Ezekiel, an Aaronic priest, was among those whom King Nebuchadnezzar took as captives into exile along with King Jehoiachin, members of the royal family, officials of the realm, warriors, and skilled craftsmen. (2 Kings 24:12-15) In the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin, commonly considered to have been the year 593 BCE, Ezekiel received his commission to serve as YHWH’s prophet. (1:1-3) Verse 3 of Ezekiel chapter 1 says, “The word of YHWH came to Ezekiel the son of Buzi the priest in the land of the Chaldeans.” This wording in the third person could indicate that Ezekiel, like Jeremiah and other prophets, did not personally compile and write the record of his words, visions, and activity.
Like Jeremiah in Jerusalem, so Ezekiel in Babylon declared the word of YHWH that Jerusalem would be besieged and fall before the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar. Neither those then living in Jerusalem and the realm of the kingdom of Judah nor the exiles in Babylonia wanted to hear this message, and they refused to repent of their wrongdoing. Prophets of falsehood lulled the people into a false sense of security, proclaiming that Jerusalem would not be conquered and that the exiles in Babylonia would soon be returning. (Jeremiah 5:1-5; 26:1-11; 27:16-18; 28:2-4; 29:20-28; Ezekiel 2:3-7; 3:24-27) The words of Ezekiel 3:25 suggest that the exiles in Babylon did not even want Ezekiel to leave his house. Possibly because the people did not want to hear the message, YHWH directed Ezekiel to perform symbolic actions that vividly portrayed the severe punishment they would experience.
Besides foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem and what would befall the people, Ezekiel prophesied against Ammon, Moab, Edom, the Philistines, the city of Tyre and its “leader,” prince, or ruler, and Egypt and its ruler, Pharaoh. (Ezekiel 25:1-32:32; 35:1-15) After the desolation of Jerusalem and the the territory of the kingdom of Judah, the message Ezekiel made known apparently changed. The word of YHWH through Ezekiel pointed forward to the time when the devastated land would be restored and the exiles would be able to return. In the concluding part of the book of Ezekiel (40:1-48:35), a new arrangement for the worship of YHWH is outlined, an arrangement centered in a temple that would be far grander than the one that had been built during the reign of King Solomon. From this new temple, a river would flow that would provide life-imparting water.
Only fragments of the text of Ezekiel survive in six manuscripts from Qumran and one from Masada. With a few insignificant exceptions, the wording that is preserved corresponds to that of the Masoretic Text. Based on the space between the first seven preserved letters of verse 13 of chapter 5 and the next and last four preserved letters in this verse, the text in one scroll fragment (11QEzek) appears to have been shorter than is the Masoretic Text. Another place where the text seems to have been shorter and different is in the wording of verses 16 and 17 in manuscript fragment 4QEzekᵅ. The space that remains for the wording from the five preserved letters of verse 15 and the only preserved word of verse 17 is insufficient to accommodate the intervening words found in verses 16 and 17 of the Masoretic Text.
The Septuagint contains numerous departures from the extant Hebrew text. There is evidence that translations into Greek are based on Hebrew copies that differed in significant ways. The oldest partially preserved Greek text is in P967, considered to date from the third century CE. In this papyrus manuscript, the text is shorter than is contained in manuscripts of the fourth and fifth centuries (Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus), and it is arranged differently. The wording of chapters 38 and 39 follows that of chapter 36, then the words of chapter 37 precede those of chapters 40 to 48.
In the commentary that follows, reference is made to the Septuagint and the Targum of Ezekiel. Comments focus on significant differences, including omissions and expansions of the text.
The “thirtieth year” may have been the thirtieth year of Ezekiel’s life. It was on the fifth day of the fourth month (mid-June to mid-July) of this year that Ezekiel was among the exiles from the kingdom of Judah by the “river Chebar,” probably one of the major canals in ancient Chaldea. At this time, the “heavens” opened up to Ezekiel, and he “saw visions of God.” (1:1; see the Notes section.) The thirtieth year was also the “fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin,” which is commonly understood to have been the year 593 BCE. Ezekiel had been taken into exile along with Jehoiachin, members of the royal family, officials of the realm, warriors, and skilled craftsmen. (1:2; 2 Kings 24:12-15)
According to a cuneiform inscription (British Museum 21946), King Nebuchadnezzar “encamped against the city of Judah [Jerusalem]” and on the second day of the month Adar [mid-February to mid-March (the twelfth month)]” captured the city and seized the “king” (Jehoiachin). This would mean that the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile was about four years later. It was then that Ezekiel’s service as a prophet began, and it continued at least until the twenty-seventh year of this exile or about twenty-two years. (29:17) Aside from the name “Buzi,” nothing else is known about Ezekiel’s father. Like his contemporary Jeremiah who served as a prophet in the kingdom of Judah, Ezekiel was a priest. It was by the river Chebar (probably one of the major canals in ancient Chaldea) that Ezekiel received a “word” or message from YHWH. The “hand of YHWH” came upon him, indicating that he had become the chosen prophet under his power or control. In the Targum, the reference is to the “spirit of prophecy from before the Lord.” (1:3)
Ezekiel observed a powerful wind coming from the north. He apparently saw a huge cloud drawing nearer. Within this cloud, a fire was flickering or flashing (literally, “taking hold of itself”), and a bright glow surrounded the cloud. In the midst of this cloud and the fire, Ezekiel saw what appeared to him something like electrum, an alloy of gold and silver that gleamed brightly. (1:4)
Apparently as the cloud came closer, Ezekiel saw the “likeness of four living beings.” Their basic form was like that of a man (an earthling), but there were other features that differed significantly from that of a human. (1:5) Each one of the living beings had “four faces” and “four wings.” (1:6) Their legs were straight. Unlike the human leg that has a knee, the legs of the living beings apparently were like straight pillars, and the feet were round like those of the hooves of a calf. Equipped with wings, they did not need legs and feet like those of humans for walking or running. The living beings could fly or glide. According to the Septuagint, their feet “were winged.” The living beings gleamed like burnished copper or bronze. (1:7) Under the wings, there apparently were arms with hands that looked like those of a man. One hand would have been on each of the four sides of the living being. Therefore, when Ezekiel looked directly at the face on a specific side, he would have seen a hand on the right and the left. Each of the living beings had the same set of faces and wings. (1:8; see the Notes section.) The wings that extended above the faces of the living beings joined or touched those of the other living beings. (Compare 1:11.) With a face on each of their four sides, the living beings could move forward in any direction without having to turn. (1:9; see the Notes section.)
Apparently the face that Ezekiel saw directly looking in his direction was that of a man. To the right of this face was that of a lion and to the left that of a bull. Behind the face of the man was that of an eagle. If the face of a man represented the noble qualities humans possess, the other faces could represent features in which humans do not excel — strength (bull, Proverbs 14:4), boldness or fearlessness (lion, 2 Samuel 17:10; 1 Chronicles 12:8; Proverbs 28:1), and speed (eagle, Habakkuk 1:8). (1:10)
After again referring to the “faces” of the living beings, the verse continues with a comment about the wings. One set of two wings spread out above the face of each living being and touched or joined those of the other living beings. The other set of two wings covered their bodies. Ezekiel was able to see the legs, suggesting that the upper part of the body of each living being was covered. (1:11)
The spirit controlled the movement of the four living beings, probably meaning that all of them went straight forward in unison, apparently as the spirit of God impelled them. Their having a face on each side made it possible for them to go forward without having to turn. (1:12)
The appearance of the living beings resembled “burning coals of fire” or fire from burning coals. According to the Septuagint, an “appearance like burning coals of fire” was “in the midst of the living beings.” “Among the living beings, something that had the “appearance of torches” moved to and fro. The fire was radiant, and “lightning went forth from the fire.” (1:13)
The living beings seemingly moved rapidly, darting back and forth “like the appearance of lightning” or like lightning flashes. (1:14; see the Notes section.)
Near the four faces of each of the four living beings, Ezekiel saw a large wheel, the bottom part of which touched the “earth” or the ground. (1:15) All four wheels were of identical construction, with a wheel within a wheel, and they gleamed like topaz (tarshísh; transliterated as tharsis in LXX), a transparent or translucent gemstone. The words “the wheel within the wheel” could mean that each of the four wheels was intersected at right angles with another wheel. A number of modern translations are specific in expressing this basic meaning regarding the wheels. “Each wheel had a second wheel turning crosswise within it.” (NLT) “Each wheel was exactly the same and had a second wheel that cut through the middle of it.” (CEV) “Each had another wheel intersecting it at right angles.” (TEV) (1:16; see the Notes section.) Such a design of the wheels would have facilitated movement in any one of four directions without having to turn. A number of modern translations are more specific in their renderings than is the Hebrew text and convey different meanings. “As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went.” (NIV) “The wheels could move in any of the four directions.” (TEV) “When they moved in any of the four directions they never swerved from their course.” (REB) “The beings could move in any of the four directions they faced, without turning as they moved.” (NLT) (1:17)
Seemingly, the rims at the top of the large wheels were so high above the ground that they appeared terrifying to Ezekiel, and all four rims were covered with “eyes” all around. This suggests that the rotation of the wheels was purposeful as if they were seeing every detail of the area being traversed. (1:18; see the Notes section.) The living beings and the wheels moved in perfect unison. Whenever the living beings moved, the wheels moved beside them; and whenever the “living beings rose from the earth [or the land], the wheels rose.” (1:19) The “spirit,” apparently God’s spirit, animated everything, making fully coordinated movement possible. Wherever the spirit went or directed, the living being would go, and the wheels would rise along with them. This was because the spirit that was “in the living beings,” guiding, controlling, or directing them, was also the animating power in the wheels. (1:20; see the Notes section.) The feature regarding unified movement and its source is repeated. When the living beings went, the wheels would go. When the living beings stood, the wheels would stand. When the living beings rose, the wheels would rise along with them. This was because the “spirit of the living beings” was “in the wheels,” animating them. (1:21)
Ezekiel saw what looked like an “expanse,” firmament, or platform that was spread out “over the heads of the living beings,” and this expanse had the appearance of “dreadful,” awesome, or dazzling “ice,” probably meaning that it was as bright as ice when reflecting sunlight. The Septuagint indicates that the firmament looked like “crystal.” (1:22)
Under the “expanse” or platform, two wings of each living being were “straight” or stretched out above their heads. The position of each straight or outstretched wing is referred to as a “woman to her sister,” probably meaning that the tip of each outstretched wing touched the outstretched wing of the living being in the closest proximity. According to the Septuagint, the outstretched wings were “flapping” one to the other. The other set of two wings served to cover much of the body of each living being. (1:23)
To Ezekiel, the moving wings of the living beings sounded like “many waters,” likely resembling the roar of waves crashing against the shore. The sound was also like the voice of the Almighty, probably meaning thunder, and like the noise of a large military force. When not moving, the living beings let down their wings, apparently folding them against their sides. (1:24)
Ezekiel heard a sound from above the “expanse” or platform that was over the heads of the living beings. The Hebrew text repeats the words about their letting down their wings, but this repetition is not included in the Septuagint. (1:25)
Above the “expanse” or platform over the heads of the living beings, there was what looked like a throne fashioned from “sapphire,” a transparent or translucent precious stone that probably was deep blue in color. The Septuagint refers to the throne as being on the sapphire platform. Seated on the throne was one whose likeness was the appearance of a man. (1:26)
From the waist up of the one seated on the throne, Ezekiel saw what appeared to him like the glow of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver that gleamed brightly, and like flames of fire all around. The appearance of the seated one from his waist downward was like flames of fire and surrounding brightness. (1:27) Ezekiel also saw what looked like a rainbow (“the bow that is in the cloud on a day of the rain”) and brightness all around the seated figure. Possibly this brightness glowed like the colors of the rainbow and formed a bow around the one seated on the throne. Ezekiel recognized the appearance to be the “likeness of the glory of YHWH.” Apparently filled with reverential fear, he dropped to his knees and bowed low, with his face touching the ground. He then heard the voice of the one seated on the throne speaking directly to him. (1:28)
According to the Targum, the “thirtieth year” mentioned in verse 1 started counting from the time in the reign of King Josiah when Hilkiah the high priest found the book of the Torah in the temple.
The Targum makes a distinction in verse 8 between the living beings and the cherubs. It says that the “hands” were used to take burning coals from among the cherubs and to give these coals to the seraphs. The seraphs then sprinkled the coals on the place of the wicked ones, to annihilate the sinners who transgressed God’s word.
In verse 9, the Septuagint does not mention “wings.” It indicates that the faces of the four living beings did not turn when they were moving. They moved in the direction of the focus of a specific face.
The wording in verse 14 is not in the Septuagint.
In verse 16, the Hebrew word tarshísh may designate topaz, but this is not certain. Common renderings in translations are “topaz” and “chrysolite.”
Verse 18 of the Septuagint rendering contains no reference to fear or terror in connection with the rims of the wheels.
The opening words of verse 20 in the Septuagint are, “Wherever the cloud was, there the spirit [was ready] to go.”
So that he might speak to him, YHWH addressed Ezekiel as “son of man” and told him to “stand upon [his] feet.” The directive for him to stand called upon Ezekiel to be alert and attentive to everything he would hear. (2:1; see the Notes section.)
When YHWH spoke to him, Ezekiel sensed that the “spirit” (God’s spirit) came into him. Impelled by the spirit, he stood up “upon [his] feet,” ready to hear the words of YHWH. The Septuagint says regarding the effect the spirit had on Ezekiel, “The spirit came upon me and raised me up and set me upon my feet.” (2:2)
YHWH commissioned Ezekiel to go to the “sons of Israel,” his own people. Their being designated as “rebellious nations” may refer to the people of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and the people of the kingdom of Judah. All of them had rebelled against YHWH. They and their “fathers” or ancestors had transgressed against him, disregarding his commands, and this had continued to that “day” or the very time in which Ezekiel lived. (2:3; see the Notes section.)
The “sons” or people of Israel were “hard” or obstinate of “face.” Their countenance reflected a stubborn and unresponsive attitude. They were “stout of heart” or unyielding and defiant in their inmost selves. When being sent to them, Ezekiel had a difficult assignment as the prophet who would be proclaiming an unpopular message. He was to identify the source of his words, saying to the people, “Thus says the Lord YHWH.” (2:4; see the Notes section.)
Whether the people, having proved to be a “rebellious house,” listened to or refused to hear the message proclaimed to them, they would still know that a prophet had been in their midst. The Septuagint says regarding the people and Ezekiel, “They will know that you are a prophet in their midst.” (2:5; see the Notes section.)
Again addressing Ezekiel as “son of man,” YHWH told him not to be afraid of the people and their words, indicating that he should be bold and fearless in proclaiming the message despite their stubborn resistance and hostility. The Targum says that he should not fear them or their words even if they rebel and contend against him. In their response to Ezekiel, the first Hebrew word used to describe them is the plural form of saráv. There is uncertainty about the meaning of this verb. The word saráv could identify the people as obstinate or rebellious persons. Another possible significance is that the people were hurtful like nettles. They were also likened to “thorns” and “scorpions.” The Targum indicates that their works were like scorpions. Ezekiel was sitting among “scorpions,” suggesting that he found himself in an environment that could cause him harm. The Septuagint says regarding the people, “They will rage and rise up against you round about, and you are dwelling in the midst of scorpions.” Nevertheless, Ezekiel was told not to be afraid of their words and not to be dismayed or terrified at their faces, “for they are a house of rebellion” or a rebellious people. The implication was that he should not be afraid because YHWH would be with him as he faithfully served as his prophet. (2:6; see the Notes section.)
Ezekiel was to speak YHWH’s “words” to the people regardless of whether the rebellious ones would listen to or refuse (be terrified [LXX]) to hear these words. According to the Targum, the objective was that the people might obey the instruction and stop sinning. (2:7)
YHWH again addressed Ezekiel as “son of man” and said to him, “Hear [or listen to] what I am saying to you. Do not be rebellious like the rebellious house [of Israel]. Open your mouth, and eat what I am giving to you.” As the text that follows reveals (3:1), the item intended for Ezekiel to eat was not customary food, but he was to eat it without protesting. (2:8; see the Notes section.) He saw a hand reaching out to him (probably the hand of one of the living beings or cherubs [10:20]), and this hand held a scroll. (2:9) When the scroll was unrolled before Ezekiel, he saw that it had writing on both front and back. The wording consisted of “laments [or dirges] and moaning [expressions prompting sorrow] and woe [pronouncements of calamity or doom].” (2:10; see the Notes section.)
In this chapter (verses 1, 3, 6, and 8), as is the case throughout the entire book of Ezekiel, the prophet is addressed as “son of man.” This designation would have reminded him of his being an earthling or a mortal with a commission from the eternal Sovereign upon whom cherubs are in attendance.
In verse 3, the Septuagint does not include the reference to “nations.”
The wording of verse 4 in the Septuagint is shorter than that of the Hebrew text. “And you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord.”
In verse 5, the Septuagint opens with the words, “Whether they hear or be terrified …”
The Targum interprets the words in verse 10 differently. It indicates that the nations would exercise dominion over the people of the house of Israel if they transgressed against the Torah. If they heeded the Torah, God would remove lamentation, groaning, and mourning from them.
Ezekiel was instructed to eat what he found and then, more specifically, to eat the scroll that had been held out to him and to go to speak to the “house of Israel” (“the sons [or people] of Israel” [LXX]). (3:1; see the Notes section.) Obediently, he opened his mouth, and YHWH had him eat the scroll. (3:2) The directive for Ezekiel to cause his “belly” to eat and to fill his innards with the scroll may have served to assure him that he would not vomit up what normally would have been indigestible. In Ezekiel’s mouth, the scroll was as sweet as honey. Since YHWH is never the source of evil but only of good, everything that proceeds from him is delightful or sweet to his devoted servants. Even the pronouncements of punitive judgments are “sweet,” for they are merited and expressions of flawless justice. Therefore, besides the honor to serve YHWH as his prophet, the words of YHWH would have been sweet to Ezekiel. (3:3; see the Notes section.)
The designation “house of Israel” apparently applied to the Israelite exiles among whom Ezekiel was to enter to speak to them YHWH’s “words.” (3:4; see the Notes section.) Ezekiel was not being sent to foreigners, to persons whose speech sounded unintelligible to him and whose tongue or language would seem “heavy” to him. This could refer to a “language” that was hard or difficult or that the tongue of the speakers appeared to be impaired, expressing words in a way that sounded like gibberish to one unfamiliar with the foreign language. Ezekiel was being sent to his own people who spoke the same language he did. (3:5) He was not being sent to one of many peoples speaking a foreign language or being “heavy of tongue” (either having a difficult language or expressing themselves in a manner that sounded like gibberish to a person who did not know the foreign language). If YHWH had sent Ezekiel to a foreign-language-speaking people, they would have listened to him. (3:6) The “house [or people] of Israel,” however, would not listen to Ezekiel, for they were unwilling to listen to YHWH. They were “strong of forehead” (“contentious” [LXX]) and “hard of heart,” suggesting that they were stubborn or defiant and, in their “heart” or inmost self, unyielding and unresponsive.(3:7)
So that Ezekiel would be able to carry out his commission boldly and fearlessly, YHWH prepared him for the resistance and hostility he would encounter. He made his “face” or countenance as “hard” or as resistant to change as the faces of the people, and his “forehead as hard as their foreheads” (strengthened Ezekiel’s controversy against the controversy of the people [LXX]). (3:8)
YHWH assured Ezekiel that he would be up to the assignment to confront the rebellious “house” or people of Israel despite their obstinate and unyielding disposition and unresponsiveness. He had made Ezekiel’s forehead hard like a diamond or emery, “harder than flint.” Therefore, he was not to be afraid of them or terrified at their “faces,” their stubborn and defiant resistance to the message he would be proclaiming to them. According to the Septuagint, Ezekiel’s controversy with the rebellious people would be stronger than a rock or crag in everything or continually. (3:9)
For Ezekiel to take YHWH’s word into his “heart” would mean for him to make it a precious part of his inmost self. To hear it with his ears would signify to give undivided attention to it. (3:10; see the Notes section.)
After entering among the exiled people (literally, the “sons of your people”) who by then had been in Babylonian exile for at least four years (1:2), Ezekiel was to say to them, “Thus says the Lord YHWH.” Regardless of whether they listened or stubbornly refused to listen, he was to speak to them YHWH’s word or message. (3:11)
Either a “wind” or God’s spirit lifted Ezekiel up and took him away, possibly away from the glorious visionary scene and back to the actual circumstances. While this visionary movement of Ezekiel was occurring, the four-wheeled vehicle also appears to have been in the process of departing. Behind him, Ezekiel heard the “sound of great shaking,” probably a loud rushing sound. It may be that the four living beings or cherubs then uttered the doxology, “Blessed be the glory of YHWH from its place,” possibly meaning praised be the majesty of YHWH in its exalted heavenly place. The Targum is more specific in indicating that the living beings were the ones offering praise and saying the words of the doxology. (3:12) The sources of the “great shaking” or the loud rushing sound are identified as being the sound from the beating wings of the four living beings or cherubs as these wings touched (literally, “kissed”) one another, and as being the sound from the movement of the gigantic wheels beside the cherubs. (3:13)
Ezekiel sensed that a wind or God’s spirit had lifted him up and was transporting him. When the visionary aspect of his experience had ended, he proceeded to go, “bitter in the heat [or rage] of [his] spirit.” Possibly because he would be proclaiming a severe message of judgment to his own people who would be obstinate and unresponsive, Ezekiel was bitter and filled with indignation. His being bitter and going in the rage of his spirit also harmonized with his having consumed the scroll that contained “laments and moaning and woe.” (2:10; 3:2) According to the Septuagint, he went under the impulse of his own spirit. The “hand [power, control, or hold] of YHWH” on Ezekiel was “strong,” compelling him and strengthening him to carry out his commission. (3:14)
Ezekiel came to the exiles who were residing at Tel-abib by the river Chebar, probably one of the major canals in ancient Chaldea. He then took up residence where they were dwelling. While there for “seven days,” he sat “stunned” in their midst. His being stunned may have been on account of the vision he had seen and the assignment to fulfill the role of a prophet. Another possible reason for his being stunned could have been because of feeling a need for time to reflect on everything he had seen and heard. (3:15; see the Notes section.) At the end of the seven days, the “word of YHWH” came to him. (3:16) This “word” or message explained the role Ezekiel was to fill. YHWH made him to be a “watchman” or lookout to the “house [or [people] of Israel.” In that capacity, Ezekiel would hear from the “mouth of YHWH” a “word,” evidently a message about impending punitive judgment for unfaithfulness, and then was to give the warning to the people that YHWH had conveyed to him. (3:17; see the Notes section regarding “son of man.”)
If YHWH said to a wicked man (“lawless man” [LXX]), “You will definitely die [literally, dying you will die],” and Ezekiel, in his role as a watchman, failed to warn him to turn away from his wicked way [“his ways” (LXX)] so that he might live, the man would die for his guilt, but YHWH would require his blood from Ezekiel’s hand. Ezekiel would be held accountable for his death because of having withheld from him the opportunity to repent and to continue to live. (3:18)
If Ezekiel warned the wicked man (“lawless man” [LXX]) and he did not turn away “from his wickedness and his wicked way [his lawlessness and his way (LXX)],” the man would die for his guilt. For having faithfully discharged his commission as a watchman, Ezekiel, however, would deliver his own “soul” or life. He would share no responsibility for the death of the wicked man. (3:19)
If a righteous man turned away from his righteousness (righteous deeds [LXX]) and committed injustice (transgression [LXX]) and YHWH placed a “stumbling block” before him, causing him to fall or to experience calamity, he would die. His righteous deeds would not be remembered or taken into consideration, for he had ceased to be an upright man and merited punishment for his wrongdoing. If Ezekiel had failed to warn the individual, YHWH would require that one’s blood from his hand. Ezekiel would be held accountable for neglecting to give the warning that might have saved the man’s life. (3:20)
If Ezekiel warned the righteous man not to sin and he stopped sinning, the righteous man would live because he responded to the warning that had been given to him. For faithfully discharging his responsibility as a watchman, Ezekiel would deliver his own “soul” or life. (3:21)
The “hand” (power or control) of YHWH was upon Ezekiel, and he was instructed to “arise” and go to the plain. YHWH would speak to him there. The plain likely was an uninhabited area some distance from the nearest town or city. (3:22) Ezekiel did get up and headed for the plain. He then saw the “glory of YHWH” standing there, like the glory or majesty (“like the vision and like the glory” [LXX]) that he had seen “by the river Chebar,” probably a major canal in Chaldea. (See 1:4-28.) Apparently overwhelmed with reverential fear, Ezekiel dropped to his knees and bowed down, with his face touching the ground. (3:23)
God’s spirit entered into Ezekiel, impelling him to “stand up on [his] feet.” YHWH began to speak to him, telling him, “Go, shut yourself in the midst of your house.” The instruction appears to be that Ezekiel was to go into seclusion or hiding because of the extreme hostility of his own people. (3:24) Seemingly, their opposition to Ezekiel as YHWH’s prophet would be comparable to their tying him up with cords and not permitting him to go out among them. They apparently would do everything they could to hinder or stop him from proclaiming the word of YHWH to them. (3:25; see the Notes section regarding “son of man” and the interpretation of the Targum.) When YHWH had no message for him to proclaim, Ezekiel would be mute. It would then be as if YHWH had made his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth, and he would not say anything to reprove the people, for they were a “rebellious house,” unwilling to respond to any correction and defiantly refusing to abandon their wayward course. They did not deserve to hear words of reproof. (3:26) When, however, YHWH had a message for Ezekiel, he would open the prophet’s mouth. Ezekiel would then say to the people, “Thus says the Lord YHWH.” The one who was willing to listen should listen, and the one choosing not to listen could refuse to listen. Ezekiel could expect unresponsiveness, for the people proved to be a “rebellious house.” (3:27; see the Notes section.)
In this chapter (verses 1, 3, 4, 10, 17, and 25), as is the case throughout the entire book of Ezekiel, the prophet is addressed as “son of man.” This designation would have reminded him of his being an earthling or a mortal with a commission from the eternal Sovereign upon whom cherubs are in attendance.
The Septuagint, in verse 15, differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It indicates that Ezekiel, in a state of having been lifted up, “entered among the captivity” or among the people who had been taken into Babylonian exile. He then moved about among those who were residing by the river Chebar. He “sat” or resided there for “seven days” and lived or went about “in their midst.”
The Targum interprets the binding of Ezekiel (verse 25) to mean that God imposed his word upon the prophet as with the chains that restrain prisoners.
According to the words of verse 27 in the Targum, the one listening should heed the instruction, and the one refraining should refrain from sinning.
YHWH instructed Ezekiel to take a brick, place it before him, and “engrave upon it a city, Jerusalem.” (4:1; see the Notes section.) He was then to stage a mock siege against the engraved city, apparently with models that he would fashion. These models included a siege wall, a bulwark or ramp, encampments, and battering rams that he would position against the representation of Jerusalem. Ezekiel was to set the battering rams (engines of war [LXX]) all around this representation (4:2) and take a “plate [or griddle] of iron,” positioning it as an iron wall between himself and the brick on which the representation of Jerusalem was engraved. With his face focused against the engraved city, he was to enact a mock siege against it as a “sign for the house [or people] of Israel.” This “sign” indicated that Jerusalem would be besieged and conquered. (4:3)
Lying on his left side, Ezekiel would be placing the “guilt [injustices (LXX)] of the house [or people (sons [LXX])] of Israel upon it.” For the number of days that he would be lying on his left side, he would be bearing their guilt. If he lay on his left side with his head to the west (the direction to Jerusalem from Babylon), his face would be looking north, the location of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. The left side would have been bearing the weight of Ezekiel’s body representative of a heavy burden of guilt. (4:4; see the Notes section.)
For each year of guilt, Ezekiel would lie on his side for one day, thereby bearing the guilt of the “house [or people] of Israel.” The total number of days was to be 390. (4:5; see the Notes section.) YHWH commanded that Ezekiel complete the number of days and directed him to “lie on his right side,” bearing the “guilt of the house [or people] of Judah” 40 days (“a day for a year, a day for a year”). If he lay on his right side with his head to the west (the direction to Jerusalem from Babylon), his face would be looking to the south, the location of the kingdom of Judah. The right side would have been bearing the weight of Ezekiel’s body, representative of a heavy burden of guilt. (4:6; see the Notes section.)
YHWH directed Ezekiel to set his face to the siege of Jerusalem (the city engraved on a brick), to bare (“strengthen” [Targum]) his arm (unencumbered by clothing) so as to be in a position to strike, and to prophesy against Jerusalem, evidently to proclaim the certain conquest of the city. (4:7)
To prevent Ezekiel from turning from one side to the other, YHWH declared that he would put cords upon him. This restraint would continue until the time the days of the mock siege were completed. According to the interpretation in the Targum, God decreed his word upon Ezekiel to be as binding as cords that would prevent him from turning from one side to the other. (4:8; see the Notes section.)
Bread consisting of a mixture of grains, beans, and lentils would not have been ceremonially clean for a man who observed the Mosaic law, as the priest Ezekiel would have done faithfully. (Compare Leviticus 19:19.) Yet YHWH instructed him to put wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt into one vessel and then to use this mixture for making bread. This would be the only food Ezekiel would have to eat during the time he would be lying on his side and enacting the mock siege of Jerusalem. The stipulated period for this was 390 days (190 days [LXX]). No mention is made about what he was to do during the course of the 40 days of lying on his right side. (4:9) Ezekiel’s daily diet was limited in weight to 20 shekels. Based on the average weight of discovered ancient shekels, the amount of food would have been about 8 ounces (c. 230 grams), basically a starvation diet. This prescribed diet served to illustrate the extreme famine conditions that would come to exist inside besieged Jerusalem. The words “from time to time you will eat it” may mean that Ezekiel was to partake of this meager amount of food from one day to the next. (4:10) His intake of water was limited to “one sixth of a hin” (c. 1.3 pints; c. .6 liter). As in the case of the ingredients for the bread, Ezekiel had to measure the amount of water to determine the limited quantity he could drink “from time to time.” (4:11)
For Ezekiel to eat the bread he baked “like a cake of barley” could mean to eat it plain, without anything on it. Before the “eyes” of the people or when they could observe what he was doing, Ezekiel was to use human excrement as fuel for the fire needed to bake his bread. (4:12) For him to bake bread consisting of a mixture of ingredients and using excrement for fuel served to illustrate tangibly that the exiled “sons” or people of Israel would be eating “their bread unclean among the nations.” They would be living among persons who would be unclean to them and, therefore, in unclean lands. The exiled people would themselves be unclean, with the food they would be eating also being unclean. YHWH is represented as identifying himself as the one who would be driving the people away from their land to the territories of other nations. This is because he would permit this to take place. (4:13)
Ezekiel objected to his having to use human excrement, saying, “Ah, Lord YHWH! Look, I myself have [literally, my soul has] not been defiled.” He had not made himself ceremonially unclean by eating the meat from an animal that had died of itself or from an animal that a beast of prey had torn. (Compare Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 11:39, 40.) During the course of his entire life, from his youth onward, he had never put any foul meat into his mouth. (4:14) In response to Ezekiel’s objection, YHWH granted Ezekiel to use cattle mature instead of human excrement as the fuel needed for baking his bread. (4:15)
YHWH determined to break the “staff of bread” in Jerusalem. As a literal staff provides support, bread or food supports or sustains life. The breaking of the “staff of bread” meant that the food supply would be cut off from the people as a consequence of the siege of Jerusalem. The limited amount of available bread needed to be weighed or measured out daily so as not to run out completely. Anxiety would accompany eating, with the fear being that soon there might not be any bread. Water also would be scarce, requiring that the people drink it by measure and doing the drinking in terror, fearful that they could soon be without any water. (4:16; see the Notes section regarding “son of man.”) Suffering from lack of bread and water, the people would stare at one another (literally, a “man and his brother”) in a dazed or shocked state and would waste away, dying a slow death, in their guilt (“injustices” [LXX]). (4:17)
In this chapter (verses 1 and 16), as is the case throughout the entire book of Ezekiel, the prophet is addressed as “son of man.” This designation would have reminded him of his being an earthling or a mortal with a commission from the eternal Sovereign upon whom cherubs are in attendance.
According to verse 4 of the Septuagint, Ezekiel was to lie on his left side for 150 days. Possibly the number 150 was introduced into the text from the reference in Genesis 7:24 to the 150 days during which the flood waters overwhelmed the earth. Nothing in the biblical account relating to the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel fits a period of guilt that lasted for 150 years (according to an application of the words about a “day for a year” [4:6]). The number 150, however, could represent a period of punishment.
One cannot be certain about how the 390 days (verse 5) relate to 390 years of guilt in the history of Israel. The record in 1 and 2 Kings regarding the number of years the kings reigned indicates that the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel existed for a much shorter time than 390 years. One possible explanation could be that the guilt of the “house [or people] of Israel,” though starting with the rebellion against the royal house of David and the introduction of idolatrous worship at the direction of Jeroboam (the first king of the newly formed ten-tribe kingdom of Israel), included the guilt of the people of the kingdom of Judah. Punishment for that total record of guilt came when the warriors under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. Accordingly, the 390 years could represent the period from the establishment of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel until the destruction of Jerusalem. The inclusion of the people in the kingdom of Judah as part of the record of guilt would not rule out a shared guilt with people from other tribes. Priests, Levites, and people from all the other tribes who wanted to be faithful to YHWH left the territory of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam, and likely their descendants were still living in the realm of the kingdom of Judah. (2 Chronicles 11:13-17) Doubtless a significant number of these descendants shared in the idolatrous practices and other iniquities or injustices of which the people of the kingdom of Judah had made themselves guilty, and their wrongdoing could be regarded as a continuation of the record of guilt of the “house of Israel.”
Another possibility is that the 390 days (verse 5) and 40 days (verse 6), or 430 days combined, relate to past history that represented future developments. According to Exodus 12:41, the Israelites left Egypt as a free people after 430 years. The release from Babylonian exile proved to be like a second exodus. Therefore, on this basis, the 430 days could be representative of the period of exile for the entire house of Israel, Israelites from all the tribes. The period of 40 days (with the accompanying formula [a “day for a year”]) is mentioned in Numbers 14:34. There the reference is to the 40 days that the Israelite spies spent in reconnoitering the land of Canaan, and the corresponding disciplinary punishment of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness that would end with the death of the generation that faithlessly accepted the bad report from ten of the twelve spies and then rebelliously refused to enter the land. (Numbers 14:26-38) The 40 days could then represent the time of disciplinary punishment for the people of Judah that would terminate with their being able to return to their own land, with 40 years marking the end for the unfaithful generation that would not be able to return.
If the 40 days mentioned in verse 6 are associated with a 390-day period that represents 390 years from the formation of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel until the destruction of Jerusalem, then the 40 days either represent 40 years of the final part of the 390 years or an additional 40 years. About 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was commissioned to be YHWH’s prophet in the thirteenth year of King Josiah’s reign (Jeremiah 1:1-3), and his basic message was that the Babylonians would conquer Jerusalem and the people would be taken into exile. As the prophecy of Huldah confirmed a few years later, the severe punishment for unfaithfulness was certain to befall the kingdom of Judah. (2 Kings 22:3, 10-20) In itself, however, the wording of verse 6 suggests that the “forty days” are to be added to the 390 days and, therefore, may be understood to represent a period of additional 40 years. Although the Septuagint reads 150 days instead of 390 days, it indicates, in verse 5, that the 40 days designate an additional period. The Septuagint refers to God as having given Ezekiel “two injustices” of the house of Israel for “190 days” (150 plus 40) and then (in verse 6) mentions that he should lie on his right side and take upon himself the “injustices of the house of Judah [Ioudas] for 40 days.” Idolatrous practices on an extensive scale began during the 40-year reign of King Solomon and before the establishment of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. (1 Kings 11:4-7, 29-42) Therefore, it could be conjectured that the 40 days represent the entire period of 40 years during which the record of guilt of the house of Judah had its beginning.
Ezekiel’s being restrained from turning (verse 8) does not appear to mean that he was rendered immobile for 390 days and then 40 days. The enactment of the mock siege of Jerusalem involved more than his lying on his side. For his daily portion of food, he needed to weigh a specific amount of the stored ingredients (wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt) and bake bread with them. Though he was allowed to drink very little water, he still had to get it from a source and then measure out the prescribed quantity. To bake the bread, he had to obtain cattle manure as fuel for the fire. Although his intake of food and water would be very limited, he would still have to relieve himself. Moreover, while sleeping he could not enact a mock siege. As verse 12 may be regarded to indicate, the objective of Ezekiel’s actions was for people to see them. During the night, this would not have been the case. Therefore, Ezekiel may have lain on his left side and then on his right side for considerable time during the course of each of the 390 and 40 days, but this apparently would not have been for 24 hours each day.
YHWH instructed Ezekiel to take a sharp sword and to use it like a barber’s razor to cut the hair of his head and his beard. After weighing the hair, he was to divide it (5:1) into three parts (four parts [LXX]). (See the Notes section.) Upon the completion of the mock siege of the city of Jerusalem that he had engraved earlier on a brick, Ezekiel was to burn one third of the hair in the midst of the engraved city. In the Septuagint, the reference is to burning a quarter of the hair in the midst of the city and then an additional quarter in its midst. Another third (quarter [LXX]) of the hair was to be struck with the sword all around the engraved city, and the last third (quarter [LXX]) was to be scattered to the wind. Regarding what this third part represented, YHWH declared, “I will unsheathe a sword after them” (after the people who had been scattered among the nations as exiles). According to the Targum, God would incite those who would do the slaying with the sword. (5:2)
From the portion of the hair designated for scattering, Ezekiel was to take a few hairs and wrap them up in his “skirts” (“garment” [LXX]) or the loose ends of his garment, indicating that there would be some who would survive the impending calamity. (5:3) Other hairs he was to toss into the midst of the fire and burn them up. This action revealed that a fire would go forth or spread to “all the house [or people] of Israel.” (5:4; see the Notes section.)
Concerning Jerusalem, the Lord YHWH declared, “This [is] Jerusalem. In the midst of the nations I have set her, with lands round about her.” As the words that follow suggest, the implication is that Jerusalem was surrounded by the lands of other nations and ended up learning from them and adopting their practices. (5:5) In her conduct (as engaged in by the people), Jerusalem proved to be more wicked than the surrounding nations. Jerusalem (as representing the people) rebelled against God’s commands and his statutes more than the people in the lands round about. His professed people rejected his “judgments” or ordinances and did not “walk” or conduct themselves according to his statutes. (5:6) They were more “tumultuous,” wilder, or acted with far less restraint than the nations round about them. The people refused to walk or to conduct themselves according to YHWH’s statutes and to act in harmony with his “judgments” or ordinances. So corrupt were the people that they did not even act according to the “judgments” or ordinances of the nations round about them. Therefore, the Lord YHWH expressed his decision against his people, focusing on Jerusalem as the place that represented them. (5:7)
The Lord YHWH is quoted as saying that he was against Jerusalem (literally, “you” [singular and feminine gender]) and would execute his judgments in her midst “in the eyes of the nations,” or for the people of other nations to see. (5:8) YHWH determined to do to Jerusalem (representing the rebellious people) what he had never done before and the like of which he would never do again “because of all [her] abominations,” or the detestable things his disobedient people had committed. These abominations included idolatrous practices, oppression, and injustices, and the punishment for these abominations would be very severe. (5:9) During the extreme conditions of famine that would come to exist in besieged Jerusalem, fathers would eat sons, and sons would eat fathers. In Jerusalem, YHWH would execute punitive judgments and scatter any survivors to every “wind” or in all directions. (5:10)
YHWH is quoted as solemnly declaring, “Therefore, as I live, … my eye will not pity, and I will not be compassionate.” He would not look upon the suffering people with any sense of sorrow or feel any compassion for them. This was because they had defiled his sanctuary with their abominable and loathsome things, engaging in practices that were disgusting to him. He would “diminish” them or, according to the Targum, “cut off the strength of [their] arms.” The Septuagint indicates that he would reject them. (5:11)
One third of the people would die from pestilence or from infectious disease that would spread among the famished persons living in the unsanitary conditions of Jerusalem under siege. Another third would perish from the sword of warfare. The remaining third would be scattered to “every wind” or in all directions. The scattered survivors of the siege and conquest would not be secure, for YHWH would permit the sword of warfare to follow them. Therefore, he is quoted as declaring that he would “unsheathe the sword after them.” As in verse 2, the Septuagint refers to a quarter of the people, with a specific calamity being designated to affect each quarter. A quarter of the people would perish by “death” or pestilence, and the other three quarters respectively would die from famine, be scattered, and perish by the sword. (5:12)
In the punishment to come upon the rebellious people, the anger of YHWH would come to its end. He would cause his fury to “rest” upon them and “console” himself. This could mean that the unmitigated wrath of YHWH would be directed against the people, and he would be satisfied in having executed the punishment that justice required. The Septuagint says that his wrath and his fury would be brought to an end upon them. At the time YHWH would bring his rage to finish upon the people, they would know that he himself had spoken in his “jealousy” or in his right to undivided devotion from them. (5:13)
The singular feminine suffixes in the Hebrew text indicate that the reference is to Jerusalem. YHWH decreed, “I will make you a desolation [or a desolated place] and [an object of] reproach among the nations round about you before the eyes [or in the sight] of all [persons] passing by.” According to the Septuagint, God would make Jerusalem and “her daughters” (probably designating nearby towns) into a wilderness. (5:14) Jerusalem would become an object of “reproach” and of “taunt” or of words of insult, a “warning” regarding the fate of those who rebel against YHWH, and a “horror,” something terrifying, to the nations round about the city. This would occur at the time YHWH would execute his judgments upon Jerusalem in expression of his anger and rage and with furious reproofs or chastisements. There would be no change in the severe judgment, for YHWH had spoken, and his word would be carried out without fail. (5:15)
As if shooting a bow, YHWH would send “deadly arrows of famine” against the people. These arrows would bring about destruction when they would be sent against them. YHWH’s adding famine could refer to his permitting famine conditions to intensify, breaking the “staff of bread” or allowing the food supply to be completely cut off from the people. (5:16; also see the comments on 4:16.) YHWH declared that he would send famine and wild beasts against the people, and the beasts of prey would bereave them of children. The devastation of the land would force predators out of their usual habitat, leading to the death of children that might encounter them. The singular feminine suffixes in the concluding phrases indicate that Jerusalem is the focus of the words. “Pestilence” would pass through Jerusalem or infectious disease would spread within the besieged city, and also “blood” would pass through, for the conquering warriors would slay many. YHWH would permit this to happen. Therefore, he is represented as bringing the sword upon Jerusalem. (5:17)
In verse 1, the prophet is addressed as “son of man.” This designation would have reminded him of his being an earthling or a mortal with a commission from the eternal Sovereign upon whom cherubs are in attendance.
In verse 4 of the Septuagint, the expression the “house of Israel” is part of the wording that introduces the words in verse 5. “And you shall say to all the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord …”
A “word” or message from YHWH came to Ezekiel (6:1), directing him to set his face to the “mountains of Israel” and to prophesy against them. (6:2; see the Notes section.) To the “mountains of Israel,” Ezekiel was to say, “Hear the word of the Lord YHWH. Thus says the Lord YHWH to the mountains and to the hills and to the ravines and to the valleys [groves (LXX)], See, I even will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places.” Throughout the territory of the kingdom of Judah, high places or sites for idolatrous worship existed on mountains and hills and in ravines and valleys, and enemy warriors would destroy these high places. (6:3) Altars for presenting sacrifices at the high places would become desolate, and incense altars (“shrines” or “sacred precincts” [LXX]) would be broken. YHWH would be using enemy warriors as his agents of destruction, and they would slay worshipers at the high places. He permitted this to happen. Therefore, he is quoted as identifying himself as the one who would cause the slain to fall before (literally, “before the face of”) the idols (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt] (6:4), who would lay the “carcasses of the sons [or people] of Israel” before [literally, “before the face of] “their idols [literally, dungy things],” and would scatter the bones of those slain round about the altars. (6:5; see the Notes section.)
In all the dwelling places of the people, their cities would be laid waste, the “high places” or cultic sites would be ruined. The altars at these sites would be broken, the idols smashed, and the incense altars (“shrines” or “sacred precincts” [LXX]) cut down, and the “works” of the people or all the appendages of idolatry wiped out. Nothing would remain at the devastated high places. The “works” could also include everything that the people had constructed in the cities that would be conquered and reduced to rubble. (6:6; see the Notes section.) In the midst of the people, the slain would fall as the enemy warriors continued their campaign of conquest. This would happen in expression of YHWH’s judgment. Therefore, the people would know or be forced to recognize that he is YHWH, the God who does not tolerate wrongdoing indefinitely and fulfills the word about punitive judgment that he made known through his prophets. (6:7)
The words “and I will leave” are followed by a preposition and an infinitive that can mean “to be,” “to become,” or “to happen” or come to pass. Modern translations commonly interpret the Hebrew to mean that God would leave a remnant or survivors, but do not include a rendering that incorporates a form of the infinitive “to be” in the next phrase. Among the renderings are the following: “But I will spare some. Some of you shall escape the sword among the nations and be scattered through the countries.” (NRSV) “But I will let a few of my people escape destruction, and they will be scattered among the nations of the world.” (NLT) “I will let some escape the slaughter and be scattered among the nations.” (TEV) In the Septuagint, the phrase “and I will leave” is not included. (6:8; see the Notes section.)
The survivors would remember YHWH “among the nations” where they had been taken into captivity. This would take place after the severe punishment had brought them to repentance. This punishment or discipline would be the means by which YHWH would break their “whorish heart,” or their inclination to engage in the veneration of idols. The “heart” of the people, or they in their inmost selves, had departed from YHWH, and their “eyes” had whored after idols, longingly seeking opportunities to engage in idolatry. Upon being brought to repentance, they would look upon themselves as loathsome on account of the evils they had committed and all their abominations or their disgusting idolatrous practices. According to the Septuagint, they would “strike their faces for all their abominations.” (6:9) At that time, they would “know” or come to recognize that YHWH was indeed the Sovereign, the one to whom they were accountable. It had not been in vain that he had spoken through his prophets about the “evil” or calamity that he would bring upon them. (6:10; see the Notes section.)
The meaning of the clapping of the hands and the stamping of the foot depends upon whether they are divinely commanded reactions to the horrific calamity the people would experience or are the divinely commanded reactions to the merited execution of punitive judgment. A number of modern translations have added words to identify the divinely commanded acts as reactions that express despair or horror. “The LORD God then said: Ezekiel, beat your fists together and stomp your feet in despair! Moan in sorrow, because the people of Israel have done disgusting things and now will be killed by enemy troops, or they will die from starvation and disease.” (CEV) “This is what the Sovereign Lord says, Clap your hands in horror, and stamp your feet. Cry out because of all the detestable sins the people of Israel have committed. Now they are going to die from war and famine and disease.” (NLT) The wording of the Septuagint suggests that the clapping of the hands and the stamping of the foot are divinely commanded responses to the execution of merited punitive judgment. “Thus says the Lord, Clap [with] the hand and stomp [with] the foot and say, Good, good, over [or because of] all the abominations of the house of Israel. By the sword and by death [or pestilence] and by famine, they will fall.” In the Septuagint, the Hebrew expression that may be rendered “alas” or “aha” is translated as “good” and repeated. On account of the God-dishonoring practices of the “house [or people] of Israel,” they would die by the sword of the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar or perish from famine or infectious disease. (6:11)
Those who were far away from the wielding of the sword of warfare would die from pestilence (“die by death” [LXX]). Although having succeeded in escaping the slaughter, they would be physically weak, have limited resources, and find themselves in circumstances that would make them vulnerable to infectious disease. Those near the attacking enemy warriors would fall or perish by the sword. Others who had escaped death by pestilence or sword would die from famine. Thus by sword, pestilence, and famine, YHWH would bring his anger to a finish against his wayward people. (6:12) The people would then “know” or be forced to recognize that he is YHWH, the God who does not tolerate wrongdoing indefinitely and fulfills the word about punitive judgment that he made known through his prophets. This would be when the slain would lie among their idols (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt]), all around their altars, and at the cultic sites on all the high hills, on all the tops of the mountains, and in groves — all the locations where the people offered sacrifices or incense (literally, “pleasing odor”) to their idols (literally, “dungy things”). (6:13)
YHWH declared that he would stretch out his hand (“destructive power” [LXX]) against his people, desolate their land, and devastate all their habitations. The desolation would extend from the wilderness, probably the arid area (the Negeb) south of the mountainous region of Judah, to Diblah (possibly a location in the north), suggesting that the entire territory from south to north would be reduced to a wasteland. When that happened, the people would “know” or be forced to recognize that the God whom they had disobeyed is YHWH, the God who does not tolerate wrongdoing indefinitely and acts according to the word he has made known through his prophets. (6:14; see the Notes section.)
In verse 2, the prophet is addressed as “son of man.” This designation would have reminded him of his being an earthling or a mortal with a commission from the eternal Sovereign upon whom cherubs are in attendance.
In the Septuagint, the wording of verse 5 is shorter. “And I will scatter your bones around your altars.”
In verse 6, the Septuagint does not mention the “works.”
Verse 8 in the Septuagint is rendered like a compound introductory phrase for the words that are completed in verse 9. Those who would be delivered from the sword and come to be among the nations and scattered in the lands would remember God.
The shorter text of verse 10 in the Septuagint is, “And they will know that I, the Lord, have spoken.”
According to the Septuagint rendering of verse 14, the desolation would extend from the “wilderness [or desert] of Deblatha.”
Ezekiel received another “word” or message from YHWH. (7:1) Concerning the “land of Israel,” the Lord YHWH declared, “An end has come, the end upon the four wings [or corners] of the earth.” The expression the “four wings of the earth” probably is to be understood as applying to the entire territory of the kingdom of Judah that the warriors under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar would devastate. (7:2) YHWH’s anger was not with the land itself but with the people who had defiled it, for they were guilty of engaging in idolatry, oppression, and injustice. Therefore, his wrath, though affecting the land, would be let loose against the wayward people. They would be judged “according to [their] ways” or their corrupt conduct and punished for all their abominations, especially their veneration of foreign deities. (7:3 [7:7]; see the Notes section.) YHWH declared, “My eye will not pity you, and I will not be compassionate.” He would not look upon the suffering people with any sense of sorrow or feel any compassion for them. YHWH would punish them for their corrupt ways. They merited punishment, for their “abominations” were in their midst. As to what would then follow, the word of YHWH continued, “And you will know that I am YHWH.” They would then know or be forced to recognize YHWH as the God who does not tolerate wrongdoing indefinitely and who acts according to the word he has made known through his prophets. (7:4 [7:8, LXX])
By means of repetition, the certainty of the coming disaster is expressed. The Lord YHWH is quoted as saying, An “evil [or a calamity], one [notable] evil — look, it is coming.” According to another reading, “evil after [literally, another] evil — look, it is coming.” (7:5) An “end has come. The end has awakened [or is about to reveal itself] against you [the land and the wayward people]. Look, it is coming.” (7:6) “The doom [tsephiráh] has come to you, the one inhabiting the land. The time has come; the day [is] near, tumult and not the shouting [on] the mountains,” possibly the joyous shouts of the people at the sites used for idolatrous worship or their joyous shouts on the mountain slopes at harvesttime. According to the Targum, the people would be unable to escape to mountain strongholds. (7:7; see the Notes section.) In the Septuagint, similar thoughts are expressed in verses 3, 4, and 7. “The end has come upon you, the one inhabiting the land; the time has come, the day has drawn near, not with tumult nor with labor pains.” (7:3, 4, LXX) “Now the end [is coming] to you, and I will send [calamity] upon you, and I will take vengeance upon you for all your ways [or corrupt conduct] and give against you all your abominations,” or exact punishment for all your loathsome practices. (7:7, LXX)
YHWH would pour out his wrath upon the disobedient people, bringing his anger against them to a finish. His judgment would be “according to [their] ways” or their evil practices. He would punish them for “all [their] abominations [literally, bring upon (them) all (their) abominations],” which included all their idolatrous observances. (7:8 [7:5, LXX])
With minor variations, the expressions of verse 4 are repeated (which see). In the concluding phrase, YHWH is quoted as saying, “And you will know that I am YHWH, [the one] smiting.” At the time they suffered siege and conquest from the enemy warriors under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, the people would know or be forced to recognize that this was an expression of YHWH’s punitive judgment against them. He was the one striking them. (7:9 [7:6, LXX])
