THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL
Part II: God's Judgment of the Covenant People
Chapter 19: A Lament for Jerusalem and Her Princes
Chapter 20: A History of Israel's Ingratitude and Infidelity
Chapter 21: The Sword of Yahweh
Your Divine Nature reveals in Your Name, Yahweh, the Great I AM. But it is in Jesus Christ that we receive Your Name in the flesh as our Lord and Savior. You revealed Him to us by what He is, by His Word, and by His sacrifice as the Name that is above all other names. In the waters of Baptism, we have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God. It is because of His Name that the Holy Spirit calls us to holiness in the whole of our lives since He is the source of our life in Christ Jesus. Both His glory and our lives depend on the holiness of His Name in us, through us, and honored by us. May we as Christians always honor and keep holy Your Name, Most Holy Savior. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
+ + +
brothers will praise you: you grip your enemies by the neck, your father's sons
will do you homage. Judah is a lion's whelp; you stand over your prey, my
son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, a mighty lion: who dare rouse him?
(from Jacob-Israel's deathbed prophecy for his son Judah)
But one of the
elders said to me, "Do not weep. Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root
of David, has triumphed..."
Chapter 19: A Lament for Jerusalem and Her Princes
Chapter 19 is a poetic lament for the princes of Israel, especially the last Davidic prince, Zedekiah. It is also a political allegory concerning Judah and the last of her Davidic kings, using the symbolic imagery of lions and a lion hunt. The lament appears to refer to four historical events:
Chapter 19 divides into two parts with each part beginning with the introduction "your mother" (verses 2 and 10) and with the symbolic imagery changing from a lioness in the first section to a vine in the second. The first section also subdivides into two parts:
Most commentators see the "lioness" as a metaphor for the nation of Judah and her Davidic kings. However, with the exception of Numbers 24:8 that refers to the tribe of Judah as both a lion and a lioness, all other references to Judah use the male lion imagery. The most famous lion imagery for the tribe of Judah is the deathbed prophecy of Jacob-Israel in Genesis 49:8-9 and the reference to the resurrected and glorified Christ in Revelation 5:5. However, there is another possibility which is that the reference to "lioness" and "your mother" refers to a specific woman, Zedekiah's mother, the last Queen Mother (Gebira) of the nation of Judah.
Question: Who was Zedekiah's mother, and what is
her history? She is mentioned three times by name in Scripture in 2 Kings 23:31; 24:18 and Jeremiah 52:1. Also see 2 Kng 23:28-30.
Answer: Zedekiah's mother was Hamutal, daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. She was also the mother of King Jehoahaz who succeeded King Josiah after his sudden death at Megiddo.
Ezekiel 19:1-9 ~ Allegory of the Lioness and Her Cubs
1"Now, raise a lament for the princes of Israel. 2 Say: What was your mother? A lioness among lions; lying among the cubs she nursed her whelps. 3 She reared one of her whelps: he grew into a young lion; he learnt to tear his prey; he became a man-eater. 4 The nations came to hear of him; he was caught in their pit; they dragged him away with hooks to Egypt. 5 Her expectation thwarted, and seeing her hope dashed, she took another of her whelps and made a young lion of him. 6 He prowled among the lions, he grew into a young lion, he learnt to tear his prey; he became a man-eater. 7 He tore down their palaces; he destroyed their cities; the land and all its inhabitants were appalled by the sound of his roars. 8 The nations marched out against him from the surrounding provinces; they spread their net over him; he was caught in their pit. 9 They shackled him with hooks, they took him to the king of Babylon and threw him into a fortress, so that his voice could never again be heard on the mountains of Israel.
Hamutal was the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah, a priestly city in Judah. Her father was not the same man as the prophet Jeremiah. She was the wife of King Josiah and the mother of King Jehoahaz and King Zedekiah. As a daughter of the Kingdom of Judah and the mother of sons of the king, she was a "lioness among lions" (verse 2) and the mother of at least two lion cubs (Davidic princes). When King Josiah died at the Battle of Megiddo in 609 BC, her son Jehoahaz, "a young lion" of twenty-three, became the King of Judah, and she became the most powerful woman in the kingdom (2 Kng 23:29-35; 2 Chr 36:2-4). A king had many wives, and so it was his mother who took the most powerful official role as the "Gebira, Queen Mother, of her son's kingdom.
Verse 4 describes Egyptian Pharaoh's capture of King Jehoahaz in 609 BC in the imagery of a lion hunt. The Egyptians "caught" Jehoahaz, and they "dragged him away" "to Egypt where he died" (repeated in 2 Kng 23:33-34). Pharaoh Necho II then installed Eliakim (son of Josiah and Zebidah) as King Jehoiakim of Judah. When Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated the Assyrians and Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish (605 BC), the Babylonians became the dominant empire and Judah became a vassal state. Jehoiakim was a Babylonian vassal for three years before he revolted. He reigned for eleven years until his death when his eighteen year old son, Jehoiachin, a grandson of King Josiah, succeeded him (598/7 BC), and Jehoiachin's mother, Nehushta, became the Gebira (Queen Mother). Nebuchadrezzar invaded Judah and, as a penalty for Judah's revolt, he deposed King Jehoiachin. Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin, his mother, and about seven thousand citizens of Judah, including Ezekiel, into exile in Babylon (2 Kng 24:8-16; 2 Chr 36:10; Jer 13:18). King Jehoiachin is the man Ezekiel considers the true King of Judah.
expectation thwarted, and seeing her hope dashed, she took another of her
whelps and made a young lion of him.
Question: Who did Nebuchadnezzar choose to elevate as King of Judah in place of Jehoiachin, and who was his mother? How might his mother have played a part in Nebuchadnezzar's choice? See 2 Kng 24:17-18.
Answer: Nebuchadnezzar made Mattaniah, a maternal uncle, the new king, renaming him Zedekiah. His mother was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. She was the mother of the former King Jehoahaz and was the former Gebira. It is possible that an ambitious Hamutal convinced Nebuchadnezzar to make her son King of Judah over other Davidic princes.
Question: What other information may be relevant
concerning the age of Hamutal's son Jehoahaz who succeeded to the throne of
Judah after King Josiah died in battle as opposed to the age of the other
Davidic prince, Jehoiakim, that Pharaoh Necho II placed on the throne when he
deposed Jehoahaz in the same year? See 2 Kng 23:31 and 36.
Answer: It is odd that Jehoahaz, who was two years younger than his half-brother, was crowned king after King Josiah's death. It is usually the elder son who is the designated heir.
The question to be considered: was Hamutal influential enough to have her son crowned king after Josiah's death in place of his elder half-brother?
prowled among the lions, he grew into a young lion, he learnt to tear his prey;
he became a man-eater. 7 He
tore down their palaces, he destroyed their cities; the land and all its
inhabitants were appalled by the sound of his roars.
This verse appears to describe Hamutal's son King Zedekiah. There isn't any evidence that Zedekiah attacked his neighbors, but he did convince several neighbor states to join him in forming an alliance with the Egyptians and to revolt against the Babylonians and their allies.
The nations marched out against him from the surrounding
provinces; they spread their net over him; he was caught in their pit. 9 They shackled him with hooks, they took
him to the king of Babylon and threw him into a fortress, so that his voice
could never again be heard on the mountains of Israel.
We first heard about the role of the King of Babylon in 17:12. This part of the lament fits historically and Biblically with the fate of Zedekiah (2 Kng 25:1-7; 2 Chr 36:13; Jer 39:1-7). When the Babylonians and their allies surrounded the city of Jerusalem and began the attack, Zedekiah tried to escape with his bodyguard. He was captured and taken to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon where he was kept as a prisoner until he died.
Ezekiel 19:10-14 ~ Allegory of the Vine and Her Branches
10 Your mother was like a vine planted beside the water, fruitful and leafy, because the water flowed so full. 11 She had stout stems which became kingly scepters; she grew higher and higher, up into the clouds; she was admired for her height and the number of her branches. 12 But she was furiously uprooted and thrown on the ground; the east wind dried up her fruit, she was broken to pieces; her stout stem dried up, the fire devoured it. 13 Now she has been transplanted to the desert, to a dry and thirsty land. 14 Fire burst out of her stem devouring her branches and fruit. No more stout stem for her, no more kingly scepter." This is a lament; it was used as such.
