Ezekiel 21

The Sword of Judgment

1[Heb. 21:6]
Ezek 21:1 in the English Bible is 21:6 in the Hebrew text (BHS). See the note at 20:45.
The word of the Lord came to me:
2“Son of man, turn toward
Heb “set your face toward.”
Jerusalem and speak out against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel
3and say to them,
Heb “the land of Israel.”
‘This is what the Lord says: Look,
The word הִנֵּה (hinneh, traditionally “behold”) draws attention to something and has been translated here as a verb.
I am against you.
Or “I challenge you.” The phrase “I am against you” may be a formula for challenging someone to combat or a duel. See D. I. Block, Ezekiel (NICOT), 1:201–2, and P. Humbert, “Die Herausforderungsformel ‘hinnenî êlêkâ,’” ZAW 45 (1933): 101-8.
I will draw my sword
This is the sword of judgment, see Isa 31:8; 34:6; 66:16.
from its sheath and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked.
Ezekiel elsewhere pictures the Lord’s judgment as discriminating between the righteous and the wicked (9:4–6; 18:1–20; see as well Pss 1 and 11) and speaks of the preservation of a remnant (3:21; 6:8; 12:16). Perhaps here he exaggerates for rhetorical effect in an effort to subdue any false optimism. See L. C. Allen, Ezekiel (WBC), 2:25–26; D. I. Block, Ezekiel (NICOT), 1:669–70; and W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel (Hermeneia), 1:424–25.
4Because I will cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked, my sword will go out from its sheath against everyone
Heb “all flesh” (also in the following verse).
from the south
Heb “Negev.” The Negev is the south country.
to the north.
5Then everyone will know that I am the Lord, who drew my sword from its sheath – it will not be sheathed again!’

6 “And you, son of man, groan with an aching heart
Heb “breaking loins.”
and bitterness; groan before their eyes.
7When they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you will reply, ‘Because of the report that has come. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand will be limp; everyone
Heb “every spirit will be dim.”
will faint and every knee will be wet with urine.’
This expression depicts in a very vivid way how they will be overcome with fear. See the note on the same phrase in 7:17.
Pay attention – it is coming and it will happen, declares the sovereign Lord.”

8 The word of the Lord came to me: 9“Son of man, prophesy and say: ‘This is what the Lord says:

“‘A sword, a sword is sharpened,
and also polished.
10 It is sharpened for slaughter,
it is polished to flash like lightning!
“‘Should we rejoice in the scepter of my son? No! The sword despises every tree!
Heb “Or shall we rejoice, scepter of my son, it despises every tree.” The translation understands the subject of the verb “despises,” which is a feminine form in the Hebrew text, to be the sword (which is a feminine noun) mentioned just before this. Alternatively, the line may be understood as “let us not rejoice, O tribe of my son; it despises every tree.” The same word in Hebrew may be either “rod,” “scepter,” or “tribe.” The word sometimes translated as “or” or taken as an interrogative particle may be a negative particle. See D. I. Block, Ezekiel (NICOT), 1:672, n. 79.
The people of Judah should not place false hope in their king, symbolized by his royal scepter, for God’s judgment (symbolized by fire and then a sword) would destroy every tree (see 20:47), symbolizing the righteous and wicked (see 21:3–4).

11 “‘He gave it to be polished,
to be grasped in the hand –
the sword is sharpened, it is polished –
giving it into the hand of the executioner.
12 Cry out and moan, son of man,
for it is wielded against my people;
against all the princes of Israel.
They are delivered up to the sword, along with my people.
Therefore, strike your thigh.
This physical action was part of an expression of grief. Cp. Jer. 31:19.

13 “‘For testing will come, and what will happen when the scepter, which the sword despises, is no more?
Heb “For testing (will come) and what if also a scepter, it despises, will not be?” The translation understands the subject of the verb “despises,” which is a feminine form in the Hebrew text, to be the sword (which is a feminine noun) mentioned in the previous verses. The text is very difficult and any rendering is uncertain.
declares the sovereign Lord.’

14 “And you, son of man, prophesy,
and clap your hands together.
Let the sword strike twice, even three times!
It is a sword for slaughter,
a sword for the great slaughter surrounding them.
15 So hearts melt with fear and many stumble.
At all their gates I have stationed the sword for slaughter.
Ah! It is made to flash, it is drawn for slaughter!
16 Cut sharply on the right!
Swing to
Heb “Put to.”
the left,
wherever your edge
Heb “face.”
is appointed to strike.
17 I too will clap my hands together,
I will exhaust my rage;
I the Lord have spoken.”
18 The word of the Lord came to me: 19“You, son of man, mark out two routes for the king of Babylon’s sword to take; both of them will originate in a single land. Make a signpost and put it at the beginning of the road leading to the city. 20Mark out the routes for the sword to take: “Rabbah of the Ammonites” and “Judah with Jerusalem in it.”
The MT reads “Judah in fortified Jerusalem,” a geographic impossibility. The translation follows the LXX, which assumes בְּתוֹכָהּ (betokhah, “in it”) for בְּצוּרָה (betsurah, “fortified”).
As the Babylonians approached from the north, one road would branch off to the left and lead down the east side of the Jordan River to Ammon. The other road would veer to the right and lead down west of the Jordan to Jerusalem.
21For the king of Babylon stands at the fork
Heb “mother.”
in the road at the head of the two routes. He looks for omens:
Mesopotamian kings believed that the gods revealed the future through omens. They employed various divination techniques, some of which are included in the list that follows. A particularly popular technique was the examination and interpretation of the livers of animals. See R. R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel, 90–110.
He shakes arrows, he consults idols,
This word refers to personal idols that were apparently used for divination purposes (Gen 31:19; 1 Sam 19:13, 16).
he examines
Heb “sees.”
animal livers.
Heb “the liver.”
22Into his right hand
Or “on the right side,” i.e., the omen mark on the right side of the liver.
comes the portent for Jerusalem – to set up battering rams, to give the signal
Heb “to open the mouth” for slaughter.
for slaughter, to shout out the battle cry,
Heb “to raise up a voice in a battle cry.”
to set up battering rams against the gates, to erect a siege ramp, to build a siege wall.
23But those in Jerusalem
Heb “they”; the referent (the people in Jerusalem) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
will view it as a false omen. They have sworn solemn oaths,
When the people of Judah realized the Babylonians’ intentions, they would object on grounds that they had made a treaty with the Babylonian king (see 17:13).
but the king of Babylon
Heb “he”; the referent (the king of Babylon) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
will accuse them of violations
Or “iniquity.”
in order to seize them.
Heb “and he will remind of guilt for the purpose of being captured.” The king would counter their objections by pointing out that they had violated their treaty with him (see 17:18).

