MENU

Where the world comes to study the Bible

Ezekiel 21

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Parable of the Sword of the Lord Babylon, the Sword of God Oracles of the Sword The Lord's Sword The Sword of Yahweh
21:1-7 21:1-7 21:1-7 21:1-5 [MT 21:6-10]]
      21:6-7 [MT 21:11-12]
21:8-13 21:8-13 21:8-17 21:8-13 [MT 21:13-22]
  (9a-11) (9a-12)    
  (12)      
  (13) (13)    
21:14-17 21:14-17   21:14-17  
  (14-15) (14-17)    
  (16)      
The Instrument of God's Judgment (17)   The Sword of the King of Babylon The King of Babylon At the Crossroads
21:18-23 21:18-23 21:18-23 21:18-24 [21:23-32]
21:24-27 21:24-27 21:24-27    
    (25-27) 21:25-27  
  (26-27)   A Sword and the Ammonites The Punishment of Ammon
21:28-32 21:28-32 21:28-32 21:28-29 [21:33-37]
  (28b-29) (28b-32)    
  (30-32)   21:30-32  

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:21:1-7
 1And the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2"Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem, and speak against the sanctuaries and prophesy against the land of Israel; 3and say to the land of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord, "Behold, I am against you; and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off from you the righteous and the wicked. 4Because I will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked, therefore My sword will go forth from its sheath against all flesh from south to north. 5Thus all flesh will know that I, the Lord, have drawn My sword out of its sheath. It will not return to its sheath again."' 6As for you, son of man, groan with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan in their sight. 7And when they say to you, 'Why do you groan?' you shall say, 'Because of the news that is coming; and every heart will melt, all hands will be feeble, every spirit will faint and all knees will be weak as water. Behold, it comes and it will happen,' declares the Lord God."

21:1 The context starts in 20:45, which marks off a new vision (the MT starts chapter 21 here) by the characteristic phrase "the word of the Lord came to me saying" (cf. 3:16; 6:1; 7:1; 11:14; 12:1,8,17, 21,26; 13:1; 14:2,12; 15:1; 16:1; 17:1,11; 18:1; 20:2,45; 21:1,8,18; 22:1,17,23; 23:1; 24:1,15,20; 25:1; 26:1; 27:1; 28:1,7; 30:1,20; 31:1; 32:1,17; 33:1,23; 34:1; 35:1; 36:16; 38:1). Remember that the original manuscripts had no chapters, paragraphs, or verse divisions in the ancient Hebrew scrolls. This repeated phrase helped scroll readers find the place to begin reading. It also helped to show (1) new contexts and (2) related contexts.

▣ "saying" This verb (BDB 55, KB 65) occurs twenty-two times in this chapter. YHWH wants His wayward people to hear Him clearly!

21:2 "Son of man" See note at 2:1.

▣ "set your face toward Jerusalem" See note at 20:41.

Notice the negative parallelism.

1. Set your face toward (BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal imperative)

2. Speak against (lit. "preach," BDB 642, KB 694, Hiphil imperative)

3. Prophesy against (BDB 612, KB 659, Niphal imperative)

This exactly matches 20:46. YHWH's judgment against His own disobedient people is described by the personification of His sharp (BDB 292) and polished (BDB 598) sword.

His sword will strike

1. the capital with its political leaders

2. the mountain/hilltop sanctuaries of Ba'al and Asherah

3. the entire Promised Land

 

21:3 "sword" This is one of the most graphic chapters in all of the Bible on the judgment of God. YHWH's sword (BDB 352, cf. vv. 3,4,5,9,12,14,15,19) is personified and God's attitude of judgment is heightened. In 20:49 (MT 21:5) the leadership in exile said, "Don't speak to us in parables anymore," so Ezekiel graphically described the judgment of God on Jerusalem and Judah (cf. Jer. 12:12).

21:3-4 "cut off from you the righteous and the wicked" In 20:47 the same groups are described as green and dry trees. The Septuagint changes the term "righteous" to the term "unrighteous" because they think this verse violates the truth presented in 14:20; 18:lff; 33:lff (see Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 315-316). Isaiah 57:1-2 struggles with this issue and gives an after-life answer.

21:5 "Thus all flesh will know that I, the Lord" This "all flesh" (cf. 20:48; 21:4,5) emphasis can be seen in two aspects.

1. all humans, Num. 16:22; 27:16; Ezek. 20:48 (i.e., Gen. 1:26-27)

2. Israel, Ezek. 21:4,5; Jer. 12:12

YHWH cares about His namesake among the nations (cf. 36:22-38). Israel was YHWH's instrument to reach the nations (e.g., Isaiah, Jonah, Micah).

