Ezekiel 5 – The Sword of God’s Judgment
A. Acting out the prophecy of the thirds.
1. (1-4) The prophecy of the thirds illustrated by cutting Ezekiel’s hair.
“And you, son of man, take a sharp sword, take it as a barber’s razor, and pass it over your head and your beard; then take scales to weigh and divide the hair. You shall burn with fire one-third in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are finished; then you shall take one-third and strike around it with the sword, and one-third you shall scatter in the wind: I will draw out a sword after them. You shall also take a small number of them and bind them in the edge of your garment. Then take some of them again and throw them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire. From there a fire will go out into all the house of Israel.
a. Take a sharp sword, take it as a barber’s razor: In Ezekiel 4, God gave the prophet three prophetic demonstrations of coming judgment. Ezekiel 5 begins with a fourth, using a sharp sword as a barber’s razor to cut Ezekiel’s head and beard.
i. “It takes little imagination to see Ezekiel in action. First, whetting the sword-blade to a sharp cutting-edge while the crowd gathered to see what new act was going to be performed. Then the horrified gasp from the bystanders as he went to work with his crude razor, followed by the meticulous weighing of the hair in the balances.” (Taylor)
ii. A sword isn’t usually used to cut hair – swords are used in battle. Because this acted-out prophecy concerned the judgment the army of Nebuchadnezzar would bring upon Jerusalem, a sword was appropriate.
iii. Sword: “Although the word was used for various kinds of cutting instruments, in Ezekiel it always refers to a military weapon, which, with one possible exception, is the sword.” (Block)
iv. “Cutting off the hair was a sign of mourning; see on Jeremiah 45:5; 48:37; and also a sign of great disgrace; see 2 Samuel 10:4. 5.” (Clarke)
v. “Such shaving was forbidden to a priest like Ezekiel and ordinarily meant the loss of priestly status and position. The hair of the priest was a mark of his consecration to God’s service (see Lev. 21:5; 19:27).” (Feinberg)
b. Take scales to weigh and divide the hair: God wanted Ezekiel to divide the hair into thirds, using a scale to divide it accurately.
i. “The balances showed that the judgment was a discriminating one. God’s justice is accurate (Jer. 15:2).” (Feinberg)
ii. “This showeth that God’s judgments are just to a hair’s weight.” (Trapp)
c. Burn with fire one-third in the midst of the city: Using the divided groups of hair, God told Ezekiel to act out another prophecy. This message powerfully contradicted the false promises of deliverance spoken by false prophets.
· One third was burned in the midst of the city of Jerusalem.
· One third was struck with the sword.
· One third was scattered in the wind.
i. Several commentators (such as Smith and Alexander) believe the midst of the city was actually the clay tablet Ezekiel made with the drawing of Jerusalem on it (Ezekiel 4:1).
d. Also take a small number of them and bind them in the edge of your garment: Ezekiel was also to attach a few hairs to the hem of his clothing, and burn a few more in a fire. This spoke of the small remnant left behind and the suffering they would face.
i. “The few hairs which he was to take in his skirts, Ezekiel 5:3, was intended to represent those few Jews that should be left in the land under Gedaliah, after the taking of the city. 6. The throwing a part of these last into the fire, Ezekiel 5:4, was intended to show the miseries that these suffered.” (Clarke)
2. (5-10) The promise of severe judgment against Jerusalem.
“Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the midst of the nations and the countries all around her. She has rebelled against My judgments by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against My statutes more than the countries that are all around her; for they have refused My judgments, and they have not walked in My statutes.’ Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because you have multiplied disobedience more than the nations that are all around you, have not walked in My statutes nor kept My judgments, nor even done according to the judgments of the nations that are all around you’— therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Indeed I, even I, am against you and will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. And I will do among you what I have never done, and the like of which I will never do again, because of all your abominations. Therefore fathers shall eat their sons in your midst, and sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments among you, and all of you who remain I will scatter to all the winds.
a. I have set her in the midst of the nations: This is true in many ways. In both a historical and redemptive sense, Israel has been at the center of God’s plan and work in the world. In some sense, it is also true geographically, as Israel stands at the meeting point of continents and empires.
i. “As far as His eternal purposes were concerned, Jerusalem was His city and the center of the nations (38:12). ‘Salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22). Israel was a privileged people, but privilege involves responsibility and accountability.” (Wiersbe)
ii. “Jerusalem, the chosen city, was the spiritual centre of the earth and, indeed, of the universe, since Jesus Christ died there (Colossians 1.20).” (Wright)
b. She has rebelled against My judgments by doing wickedness more than the nations: Speaking of His holy city, God said “This is Jerusalem.” Jerusalem should have honored and submitted to Him, but was more rebellious and wicked than the pagan nations.
i. To these exiles, it would have felt that the city of Babylon was a more appropriate target of God’s judgment. Nevertheless, God said: this is Jerusalem.
ii. “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.” (Block)
iii. “But instead of being a witness to the heathen nations about her, Israel excelled them in idolatrous practices. It has been denied that God’s people were actually worse than the pagans about them, but reckoning must be in proportion to spiritual knowledge and privileges enjoyed.” (Feinberg)
iv. “Let us not count on the privilege of relationship as a safeguard against reprobation, if we fail to fulfill the responsibilities of that relationship. That is what Israel did, and for the doing of which the judgments of God overtook her.” (Morgan)
c. I, am against you and will execute judgments in your midst: Because of their great sin, God promised to personally bring judgment against them. Even though it would come largely through the instrument of the Babylonian army, it was God’s judgment upon them.
i. Indeed I, even I, am against you: What a terrible declaration! This phrase “may originally have constituted the cry by which one person would challenge another in man-to-man combat.” (Block)
d. I will do among you what I have never done: Never before had God brought such a severe judgment upon His people as He did in the fall and conquest of Jerusalem under the Babylonians. One may say that since then such judgments have equaled or surpassed (as in the fall of Jerusalem under the Romans), but not before then.
