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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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EZEKIEL 21

THE SONG OF THE SWORD

This chapter is called by many "The Song of the Sword." Why? The word "sword" occurs no less than thirteen times in 32 verses, being repeated over and over again, doubled and thrice doubled in its significance. It is God's explanation of the parable of the great forest fire just presented in Ezek. 20, which the stubborn sinners who heard it pretended not to understand. They certainly could not have missed the point of this explanation. It was the sword, the sword, the sword, the sword, etc. the sword sharpened, the sword polished, the sword swift as lightning, the sword of the Lord, but particularly the sword of Babylon the agent of God in his punishment of Israel.

Ezek. 21:1-7


 
Verses 1-7
And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop [thy word] toward the sanctuaries, and prophesy against the land of Israel; and say to the land of Israel, Thus saith Jehovah: Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of its sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: and all flesh shall know that I, Jehovah, have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath; it shall not return any more. Sigh therefore, thou son of man; with the breaking of thy loins and with bitterness shalt thou sigh before their eyes. And it shall be, when they say unto thee, Wherefore sighest thou? that thou shalt say, Because of the tidings, for 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 it shall be done, saith the Lord Jehovah.

The parable of the great fire is fully explained here. The South is Jerusalem; the field of the South is Palestine; the forest of the field of the South is the people; every green tree and every dry tree are references to the wicked and the righteous, both of whom are marked for destruction. The great fire stands for war, symbolized here as "the sword."

Sigh, therefore, thou son of man…
(Ezekiel 21:6). We have frequently noted the behavior of God's prophets who actually confirmed the predictive nature of their prophecies by their bizarre behavior at the time of giving the prophecy. Isaiah went barefoot for two years; Jeremiah wore an ox yoke to the king's court; Micah screamed like a jackal and wallowed in the dirt; here Ezekiel sighed and manifested great grief as a man with a broken heart, provoking an inquiry from the people, as to what it all meant. This behavior is the complete and irrevocable refutation of nonsense that Ezekiel might not have written this chapter.F1 No man would possibly have behaved in the manner indicated here concerning an event that had already happened.

With the breaking of thy loins…
(Ezekiel 21:5). The KJV and the Revised Standard Version are better here, reading breaking of thy heart. In ancient times the loins (kidneys) were thought to be the seat of the emotions, now said to be in the heart, not the physical heart, of course, but the brain, which is the seat of intelligence and the emotions.


 
Verses 8-13
And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith Jehovah: Say, A sword, a sword, it is sharpened, and also furbished; it is sharpened that it may make a slaughter; it is furbished that it may be as lightning: shall we then make mirth? the rod of my son, it contemneth every tree. And it is given to be furbished, that it may be handled: the sword, it is sharpened, yea, it is furbished, to give it into the hand of the slayer. Cry and wail, son of man; for it is upon my people, it is upon all the princes of Israel: they are delivered over to the sword with my people; smite therefore upon thy thigh. For there is a trial; and what if even the rod that contemneth shall be no more? saith the Lord Jehovah.

Bunn referred to this chapter as, "One of the most shocking and awesome passages"F2 in the Bible.

The rod of my son, it contemneth every tree…
(Ezekiel 21:10). 'The rod of my son,.' here, is the scepter of the House of David.F3 These words were spoken by the people who claimed not to fear the sword of punishment coming upon them, because the scepter of the House of David, whom God recognizes as his son, contemneth (despises) all other scepters as mere pieces of wood.

Cry and wail, son of man…
(Ezekiel 21:12). This behavior supplements that of Ezek. 21:6, such bizarre actions being for the purpose of getting attention, and also for the purpose of emphasizing the predictive nature of these prophecies.

Smite therefore upon thy thigh…
(Ezekiel 21:12). This was done as an expression of grief.F4 Efforts have been made to view this as a demonstration of glee or delight on Ezekiel's part; but that could not possibly fit into the context here. Both this gesture and the clapping of hands, mentioned later, were bona fide expressions of extreme grief, especially when accompanied by the crying and walling of the prophet.

What if the rod that contemneth shall be no more…
(Ezekiel 21:13)? This stops a little short of prophesying the end of the earthly house of David; but, in context, that is certainly the meaning of it.


