten. He shall have splendid victories every where. Some complain of corruption in the original in this place; but I think without sufficient reason.
12Cry 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.
Smite - upon thy thigh - See on Jeremiah 31:19 (note). So Homer, Il. 15 ver. 113: -
Ὡς εφατ'· αυταρ Αρης θαλερω πεπληγετο μηρω
Χερσι καταπρηνεσσ,ολοφυρομενος δε προσηυδα.
"She spake; and, with expanded arms his thighs
Smiting, thus sorrowful the god exclaimed."
13Because 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 - This will be a trial of strength and skill between the Chaldeans and the Jews; and a trial of faith and patience to the righteous.
And what if the sword, (Nebuchadnezzar), contemn even the rod? - Overthrow Zedekiah? It will do so; for the regal government of Judea shall be no more. Or, it is tried; that it the sword. Nebuchadnezzar has already shown himself strong and skillful.
14Thou 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.
Let the sword be doubled the third time - 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.
The sword of the slain - חרב חללים chereb chalalim, "the sword of the soldiers," of the Chaldeans. So in the next clause, היא חרב חלל הגדול hi chereb chalal haggadol, "it is the sword of that great soldier," that eminent king and conqueror. This is the meaning of the word חלל chalal, that is so ill rendered in almost every place of its occurrence, in our Version. See Dr. Kennicott.
15I 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.
Wrapped up - It is not a blunt sword, it is carefully sharpened and preserved for the slaughter.
16Go thee one way or other, either on the right hand, or on the left, whithersoever thy face is set.
Go thee one way or other - Thou shalt prosper, O sword, whithersoever thou turnest; against Ammon, or Judea, or Egypt.
17I will also smite mine hands together, and I will cause my fury to rest: I the LORD have said it.
18The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
19Also, 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.
Appoint thee two ways - Set off from Babylon, and lay down two ways, either of which thou mayest take; that to the right, which leads to Jerusalem; or that to the left which leads to Rabbath of the Ammonites, Ezekiel 21:20. But why against the Ammonites? Because both they and the Moabites were united with Zedekiah against the Chaldeans, (see Jeremiah 27:3), though they afterwards fought against Judea, Ezekiel 12:6.
20Appoint a way, that the sword may come to Rabbath of the Ammonites, and to Judah in Jerusalem the defenced.
21For 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.
For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way - He was in doubt which way he should first take; whether to humble the Ammonites by taking their metropolis, Riblath, or go at once against Jerusalem. In this case of uncertainty, he made use of divination. And this was of three kinds: 1. By arrows. 2. By images or talismans. 3. By inspecting the entrails of a sacrifice offered on the occasion.
1. He made bright his arrows. This might be after the manner in which the divination is still practiced among the Arabs. These arrows were without head or wing. They took three. On one they wrote, Command me, Lord. On the second, Forbid me, Lord. The third was blank. These were put in a bag, and the querist put in his hand and took one out. If it was Command me, he set about the business immediately; if it was Forbid me, he rested for a whole year; if it was the blank one, he drew again. On all occasions the Arabs consulted futurity by such arrows. See D'Herbelot, under the word Acdah.
2. As to the images, the Hebrew calls them תרפים teraphim. See the note on Genesis 31:19 (note).
3. And as to the liver, I believe it was only inspected to see whether the animal offered in sacrifice were sound and healthy, of which the state of the liver is the most especial indication. When the liver is sound, the animal is healthy; and it would have been a bad omen to any who offered sacrifice, to find that the animal they had offered to their gods was diseased; as, in that case, they would have taken for granted that the sacrifice was not accepted.
22At 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 the divination for Jerusalem - He had probably written on two arrows; one, Jerusalem; the other, Riblath; the third, left blank. He drew, and that on which Jerusalem was written came to his hand; in consequence of which he marched immediately against that city. It was ripe for destruction; and had he marched before or after, it would have fallen; but he never considered himself as sure of the conquest till now.
23And 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.
To them that have sworn oaths - To Zedekiah and his ministers, who had bound themselves by the oath of the Lord to be faithful to the Chaldeans, and to pay them the promised tribute. The oaths may refer, farther, to the alliances formed with the Egyptians, Ammonites, and others. They will not believe that Nebuchadnezzar shall succeed against them, while they expect the powerful assistance of the Egyptians.
24Therefore 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.
25And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end,
And thou profane wicked prince of Israel - Zedekiah, called here profane, because he had broken his oath; and wicked, because of his opposition to God and his prophet.
Whose day is come - Who in a short time shalt be delivered into the hands of thy enemies.
26Thus 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.
Exalt him that is low - Give Gedaliah the government of Judea.
Abase him that is high - Depose Zedekiah - remove his diadem, and take off his crown.
27I 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 overturn - I will utterly destroy the Jewish government. Perverted will I make it. Heb. perverted, perverted, perverted I will make it.
Until he come whose - is - משפט mishpat, the judgment; i.e., till the coming of the son of David, the Lord Jesus; who, in a mystic and spiritual sense, shall have the throne of Israel, and whose right it is. See the famous prophecy, Genesis 49:10, and Luke 1:32. The עוה avah, which we translate overturn, is thrice repeated here; to point out, say the rabbins, the three conquests of Jerusalem, in which Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah were overthrown.
28And 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:
Concerning the Ammonites - They had reproached and insulted Judea in its low estate, see Ezekiel 25. This prophecy against them was fulfilled about five years after the taking of Jerusalem. See Joseph. Ant. lib. 10 c. 11; and Jeremiah 27, 48, 49; Ezekiel 25.
29Whiles 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.
30Shall 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.
I will judge thee - This seems to refer to Nebuchadnezzar, who, after his return from Jerusalem, became insane, and lived like a beast for seven years; but was afterwards restored, and acknowledged the Lord.
31And 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.
32Thou 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.
Thou shalt be no more remembered - The empire of the Chaldeans was destroyed, and the power transferred to the Persians; the Persian empire was destroyed, and given to the Greeks; the Grecian empire was destroyed, and given to the Mohammedans; and the destruction of the Mohammedans is at no great distance.