Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 21

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verses 1-27


The last five verses of chap. 20 should be regarded as belonging to the opening of chap. 21. A conflagration is prophesied in the forest of the “south field” (that is, Palestine, Ezekiel 20:45-48). This is the Lord’s chastisement. The destruction shall be great and men shall know that it is the Lord’s sword which is made bare (Ezekiel 21:0:l-5). The prophet heaves bitter sighs and the hearts of all men melt before the sight of this drawn sword of the Lord (Ezekiel 21:6-17) which is held in the hand of the king of Babylon (Ezekiel 20:18-27).

Verse 2

2. Drop thy word See Deuteronomy 32:2; Isaiah 55:11. This word of the prophet did not drop as the dew, but fell like the blow of a sword. (Compare also Amos 7:16; Hebrews 4:12.)

The holy places Peshito, their holy place. Reference is made to the temple building in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 7:24; Lamentations 2:6).

Verse 6

6. Sigh… with the breaking of thy loins This expression of speechless grief, which seems as if it will tear the body asunder, is the picture prophecy of the anguish which all shall feel when the news of the downfall of the holy city which Ezekiel has so long been prophesying shall be brought to the captives at Tel-abib.

Verse 7

7. Faint Rather, dulled.

Weak as water Rather, melt into waters.

THE ODE OF THE SWORD, Ezekiel 21:8-22.

This is a wild and irregular song of war, and, as Dr. Muller says, is one of the most powerful passages which we possess from the pen of Ezekiel. It is a “cry” rather than a poem (Ezekiel 21:12). Yet it not only shows the parallelism common to Hebrew poetry, but evident traces of meter (D.H. Muller, Die Propheten, 1896).

The niceties of grammar are neglected, and to those who cannot see the singer’s gestures and hear his wails (Ezekiel 21:6; Ezekiel 21:12) there may seem a lack of connection between the lines and considerable obscurity of meaning. Dr. Skinner has given a good idea “both of the structure and the rugged vigor of the original,” though there are some phrases which he does not attempt to translate:


A sword, a sword! It is sharpened and burnished withal.

For a work of slaughter is it sharpened!

To gleam like lightning burnished!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

And ‘twas given to be smoothed for the grip of the hand,

Sharpened is it, and furbished

To put in the hand of the slayer

(Ezekiel 21:14-16 ).


Cry and howl, son of man!

For it has come among my people;

Come among all the princes of Israel!

Victims of the sword are they, they and my people;

Therefore smite upon thy thigh!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It shall not be, saith Jehovah the Lord

(Ezekiel 21:17-18 ).


But, thou son of man, prophesy, and smite hand on hand;

Let the sword be doubled and tripled (?)

A sword of the slain is it,

the great sword of the slain whirling around them

That hearts may fail, and many be the fallen in all their gates.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It is made like lightning, furbished for slaughter!

(Ezekiel 21:19-20 .)


Gather thee together! Smite to the right, to the left,

Whithersoever thine edge is appointed!

And I also will smite hand on hand,

And appease my wrath:

I Jehovah have spoken it (Ezekiel 21:21-22 ).

As Dr. Skinner remarks, this ode, in spite of its obscurity and its abrupt transitions, exhibits a definite poetic form and a real progress of thought from the beginning to the close. “The prophet’s gaze is fascinated by the glittering sword which symbolized the instrument of Jehovah’s vengeance.”

In the opening stanza he describes the preparation of the sword, then (II) he announces the purpose for which it is prepared. In the next stanza (III) he sees the sword in action, and at length, having accomplished its work, it is seen at rest (IV).

Verse 10

10. Should we then make mirth? it contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree Literally, shall we make mirth, saying, The scepter of my son contemneth all wood? Dr. Kautzsch and Professor Toy give up the text as hopelessly corrupt and without sensible meaning. The last clause may mean possibly either that the scepter of my son (Israel) defies every other scepter, or that his rod (punishment) exceeds all ordinary punishment. Smend emends the text so as to read, “Woe to the prince! thou hast despised the rod, hast contemned all wood.”

Verse 12

12. Terrors by reason of the sword Rather, they [the princes of Israel] with my people are delivered unto the sword.

Smite therefore upon thy thigh A gesture naturally expressing either antagonism or despair. Perhaps implying here “the sense of a terrible and irreparable evil happening.” (Compare Jeremiah 31:19.)

Verse 13

13. Because it is a trial, and what if the sword contemn even the rod? it shall be no more Perhaps, for the trial hath been made, and what if even the contemning scepter should be no more? (Kliefoth, Schroder, R.V.) This would refer to the destruction of the royal house of Judah. (See Ezekiel 21:10; Ezekiel 21:25-27.) The corruption of the text is seen from the fact that with a few changes Cornill can read, “for by favor what (can I accomplish)? Have they turned from their uncleanness? It shall not be.”

Verse 14

14. Smite thine hands together Ezekiel 21:17; see notes Ezekiel 6:11.

Let the sword be doubled the third time Let it fall with a doubled and tripled power.

Great men that are slain Rather, “the great one that is slain;” that is, Zedekiah.

Entereth into their privy chambers Rather, compasseth them about.

Verse 15

15. Point The word has been supposed to mean “threatening,” “terror,” “shouting,” “waving.”

Glitter It literally means whirl. “Almost exactly the same word in Assyrian means slaughter.” W.A.I., 2:23, 9.

Their ruins be multiplied Rather, there be many to stumble over (Jeremiah 6:21), or, by a slight change, those overthrown may be multiplied.

Verse 16

16. Go thee one way or other, etc. R.V., “Gather thee together, go to the right; set thyself in array, go to the left; whithersoever thy face is set.” Toy changes text slightly so as to read, “Turn thee, O sword, to the rear, to the right, to the front, to the left, whithersoever thine edge is appointed to turn.”

The prophet is commanded to make a mimic representation, perhaps upon a brick (Ezekiel 4:1-3), or on the floor of his house, of the great highway leading out of Babylon, which at a certain point divided into two roads, the one to Rabbah, the other to Jerusalem. He then pictures the king of Babylon coming to the parting of the ways, where he consults the oracle as to which road he shall take, and is led to the right hand toward Jerusalem. Even the divination of the heathen is overruled by Jehovah and used for the chastisement of his sinning people (Ezekiel 21:18-27).

Verse 19

19. Appoint thee Rather, make thee.

Choose thou a place Rather, engrave thee a signpost (literally, hand). This signpost was placed “at the head of the way to each city.” Such engravings or outline maps were not at all uncommon in Babylon and Egypt in Ezekiel’s day or a thousand years earlier. (See Ezekiel 4:1-3.)

Verse 20

20. Rabbath (R.V., “Rabbah”) was the capital of the Ammonites (Amos 1:14), later called Philadelphia. (See also Ezekiel 25:5.) The king can hardly decide whether to first carry his arms against this city or Jerusalem, but the magic arrow settles the question.

In Jerusalem the defensed LXX., and Jerusalem in her midst.

Verse 21

21. Stood Literally, standeth. The prophet sees what shall come to pass as if it had already happened.

Made his arrows bright, etc. Rather, he shaketh with the arrows, he inquireth of the teraphim ( images); he looketh in the liver.

His arrows The Babylonians practiced five principal methods of divination: by the flight of arrows, by the flight of birds, by the livers of dogs, by divining cups, by terra cotta images. This practice of belomancy, or presaging the future with arrows, though mentioned nowhere else in the Old Testament, was the most common and simple form of martial divination in Babylon. As Professor Toy says, “Reference to this custom seems very natural in the mouth of Ezekiel, who might have seen the ceremony performed as we now have it figured on the Assyrian and Babylonian monuments.” ( See Society of Biblical Literature, vol. 1.) Perhaps these were arrows which were about to be used in the campaign. One text says, “The arrows are lances in the town and in the country, the terror of the earth” ( W.A.I., 3:52). The method of using the arrows is not explained on the monuments. Tacitus describes the Germans as cutting into several pieces a rod from a fruit-bearing tree, marking the different pieces according to the different plans proposed and then casting them at hazard and deciding the issue by the way in which the sticks lay. So several arrows might be thrown into the air at the junction of two roads and the way taken to which the arrows inclined in falling; or inscribed arrows might be shaken in a vessel and one selected at random (Lenormant, La Divination, chap. ii). Doubtless, divination was practiced in Babylon by shooting the arrow (Laurent, La Magie et La Divination, 1894, p. 83, etc.); but the mention of the king shaking the arrows would favor here some other method. These arrows or spears are often seen represented, on the cylinders, carried in the hands to the number of eight by Asshur, Marduk, and Ishtar.

Consulted with images This practice is again mentioned (Zechariah 10:2). These images seem to have been figures of Mul-lil, or Eu-lil, the ghost-god. The habit of consulting them dates back to the most remote date of Babylonian civilization. Some of these which were brought from Khorsabad can be seen to-day in the British Museum. These images are called by the Semitic name, teraphim. (See Genesis 31:19.)

He looked in the liver This is thoroughly Babylonian. A cuneiform text at Berlin says, “Incantation: The liver of a dog, the liver of a black dog, the utuk of fortune, the utuk of Mul-lil, I see.”

Verse 22

22. At his right hand, etc. Rather, in his right hand is the lot Jerusalem, to set battering-rams, etc. The oracle has decided that his siege implements shall be set against Jerusalem instead of Rabbah. The capture of the Ammonite city may come later (Ezekiel 25:4).

Verse 23

23. To them that have sworn oaths Rather, to them who have received oaths (Keil). The meaning is obscure, but seems to be that although the Hebrews call this a “false divination” because of the oath of help which they have received from Egypt (Ezekiel 17:18) or possibly from God (Ezekiel 20:42), yet it will prove a true omen and Israel’s sins shall be openly exposed and openly punished. (See Ezekiel 29:16.)

Verse 24

24. With the hand Does this mean that they shall be taken in the hand of Nebuchadnezzar or that they shall be seized by the hand so as to be unable to escape? Or is the reading of the Septuagint to be preferred, “Ye shall be taken in them;” that is, the nation’s sins are the net in which she has become ensnared?

Verse 25

25. Thou, profane wicked prince of Israel Rather, “O deadly wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel” (R.V.).

When iniquity shall have an end Rather, “in the time of the iniquity [or, punishment] of the end” (R.V.). Then Zedekiah shall be captured and the state overthrown “in the time of the end” (Ezekiel 35:5). “The end” with Ezekiel was the “now” in which wickedness had reached its climax. It is a vital truth that every generation lives in the end of time.

Verse 26

26. Diadem “Miter” (Exodus 28:4).

This shall not be the same Dr. Davidson remarks that these enigmatical words probably mean, “This is not that;” that is, the present royal house and regime is not that which shall be (the Messianic), as Ezekiel 21:27 explains; or “this shall not remain this;” that is, what it is; it shall be removed and give place to something higher to come (Ezekiel 21:27).

Exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high Rather, the low shall be exalted and the high abased. (See Ezekiel 21:27; Ezekiel 17:24.)

Verse 27

27. I will overturn, overturn, overturn The threefold repetition of divine emphasis. It is not Nebuchadnezzar who overturns the throne of Judah, but Jehovah.

And it shall be no more Or, yea, this it is gone (Davidson). The upheaval is sure! The present order of things is looked upon as having already passed away. Prince Zedekiah has lost his high place and another has taken it, but he in turn shall disappear and the kingdoms of Judah shall have no permanent ruler until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him (Genesis 49:10).

Verse 28

28. The sword This description of the sword which falls upon the Ammonites strikingly resembles that which fell upon Jerusalem (Ezekiel 21:8-11). It is the same sword; it is the sword of the Lord! (Ezekiel 21:15.) The passage is very obscure. The R.V. reads: “A sword, a sword is drawn, for the slaughter it is furbished, to cause it to devour, that it may be as lightning: whiles they see vanity unto thee, whiles they divine lies unto thee, to lay thee upon the necks of the wicked that are deadly wounded, whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity [or, punishment] of the end. Cause it to return into its sheath.”

Verses 28-32


The Ammonites who have rejoiced because Nebuchadnezzar has taken the road to Jerusalem instead of to their own capital (Ezekiel 21:20) cannot boast long against the Lord’s people, for against them also is the sword drawn.

Verse 29

29. While they see vanity… divine a lie This seems to refer to the “reproach” of Israel indulged in by the Ammonites (Ezekiel 21:28) and to their fallen oracles in which they boasted while they sneered and laughed at Jerusalem’s calamity (Ezekiel 25:3-6). To bring [or, lay ] thee, etc. This text is very obscure, but may mean that while “they” (the false prophets of Ammon) “see vanity” and “divine a lie” the sword flashes upon the nation like lightning and its rulers and people fall slain upon the bodies of the dead Israelites against whom they have scoffed. (See Ezekiel 21:25.)

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ezekiel 21". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.