24 “Therefore this is what the sovereign Lord says: ‘Because you have brought up
Heb “caused to be remembered.”
your own guilt by uncovering your transgressions and revealing your sins through all your actions, for this reason you will be taken by force.
Heb “Because you have brought to remembrance your guilt when your transgressions are uncovered so that your sins are revealed in all your deeds – because you are remembered, by the hand you will be seized.”

25 “‘As for you, profane and wicked prince of Israel,
This probably refers to King Zedekiah.

whose day has come, the time of final punishment,
26 this is what the sovereign Lord says:
Tear off the turban,
Elsewhere in the Bible the turban is worn by priests (Exod 28:4, 37, 39; 29:6; 39:28, 31; Lev 8:9; 16:4), but here a royal crown is in view.

take off the crown!
Things must change!
Heb “This not this.”

Exalt the lowly,
bring down the proud!
Heb “the high one.”

27 A total ruin I will make it!
Heb “A ruin, a ruin, a ruin I will make it.” The threefold repetition of the noun “ruin” is for emphasis and draws attention to the degree of ruin that would take place. See IBHS 233 #12.5a and GKC 431-32 #133.k. The pronominal suffix (translated “it”) on the verb “make” is feminine in Hebrew. The probable antecedent is the “turban/crown” (both nouns are feminine in form) mentioned in verse 26. The point is that the king’s royal splendor would be completely devastated as judgment overtook his realm and brought his reign to a violent end.

It will come to an end
when the one arrives to whom I have assigned judgment.’
Heb “Also this, he was not, until the coming of the one to whom the judgment belongs and I have given it.” The Hebrew text, as it stands, is grammatically difficult. The pronoun “this” is feminine, while the following negated verb (“was not”) is masculine. Some emend the verb to a feminine form (see BHS). In this case the statement refers to the destiny of the king’s turban/crown (symbolizing his reign). See the previous note. The preposition translated “when” normally means “until,” but here it seems to refer to the period during which the preceding situation is realized, rather than its termination point. See L. C. Allen, Ezekiel (WBC), 2:19, 21. The second part of the statement, though awkward, probably refers to the arrival of the Babylonian king, to whom the Lord had assigned the task of judgment (see 23:24). Or the verse may read “A total ruin I will make, even this. It will not be until the one comes to whom is (the task of) judgment and I have assigned it.”

28 “As for you, son of man, prophesy and say, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says concerning the Ammonites and their coming humiliation;
Heb “their reproach.”

“‘A sword, a sword drawn for slaughter,
polished to consume,
Heb “to contain, endure.” Since the Hebrew text as it stands makes little, if any, sense, most emend the text to read either “to consume” or “for destruction.” For discussion of options see D. I. Block, Ezekiel (NICOT), 1:693.
to flash like lightning –
29 while seeing false visions for you
and reading lying omens for you
Heb “in the seeing concerning you falsehood, in divining concerning you a lie.” This probably refers to the attempts of the Ammonites to ward off judgment through prophetic visions and divination.

to place that sword
Heb “you”; the referent (the sword mentioned in v. 28) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
on the necks of the profane wicked,
The second half of the verse appears to state that the sword of judgment would fall upon the wicked, despite their efforts to prevent it.

whose day has come,
the time of final punishment.
30 Return it to its sheath!
Once the Babylonian king’s sword (vv. 19–20) has carried out its assigned task, the Lord commands it to halt and announces that Babylon itself will also experience his judgment. See L. C. Allen, Ezekiel (WBC), 2:28.

In the place where you were created,
In the Hebrew text of vv. 30–32 the second person verbal and pronominal forms are feminine singular. This may indicate that the personified Babylonian sword is being addressed. The Hebrew word for “sword” (see v. 28) is feminine. However, it may refer to the Ammonites.

in your native land, I will judge you.
31 I will pour out my anger on you;
the fire of my fury I will blow on you.
I will hand you over to brutal men,
who are skilled in destruction.
32 You will become fuel for the fire –
your blood will stain the middle of the land;
Heb “your blood will be in the middle of the land.”

you will no longer be remembered,
for I, the Lord, have spoken.’”
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