▣ "It will not return to its sheath again" This is an idiom for YHWH's judgment that cannot be stopped (cf. Jer. 23:20). It seems to contrast v. 30. This is literary hyperbole. Judgment was sure (cf. v. 7)! Those left in Jerusalem did not believe judgment was truly coming, not to Jerusalem, not to the temple, not to them! They misunderstood YHWH's longsuffering, patient endurance.

21:6 "groan with breaking heart" This verb (BDB 58, KB 70) is used twice.

1. Niphal imperative (command)

2. Niphal imperfect (continuing action)

This verb denotes a deep distress caused by physical or emotional pain (i.e., Lam. 1:8,22). In Ezek. 9:4 it is used to describe the guilt feelings connected to true repentance (note Jer. 13:17).

"Heart" is literally "loins" (BDB 608). This was the seat of strength (i.e. the largest muscle in the body is the thigh). It is a Hebrew idiom (cf. v. 12; Job 40:16; Ps. 66:11; Isa. 21:3; Nahum 2:10). Verse 6 describes another symbolic drama dictated by YHWH for the purpose of reaching exiled Judah.

21:7 Note the reason for groaning was the arrival of YHWH's sword.

1. every hand will be feeble, Isa. 13:7

2. all hands will be feeble, Isa. 13:7

3. every spirit will faint

4. all knees will be weak as water

This description of utter fear and desperation is used to describe YHWH's judgment on the pagan nations.

1. Canaan, Josh. 2:11; 5:1

2. Babylon, Isa. 13:7; Jer. 50:43

3. Egypt, Isa. 19:1

4. Assyria, Nah. 2:10

5. Syria, Jer. 49:24

6. on the wicked, Ezek. 7:17

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:21:8-13
 8Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 9"Son of man, prophesy and say, 'Thus says the Lord.' Say,
 'A sword, a sword sharpened
 And also polished!
 10Sharpened to make a slaughter,
 Polished to flash like lightning!'
Or shall we rejoice, the rod of My son despising every tree? 11It is given to be polished, that it may be handled; the sword is sharpened and polished, to give it into the hand of the slayer. 12Cry out and wail, son of man; for it is against My people, it is against all the officials of Israel. They are delivered over to the sword with My people, therefore strike your thigh. 13For there is a testing; and what if even the rod which despises will be no more?" declares the Lord God.

21:9 The urgency of the message is stressed, as it was in 21:2. This verse has

1. two imperatives

a. "prophesy," BDB 612, KB 659, Niphal imperative

b. "say," BDB 55, KB 65, Qal imperative

2. "say" repeated several times

a. "saying," Qal infinitive construct, v. 8

b. "say," Qal perfect, v. 9

c. "say," Qal perfect, v. 9

d. "say," Qal imperative, v. 9

 

21:10 It is often hard to tell the difference between "elevated prose" and poetry.

1. NASB has vv. 9b-10a as poetry

2. NKJV has vv. 9b-11,12,13,14-15,16,17,26-27,28b-29,30-32 as poetry

3. NRSV has vv. 9b-12,14-17,25-27,28b-32 as poetry 

4. TEV has vv. 9b-13,28b as poetry

 

▣ "polished to flash like lightening" This is a Hebrew idiom of both speed and turning many directions (i.e., Nah. 2:3-4).

NASB"Or shall we rejoice, the rod of My son despising every tree"
NKJV"It despises the scepter of My son, as it does all wood"
NRSV"How can we make merry? You have despised the rod, and all discipline"
TEV"There can be no rejoicing, for my people have disregarded every warning and punishment"
LXX"ready for slaughter, slay, set at naught, despise every tree"
Peshitta"and it is sharpened to cut off the family of my son; and to reject every other branch"
REB"(Look, the rod is brandished, my son, to defy all wooden idols)"
JPSOA"How can we rejoice? My son, it scorns the rod and every stick"

Obviously the Hebrew text is in disarray (note the differences in the translations, ancient and modern).

1. The mentioning of the word "rod" (BDB 986) in vv. 10,13 seems to be related in context to the word "Shiloh" mentioned in v. 27, which is an allusion to Gen. 49:10.

2. These verses are related in the people's concept that the ancient promises of God for a special leader (i.e., "My son"), presented in Gen. 49:10 (cf. Targums, cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 1267-8), would be fulfilled instead of judgment.