The “day” that is referred to as coming is YHWH’s day for executing judgment by means of the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar. In the next phrase, the Hebrew word (tsephiráh) that appears in verse 7 is found here. To be consistent, the word may be assigned the conjectural meaning “doom.” The only other occurrence of tsephiráh is at Isaiah 28:5, where it has the meaning “wreath,” “garland,” or “crown.” This significance does not appear to fit the context. Doom, however, had indeed come for the wayward people of the kingdom of Judah. A number of modern translations convey this significance. “The day is coming, doom is here; it has burst upon them.” (REB) “See, the day! See, it comes! Your doom has gone out.” (NRSV) “The day is here! It has come! Doom has burst forth.” (NIV) In the Septuagint, the rendering is, “See, the end is here! See, the day of the Lord!” The phrase that includes the Hebrew word tsephiráh is missing. The “rod” that blossomed could be the instrument that YHWH would use to punish his disobedient people, and the “pride” that budded could designate the arrogance of the disobedient people that had become clearly manifest in their defiantly refusing to heed the word of YHWH that the prophets proclaimed. Instead of “rod,” a number of modern translations contain the interpretive renderings “injustice,” “violence,” and “wickedness.” “Injustice and arrogance are everywhere.” (CEV) “Injustice buds, insolence blossoms.” (REB) “Violence is flourishing. Pride is at its height.” (TEV) “The people’s wickedness and pride have blossomed to full flower.” (NLT) The Septuagint rendering could be understood to indicate that the arrogance of the people had sprouted even though the “rod” for punishment had blossomed, being ready for use against them. In the Targum, the reference could be to King Nebuchadnezzar as the “ruler’s rod” for inflicting punishment. (7:10)
Apparently among the people in the kingdom of Judah, “violence” had “risen up into a rod of wickedness.” This could mean that it had increased to the point of coming to be a rod that was used to inflict serious harm or that the resulting wickedness merited to be punished severely as with a rod. In the Targum, the reference is to “violent men” as having risen up to give their support to the wicked. The Septuagint rendering seems to indicate that the rod would break the “support of the lawless one and not with tumult nor with haste.” Modern translations contain various interpretive renderings. “Violence leads to flagrant injustice.” (REB) “Violent criminals run free.” (CEV) “Their violence has grown into a rod that will beat them for their wickedness.” (NLT) “Violence has grown into a rod to punish wickedness.” (NIV) “The violent have risen up to wield a scepter of wickedness.” (NAB, revised edition). A literal rendering of the rest of the verse could be, “Not of them, and not their crowd [or abundance], and not their wealth, and not preeminence among them.” There is uncertainty about the actual meaning of the words that are here translated “wealth” and “preeminence,” and the significance of the phrases is also obscure. Perhaps the implied thought is that nothing would save the violent ones from perishing when God’s time for executing his judgment arrives, or that neither they nor anything they possess would continue to exist. Interpretive renderings in modern translations include: “None of the people will be left, none of that crowd — no wealth, nothing of value.” (NIV) “None of these proud and wicked people will survive. All their wealth and prestige will be swept away.” (NLT) “But none of them [violent ones] shall remain; none of their crowd, none of their wealth, for none of them are innocent.” (NAB, revised edition) “Is it [the violence or injustice] not their fault, the fault of their turbulence and tumult? There is nothing but turmoil in them.” (REB) According to the Targum, nothing would remain of the violent men — not their crowd, not their children, not the children of their children. (7:11)
The time to come was the time for the execution of YHWH’s judgment against his people to arrive. In that “time” or “day,” enemy warriors under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar would devastate the land, plunder possessions, and take survivors into exile. Therefore, the buyer had no reason to rejoice about his purchased property, for it would soon be lost to him The seller did not need to mourn because adverse circumstances had forced him to part with his property, for otherwise he would have lost it through enemy conquest. YHWH’s wrath was directed against everyone (literally, “all its crowd”). (7:12)
For decades to come, there would be no possibility for those taken into exile to return to their own land. As long as those taken into exile were still alive (literally, “while in the lives their life”), the seller would not be able to return to the property he sold. The “vision,” or the fulfillment of the divinely decreed and revealed coming punitive judgment, would affect everyone (literally, “all its crowd”). It would “not turn back” or be hindered or stopped from taking place. A “man,” by [or because of] his iniquity,” would not be able to hold on to his life. The words in the Septuagint could be rendered, “A man, in the eye [perhaps meaning in the sight of God], will not hold on to his life.” (7:13)
At the blowing of a trumpet, or at the sounding of an alarm, all the people would be getting ready. No one among them, however, would go out to battle the enemy warriors. They would be paralyzed by fear, for YHWH’s wrath would be directed against them (literally, “all its crowd”). The shorter rendering in the Septuagint is, “Trumpet with a trumpet, and judge everything.” (7:14)
Outside the protective city walls, the “sword” of the enemy would be wielded against the people. Inside the besieged city, famine and pestilence (“death” [LXX]) or infectious disease would be claiming victims. Enemy warriros would kill anyone whom they encountered in the field. Persons in the besieged city would perish from famine or pestilence (“death” [LXX]). (7:15)
On the mountains, where they had fled to escape from the enemy, the survivors would be like “doves of the valleys,” individually moaning like these birds over their guilt. The Septuagint represents God as saying that he would slay all of them for the injustices they individually had committed. (7:16) Faced with the enemy warriors, all the people would prove to be helpless, with “all hands” dropping down instead of being used in a successful defense. All the knees would drip with water. Fright would cause involuntary urination. (7:17) In expression of their grief and pain, people would gird themselves with sackcloth, covering the bare skin of their loins with a coarse cloth made from goat’s hair. The terrifying situation would cover them with “shuddering.” They would be in the grip of horror. There would be “shame on all faces,” for all the people would be helpless and in fear. In expression of their sorrowful circumstances, they would shave off the hair of their head. (7:18)
Tossing silver into the streets and coming to view gold as something abhorrent (like the impurity resulting from menstruation) indicated that these precious metals were valueless in the “day” or the time for the execution of YHWH’s punitive judgment. They would furnish no deliverance from his fury. Gold and silver would provide nothing that could satisfy the people (literally, “their soul”) or any of their needs. They were not items with which they could fill their stomachs. For the people, precious metal was the “stumbling block of their iniquity.” The wrongful use they made of it caused their calamitous fall. The Septuagint indicates that it became a “test of their injustices,” possibly meaning that it exposed them as having been guilty of serious wrongs. (7:19)
For the people, the “beauty of [their] ornament” was the basis for “pride.” This arrogance was especially evident in their idolatrous practices. To them, their images were like a beautiful ornament. They used gold or silver when fashioning “images of their abominations, their detestable things,” or of the foreign deities that they venerated. YHWH declared that this beautiful ornament would become a loathsome thing. According to the interpretation of the Targum, the “beautiful ornament” was the temple that God had given to the people “for glory” or as something truly glorious in which they could take pride. They, however, venerated “images of abominations” (foreign deities) in the temple. Therefore, YHWH made the ornament or temple into something contemptible. (7:20)
Possibly regarding the precious metal that was used for making idols, YHWH is quoted as saying that he would give it into the “hand of foreigners” (enemy warriors) “for plunder.” The designation “wicked ones of the earth” or land apparently also refers to enemy warriors. They would have no regard for the idols conquered peoples worshiped and would profane these idols by removing the gold or silver for other purposes. (7:21)
YHWH would turn his face away from the people, refraining from coming to their aid in their time of distress. The “hidden” or “precious place” could designate the temple, the city of Jerusalem, or the land that YHWH had given to his people. Renderings in modern translations include “treasured land” (NLT, REB), “treasured place” (NIV), “treasured Temple” (TEV), and “treasure-house” (NJB). The Septuagint identifies it as God’s “visitation,” possibly meaning the place that he guards. According to the Talmud, the reference is to the “land of the dwelling of [God’s] Shekinah [Shechinah].” Enemy warriors would enter the place and defile it. They would plunder treasures and, therefore, are called “robbers.” (7:22)
The making of the chain may refer to putting captives in chains and then leading them into exile. This fate did befall the people (Jeremiah 40:1) because the land had become full of “judgment of bloods,” probably meaning full of unjust judgments that resulted in shedding much innocent blood. Jerusalem apparently was the city that had become full of violence. The Septuagint rendering differs significantly. Seemingly, the enemy invaders are portrayed as causing befouling or confusion, for the land would be “full of peoples” (evidently foreign peoples), and the “city” (Jerusalem) would be “full of lawlessness.” According to the Targum, the land was full of persons who merited execution.(7:23)
The large military force under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar is called the “worst of nations,” for the warriors would cause extensive devastation in the land and much loss of life. By using these warriors as his instrument for punishing his disobedient people, YHWH would be bringing them into the land and having them take possession of the houses of his people. The defending warriors among the people would be powerless and fall before the enemy invaders. As everything would take place by YHWH’s permission, he would be the one who would bring an end to the proud strength of his people (both valiant warriors and fortresses). Their “holy places,” probably the sites used for idolatrous worship, would be profaned, for the enemy invaders would reduce them to ruins. (7:24)
The advance of the enemy troops would cause shuddering among the people. They would long for an end to the conflict, but there would be no peace. (7:25) One disaster would come on the heels of another disaster, and one report would follow another report, with each report giving rise to increasing fear. The people would seek a “vision” from a prophet (not a prophet of YHWH like Jeremiah whom they opposed). They would want guidance in their time of distress, but none would be provided. The people would look to a priest for “law” or instruction, but none would be forthcoming. Such instruction would perish, as also would the counsel of elders. The elders would be unable to give any sound advice for dealing effectively with the threatening circumstances. (7:26)
The suffering and devastation from the Babylonian military campaign against the kingdom of Judah would cause the “king,” Zedekiah, to mourn. Any chieftain, high official, or prominent man in the realm would wrap himself “in devastation”or be in a state of despair and weakness. The “hands of the people of the land” (the general population) would be “disturbed,” trembling in fear, for they would be without strength to defend themselves. By means of the enemy troops, YHWH would act against the people “according to their way” or their corrupt conduct. He would “judge them according to their [own] judgments.” They had dealt unjustly and harshly with innocent people. Therefore, the judgment again them would be severe, causing them experience the ruthless treatment they had meted out to others. Regarding that time, YHWH declared, “They will know that I [am] YHWH.” The people would be forced to recognize that YHWH is the God who does not tolerate lawlessness indefinitely and executes punitive judgment at the time and by means of the agency of his choosing. (7:27; see the Notes section.)
In verse 2, prophet is addressed as “son of man.” This designation would have reminded him of his being an earthling or a mortal with a commission from the eternal Sovereign upon whom cherubs are in attendance.
For verses 3 through 9, the arrangement of the text in the Septuagint differs from that in the Masoretic Text.
In verses 7 and 10, the rendering “doom” is conjectural. The Targum says that the “kingdom has been revealed.” Possibly this means that God’s royal authority in the capacity of judge had come to be in evidence, for the time for the punishment of the wayward people had arrived.
In verse 27, the initial part of the Septuagint text is shorter. It says that a “ruler will clothe himself with destruction” or devastation, “and the hands of the people of the land will be lamed.” The Targum does not refer to judgments but indicates that God would exact payment from the disobedient people according to their deeds.
