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2. Judgment of Judah’s contemporary leaders 20:45-21:32
A new chapter in the Hebrew Bible begins with Ezekiel 20:45. The section of the book that it begins contains four messages of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem with special emphasis on the judgment coming on the leaders of the people. The Lord explained the basis for His judgment of Judah (Ezekiel 20:1-44) and then proceeded to describe and to affirm the certainty of that judgment (Ezekiel 20:45 to Ezekiel 21:32).
The parable of the forest fire 20:45-21:7
The prophet first presented another parable, and then he interpreted it.
Again the Lord told His prophet to speak a message of judgment against Jerusalem, the pagan sanctuaries, and the whole land of Israel (i.e., Judah). This would be a clarification of the figures used in the previous parable.
The interpretation of the parable 21:1-7
Ezekiel was to announce that Yahweh stood opposed to His people (cf. Luke 9:5; Luke 9:41; Luke 19:41; Luke 21:20-24). Instead of being their divine defender (cf. Deuteronomy 32:41; Joshua 5:13-15; Isaiah 31:8; Isaiah 34:5-8; Isaiah 66:16; Jeremiah 25:31; Jeremiah 50:35-37; Zephaniah 2:12), He was going to turn against them. He would put them to death with a sword (cf. fire, Ezekiel 20:47-48), both the righteous (the green tree) and the wicked (the dry tree) throughout the whole land. The Book of Habakkuk deals with the problem of how and why God would use the wicked Babylonians as His instrument of chastening, a problem that the Israelites could not solve on their own. Everyone would know that He had been responsible for the judgment, and He would not sheath His sword (quench the fire, Ezekiel 20:48). This chapter has more references to the sword of the Lord as a figure of God’s judgment than any other chapter in the Bible.
"Unfortunately, some of the righteous would suffer along with the wicked, but this is often the case in times of war." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 202.]
The Lord told Ezekiel to let the Jewish exiles among whom he lived witness his groaning, grief, and heartbreak as he delivered this message. When the people asked the prophet why he was so sad, he was to tell them that it was because of the coming judgment.
"The need for the action described in these verses suggests that Ezekiel’s oral presentation so far had failed to impress his audience. Since they would not be shocked, even by the reference to the righteous perishing with the wicked, a new rhetorical strategy is adopted. Yahweh orders the prophet to perform another sign-act before his hearers. The performance involved paralinguistic nonverbal groaning, normally expressive of the deepest pain and grief." [Note: Block, The Book . . ., p. 670.]
"God would have Ezekiel experience something of what was in His own heart toward the rebellious nation." [Note: Feinberg, p. 119.]
Ezekiel’s grief would mark the people to whom he spoke this prophecy when they heard the news that the sword was coming. And the Lord guaranteed that the judgment would indeed come.
Another of Ezekiel’s messages was to be poetic. He was to announce that a sword had been sharpened and polished and was now ready to go to work slaughtering people quickly.
"A sword, a veritable Excalibur with a life of its own, is made ready for its grim destiny." [Note: Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, p. 26.]
How could the people rejoice since the rod (scepter, symbol of authority) of God’s representative (son) would have no respect for anyone (despise every tree, cf. Ezekiel 20:47) in this judgment? They could not. God’s son here refers to Nebuchadnezzar who would accomplish God’s will by executing His punishment.
The figures of the rod and the son of God both describe Messiah elsewhere (cf. Genesis 49:9-10; 2 Samuel 7:14), so Ezekiel’s hearers were accustomed to thinking of these figures as representing their deliverer. But here they learned that God had another son with a scepter who would destroy them (cf. Isaiah 10:5, where the rod is the Assyrians).
The song of the sword 21:8-17
It was as though God had polished the sword with which He would judge His people and had placed it in the hand of their slayer, Nebuchadnezzar.
Ezekiel was therefore to cry out and slap his thigh in great despair because this judgment was coming on the people and officials of Judah (cf. Jeremiah 31:19). The leaders would die with the rest of the people. This cutting off of Israel’s leadership was a cause for even greater sorrow than the destruction of the ordinary Israelites. This would really test the nation. The Judahites should not despise the rod that the Lord would use to judge them; they should not think that Nebuchadnezzar lacked the power to destroy Judah. Nevertheless even Nebuchadnezzar would not prevail over Israel ultimately because the rod Messiah would be the final victor.
Ezekiel was to clap his hands together as he continued to prophesy symbolizing his approval of God’s will (cf. Ezekiel 6:11; Ezekiel 22:13; Ezekiel 25:6; Numbers 24:10; 2 Kings 11:12; Job 27:23; Psalms 47:1; Isaiah 55:12). But he was also to announce the awfulness of the coming sword-like judgment.
Some translators interpreted the description of the invasion as coming three times and doing double damage the third time (e.g. NKJV). This may be a reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s three invasions of Jerusalem in 605, 597, and 586 B.C., the last invasion being twice as bad as the other two. [Note: Cooper, p. 213; and Fisch, p. 136.] Another preferable translation is that the sword would strike twice or even three times (e.g. NIV). This suggests that the invasion would come fast from several different angles, that the sword would double or triple itself in its influence. [Note: Feinberg, p. 120; Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1268; Block, The Book . . ., p. 680; and Keil, 1:294.] The invasion would be unusually devastating. Living in an age of special visual effects in which images transform themselves, it is not difficult for us to visualize this sword multiplying and swashbuckling its way through Jerusalem. Even the great among the people would not escape. This may refer to the great one, King Zedekiah, or to the great ones, the leading men of Judah. The invaders would surround everyone.
