For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

21:1.  “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,”


21:2.  “Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel,”


The prophet was to speak to the people of Jerusalem, but since that city was the capital, the message delivered there was to the whole land, being addressed first to “the holy places,” i.e., to or against the Temple and then to the whole land of Israel.


21:3.  “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.”


No more terrible word can be spoken than for God to say of a man or a nation, “I am against thee,” for that man or nation is thus doomed.  In the present instance God’s sword was to be Babylon.


Relative to the cutting off of the righteous as well as the wicked, it is to be noted that very frequently God’s judgments against the wicked affect also the righteous, but there is a very great difference between the results.  The very same judgment that punishes the wicked, tests, and almost invariably strengthens, the faith of the believer; and even if the judgment includes also the physical death of the believer, it simply transports him from the misery of earth into the presence of the Lord, “which is far better,” Php 1:23.  And again concerning the death of the righteous, we read, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” Ps 116:15.


21:4.  “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:”


The destruction would begin in the south, i.e., in Judah, and would embrace the whole land.


21:5.  “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 destruction would be brought by the Babylonians whom God had chosen to be His sword.  Relative to the words, “it shall not return any more,” doesn’t mean that God’s wrath would never end, but rather that it wouldn’t cease until that wicked generation had been destroyed, a process that wouldn’t be complete until the end of the seventy-year Babylonian captivity.


21:6.  “Sigh, therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins; and with bitterness sigh before their eyes.”


“... breaking of thy loins” is literally “breaking of thy heart” which the ancients believed to be the seat of the intelligence and emotions.


“... to sigh” in the present context was to groan or mourn, the prophet’s expression of bitter sorrow being meant to lend weight to his words, and impress the people with the dreadful reality of the coming judgment.


21:7.  “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.”


When the people inquired why he mourned, Ezekiel was to inform them that it was because of the terrible coming judgments that would bring death and destruction to the whole land.


21:8.  “Again, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,”


21:9.  “Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the Lord; Say, A sword, a sword is sharpened and also furbished (polished):”


The word sword is used here synecdochically: it represents the military might of Babylon, its being sharpened and polished indicating the skillfulness with which the enemy soldiers would wield their weapons.


21:10.  “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.”


The sharp edge speaks of the terrible slaughter that would result from the Babylonian incursion; while the furbishing or polishing to make the sword glitter like lightning indicates the swiftness of the coming destruction. 


“... should we then make mirth?” is rhetorical, the truth being that tears would have been far more appropriate than the cavalier attitude of Israel in response to the prophet’s warning.


“... it contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree,” is enigmatical, and has been variously interpreted, e.g., you have despised the rod, my son, with everything of wood: ... to cut off the family of my son, and to reject every other branch: being prepared for destruction slay; set at nought; fell every tree: you have spurned the rod and every judgment: the club is brandished, my son, to defy all wooden idols


Since “it” is clearly the sword of Babylon, i.e., Babylon itself, the statement seems to mean that Babylon was contemptuous of the rod or power of Israel, as it was of every individual Israelite, “every tree” being the poetic description of those individuals.


21:11.  “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.”


This continues to emphasize that it was God Who was using Babylon as His sword to destroy rebel Israel.


21:12.  “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.”


The prophet is here commanded to bewail loudly the destruction that was about to overtake Israel, beginning with the princes or rulers, and extending down to the common man, beating one’s thigh being a common way of expressing extreme sorrow.


21:13.  “Because it is a trial, and what if the sword condemn even the rod? it shall be no more, saith the Lord God.”


The coming destruction of Israel by Babylon was in a sense a trial or test, the very fact that God permitted it, proving that Israel was guilty of very great wickedness.


“... what if the sword condemn even the rod? it shall be no more.”  While many explanations of this clause have been suggested, it seems better to understand it simply as saying, “Don’t consider it surprising when the sword which I (Jehovah) have placed in the hand of Babylon, destroys the rod (scepter) of Judah, i.e., destroys Judah, and ends the Davidic line of kings.”  It (Judah) would cease to exist.  This, however, has to be understood in context.  The tribes of Israel have continued to exist, even though since the Diaspora no Jew knows his tribal origin, so for all practical purposes neither Judah nor any other tribe exists; but God knows the tribal origin of every Jew living today, and following the rapture of the Church will reveal those origins, see Re 7:4-8.


21:14.  “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.”


Ezekiel is here commanded to prophesy, and clap his hands or clench his fists in approval of Babylon’s slaughter of guilty Israel, for God will cause the sword of the Babylonian to “be doubled the third time,” i.e., keep swinging until Israel’s great men who seek to hide in private rooms in their homes, and virtually all the common people, are slain.  “... the sword of the great men that are slain” is literally the sword of the Babylonian that will be used to slay the great men of Israel.


21:15.  “I have set the point of the sword against all their gates, that their heart may be faint, and their ruins be multiplied: ah! it is made bright, it is wrapped up for the slaughter.”


Israel’s wickedness, of which they refused to repent, had made God their enemy so that He was about to destroy them, using the Babylonians as His terrible swift sword.  Its being made bright speaks of the fact that it would be like destroying lightning; and its being “wrapped up for the slaughter” means that it had been sharpened and polished for the slaughter.


21:16.  “Go thee one way or other, either on the right hand, or on the left, whithersoever thy face is set.”


This is God’s instruction to His “sword,” i.e., to the Babylonians.  They were to do their deadly work right and left throughout the length and breadth of the land of Israel.


21:17.  “I will also smite mine hands together, and I will cause my fury to rest: I the Lord have said it.”