i. “It is an awful thing when those who have sinned against conspicuous privilege and opportunity come under the rod. Their punishment is infinitely heavier than that of such as have never known.” (Meyer)
ii. “Though the old world perished by water, and the judgment was greater in its extent, and Sodom was destroyed by fire, yet neither one or other was so lingering a death. These poor Jews were long dying, and felt themselves dying.” (Poole)
iii. “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.” (Feinberg)
e. Therefore fathers shall eat their sons: God promised to do a terrible and unique work of judgment. Those remaining in Jerusalem would be reduced to the most terrible suffering (such as cannibalism); those who survived God would scatter to all the winds.
i. Shall eat their sons: “Though we have not this fact so particularly stated in history, yet we cannot doubt of it, considering the extremities to which they were reduced during the siege. The same is referred to by Jeremiah, Lamentations 4:10. Even the women, who were remarkable for kindness and humanity, boiled their own children, and ate them during the siege.” (Clarke)
ii. Leviticus 26:29 and Deuteronomy 28:53-57 warned Israel of such horrific judgments if they persistently rejected and rebelled against God’s covenant with them. “He would execute the judgments pronounced in the Mosaic covenant on Jerusalem in the sight of the nations.” (Alexander)
B. The application of the prophecy of the thirds.
1. (11-12) Judgment on Jerusalem by thirds.
‘Therefore, as I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘surely, because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations, therefore I will also diminish you; My eye will not spare, nor will I have any pity. One-third of you shall die of the pestilence, and be consumed with famine in your midst; and one-third shall fall by the sword all around you; and I will scatter another third to all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them.
a. Therefore, as I live: This was an appropriate declaration, contrasting Yahweh, the living God, with the idols of surrounding nations.
b. Because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable things: Earlier God said that Israel sinned against Him worse than the pagan nations (Ezekiel 5:6). Here is one significant example of this. The pagans did not have God’s sanctuary in their midst; yet when Israel did, they defiled it with detestable things and abominations.
c. Therefore I will also diminish you: They defiled God’s sanctuary; He would diminish them. He promised to do it in the proportion of thirds suggested by Ezekiel’s prophetic demonstration with the sword-cut hair (Ezekiel 5:2).
· One third shall die of the pestilence and famine.
· One third shall be killed by the sword all around.
· One third shall be scattered to all the winds, with a sword following them.
2. (13-14) The spending out of God’s anger.
‘Thus shall My anger be spent, and I will cause My fury to rest upon them, and I will be avenged; and they shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it in My zeal, when I have spent My fury upon them. Moreover I will make you a waste and a reproach among the nations that are all around you, in the sight of all who pass by.
a. Thus shall My anger be spent: The idea is that God’s fury had built up a long time against His wicked and rebellious people. When the time was right, in the near future, it would be spent and it would rest upon them.
i. “Above all, this highly anthropopathic passage features the ‘fury’ and the ‘jealousy’ of God (v. 13). ‘Jealousy makes a man furious,’ wrote the sage, ‘and he will not spare when he takes revenge’ (Prov. 6:34). So the text depicts Yahweh, in one of the most somber of all the prophetic rejections of Israel.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
ii. In my zeal: “The Hebrew word gina suggests ‘ardour’, ‘passionate feeling’ (the root meaning is ‘to grow purple in the face’), and therefore covers both zeal and jealousy, as well as resentment and indignation at an insult done to the honour of oneself or of another.” (Taylor)
iii. Adam Clarke, writing around 1800, had an interesting comment on the phrase, I will cause My fury to rest upon them: “My displeasure, and the evidences of it, shall not be transient; they shall be permanent upon you, and among you. And is not this dreadfully true to the present day?” That was an accurate observation of the Jewish people of his time; yet one cannot deny the remarkable work of restoration that has brought the Jewish people to prosperity and prominence.
b. They shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it: When it came to pass, it would witness to Israel as a vindication of the repeated announcements and warnings of judgment. It would witness to the surrounding nations as a demonstration of God’s righteousness (I will make you a waste and a reproach among the nations).
3. (15-17) The great destruction of God’s judgment.
‘So it shall be a reproach, a taunt, a lesson, and an astonishment to the nations that are all around you, when I execute judgments among you in anger and in fury and in furious rebukes. I, the LORD, have spoken. When I send against them the terrible arrows of famine which shall be for destruction, which I will send to destroy you, I will increase the famine upon you and cut off your supply of bread. So I will send against you famine and wild beasts, and they will bereave you. Pestilence and blood shall pass through you, and I will bring the sword against you. I, the LORD, have spoken.’”
a. So it shall be a reproach, a taunt, a lesson, and an astonishment to the nations: God would accomplish His purpose of teaching the nations through Israel. If they had obeyed the covenant He would have taught them through the blessings given (as in the days of Solomon). For the covenant breakers, God would teach the nations through His judgment upon His people.
i. Terrible arrows: “Famine and pestilence are represented as poisoned arrows, inflicting death wherever they wound.” (Clarke) “Not to warn you, as Jonathan’s arrows did David, but to wound you to the heart, and to lay you heaps upon heaps.” (Trapp)
b. So I will send against you famine and wild beasts… pestilence and blood: The judgment would come as promised, and would come in many different ways.
i. “Heb. evil beast: either the king of Babylon, which, like a ravenous and insatiable beast, tore and devoured all. Or, literally, lions, bears, &c., which are one of his four sore judgments, Ezekiel 14:21.” (Poole)
ii. “In 593 B.C. Ezekiel pronounced this word of judgment; in 586 his prophetic status was confirmed.” (Block)
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