3. The phrase "every tree" somehow refers to the total judgment of 20:47.

4. In context it seems best to see the object of the feminine verb "despise," vv. 10,13, to refer to "the sword" of YHWH. The Jerusalemites disregarded the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel's messages of judgment, but in reality the continuous Davidic line of kings from David (cf. II Samuel 7) would be stopped. Zedekiah would be the last. However, one would come in the future (cf. vv. 26b; 27b).

God states that nothing at this point could stop His judgment from falling on Jerusalem, who had despised His prophetic messages.

21:11 "the slayer" This term (BDB 246, KB 255, Qal participle) denotes the invading mercenary army of Babylon. It is used of the judgment on Tyre in 28:9. It is also used in Jeremiah's description of Judah's destruction (i.e., 4:27-31, esp. v. 31e).

21:12 Three imperatives related to mourning are mentioned in this verse.

1. "Cry out," BDB 277, KB 277, Qal imperative, cf. 9:8; 11:13; 27:30; Isa. 14:31; Jer. 25:34; 48:20

2. "Wail" or "howl," BDB 410, KB 413, Hiphil imperative, cf. 30:2; Isa. 14:31; 49:3; Jer. 25:34; 47:2; 48:20,21; Hosea 7:14; Zech. 11:2

3. "Strike," BDB 706, KB 765, Qal imperative, cf. Jer. 31:19

The theme of total slaughter continues as "against My people" is paralleled with "against the officials of Israel" (cf. 21:25; 22:6).

▣ "strike your thigh" The thigh (BDB 437) was the largest muscle in the body. To strike one's thigh was a metaphor for (1) incapacitation and (2) pain (cf. Jer. 31:19).

21:13

NASB"For there is a testing; and what if even the rod which despises will be no more"
NKJV"Because it is a testing and what if the sword despises even the scepter"
NRSV"For consider: What! If you despise the rod, will it not happen"
TEV"I am testing my people, and if they refuse to repent, all these things will happen to them"
NJB"for this will be an ordeal"
LXX"and what if even the tribe be rejected"
JPSOA"Consider: How shall it fail to happen, seeing that it even scorns the rod"

This may refer to the life and exile of King Zedekiah. He despised YHWH's leadership, now he is rejected as leader. But one of David's line will be king again in the future (vv. 26b, 27b; II Samuel 7). This may parallel v. 10.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:21:14-17
 14"You therefore, son of man, prophesy and clap your hands together; and let the sword be doubled the third time, the sword for the slain. It is the sword for the great one slain, which surrounds them, 15that their hearts may melt, and many fall at all their gates. I have given the glittering sword. Ah! It is made for striking like lightning, it is wrapped up in readiness for slaughter. 16Show yourself sharp, go to the right; set yourself; go to the left, wherever your edge is appointed. 17I will also clap My hands together, and I will appease My wrath; I, the Lord, have spoken."

21:14 This verse also has several commands from YHWH to Ezekiel.

1. prophesy, BDB 612, KB 659, Niphal imperative

2. "clap your hands," BDB 645, KB 697, Hiphil imperative

3. "let the sword be doubled," BDB 495, KB 493, Niphal imperfect used in a jussive sense. Doubled is metaphorical for a complete and total destruction.

 

▣ "clap your hands together" This physical gesture of clapping the hands denotes several different emotions.

1. affirmation, II Kgs. 11:12

2. anger, Num. 24:10; Ezek. 21:14

3. contempt/mockery, Job 27:23; 34:37 (possibly 36:18); Lam. 2:15; Ezek. 6:11; 25:3,6

4. pledge/oath, Pro. 11:21; Ezek. 21:17

5. joy, Ps. 47:1; 98:8; Isa. 55:12

If you look these up you will see there is some overlap in these categories and the exact emotion meant is often uncertain.

NASB"surrounds them"
NKJV"enters their private chambers"
NJB"threatening them from every side"

This verb (BDB 293, KB 293, Qal participle) occurs only here in the OT. Its basic meaning in the cognate languages is (1) encompass or (2) room, chamber. In Serah 51:19 it means "to enter" (i.e., "a penetrating sword," cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 28).

21:15 This is the fulfillment of v. 7. See note there.

▣ "many fall at all their gates" The gates would be the key defensive positions. Resistance was futile!

21:16 This is another personification of YHWH's sword. It is addressed in several imperatives.