“... smite my hands together” is also translated clench my fists, and is indicative of the determination with which God will execute judgment against rebel Israel until His righteous wrath has been completely satisfied.


21:18.  “The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying”


21:19.  “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.”


Nebuchadnezzar would come forth out of Babylon, and he could come either against Jerusalem, or against Rabbah the capital of Ammon which had also rebelled against him, but Ezekiel was to choose a spot where he could place a sign directing the Babylonians to attack Jerusalem.  This is a poetic way of saying that Ezekiel was to prophesy Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem, the prophet’s placing a guidepost pointing to Jerusalem being the symbolic announcement of the fact that God would direct the Babylonians to attack Jerusalem first.


21:20.  “Appoint a way, that the sword may come to Rabbath of the Ammonites, and to Judah in Jerusalem the defenced.”


This is not saying that the Babylonians might attack either Rabbath or Jerusalem, but that at the point where the road divided the prophet was metaphorically to set up a signpost directing them to attack Jerusalem.  In other words, God would supernaturally direct them to assault Jerusalem.


21:21.  “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.”


Seeking guidance from his gods, Nebuchadnezzar employed such means as allowing a handful of arrows to fall, their position then indicating in some undisclosed manner, which city to attack first; or placing two arrows in a quiver, with a name on each arrow, the name on the one drawn out first, being the city to be attacked first.  His consulting with images means that he sought guidance from his gods; and hepatoscopy (examination of the liver of an animal) was another method by which, also in a manner not disclosed, the inquirer might discern the will of his gods.


21:22.  “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.”


God Who has control of all things used Nebuchadnezzar’s divination to direct him to attack Jerusalem first.  “... to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting” is simply another way of saying that the Babylonians would utter triumphant war cries as they began their siege of the doomed city.  “... to cast a mount, and to build a fort” meant that they would build a ramp against the city wall, and erect upon it a siege tower from which to shoot arrows, and hurl stones against the defenders.


21:23.  “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 foolish residents of Jerusalem would assure themselves that the divination which had impelled Nebuchadnezzar to attack them was false.


“... to them that have sworn oaths” is generally understood to refer to the fact that Israel had solemnly sworn, in the name of Jehovah, to be submissive to Babylon, their violation of that oath provoking God’s wrath because of the dishonor it brought upon His name.  He would ensure that Babylon would overcome the perjurers.


21:24.  “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 have come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand.”


Their continued brazen evil practices kept God constantly aware of their wickedness, with the result that He was now about to deliver them into the hand of the Babylonians.


21:25.  “And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end,”


The profane wicked prince was Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.  His day of judgment had come: his wickedness was to be brought to tragic end.


21:26.  “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.”


“... diadem” points to the royal dignity that pertained to the crown; but Zedekiah had failed miserably to exhibit such dignity, so the crown was about to be taken from his unworthy head.


“... this shall not be the same” was another way of saying that things would not continue as they had been: everything was about to undergo a radical change.  The exaltation of the low may have reference to the exaltation of the prophet Jeremiah whom Zedekiah had imprisoned.  Following Babylon’s conquest of Israel, Jeremiah was not only freed, but given preferential treatment by Gedaliah whom the Babylonians had appointed governor of the land, see Jer 40:2-6.  The “low,” however, may also refer to the poor of the land who were allowed to remain and manage it for Babylon.


The abasement of the high very clearly refers to Zedekiah’s ignominious end as recorded in 2 Ki 25:1-7.


21:27.  “I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it to him.”


“... overturn” is also translated “ruin.”  The normal order of Jewish life was be overturned: brought to an abrupt end, for  Zedekiah was the last king of Israel; nor will she have another until the Lord Jesus Christ returns in power and glory to end the Great Tribulation, and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.


21:28.  “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:”


The Ammonites were descended from Lot’s incestuously begotten younger son, and were therefore related to the Israelites, but in spite of that were their inveterate foes, hence this pronouncement of their doom.  “... their reproach” refers to their hatred of Israel, expressed not only in words, but also in warfare.  God, however, took note of their antagonism to Israel, and here assured them that He had prepared His sword for their destruction.


“... to consume because of the glittering” is a poetic way of saying that His sword would strike them with the speed of lightning until they were consumed.  Chapter 25:1-7 gives further details of their end. 


21:29.  “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.”


The Ammonite diviners had given them lying assurances that they were to attack Israel. Babylon’s attack against Israel meant that they, the Ammonites, would not therefore be attacked, but they were soon to learn otherwise, for in 25:1-7 it is recorded that God delivered them into the hands of nomadic invaders from the east.  Just because they hadn’t been destroyed by Babylon didn’t mean that God wouldn’t destroy them.  He simply used another agent, the eastern nomadic invaders.


21:30.  “Shall I cause it to return into his sheath?  I will judge thee in the place where thou was created, in the land of thy nativity.”


The question was rhetorical.  God would not sheath His sword until He had used it to destroy the Ammonites in their own land by  bringing into that land nomadic eastern invaders whom He used as His sword.


21:31.  “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 skillful to destroy.”


God’s fierce anger would kindle like fire upon the Ammonites as He delivered them into the hand of the eastern invaders whose ferocious character may be inferred from other translations of the word brutish: barbarous: forgers of destruction: savage: ravagers: beast-like.


21:32.  “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.”


They would be as fuel for the fire of His fierce anger; their blood would be shed in their own land by the eastern invaders whom God would bring against them.  They would be extirpated, and the very memory of them forgotten.

[Ezekiel 22]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough