Ezekiel 21:1-32 (21:6-37)

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YHWH’s “word” or message again came to Ezekiel. The Targum refers to this message as a “word of prophecy from before the Lord.” (21:1[6])

Ezekiel was addressed as “son of man,” reminding him that he was a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. The prophet was told to set his “face toward Jerusalem,” make a proclamation (literally, “drip”) “toward the holy places [or sanctuaries], and prophesy against the land of Israel.” With reference to the utterance of the prophet, the Hebrew word for “drip” could indicate that the proclamation would be like water to those listeners who were thirsting for the word of YHWH. In this context, however, the verb for “drip” may simply be an idiomatic expression meaning “proclaim.” The message for Jerusalem, the “holy places” or sanctuaries, and the “land of Israel” pertained to imminent ruin. The plural “holy places” or sanctuaries may apply to the entire temple complex in Jerusalem. (21:2[7]; see the Notes section.)

To the “land of Israel,” Ezekiel was to say, “Thus says YHWH, Look, I am against you, and I will draw forth my sword from its sheath and cut off from you both righteous one [unjust one (LXX)] and wicked one [lawless one (LXX)].” The verb for “look” serves to direct attention to what YHWH was about to do. He would use enemy warriors to devastate the “land of Israel” or the territory of the kingdom of Judah and strike down those residing in the land. As this would take place according to his purpose, YHWH is the one represented as drawing forth the sword from its sheath. The slaughter by the sword would be indiscriminate. Both upright and lawless persons would perish. (21:3[8]; see the Notes section.)

The unsheathed “sword” that would cut off “righteous one and wicked one” (“unjust one and lawless one” [LXX]) was to be wielded “against all flesh from south to north [east to north (LXX)].” This suggests that all persons in the path of the sword, not just Israelites, would be killed. The sword of war would be directed against the territory of the kingdom of Judah. Therefore, anyone who would seek to escape had to flee northward, and any of those being taken into exile would also be heading north. Even though they may have survived the wielding of the sword in the south, this sword would continue to pursue them. The people of other nations would also have the sword directed against them, for the Babylonian troops that served as YHWH᾿s instrument to execute his judgment continued triumphing in their military campaigns. (21:4[9])

At the time the prophetic words were fulfilled, “all flesh” or all persons who witnessed the fulfillment would “know” or come to recognize that YHWH had drawn out his sword from its sheath. This would be the case because the sword of warfare came against the kingdom of Judah and all other nations as had been proclaimed beforehand through the prophets. The sword of warfare would continue with the slaughter to the very end. It would not be returned to its sheath. (21:5[10])

Again Ezekiel was reminded of his being but a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH, for he, as at other times, was addressed as “son of man.” In view of the calamity that would befall the people from the wielding of the sword, Ezekiel was to “sigh with the breakdown of loins”; and “in bitterness,” he was to sigh before the “eyes” of the people or in their sight. The expression “breakdown of loins” could refer to intense emotional pain, and the calamity would result in bitterness for the people. (21:6[11])

The people would ask Ezekiel why he sighed or groaned. His reply was to be: “At news. For it [the calamity that the prophetic report had revealed] will come, and every heart will melt” (the courage of the people would fail). “All hands will drop down” or become enfeebled, unable to make any defense against the sword of war. “Every spirit” (the activating or motivating power of the inner self [all flesh and every spirit (LXX)]) “will grow faint” or become downcast. From fright, “all knees” would become wet, for “water” or urine would flow down upon them. Everything described was certain to occur, and the word for “look” focused attention on this. “Look, it comes, and it will be, says the Lord YHWH. (21:7[12]; see the Notes section.)

Again YHWH᾿s “word” or message came to Ezekiel. The Targum refers to this message as a “word of prophecy from before the Lord.” (21:8[13]) As at other times, Ezekiel was addressed as “son of man,” reminding him that he was a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. “Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus says the Lord, A sword, a sword is sharpened and also polished.” The sword to be wielded in warfare was readied for slaughter. According to the interpretation of the Targum, the “sword of the king of Babylon” would slaughter, and the “sword of the Ammonites” would be sharpened and used to destroy. (21:9[14])

As a sharpened sword, it would be effective as a weapon of slaughter. Polished, the sword would be like “lightning” or would flash, and its flashing would cause fear among persons under attack. There is uncertainty about the meaning of the rhetorical question that follows. “Or shall we exult?” If this question is for Ezekiel᾿s fellow exiles in Babylon, the wielding of the sword would provide no basis for rejoicing but would occasion dread regarding the calamity that would befall the people in Jerusalem and the rest of the territory of the kingdom of Judah. Therefore, the answer to the question about exulting would be, No. According to the interpretation in the Targum, the “house” or people of Judah and Benjamin exulted when the tribes of Israel were exiled because of worshiping idols. The expression the “rod [or scepter] of my son” may be understood to apply to the royal authority of the king in the line of David. As the one who representatively sat on the throne of YHWH (1 Chronicles 28:5), the king is identified as his “son.” (2 Samuel 7:12-14) At the time the sword would be wielded against the kingdom of Judah, no consideration would be shown for the kingly authority of the monarch in the royal line of David. The king would be treated just like any tree that was to be cut down. He would be deprived of his royal authority as other rulers had been. The scepter or royal authority would be rejected like that of any other kingly authority. In the Septuagint, the command is directed to the sword. “Slaughter; treat with contempt [or destroy]; put away every tree.” The Targum contains a completely different interpretation. It says that the “house” of Judah and Benjamin went astray after “images of wood.” (21:10[15])

For it to be ready for warring, the sword would be handed over for polishing so that it could be handled as a flashing weapon. To serve as an effective weapon, the sword was sharpened. Polished and sharpened, the sword was “given into the hand of a slayer.” This slayer was the Babylonian military force under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar. The Septuagint rendering may be understood to indicate that Jerusalem would be given into the hand of one who thrusts the sword or who uses it to slaughter. According to the oldest extant Greek text (P967), the reference is to the “hand” or power of the sword. The Targum indicates that the punishment for the people would be that they would be given into the “hand of the king of Babylon.” (21:11[16])

The sword had come against YHWH’s people. Therefore, Ezekiel (a mere mortal [“son of man”]) was to “cry out and wail” on account of the devastating attack the people would experience. This sword would not let the king and his princes or officials escape, for it was directed against all the chieftains or prominent men of Israel. Along with the people generally, the prominent men would be “delivered over to the sword.” Likely to express shock and grief regarding the calamity, Ezekiel was to strike upon his thigh, probably the right thigh. The directive to Ezekiel in the Septuagint was for him to “clap upon [his] hand.” (21:12[17])

The somewhat obscure introductory Hebrew wording has often been translated to relate to “examination” or “testing.” “Testing will surely come.” (NIV) More specifically, God is quoted as doing the testing. “I am testing my people.” (CEV, TEV) Other translations use the verb “consider” as an introduction to the words that follow. (NRSV, Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) The Septuagint rendering could be translated “for justice [or judgment] has been rendered.” According to the Targum, the prophets prophesied, but the people did not repent. If the Hebrew text does relate to “examination” or “testing,” the thought could be that the examination revealed the people to be corrupt and to deserve severe punishment. Even the “rod” or the “scepter” (the monarch who was in possession of the scepter or royal authority) would be rejected as a man not to be preserved from harm. The “scepter” or royal authority would cease to exist, for no king in the line of David would continue to rule. (21:13[18]; see the Notes section.)

Ezekiel was again addressed as “son of man,” reminding him that he was a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. He was directed to “prophesy” and to clap his hands (literally, “strike palm against palm”). The clapping could have applauded the punitive judgment against the wayward people or it could have been a sign of horror or astonishment about the slaughter the sword would effect. There is a measure of uncertainty about how the wording about the sword is to be understood, and this is reflected in the renderings of modern translations. “Let the sword fall twice, thrice; it is a sword for killing.” (NRSV) “Then take the sword and brandish it twice, even three times, to symbolize the great massacre.” (NLT) “Let the sword strike twice, a third time. It is a sword of slaughter.” (NAB, revised edition) “My vicious sword will attack again and again.” (CEV) The Septuagint directs the words to Ezekiel, “Double a sword. The third sword is for the mortally wounded ones — the great one for the deadly wounded ones, and it [you (P967)] will astound them.” This sword is one for “great slaughter,” and it encircled the people, letting no one escape the calamity. (21:14[19]; see the Notes section.)

When faced with the “sword,” the “heart” of the people would “melt” or their courage would fail. Many of the people would come to be fallen or mortally wounded persons “at all their gates,” the gates of the cities. YHWH is represented as saying that that he gave or appointed the sword for slaughtering and made it like “lightning” or caused it to flash. It was polished for slaughter. Regarding the sword, the Septuagint concludes with the words, “Good! It has come to be for slaughter [not in P967]. Good! It has come to be for flashing. (21:15[20])

The sword was to reveal itself to be sharp when striking to the right or to the left. In whatever direction its “face” or cutting edge was, the sharp sword was to go into action, striking with all its fury. (21:16[21])

YHWH is quoted as saying that he would clap (literally, strike one palm against the other palm) and bring his wrath to rest. Possibly the clapping of his hands may mean that he would applaud the punitive action of the sword. The execution of his judgment by means of the Babylonian military force under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar would bring to an end his anger with the people of the kingdom of Judah and those of other lands. (21:17[22])

Again YHWH’s word or message came to Ezekiel. The Targum identifies this message as a “word of prophecy from before the Lord.” (21:18[23]) As at other times, Ezekiel was addressed as “son of man,” reminding him that he was a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. The prophet was to mark “two ways” or two directions “for the sword of the king of Babylon” (Nebuchadnezzar) to come to launch an attack. The sword would come from the same land, Babylonia or Chaldea. Thereafter as it moved onward, the “sword” (representing the Babylonian military force under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar) would come to a fork in the road. For both directions, a sign (literally, “hand”) was to be made at the “head” or beginning of each “way” leading to a city. (21:19[24]) Ezekiel was to mark one way for the “sword to come to Rabbah of the sons of Ammon,” the Ammonite capital that was situated on a tributary of the upper Jabbok. The other way for the sword to come was against Judah, against the fortified capital city Jerusalem (“against Judea and against Jerusalem in its midst” [LXX]). (21:20[25]; see the Notes section.)

At the fork in the road (literally, “mother of the way” [“ancient way” (LXX)], Nebuchadnezzar the “king of Babylon” would stand in front of the “two ways.” By means of divination, he would determine which way to choose. He would shake the arrows. Probably the arrows would have been previously marked to indicate Rabbah or Jerusalem. Then, after shaking the arrows in the quiver, Nebuchadnezzar would have pulled out one of them. Teraphim were idols, and Nebuchadnezzar probably consulted the teraphim through a priest who accompanied the troops. The third form of divination involved looking at a liver. This would have been a liver from a sacrificed animal, and the appearance of the liver would have been the means for determining which city was to be first in line for siege and conquest. (21:21[26]; see the Notes section.)

In Nebuchadnezzar’s right hand, the result from the divination pointed to Jerusalem as the auspicious city for attack. The siege would involve positioning battering rams before the walls and against the gates. Opening the “mouth for slaughter” could refer to shouting a war cry or to giving the command to proceed with the slaughter. Raising the “voice” or “sound” could either be for “shouting” or for signaling an alarm with a trumpet. Another part in preparation for the siege would be casting up an earthen mound or ramp for moving the battering rams in place and building a siege wall or siege works. (21:22[27]; see the Notes section.)

Seemingly, to the people in the territory of the kingdom of Judah, including the capital city Jerusalem, the divination that pointed to an attack against Jerusalem appeared like a “vain [empty or false] divination in their eyes” or in their sight. They seem to have trusted in the strong fortifications of the city and the military aid that would be coming from Egypt. (Compare Jeremiah 37:7-9.) The people, as represented by King Zedekiah, had sworn allegiance to the Chaldeans as represented by King Nebuchadnezzar. Therefore, although Zedekiah was the one who swore the solemn oath to be a loyal vassal king, the people are the ones to whom the swearing to the Chaldeans appears to be attributed. Zedekiah’s oath also obligated his subjects not to rebel against the Chaldeans and their King Nebuchadnezzar. The one who would bring to remembrance “their guilt” (“their injustice” [LXX]) may be understood to have been Nebuchadnezzar, and this “guilt” or rebellion against him would have resulted in their being caught as victims of his punitive warring. (21:23[28]; see the Notes section.)

YHWH is quoted as saying to the people through Ezekiel that they had caused their “guilt” (“injustices” [LXX]) to be remembered through the uncovering or revealing of their transgressions (“impieties” [LXX]). As a result, their sins appeared “in all [their] doings [in all (their) impieties and in (their) practices (LXX)].” Evidently because the people had come to remembered for their wrongdoing, they would be taken “by the hand” or seized to be killed or exiled. The Targum identifies the “hand” to be that of the “king of Babylon,” Nebuchadnezzar. According to the Septuagint, the meaning appears to be that the people caused their impieties and corrupt practices to be remembered and would be captured on account of them. P967, the oldest extant Greek text, indicates that the people would be “destroyed by these [their impieties and their practices].” (21:24[29])

The “prince” or leader (more literally, an “elevated one”) of Israel was the king, Zedekiah. In the Septuagint, he is addressed as “profane [or defiled], lawless one [wicked one (Hebrew text)].” He had polluted himself and proved himself to be lawless when breaking the oath he had made in the name of YHWH to be a loyal vassal king and when acting contrary to YHWH's word conveyed through the prophet Jeremiah. The Hebrew adjective may also be rendered “profane.” Another possibility is that it means “mortally wounded” and could indicate that, on account of his rebellious course, Zedekiah was as good as dead. The “day” or time for his punitive judgment had arrived. It was then the “time” for an “end” of iniquity (“injustice” [LXX]). The measure of iniquity or injustice had reached its limit and, therefore, would end upon the execution of severe punishment (literally, “in the time of iniquity — an end”). As the representative of the nation, the king was the one held accountable. The imperative the Lord YHWH directed through his prophet Ezekiel to Zedekiah was, “Remove the turban, and take off the crown. This, not this [or that (This will not be such [LXX])]. Elevate the low thing [or one], and abase the high thing [or one].” “Turban” and “crown” appear to be parallel expressions. The words pointed to the forced removal of Zedekiah’s “turban” or “crown.” He would lose his position as monarch and, therefore, the crown that it represented. The expression “this, not this [or that],” probably applies to the reversal that would occur. What had been low would be exalted, and what had been elevated would be made low. The Septuagint indicates that the king was the one who abased the high thing and elevated the low thing. According to the interpretation of the Targum, the turban would be taken from the high priest Seraiah and the crown from Zedekiah. Neither this one (Seraiah) nor that one (Zedekiah) would “endure in his place.” Though the crown belonged to Zedekiah, it would be removed from him and given to “Gedaliah.” It cannot be determined for certainty whether the reference to elevating or abasing is to be regarded in a general sense or whether it applied to the abasing of Zedekiah and the elevation of Nebuchadnezzar through his triumph. (21:25[30])

YHWH declared, “A ruin, a ruin, a ruin [injustice, injustice (LXX) I will make it [feminine gender]. Even this will not be until he comes whose judgment [it is], and I will give it [the judgment] to him.” The Hebrew pronominal suffix rendered “it” is feminine gender, and both the Hebrew nouns for “turban” and “crown” in the previous verse are feminine gender. In the Septuagint, the word for “turban” is feminine gender, but the word for “crown” is masculine gender. The basic thought appears to be that the royal authority represented by the “turban” or the “crown” would come to a ruinous end (an utter ruin as indicated by the repetition), suggesting that kingship in the royal line of David would terminate. If the words “whose judgment” are regarded as having a messianic application, the meaning would be that there would be no restoration until such time as the “Anointed One, the Messiah, or Christ arrived, and YHWH would give the kingship to him. The Septuagint refers to the coming of one to whom it belongs or it is due or to one who is fit. A number of modern translations render the words in a way that allows for a messianic understanding of the words, but others interpretively indicate that “judgment” here means punishment. “It will not be restored until he comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it.” (NIV) “I shall bring about such ruin as never was, until one comes who is the rightful ruler; and I shall install him.” (REB) “I shall bring such ruin as never was before, until the rightful ruler comes, on whom I shall bestow it.” (NJB) “Nothing will be the same until the one comes to whom I have given it for judgment.” (NAB, revised edition) “I will leave Jerusalem in ruins when my chosen one comes to punish this city.” (CEV) “I will make the city a ruin. But this will not happen until one comes whom I have chosen to punish the city. To him I will give it.” (TEV) (21:27[32])

Although King Nebuchadnezzar would attack and conquer Jerusalem, he would not spare the Ammonites. This is indicated by the prophetic message Ezekiel was commissioned to proclaim. Again the prophet was addressed as “son of man,” a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. Regarding the “sons of Ammon” and their “reproach,” probably the taunts of the Ammonites relating to the fate of the kingdom of Judah and the capital Jerusalem, the Lord YHWH directed Ezekiel to say, “A sword, a sword being drawn for slaughter, being polished to endure [possibly as much as the warring required (for an end [or to bring about an end or destruction] (LXX)]” and for “lightning” or to cause the sword to flash (“awake that you may flash” [LXX]). (21:28[33])

It may be that diviners in Rabbah, the capital of Ammon, divined the falsehood that the city would remain secure. But Rabbah, or the Ammonite inhabitants, would end up “on the necks of the slain, profane wicked men [mortally wounded lawless ones (LXX)] whose day” had come “in the time of iniquity [injustice (LXX)] — an end.” The “day” of judgment had arrived when the measure of iniquity or injustice had reached its limit and, therefore, would end upon the execution of severe punishment. (21:29[34])

After having accomplished its appointed task, the sword was to return to its sheath. This warring sword was created in Babylonia or Chaldea, the “land of [its] origin,” and it was there (“in the place of your own daughter” [P967]),” that YHWH purposed to judge it — the Chaldean war machine — for its wrongs. Although warriors under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar had served as YHWH’s agency to execute his judgment, they did not act with any recognition thereof and made themselves guilty of great evil in their military campaigns. (21:30[35])

YHWH would pour out his wrath on the “sword,” the Babylonian military machine, blowing upon it with the fire of his wrath (as if to intensify the fire that would melt the sword or bring an end to Babylon as a military power). The instrument for accomplishing the ruin is not named but is identified as “brutish men, craftsmen of destroying.” They would not spare the Babylonians and would be skilled in bringing about their destruction. In the fulfillment, this proved to be the troops under the command of Cyrus. (21:31[36]) The “sword” would become fuel for the fire. Its “blood,” probably referring to the Babylonians who wielded the sword, would come to be in the midst of its own land. This sword would not be remembered, for the military machine of Babylon would come to its end. The end was certain, for thus YHWH had spoken through his prophet. (21:32[37])


In verse 2(7), the Septuagint starts with the words, “Therefore, prophesy, son of man. Set your face upon Jerusalem and look upon their holy places” or “holy things” (the “holy places” or “holy things” of the people).

The oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967) starts verse 3(8) with the words that may be rendered, “Thus says the Lord.” Other Greek manuscripts represent Ezekiel as being told, “and say to the land of Israel.”

In the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967), the words “all flesh and” are not included in verse 7(12).

The Hebrew word for “rod” or “scepter” in verse 13(18) can also mean “tribe.” This is the reason the Septuagint refers to the tribe as being rejected. The Targum says that the “tribe of the house of Judah and Benjamin” would go into exile and would not survive on account of their evil deeds.

In verse 14(19), the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967) does not include the phrase, “ the great one for the deadly wounded ones.”

The ancient site of Rabbah (verse 20[25]) is linked to the modern city of Amman, Jordan.

In verse 21(26), the Septuagint describes Nebuchadnezzar’s means of divination somewhat differently than does the extant Hebrew text — (1) throwing up a rod (rods [P967]), (2) consulting “carved things,” and (3) inspecting livers “at his right.”

The Septuagint rendering of verse 22[27] differs somewhat from the extant Hebrew text. It lists the actions against Jerusalem as follows: “to erect a palisade, to open the mouth in a shout, to raise the voice with a cry, to erect a palisade against her gates and to erect a mound [or ramp], and to build siege engines.”

The wording of the Hebrew text of verse 23[28] is obscure. This has resulted in varying interpretive renderings that are not readily apparent from the original-language text. “The people of Jerusalem will think it is a false omen, because of their treaty with the Babylonians. But the king of Babylon will remind the people of their rebellion. Then he will attack and capture them.” (NLT) “In their eyes, the oaths they had sworn to them were like empty divination; but this shall serve to recall their guilt, for which they shall be taken to task.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “The people will think that the auguries are groundless, the king of Babylon will remind me of their wrongdoing, and they will fall into his hand.” (REB) “The people of Jerusalem won’t believe this because of the treaties they have made. But this prediction is to remind them of their sins and to warn them that they will be captured.” (TEV) “Everyone in Jerusalem had promised to be loyal to Babylonia, and so none of them will believe that this could happen to them. But Babylonia’s king will remind them of their sinful ways and warn them of their coming captivity.” (CEV) “The inhabitants will believe that these omens are idle, for they have received sworn guarantees, but he will bring their guilt to mind and capture them.” (NJB) The text in the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967) is also obscure. “And he [was or will be] to them like one divining a divination before them, and he is remembering injustice [for them] to be captured.”