 
Verses 14-17
Thou therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite thy hands together; and let the sword be doubled the third time, the sword of the deadly wounded: it is the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded, which entereth into their chambers. I have set the threatening sword against all their gates, that their heart may melt, and their stumblings be multiplied: ah! it is made as lightning, it is pointed for slaughter. Gather thee together, go to the right, set thyself in array, go to the left, whithersoever thy face is set. I will also smite my hands together, and I will cause my wrath to rest: I, Jehovah, have spoken it.

Let the sword be doubled the third time…
(Ezekiel 21:14) This shows the tremendous size and power of the sword coming against Jerusalem. All hope of escape was gone.F5

It is the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded…
(Ezekiel 21:14) This is a reference to Zedekiah, the king of Judah. The sword shall smite the king as well as all the people.F6

Which entereth into their chambers…
(Ezekiel 21:14). This meant that the King of Babylon would enter the city of Jerusalem and have access to everything in it, even the house of the king.

I will also smite my hands together…
(Ezekiel 21:17). It is impossible for this to refer to any sadistic glee on God's part over the destruction of his wicked people. Repeatedly, all of the prophets have assured us that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. This is another instance of where a misinterpretation can lead to serious error. Bunn, for example, toyed with the idea that the clapping of hands here was a sign of elation, approval, or delight. If he had properly understood the meaning of it in this context, he could never have said:

These words almost depict Jehovah as a scheming, venal deity, who with deadly passion and sullen cruelty prepares for the total ravaging of his enemies."F7

This is a slander of the paragraph above where God is depicted as clapping his hands in deep grief over the fate of his Once Chosen People. Barlow properly understood the meaning of the clapping of the hands. "Smiting the hands together is an indication of violent grief."F8 The Biblical proof of this viewpoint is found in Ezek. 21:12 where the clapping of the hands is accompanied by the loud crying and wailing of the prophet.


 
Verses 18-23
The word of Jehovah came unto me again, saying, Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the king of Babylon may come; they twain shall come forth out of one land: and mark out a place, mark it out at the head of the way to the city. Thou shalt appoint a way for the sword to come to Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and to Judah in Jerusalem the fortified. For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he shook the arrows to and fro, he consulted the teraphim, he looked in the liver. In his right hand was the divination [for] Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounds, to build forts. And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, who have sworn oaths unto them; but he bringeth iniquity to remembrance, that they may be taken.

Appoint thee two ways…
(Ezekiel 21:18). These lines seem to be God's explanation to Ezekiel of the meaning of that divination sought by Nebuchadnezzar, at the head of the two ways. Damascus was the point at which the ancient trade routes separated.F9

Mark out a place at the head of the way to the city…
(Ezekiel 21:19). Since nothing is said of Ezekiel's going all the way to Damascus, it could be that some crucial place on the road from Damascus to Jerusalem would be the place that Ezekiel was commanded to mark. In any case, the Jews did not believe it.

The three types of divination which Nebuchadnezzar consulted were: (1) he placed two arrows in a quiver, one marked Ammon, the other Jerusalem. He shook them and poured them out; the Jerusalem arrow came out first. We do not know how (2) the teraphim and (3) the liver were consulted. This is the first passage in which the terrible sword of the Lord is also identified as the sword of the king of Babylon.

In his right hand is the divination for Jerusalem…
(Ezekiel 21:22). This indicates that Nebuchadnezzar had reached into the bag with the arrows and pulled out the one marked Jerusalem, or that, after that arrow fell out, he picked it up with his right hand. In any case, it meant that Jerusalem would be attacked first. The whole verse, with its mention of battering rams, forts, the slaughter, the shouting, etc.

It shall be unto them as a false divination…
(Ezekiel 21:23). The remarkable thing in this verse is that the Jews themselves had depended upon such divinations, but now they refused to believe it. We believe that Ezekiel told the people of Nebuchadnezzar's divination and the results of it, the information having come to the prophet by the direct revelation of God.

He will call to remembrance…
(Ezekiel 21:23). This refers to Nebuchadnezzar, and the iniquity he will call to remembrance is the perjury and treason of the king of Israel, Zedekiah.F10


 
Verses 24-27
Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear; because that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand. And thou, O deadly wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Remove the mitre, and take off the crown; this [shall be] no more the same; exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it [him].

This is one of the key passages in the Bible. Here is announced the end of the earthly House of David. Zedekiah's "day is come." It is not merely the death of the king, but the end of the kingdom which is at hand. The mitre, standing for the high priest and the whole religious system, and the crown standing for the king and the nobility receive the sentence: "Remove them!" Take them off! "This (the kingdom) shall be no more." "I will overturn, overturn, overturn." (Ezekiel 21:26-27).

UNTIL HE COME WHOSE RIGHT IT IS

We have no patience at all with alleged scholars who cannot find any reference here to the Messiah. Such scholars remind one of the "elders" in these two chapters who could not understand the parable of the Great Fire!.

First, we call the reader's attention to our discussion of the text in Gen. 49:10 (Vol. 1 of the Pentateuchal Series, pp. 566-569), to which there is a direct reference in Ezek. 21:27, here.

The old, outdated and discredited fulminations against this text by the radical critics, are gradually being replaced in this last quarter of the 20th century by the dependable words of many scholars. A few of these, we enclose here:

"The only hope left to Judah in this passage was that `the ultimate scepter of Judah,' the Messiah would yet come. When Judah was purified, the scepter, `the Messiah', would rule over his people (Ezek. 21:27.)F11 ... Ezek. 21:27 indicates the overthrow of Zedekiah's throne, the end of the Davidic kingdom until the coming of the Messiah.F12 ... The one to whom this right belongs, and to whom God will give it, is the Messiah, of whom the prophets from the times of David and onward have prophesied as the founder and restorer of perfect right on earth.F13 ... These verses prophesy the end of the monarchic succession and of the state, which are to be brought into ruin until the Messiah comes.F14 This echoes Gen. 49:10. "Until he comes, to whom it belongs" (Revised Standard Version) ... The Jewish rabbis paraphrase this in a Messianic sense.F15 ... The promised king in Ezek. 21:27 is the Son of David, the Messiah; thus the promise of Judah's destruction here ends in a promised restoration, as in ch, 20:40.F16 ... Here we have a cryptic reference back to Gen. 49:10, where is given the expectation of one to whom the right of kingship really belonged; he will be that one to whom everything in the House of David and the Messianic kingship have always pointed.F17 ... These verses (26,27) express Ezekiel's hope of a personal Messiah; there is an allusion here to Gen. 49:10.F18 ... The Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, was the true King of Judah.F19


 
Verses 28-32
And thou, son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah concerning the children of Ammon, and concerning their reproach; and say thou, A sword, a sword is drawn, for the slaughter it is furbished, to cause it to devour, that it may be as lightning; while they see for thee false visions, while 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 of the end. Cause it to return into its sheath. In the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy birth, will I judge thee. And I will pour out mine indignation upon thee; I will blow upon thee with the fire of my wrath; and I will deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, skilful to destroy. 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, Jehovah, have spoken it.

This prophecy against Ammon has no promise of restoration.

We have no certain word on just why Ammon was singled out here for this special oracle; but it might have pertained to the share they had in the murder of Gedaliah, by the hand of Ishmael.


Footnotes for Ezekiel 21
1: John T. Bunn in the Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1871), p. 293.
2: Ibid,. p. 294.
3: E. H. Plumptre in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 385.
4: G. R. Beasley-Murray in the New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 675.
5: George Barlow, The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1891), p. 152.
6: E. H. Plumptre in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 286.
7: John T. Bunn in the Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1871), p. 294.
8: George Barlow, The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1891), p. 253.
9: International Critical Commentary, p. 231.
10: George Barlow, The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1891), p. 256.
11: RHA, p. 842.
12: Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 302.
13: Carl Friedrich Keil, Keil-Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 505.
14: G. R. Beasley-Murray in the New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 675.
15: International Critical Commentary, p. 235.
16: B, p. 354.
17: J. B. Thompson, p. 165.
18: Anton T. Pearson in Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 387.
19: George Barlow, The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1891), p. 259.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezekiel 21". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=eze&chapter=021>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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