Ezekiel happened to be in his house “in the sixth year” of the exile of King Jehoiachin, which year is commonly considered to have been 592 BCE. It was then the fifth day of the sixth month (mid-July to mid-August [fifth month (LXX)]). “Elders of Judah were sitting” before Ezekiel, possibly because of having come to him to hear a message from YHWH. At that time, the “hand of YHWH fell” upon Ezekiel, indicating that God’s spirit became operative upon him. The Targum does not use the expression “hand” but refers to the “spirit of prophecy from before the Lord God.” (8:1)
Ezekiel saw the likeness of a figure that had the “appearance of fire” or that shown brightly. According to the Septuagint, it was the “likeness of a man” or a likeness that resembled the human form. From his “loins” or waist downward, the appearance looked like fire; and from the “loins” upward, the appearance was like “electrum,” an alloy of gold and silver that gleamed brightly The Targum avoids any reference to a human form. It indicates that the “glory” was too great for the eye to see, being impossible to look upon. (8:2)
The bright likeness reached out with the “form of a hand”and took hold of Ezekiel by a lock of the hair of his head. A “spirit,” either God’s spirit or a wind for which God was responsible, lifted Ezekiel up and carried him “between the earth and the heavens,” or in midair between the land below and the sky above, and brought him to Jerusalem. This did not occur literally but “in visions of God” or in a visionary manner that had God as its source. In vision, Ezekiel arrived at the “entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north.” It was the inner court of the temple and the place where the “image of jealousy,” one “provoking to jealousy,” was located. According to the Targum, it was an object that provoked to anger, meaning that the idolatrous object incited God’s anger. As an object of the people’s defiant refusal to be exclusively devoted to YHWH, the “image of jealousy” was highly offensive to him. The Septuagint refers to it as the “stele [pillar or monument] of the buyer.” (8:3)
The vision of the “glory of the God of Israel” that Ezekiel had seen previously occurred at the location of a plain in Babylonia. (3:22, 23) Likely the plain was an uninhabited area some distance from the nearest town or city. The presence of the glory of YHWH in the proximity of the temple indicated that he had come to direct attention to the abominable practices of the people against whom he would express punitive judgment. (8:4)
In response to the divine directive to “lift up [his] eyes in the direction of the north,” Ezekiel did so. He then saw “north of the gate of the altar” the object that provoked YHWH to jealousy or anger (LXX), the image of jealousy in the entrance. The “gate of the altar” could refer to the inner temple gate that led to the altar of burnt offering. Modern translations vary in the meanings their renderings convey. “So I looked, and there to the north, beside the entrance to the gate near the altar, stood the idol that had made the Lord so jealous.” (NLT) “I saw that disgusting idol by the altar near the gate.” (CEV) “In the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy.” (NIV) “There in the entry north of the altar gate was this statue of jealousy.” (NAB, revised edition) In the Septuagint, there is no mention of an idol. It indicates that Ezekiel saw the gate that led to the east. (8:5; see the Notes section.)
YHWH asked Ezekiel whether he saw the “great abominations” or detestable things (“great lawless things” or deeds [LXX]) in which the “house [or people] of Israel” engaged at his sanctuary. Their defiling practices were such as to drive him away from it, or cause him to abandon the temple as his representative place of dwelling and to let it be destroyed. Although Ezekiel had seen the disgusting “image of jealousy,” he would come to see even greater abominations (“greater lawless things” or deeds [LXX]). (8:6; see the Notes section.)
YHWH brought Ezekiel to the “door” or entrance leading into the court, apparently the inner temple court. Then Ezekiel “saw a hole in the wall,” evidently in the wall that surrounded the court. (8:7) YHWH commanded him to “dig into the wall.” Upon doing so, Ezekiel saw a door or entrance there, probably an entrance into a chamber on the perimeter of the court. (8:8; see the Notes section.) YHWH directed him to enter so that he could see the vile abominations or disgusting things (“lawless things” or deeds [LXX]) people of Israel were committing there. (8:9) Ezekiel entered and saw all kinds of crawling things and detestable beasts or unclean wild animals and idols (literally, “dungy things [an expression of contempt]) of the “house [or people] of Israel” carved on the wall of the place where he then found himself. (8:10; see the Notes section.)
Seventy elders of the “house [or people] of Israel” were standing where Ezekiel had entered. Probably the most prominent among them was “Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan,” the only one mentioned by name. Each of the elders had a censer in his hand, and smoke from the burning incense in the censer rose in the form of a cloud. When burning incense before the representations engraved on the wall, all the men made themselves guilty of idolatry. (8:11) YHWH asked Ezekiel whether he had seen what each one of the “elders of the house [or people] of Israel” was doing “in the dark in the rooms of his show piece” or idol. Perhaps the reference to rooms is to niches for the idolatrous representations to which the elders burned incense. According to the Septuagint, the rooms were private rooms — hidden bedchambers. Apparently because they saw no help coming from YHWH to deal with the serious military threat from the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, they felt that YHWH had left the land. Seemingly they reasoned that his departure from the land meant that he could not see what they were doing in secret. (8:12)
YHWH told Ezekiel that he would see even greater abominations or detestable practices (“lawless things” or deeds [LXX]) in which the people of Israel engaged. (8:13) After having been taken to the north side of the temple precincts at the “entrance of the gate of the house [or temple] of YHWH,” Ezekiel saw seated women who were “weeping for Tammuz,” a Mesopotamian fertility god. This deity is thought to have been the Dumuzi mentioned in ancient Sumerian texts. Tammuz was also the name of the month that corresponds to mid-June to mid-July. By then summer heat had dried up much of the vegetation, and worshipers of Tammuz appear to have associated this development to his death. The wailing of the women apparently was over the death of Tammuz. (8:14) YHWH is quoted as then saying to Ezekiel, “Have you seen [this], son of man? You will see still greater abominations [practices (LXX)] than these.” These words indicated that Ezekiel would witness even more shocking detestable idolatrous acts. (8:15; see the Notes section regarding “son of man.”)
From his position at the “entrance of the temple of YHWH” with a view of the “inner court of the house [or temple] of YHWH,” where he had been taken, Ezekiel saw twenty-five men with their backs to the temple. Located between the temple porch (ailam [LXX], a transliteration of the Hebrew word) and the altar of burnt offering, these men faced east and were bowing down, worshiping the sun. This act was a flagrant rejection of YHWH, for the temple was his representative place of dwelling. (8:16)
Again YHWH is quoted as asking Ezekiel, “Have you seen [this], son of man?” This is followed with the rhetorical question as to whether it was too slight a thing “for the house [or people] of Judah to commit the abominations [lawless things or deeds (LXX)] that they commit here,” filling the land with violence (lawless things or deeds [LXX]) and further provoking YHWH to anger. There is uncertainty about the significance of the concluding phrase in the question (“putting the branch to their nose”). The expression “their nose” in this phrase was anciently identified as a scribal emendation, with the alternate reading being “my nose.” In the Septuagint, the reference could be to those engaged in mocking as if thumbing their noses. “Putting the branch to [the] nose” appears to have been a highly offensive act, and the branch may even have been a phallic representation. Modern translations vary in their interpretive renderings. “Is it nothing to the people of Judah that they commit these detestable sins, leading the whole nation into violence, thumbing their noses at me, and provoking my anger?” (NLT) “Look how they insult me in the most offensive way possible!” (TEV) “Look at them at their worship, holding twigs to their noses.” (REB) (8:17; see the Notes section regarding “son of man.”)
In view of the detestable idolatrous practices and the violence and injustices with which the people had filled the land, YHWH determined to express his wrath against them. His “eye” would not pity them, and he would not be compassionate. YHWH would not look upon the suffering people with any sense of sorrow or feel any compassion for them. In their distress, they would cry out to him. Although they would cry out with a loud voice in his hearing (literally, “ears”), he would not listen to them, refusing to provide any aid or relief. The Targum says that he would not hear their prayers. (8:18; see the Notes section.)
In this chapter (verses 5, 6, 8, 12, 15, and 17), as elsewhere in the book of Ezekiel, the prophet is addressed as “son of man.” This served to remind him that he was an earthling or mortal with a commission from the eternal God YHWH upon whom cherubs are in attendance.
The Septuagint, in verse 7, does not mention a hole in the wall, and verse 8 also does not refer to a wall.
In verse 10, the Septuagint does not mention the wall, resulting in ambiguity. It also does not refer to crawling things and detestable beasts but refers to “vain [or worthless] abominations” and “all the idols of the house of Israel.”
In verse 18, the Septuagint does not include the phrase about crying out with a loud voice and not being heard.
In Ezekiel’s hearing (literally, “in my ears”), YHWH called out with a loud voice, directing those who would be making a visitation of the city (a visitation for punitive action against Jerusalem) to draw near. Each one was equipped with a destroying implement or weapon in his hand. (9:1; see the Notes section.) From the direction of the upper temple gate, the gate facing north, six men came, each one with “his implement of slaughter in his hand.” The six men apparently represented the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar that invaded from the north and would devastate Jerusalem, including the temple. Among the six men was another man. He was dressed in linen clothing and had a scribe’s inkhorn or writing case at his waist. All seven men entered the inner court of the temple and then stood “beside the altar of copper” or bronze (the altar of burnt offering). (9:2; see the Notes section.)
The “glory of the God of Israel” had been above the “expanse,” firmament, or platform over the four living beings or cherubs. This “glory” or dazzling brilliance that appeared in the likeness of a man (1:26; 3:22, 23; 8:2, 4) moved to the threshold [inner court (LXX)] of the house” or temple, probably the threshold of the entrance into the Most Holy. From that position, YHWH is represented as calling out to the man dressed in linen clothing and with a scribe’s inkhorn or writing case at his waist (a “girdle on his waist” [LXX]). (9:3; see the Notes section.)
YHWH said to the man dressed in linen clothing, “Pass through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark [sign (LXX)] on the foreheads of the men [or people] moaning and groaning over all the abominations [lawless deeds (LXX)] that are done in the midst of it.” Those who were sighing and groaning were persons who lived uprightly and were deeply distressed about the idolatrous practices, oppression, and injustices they witnessed among the people of Jerusalem. The word translated “mark” is the name of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, taw. In ancient times, the letter “taw” was written like an “X.” A number of modern translations reflect this in their renderings. “Pass through the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and mark an X on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the abominations practiced within it.” (NAB, revised edition) “Mark with a cross the foreheads of those who groan and lament over all the abominations practised there.” (REB) “Mark a cross on the foreheads of all who grieve and lament over all the loathsome practices in it [Jerusalem].” (NJB) (9:4)
In his “ears” or in his hearing, Ezekiel heard YHWH tell the six men with the weapons, “Pass through the city after him [the man dressed in linen clothing] and strike. Your eye shall not have pity, and you shall not show compassion.” They were not to look with pity upon the people nor have any feeling of compassion for them. (9:5) The men with the weapons were to slay old men and young men, virgins, little children, and women. They, however, were not to go near anyone who had previously been marked. The men were instructed to begin the punitive action at the sanctuary. Their first victims were the old men in front of the temple (literally, “before the face of the house”). According to the Septuagint, the “men of the elders” were “inside, in the house,” which could mean inside the temple complex. (9:6)
The idolaters at the temple would not have considered their practices as disgusting and as polluting the sacred precincts. From YHWH’s standpoint, however, the temple was defiled, and his command to the six men with the weapons was to pollute it even more with dead bodies. They were to fill the temple courts with the slain. In response to the directive to go forth, they did so and began striking down the unmarked people “in the city,” Jerusalem. (9:7; see the Notes section.)
With the slaughter occurring all around him, Ezekiel finally found himself alone. He dropped to his knees, fell upon his face, and cried out, “Ah, Lord YHWH, are you destroying all the remnant of Israel in the outpouring of your wrath upon Jerusalem?” The Targum refers to Ezekiel as making the plea, “Hear my petition.” (9:8)
In response to Ezekiel’s reaction to the slaughter conveyed to him in a vision, YHWH revealed why the punitive judgment was merited. The “guilt of the house [or people] of Israel and Judah” was “exceedingly great” (literally, “with muchness, muchness”). The “land” was “full of bloods,” with much innocent blood having been shed through acts of violence and judicial corruption, and the city, Jerusalem, was full of injustice. It appears that, because of not seeing any help coming from YHWH, the people said that he had “forsaken the land” (the “inhabitants” of the land [Targum]) and did not see, having no knowledge of what they were doing. (9:9; see the Notes section.)
YHWH was fully aware of everything that was taken place among the people. He determined that his “eye” would not have pity or look with any pity on the people during the time for the execution of punitive judgment nor would he show any compassion. The consequences for “their way” or their corrupt course of conduct would come upon “their head” as merited punishment. (9:10)
To report what he had accomplished, the man dressed in linen clothing and with a writer’s inkhorn at his waist said to YHWH, “I have done as you commanded me.” (9:11; see the Notes section.)
The Septuagint, in verse 1, indicates that the “judgment” of Jerusalem had drawn near.
In verse 2, the Septuagint says that one man was clothed with a robe (one that reached down to the feet) and had a “girdle of sapphire upon his waist.”
According to the interpretation of verse 3 in the Targum, the glory had been in the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy.
The rendering of verse 7 in the Septuagint is shorter than the wording of the Masoretic Text. “And he [God] said to them, “Pollute the house [the temple], and fill the ways with carcasses, [you], the ones going out, and strike” or slay.
Instead of being “full of bloods” (verse 9), the Targum says that the land was full of those who deserved to be slain. The Septuagint refers to the land as being filled with “many peoples.”
In verse 11, as in verse 3, the Septuagint says that the man was clothed with a robe and had a “girdle on his waist.”
The commission of the man dressed in linen clothing reveals the deep concern YHWH has for his devoted servants. It indicates that, regardless of how perilous circumstances may become, a remnant of godly persons will survive and benefit from his loving attention and care.
Upon the “expanse,” firmament, or platform that was over the heads of the cherubs (or the four living beings), Ezekiel saw something that, in appearance, resembled a sapphire stone, a transparent or translucent precious stone that probably was deep blue in color, and the object looked like a throne (10:1; compare 1:22, 26.)
Apparently the one seated on the object that resembled a throne instructed the man dressed in linen (in the “robe” [LXX]) to go in between the wheelwork (or the wheels), beneath the cherubs. From between the cherubs, he was to take “coals of fire” or fiery coals. After filling the hollows of both hands with these coals, the man dressed in linen clothing was to toss them “over the city,” Jerusalem. Ezekiel saw him going in to obtain the coals. (10:2) When the man went in, the cherubs were standing to the “right of the house” or temple, and a “cloud,” a manifestation of YHWH’s presence, filled the inner court. The right side of the temple would have been the south side, and a number of modern translations so render the text. “Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple.” (NIV) “The cherubim were standing at the south end of the Temple.” (NLT) “The creatures were standing to the south of the Temple.” (TEV) “The winged creatures were standing south of the temple.” (CEV) If, however, the right side of the temple is viewed as being in relation to the right of the man as he entered, this would have been the north side of the temple, where Ezekiel had earlier seen the cherubs before the “glory of the God of Israel” moved from above them to the threshold of the temple. Therefore, if the right side denotes the south side of the temple, this would indicate that the cherubs went to the south side, but the account makes no mention of any movement on their part. (10:3; see 8:3, 4; 9:3.)
There appears to be a repetition of what was earlier said in verse 3 of chapter 9. The “glory of YHWH” had moved from above the cherubs to the “threshold of the house” or temple. This resulted in gradually filling the temple with the “cloud” (“dense cloud” [Targum]) and the court came to be filled with the “brightness of the glory of YHWH.” (10:4) The sound of the beating wings of the cherubs (the four living beings) could be heard clear to the outer court of the temple. This loud sound was “like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks,” probably meaning that it was as loud as thunder. In a powerful way, the sound would have called attention to YHWH’s presence at the temple to execute punitive judgment. (10:5)
At this time the Almighty commanded the man dressed in linen clothing to “take fire” (or fiery coals [10:2]) “from between the wheelwork, from between the cherubs.” Ezekiel saw the man go in and then to stand beside one of the wheels. (10:6) One of the four cherubs reached out with his hand to the fire between them, took “fire” from it, and put the fire or fiery coals into the hands of the man dressed in linen clothing (the “holy robe” [LXX]). With the “fire” or fiery coals in his hands, the man departed. (10:7) Ezekiel saw what appeared to be the form of a man’s hand (men’s hands [LXX]) under the wings of the cherubs. (10:8) He also saw a wheel beside each one of the four cherubs, and it looked to him that the wheels gleamed “like topaz” (tarshísh [“like the appearance of a carbuncle stone” [LXX]), a transparent or translucent gemstone. (10:9; see the Notes section.) All four wheels looked the same. The words “the wheel within the wheel” could mean that each of the four wheels was intersected at right angles with another wheel. A number of modern translations are specific in expressing this basic meaning regarding the wheels. “Each wheel had a second wheel turning crosswise within it.” (NLT) “Each wheel was exactly the same and had a second wheel that cut through the middle of it.” (CEV) “Each one had another wheel which intersected it at right angles.” (TEV) (10:10)
If the reference is to the four wheels, they are either described as going on their “four sides” or rims or as moving in four directions. When changing directions, the wheels did so without turning. They would move in the direction that the heads of all four living beings or cherubs were facing. Numerous modern translations are more specific in their renderings than is the Hebrew text and vary in applying the words of this verse either to the wheels or to the cherubs. “As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the cherubim faced; the wheels did not turn about as the cherubim went. The cherubim went in whatever direction the head faced, without turning as they went.” (NIV) “They could move in any direction without turning. The wheels moved together whenever the creatures moved.” (CEV) “When they moved, they went in any of the four directions without veering as they moved; in whatever direction the first cherub faced, the others followed without veering as they went.” (NAB, revised edition) “When the cherubim moved in any of the four directions, they never swerved from their course; they went straight on in the direction in which their heads were turned, never swerving.” (REB) “The cherubs could move in any of the four directions they faced, without turning as they moved.” (NLT) (10:11)
“All their flesh” or the whole body of each cherub, their backs, hands, wings, and the wheels beside them were “full of eyes all around,” indicating that they could see clearly everywhere they would be going. Each of the four cherubs had one of the four wheels alongside. (10:12) In his hearing (literally, “in my ears”), Ezekiel heard the wheels being called “wheelwork” (ha-galgal, possibly denoting “whirling wheels” [gelgel (LXX), a transliteration of the Hebrew expression]). (10:13)
Each one of the four cherbus had four faces — the first face, the face of a cherub; the second face, the face of a man; the third face, the face of a lion, and the fourth face, the face of an eagle. If the face of a man represented the noble qualities humans possess, the other faces could represent features in which humans do not excel — power (cherub), boldness or fearlessness (lion, 2 Samuel 17:10; 1 Chronicles 12:8; Proverbs 28:1), and speed (eagle, Habakkuk 1:8). According to the earlier description of the four living beings or cherubs, the face of the cherub was the face of a bull. (10:14; compare 1:10 and see the Notes section.) Earlier, “by the river Chebar,” probably one of the major canals in ancient Chaldea, Ezekiel had seen the same four living beings or cherubs. At this later time, he saw them rise skyward. (10:15)
The cherubs and the wheels functioned in perfect harmony. Whenever the cherubs moved, the wheels went right along with them. When the cherubs lifted up their wings to rise above the earth or ground, the wheels did not change direction away from them but moved alongside them. (10:16) When the cherubs stood still, the wheels remained motionless. When the cherubs rose, the wheels rose with them. This was because the same “spirit” (God’s spirit [the “spirit of life” [LXX]) that was in the cherubs or that motivated them was in the wheels. (10:17)
The “glory of YHWH,” the impressive brilliance of his presence, moved from the “threshold of the house” or temple and then came to stand still over the four cherubs. This suggested that YHWH had abandoned the temple and that it would not continue to exist. (10:18; see 1:25-28.) Ezekiel saw the cherubs lift up their wings and rise from the “earth” or ground. As they rose, the wheels went along with them. The cherubs, with the wheels alongside them, stopped at the eastern entrance of the gate of the house or temple of YHWH, and the “glory of the God of Israel” was above them. (10:19)
The four living beings were the same ones Ezekiel had seen beneath the “glory of the God of Israel” (the brilliant manifestation of God’s presence) by the river Chebar, probably one of the major canals in ancient Chaldea. Apparently on the basis of their position beneath the “glory of the God of Israel,” Ezekiel recognized that the four living beings were cherubs. (10:20; compare 1:1, 26-28 and Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2.) Each one of the four living beings had four faces, and each one had four (eight [LXX]) wings. Underneath their wings, Ezekiel saw the resemblance of a man’s hands. (10:21) The likeness of the faces of the four living beings were same faces he had seen by the river Chebar. These living beings or cherubs moved straight ahead in the direction in which they faced. (10:22)
This chapter includes descriptions that are provided in greater detail in chapter 1.
In verse 9, the Hebrew word tarshísh may designate topaz, but this is not certain. Common renderings in translations are “topaz” and “chrysolite.”
The words of verse 14 are missing in the oldest extant manuscripts of the Septuagint. In the Hebrew text, the face of the cherub is in the first position. Ezekiel 1:10, however, refers to the face of the man first, the face of the lion second, and the face of the bull third.