The sword would cause the people to lose heart and die in the gates of the city, the place where the leaders did business. The Lord had an instrument of judgment (sword) that He had prepared and kept ready that would slaughter His people suddenly (like lightning), namely, Nebuchadnezzar.
The Lord spoke to His instrument of judgment urging it to show itself sharp by slaying His people on every side, as the Lord directed. Yahweh would also give His approval by clapping His hands and appeasing His wrath against His sinful people.
"At least some of the problem that Ezekiel’s audience had in accepting such a gloomy picture of the future can be traced to the natural religious tendency to think of God as kindly and thus not really capable of punishing people decisively. Why would God destroy His own beloved people in whom He had invested such time and effort since He brought them out of Egypt centuries before? Some of the problem lay also in people’s natural, routine optimism. It is hard to imagine the country in which one grew up and enjoyed life in the past actually coming to an end, never again to be an independent nation, never again to have its own government and laws and economy and stable traditions." [Note: Stuart, pp. 199-200.]
The Lord also commanded Ezekiel to make a representation of two roads coming out of Babylon by which judgment from Yahweh would come. Perhaps he did this by drawing in the dirt or on a tablet. Really there was to be one road leaving Babylon that diverged as it approached Jerusalem, and there was to be a signpost at the fork in the road. One of this road’s branches would go to Rabbah, the capital city of the Ammonites to the east of Judah. The other branch would lead to Jerusalem. Geographically this fork was at Damascus.
The model of the map 21:18-27
When the king of Babylon reached the fork in the road, he used pagan methods to determine which road he should take (cf. Isaiah 47:8-15). Belomancy involved writing various names on several arrows, mixing them in a quiver, and then drawing or throwing them out. The arrow chosen indicated the god’s selection. Teraphim were household idols that the pagans believed had connections with the spirits of departed ancestors who could communicate with them (necromancy). Hepatoscopy involved inspecting the liver or entrails of a sacrificed animal and making a decision based on their shape, color, and markings.
Both Judah and Ammon had proved to be disloyal vassals; they had both rebelled against Babylon in 593 B.C. The lot fell to go against Jerusalem and to besiege it rather than Rabbah. Obviously the Lord controlled the pagan means that Nebuchadnezzar used to determine what He should do (Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 21:1; Jeremiah 27:6).
Nebuchadnezzar’s decision to come against Jerusalem would look like a mistake to the leaders of Israel. It would seem to them that God should have guided him to besiege the Ammonites since they were more wicked. Furthermore Israel’s leaders had sworn oaths of allegiance to Yahweh in response to His sworn promises to them. They thought surely He would defend them, but they were wrong. He would allow Nebuchadnezzar to capture them.
The Lord would remember the sins of His people and allow them to suffer conquest (Deuteronomy 28-29). He would allow their destruction because their many sins were open before Him. Even wicked King Zedekiah, the "prince" of Israel, would be as good as dead when his day of judgment came with the taking of Jerusalem. The Lord would remove the high priest’s turban and the king’s crown by terminating their offices. Then there would be a reversal of fortunes: the powerful would be humbled and the poor of the land would be the only people allowed to remain in it. Yahweh would make Jerusalem the ultimate ruin. The triple repetition of a word in Hebrew, here "ruin," is the strongest way to express a superlative in the Hebrew language (cf. Isaiah 6:3; Isaiah 24:1-3). Jerusalem would no longer enjoy its former glories until One would come who had a divine right to replace both high priest and king (cf. Psalms 110:2; Psalms 110:4; Psalms 72; Isaiah 9:6; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:17; Zechariah 6:12-13). God would then give the city into His control (Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 2:1-4). This is, I believe, a messianic prediction of Jesus Christ’s future earthly reign from Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 5-7). Another view is that it refers to Nebuchadnezzar. [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 260.]
As for Ammon, the Lord said, it too would fall under His judgment (cf. Ezekiel 25:1-7). This oracle against a foreign nation is not with the others in Ezekiel (chs. 25-32) evidently because of the catchword "sword" that also marks the preceding prophecies in this chapter and because the previous message raised the question of Ammon’s fate. The Ammonites were saying that the Judahites deserved destruction because of their wickedness. They attacked and plundered the land of Judah after the siege of Jerusalem. However, Yahweh would put His sword of judgment on Judah away to rest; Israel’s enemies would attack her no more. Then He would judge the Ammonites in their ancient homeland.
The message concerning Ammon’s fate 21:28-32
The Lord promised to judge the Ammonites in the fierceness of His wrath and to deliver them into the hands of their enemies. He would burn up their cities and cause their blood to flow in their fields, Viking-style. There would be no future for the Ammonites, but there would be for the Israelites.
"To the Semitic mind nothing could be more terrible: no prospect of restoration, no continuance in succeeding generations, no memorial, not even a memory. Oblivion." [Note: Taylor, p. 165.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 21". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26