1. "Show yourself sharp," RSV, NEB, REB, BDB 292 (emendation), Hithpael imperative (i.e., Targums) or "gather yourself, ASV, NASB margin, root אחד unknown

2. "Go to the right," BDB 412, KB 415, Hiphil imperative

3. "Set yourself," BDB 962, KB 1321, Hiphil imperative

4. "Go to the left," BDB 970, KB 1332, Hiphil imperative

 

21:17 YHWH brings the deserved judgment and He also stops it at His discretion (cf. 5:13; 16:42; 24:13)! Judah's fall and exile are not the result of the power of the invading army (cf. vv. 19-27).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:21:18-23
 18The word of the Lord came to me saying, 19"As for you, son of man, make two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to come; both of them will go out of one land. And make a signpost; make it at the head of the way to the city. 20You shall mark a way for the sword to come to Rabbah of the sons of Ammon, and to Judah into fortified Jerusalem. 21For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination; he shakes the arrows, he consults the household idols, he looks at the liver. 22Into his right hand came the divination, 'Jerusalem,' to set battering rams, to open the mouth for slaughter, to lift up the voice with a battle cry, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up ramps, to build a siege wall. 23And it will be to them like a false divination in their eyes; they have sworn solemn oaths. But he brings iniquity to remembrance, that they may be seized.

21:19-20 This is another acted-out parable at YHWH's command (BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal imperative). Apparently Ezekiel drew a map ("mark," "make," "appoint," BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal imperative) in the ground. At the fork in the road, one sign ("cut down," "cut out," "inscribe," "prepare a wooden sign" [BDB 388], BDB 135, KB 153, Piel infinitive absolute, twice; in other tenses this is the term for YHWH creating in Genesis 1) pointed to Riblah, the capital of Ammon, and the other fork pointed to Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. Ammon had also rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar II (cf. Jer. 27:1-3). Both of these capitals deserved and received judgment, Jerusalem first (v. 22)!

21:21 This verse describes three Babylonian means of knowing the will of the gods by divination.

1. putting the names on arrows and drawing one out (or spinning the quiver until one fell out) of the quiver or throwing arrows on the ground and analyzing their patterns

2. consulting the household idols or ancestral spirits by prayer and incense (i.e., teraphim, cf. Gen. 31:19ff)

3. examining a sheep's liver for signs (i.e., color, shape, deformities)

God is asserting that even by means of pagan divination He will bring judgment on Jerusalem. God used this divination for His own purposes. He uses even evil to accomplish His purposes (i.e., the witch of Endor, I Samuel 28 and Balaam, Numbers 22-24)!

21:22 This verse has a series of infinitive constructs that describes the Babylonian commander's (possibly Nebuchadnezzar himself) orders (fulfills 4:2)

1. to set battering rams

2. to open the mouth for slaughter (possibly, "war cry," which would form a four-part chiasm with #1,2,3,4)

3. to lift up the voice with a battle cry

4. to set battering rams against the gates

5. to cast up mounds

6. to build a siege wall

For a good brief discussion of siege techniques see Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 1, pp. 236-240.

21:23 This describes the reaction of the people of Jerusalem (cf. TEV). They think they are safe because of their political alliances (i.e., with Babylon or, more probably, Egypt).

The "he" can refer to

1. Ezekiel speaking for YHWH

2. YHWH Himself

Jerusalem is being judged because of her continuing covenant disobedience. Their God is now fighting against them!

▣ "they have sworn solemn oaths" The Septuagint omits this phrase altogether. However, it may refer to a political alliance (cf. 17:13; II Chr. 36:13).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:21:24-27
 24"Therefore, thus says the Lord God, 'Because you have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your deeds your sins appear —because you have come to remembrance, you will be seized with the hand. 25And you, O slain, wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day has come, in the time of the punishment of the end,' 26thus says the Lord God, 'Remove the turban and take off the crown; this will no longer be the same. Exalt that which is low and abase that which is high. 27A ruin, a ruin, a ruin, I will make it. This also will be no more until He comes whose right it is, and I will give it to Him.'"

21:24 YHWH states that Judah's

1. iniquity (BDB 730) will be remembered (BDB 269, KB 269, HIphil infinitive construct)

2. transgressions (BDB 833) will be uncovered (BDB 162, KB 191, Niphal infinitive construct)

3. sins (BDB 305) will appear (BDB 906, KB 1157, Niphal infinitive construct)

4. people have come to remembrance (BDB 269, KB 269, Niphal infinitive construct)

5. people will be sieged (BDB 1074, KB 1779, Niphal imperfect)

The three words used to describe rebellion against YHWH (i.e., iniquity, transgressions, and sins) appear together in several texts (cf. Exod. 34:7; Lev. 16:21; Job 13:23; Ps. 32:5; Isa. 59:12; Dan. 9:24). They form a summary triad.

21:25-26 Notice the different ways of referring to Zedekiah (Babylon's puppet king of Josiah's line).

1. O slain (NKJV, "O profane")

2. wicked one

3. prince of Israel

Notice what will happen to him when his day (i.e., in the time of the iniquity of the end) has come.

1. remove the turban - BDB 693, KB 747, Hiphil imperative

2. take off the crown - BDB 926, KB 1202, Hiphil imperative (Here "turban" and "crown" are parallel. This is surprising because in every other place the turban is for a priest. In many texts the office of king and High Priest are co-leaders [cf. Psalm 110; Zechariah 3, 4; 6:12-13; Heb. 4:14-5:10; 6:13-7:28]).

The Old Testament Parsing Guide by Beall, Banks, and Smith calls both #1 and #2 Hiphil infinitive constructs from uncertain roots.

21:26b, 27b These two concluding remarks seem Messianic (cf. E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament, pp. 683-687). In context 21:26b refers to Babylon, but when 21:27b is brought in it appears to refer to Gen. 49:10 (i.e., Shiloh, see Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 107-108). These two taken together would describe Jesus as a humble one (cf. Zech. 9:9) and of the line of David (cf. 34:23-24; 37:24,25; Jer. 30:9; Hosea 3:5).

It is surely possible that this refers to Nebuchadnezzar as YHWH's instrument of judgment, as Cyrus is later YHWH's instrument of release from exile and then restoration (cf. Isa. 44:28-45:1). As a Christian I must be careful of my biases which desire to read the full New Testament revelation back into the Old Covenant in too many places (e.g., Christ in the tabernacle). He is surely in the OT, but not on every page. Here (1) the royal line is the issue and a prediction of a future restoration is possible and also (2) the repeated use of the phrase "whose day has come in the time of the punishment of the end" in vv. 25 and 29 implies an eschatological setting.

21:27 "A ruin, a ruin, a ruin" A threefold repetition is a Hebrew idiom expressing the superlative degree (cf. Isa. 6:3; Jer. 7:4). It possibly links to v. 14. The interpretive issue is to whom or what does the feminine form refer?

1. the sword of the Lord

2. the turban, crown, symbol of Davidic reign

Does this verse refer to Nebuchadnezzar or to a future Davidic king? One must not be dogmatic here. The text and context are not determinative.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:21:28-32
 28"And you, son of man, prophesy and say, 'Thus says the Lord God concerning the sons of Ammon and concerning their reproach,' and say: 'A sword, a sword is drawn, polished for the slaughter, to cause it to consume, that it may be like lightning—29while they see for you false visions, while they divine lies for you—to place you on the necks of the wicked who are slain, whose day has come, in the time of the punishment of the end. 30Return it to its sheath. In the place where you were created, in the land of your origin, I will judge you. 31I will pour out My indignation on you; I will blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and I will give you into the hand of brutal men, skilled in destruction. 32You will be fuel for the fire; your blood will be in the midst of the land. You will not be remembered, for I, the Lord, have spoken.'"

21:28-32 This prophecy ("prophesy," BDB 612, KB 659, Niphal imperative) is against the land of Ammon (cf. v. 20). It is for one of two possible reasons: (1) it possibly relates to Ammon taking advantage, possibly even some participation in the fall, of Judah (as Edom did in chapter 35) or (2) God's sure justice on the iniquity of Ammon.

The flow of thought could be outlined as follows:

1. Ammon, mentioned in v. 20, will also be destroyed, v. 28 (cf. 25:1-7).

2. This is happening because

a. of their reproach (cf. 36:15; Zeph. 2:8-10)

b. of their false prophets' messages from their divinations, v. 29 (i.e., v. 30a)

c. they are wicked murderers, v. 29

d. their time has come, v. 29

3. How YHWH will judge (v. 30) is specified in vv. 31-32.

a. I shall pour out My indignation on you, v. 31

b. I shall blow on you with the fire of My wrath, v. 31

c. I shall give you into the hand of brutal men, skilled in destruction, v. 31

d. you will be fuel for the fire, v. 32

e. your blood will be in the midst of the land, v. 32

f. you will not be remembered, v. 32

Another possible way to interpret these last three verses is to see them as referring to Babylon (i.e., YHWH's sword), not Ammon (see Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 6, p. 1086). This would make sense of v. 30a, "return it to its sheath." Babylon's judgment was in the future. YHWH used her to judge His people (and other surrounding nations), but in return they were responsible for their own sin. Cyrus would be YHWH's sword to destroy them (cf. Isa. 44:28-45:1).