"Your mother" in Part II of the lament is probably a symbolic image for Hamutal and Jerusalem, the home of the Davidic kings located on the heights of the central mountain ridge of Judah, 2,500 feet above sea level. The "vine" or "vineyard" is a frequently symbolic image for the covenant people of Israel (see for example, Is 5:1, 7; Jer 2:21, 7:9; Ps 80:8, 14). Jerusalem was a prosperous, much-admired city until the Babylonians came from the east and devoured the city with fire, taking away her citizens and her last Davidic king and "transplanting" them to the deserts of Babylon. This part of the lament is for the "last branch" of the Davidic kings of Judah.
Verses 10-11 describe Jerusalem as a fruitful vine planted in a good location. Women like Hamutal produced Davidic kings, "branches," to rule the nation as Jerusalem's reputation grew and she received the admiration and envy of her neighbors. Jerusalem never lacked for a Davidic king, unlike the Northern Kingdom ruled by nine different dynasties.
12 But she was
furiously uprooted and thrown on the ground; the east wind dried up her fruit,
she was broken to pieces; her stout stem dried up, the fire devoured it.
Verse 12 refers to the army of the Babylonians as a destroying "east wind" (they came from the northeast). The Babylonians broke apart her protecting walls and set fire to the city (verses 12 and 14).
13 Now she has
been transplanted to the desert, to a dry and thirsty land. 14 Fire burst out of her stem devouring her
branches and fruit. No more stout stem for her, no more kingly scepter." This
is a lament; it was used as such.
Verses 13-14 refer to the exile of the survivors of Jerusalem to the deserts of Babylon and the end of the line of the Davidic kings and their mothers.
Ezekiel's words, "No more kingly scepter," must have shaken his countrymen and women in exile. Ezekiel's prophetic oracle calls into question the people's confidence in the Davidic covenant which they believed protected them and their Davidic king. In 2 Samuel 7:11-17, Yahweh promised David that his dynasty and his sovereignty "will stand firm forever." It is a covenant promise repeated in 2 Samuel 23:5 and linked to the future Davidic Messiah by Isaiah (Is 11:12; 55:5) and by Jeremiah (Jer 23:5-8). Later, in Chapter 37, Ezekiel will assure the exiles that God will not abandon the promises in the Davidic covenant.
Chapter 20: A History of Israel's Ingratitude and Infidelity
In the next several chapters, Yahweh continues to make the judicial indictment against His apostate covenant people and to defend the justness of His divine judgments against them. The theme of Chapter 20 is, despite Yahweh's gracious efforts on their behalf, the Israelites "rebelled against me," (repeated in verses 8, 13, and 21), and they deserved His Divine Judgment. The word judge/judgment appears twelve times (20:4 twice, 11, 13, 15, 18, 19, 21, 24, 35, 36 twice). The oracle begins with a date formula and the arrival of some elders to consult Yahweh. The formula "The Lord Yahweh says" (repeated in 20:3, 5, 27, 30, 39) begins a recounting of Israel's early rebellious history presented three sections:
The oracle presents the first section is in three stages framed by Yahweh making Himself known to the children of Israel as their God (verses 1-26):
Ezekiel 20:1-3 ~ The Elders in
Exile's Second Attempt to Consult Yahweh
1 In the seventh year, on the tenth day of the fifth month, some of the elders of Israel came to consult Yahweh and were sitting with me, 2 when the word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 3 "Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel. Say, The Lord Yahweh says this: Have you come to consult me? As I live, I will not be consulted by you, declares the Lord Yahweh.'"
It is the tenth of July/August 591. Some scholars calculate the date in relation to our calendar as August 14th. It is five years before the destruction of Jerusalem. The date coincides with the exact month and day of the burning of the Temple recorded in Jeremiah 52:12-13, In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, it was the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the guard, a member of the king of Babylon's staff, entered Jerusalem. He burnt down the Temple of Yahweh, the royal palace and all the houses in Jerusalem. The city fell to the Babylonians on June/July 587 BC (Jer 52:7) but not burnt until August of 586 (Jer 52:12-13) in the nineteenth year of the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar (as we count years) who became king in 605 BC. The Babylonians completely evacuated the city and sent the survivors into exile before setting the city on fire.
In 20:1, the elders in exile came again to consult Yahweh
through His prophet Ezekiel.
Question: When did the elders in exile first attempt to consult Yahweh through Ezekiel? What was God's answer? Is this answer the same or different? See Ez 14:1-11.
Answer: Yahweh gave the same answer that He gave previously: He does not answer the petitions of sinners, but in 14:7 God did promise that He would answer them if they repent their sins and return to Him in obedience.
Ezekiel 20:4-7 ~ Yahweh Orders Ezekiel to Confront the Elders
4 "Are you ready to judge them? Are you ready to judge them, son of man? Confront them with the loathsome practices of their ancestors. 5 Say, The Lord Yahweh says this: On the day when I chose Israel, when I pledged my word* to the House of Jacob, I made myself known to them in Egypt; I pledged my word to them and said: I am Yahweh your God. 6 That day I pledged them my word that I would bring them out of Egypt to a country which I had reconnoitered for them, a country flowing with milk and honey, and the loveliest of them all. 7 And I said to them: Each of you must reject the horrors which attract you; do not pollute yourselves with the foul idols of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God. * The Hebrew reads: "raised my hand to the seed of the House of Jacob." To "raise my hand to" is a gesture used in oath swearing (IBHE, vol. III, page 1943).
As God's prosecuting attorney (one of the duties of a prophet), Yahweh asks Ezekiel if he is ready to judge the false-hearted elders. The first step is to lay out the charges against them that include the sins of their ancestors that they continue to practice.
Question: What oath did God swear to the
Israelites in Egypt? See Ex 6:2-8.
Answer: Yahweh reminded the Israelites through Moses that He would keep the covenant He made with the Patriarchs to give their descendants the land of Canaan. Then Yahweh promised to redeem the Israelites from the Egyptians in four mighty acts: to free them from forced labor, to rescue them from slavery, to redeem them with mighty acts of judgment, and to take them as His covenant people.
God kept His word, but the Israelites did not keep their oath to be His people and to give up all forms of idol worship (verses 6-7).
Ezekiel 20:8-13 ~ The Indictment Against the Israelites
8 But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me. Not one of them rejected the horrors which attracted them; they did not give up the foul idols of Egypt. I then resolved to vent my fury on them, to sate my anger on them in Egypt. 9 But respect for my own name kept me from letting it be profaned in the eyes of the nations among whom they were living, and before whom I had made myself known to them and promised to bring them out of Egypt. 10 So I brought them out of Egypt and led them into the desert. 11 I gave them my laws and taught them my judgments, in whose observance people find life. 12 And I also gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between me and them, so that they might know that I, Yahweh, am the one who sanctifies them. 13 The House of Israel, however, rebelled against me in the desert; they refused to keep my laws, they scorned my judgments, in whose observance people find life, and they grossly profaned my Sabbaths. I then resolved to vent my fury on them in the desert and destroy them.
Question: What are Israel's failures that began even
before leaving Egypt? How did they add to their rebellion after agreeing to
the covenant with Yahweh?
Answer: From the very beginning of their relationship with Yahweh:
They added to their offenses after the Sinai Covenant:
Question: In what way did they demonstrate their
continued devotion to Egyptian idols? See Ex 32:1-6.
Answer: At Mount Sinai, they made a golden idol of a bull-calf and bowed down to worship it.
The Golden Calf idol was a representation of the Egyptian Apis bull, worshipped as a god.1 Even as He liberated them, Yahweh knew their hearts and knew, even if He took them out of Egypt, that the idol worship of Egypt was still in their hearts.
9 But respect for
my own name kept me from letting it be profaned in the eyes of the nations
among whom they were living, and before whom I had made myself known to them
and promised to bring them out of Egypt.
God mentions respect for His name five times in verses 9, 14, 22, 39 and 44. It is because of His Name that the Lord shows patience with the Israelites. The sanctification of His name among the nations depends on the holiness of His covenant people: "In spite of the holy Law that again and again their Holy God gives them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy'; and although the Lord shows patience for the sake of his name, the people turn away from the Holy One of Israel and profane his name among the nations. For this reason the just ones of the old covenant, the poor survivors returned from exile, and the prophets burned with passion for the name" (CCC 2811).
Knowing what was going to happen at Sinai, God still
brought them out of Egypt:
10 So I brought them out of Egypt and led them into the desert. 11 I gave them my laws and taught them my judgments, in whose observance people find life.
Yahweh took them to Mount Sinai where He gave them His Law in the Ten Commandments and the other articles of the Law. At Mount Sinai, they ratified a covenant with Yahweh, and they swore an oath of obedience to His Laws and His covenant (Ex 24:3-11). Obedience to the Law meant "life" through God's divine protection (Dt 30:15-16).
12 And I also
gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between me and them, so that they might know
that I, Yahweh, am the one who sanctifies them. 13 The House of Israel, however, rebelled against me in the
desert; they refused to keep my laws, they scorned my judgments, in whose
observance people find life, and they grossly profaned my Sabbaths.
The first command to observe the seventh day (Saturday) as a special day of communion between God and His people is the third commandment of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-16). However, this command is repeated seven more times in Exodus 23:12; 31:12-17; 34:21; 35:1-3; Leviticus 19:3; 23:3; Numbers 15:32-36. In Exodus 31:17, the Sabbath observance and obligation is defined as a covenant "sign" to last forever.
Question: Of all the commands of the covenant that
God could mention, why is His focus on the Sabbath obligation that is mentioned
six times in Chapter 20 (20:12, 13, 16, 20, 21, 24)?
Answer: Signaling out the Sabbath from all other laws recognizes it as a distinguishing feature of Yahweh's people. It is the covenant obligation that requires active participation week by week, year by year, and generation by generation. For a person to break the Sabbath obligation is the first sign of a break in the covenant between God and that individual.
13b I then
resolved to vent my fury on them in the desert and destroy them.
In His anger over their sin, Yahweh threatened to destroy all the Israelites several times in His early history with Israel (Ex 32:9-10), but Moses intervened ("stood in the breach") for the people, and Yahweh relented (Ex 32:11-14; Ps 106:23).Moses used the argument God mentions in verse 9.
Ezekiel 20:14-20 ~ God Keeps His Promises Even When
His People do not Keep Theirs
14 But respect for my own name kept me from letting it be profaned in the eyes of the nations, before whom I had brought them out. 15 Even so, I pledged them my word in the desert that I would not lead them to the country which I had given them, a country flowing with milk and honey, and the loveliest of them all, 16 since they had scorned my judgments, had refused to keep my laws and had profaned my Sabbaths, their hearts being attached to foul idols. 17 In spite of this, I took pity on them; I refrained from destroying them and did not make an end of them in the desert. 18 I said to their children in the desert: Do not follow the laws of your ancestors, do not practice their judgments, do not defile yourselves with their foul idols. 19 I am Yahweh your God. Keep my laws, respect my judgments and practice them. 20 Keep my Sabbaths holy; let them be a sign between me and you, so that people may know that I am Yahweh your God.
Yahweh repeats what He said in verse 9 concerning withholding His divine wrath from utterly destroying the people. The Israelites were to be a witness of Yahweh, the One True God, to the Gentile, pagan nations of the world. If He destroyed a people He had set aside from other nations as His personal possession (Ex 19:5), He would have destroyed the value of His Divine Name among the other nations.2 God did not destroy them, but He did punish the Exodus generation with forty years of desert wandering while raising up a new generation on His Laws to take possession of the Promised Land (Num 14:26-35).
Question: Yahweh gave what three commands in the
past that He repeats to the present generation to keep His people in covenant
with Him in verses 18-20?
Answer: Do not practice the sins of your ancestors:
Ezekiel 20:21-26 ~ The Rebellious Nature of the
Children of the Wilderness Generation
21 Their children, however, rebelled against me; they refused to keep my laws, they did not respect or practice my judgments, which must be practiced by all who want to live; they profaned my Sabbaths. I then resolved to vent my fury on them, to sate my anger on them in the desert. 22 But I restrained my hand; respect for my own name kept me from letting it be profaned in the eyes of the nations, before whom I had brought them out. 23 Once again, however, I pledged them my word that I would scatter them throughout the nations and disperse them in foreign countries, 24 because they had not followed my judgments but had rejected my laws and profaned my Sabbaths, their eyes being fastened on the foul idols of their ancestors. 25 And for this reason I gave them laws that were not good and judgments by which they could never live; 26 and I polluted them with their own offerings, making them sacrifice every first-born son in order to fill them with revulsion, so that they would know that I am Yahweh.'"
God demanded that they forsake the conduct of their fathers and accept Him as their only God. When they refuse, God refrains from destroying them for "His name's sake," but He swears he will scatter them among the nations (verse 23).
25 And for this
reason I gave them laws that were not good and judgments by which they could
never live; 26 and I polluted them
with their own offerings, making them sacrifice every first-born son in order
to fill them with revulsion, so that they would know that I am Yahweh.
As their punishment, He gave them "bad laws" through their bad leaders that polluted their worship, including the abhorrent pagan practice of offering children as human sacrifices. According to God's Law, every child, girl or boy, was dedicated to Yahweh and became His children, and the "firstborn" son was to be offered in lifetime service to Yahweh (Ex 13:1-2, 11-16). However, with the failure of the "firstborn" sons to rally to God in the sin of the Golden Calf, they became dispossessed firstborn sons to be "redeemed" by an animal sacrifice. They still belonged to Yahweh, but the clans of the Levites took their place in ministerial service as those who serve the chief priests (Num 3:11-13; 18:1-7). God intended allowing them to experience the horrors of pagan worship as a remedy to turn them away from paganism and back to Him as their one God.
Question: What significant point does God make in
verse 21 concerning obedience to His laws and commandments?
Answer: Anyone who wants God's blessings and a relationship with Him must put His laws and commandments into practice in their lives.
His salvation was temporal for the Old Covenant, but it is eternal for members of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. We cannot pick and choose what commandments we will follow. We must be obedient and put into practice all the commandments that put us on the path to eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Ezekiel 20:27-33 ~ The Sins of the Israelites After the Conquest
27 "For this reason, son of man, speak to the House of Israel. Say to them, The Lord Yahweh says this: Here is another way by which your ancestors outraged me by their infidelity. 28 Once I had brought them into the country which I had pledged my word to give them, they then saw all sorts of high hills, all kinds of leafy trees, and there they performed their sacrifices and made offerings that provoked my anger; there they set out their pleasing smell and poured their libations. 29 I then said to them: What is this high place where you go? And they gave, and still give it, the name of Bamah.' 30 So, say to the House of Israel, The Lord Yahweh says this: If you are polluting yourselves as your ancestors did by fornicating with their horrors; 31 for by offering your gifts and by burning your children as sacrifices, you have been polluting yourselves with all your foul idols to this very day, shall I let myself be consulted by you, House of Israel? As I live, declares Lord Yahweh, I shall not let myself be consulted by you. 32 And what you sometimes imagine will never be so, when you say: We shall be like the peoples, the tribes of foreign lands, worshipping wood and stone. 33 As I live I swear it, declares the Lord Yahweh, I am the one who will reign over you, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, once my fury is sated.
Bamah means "high place" and refers to the sites of pagan worship. In verse 31, Yahweh answers the elders who have come to consult Him, giving the same answer He gave previously in Chapter 14: 31 for by offering your gifts and by burning your children as sacrifices, you have been polluting yourselves with all your foul idols to this very day, shall I let myself be consulted by you, House of Israel? As I live, declares Lord Yahweh, I shall not let myself be consulted by you.
what you sometimes imagine will never be so, when you say: We shall be like the
peoples, the tribes of foreign lands, worshipping wood and stone. 33 As I live I swear it, declares the
Lord Yahweh, I am the one who will reign over you, with a strong hand and
outstretched arm, once my fury is sated.
It is people's defiant wish to be like their pagan neighbors. It is a defiant desire that rouses Yahweh's wrath, and in a climactic statement, He swears an oath that it will not happen!
The point of Yahweh's account of the history of the rebellion of the Israelites from the time He rescued them from slavery in Egypt is that His judgments against them are not unjust (18:25-29). He gives judgments they deserve (16:41, 59), so that, through their suffering, they will repent, renounce pagan idols, and return to their covenant relationship with Him (16:61-63).
Ezekiel 20:32-39 ~ Judgment, Repentance, and Redemption
34 With a strong hand and outstretched arm, once my fury is sated, I shall bring you back from the peoples and gather you again from the countries throughout which you have been scattered. 35 I shall lead you into the desert of the nations and there I shall judge you face to face. 36 As I judged your ancestors in the desert of Egypt, so will I judge you, declares the Lord Yahweh. 37 I shall make you pass under the crook, bring you to respect the covenant 38 and rid you of the rebels who have revolted against me; I shall bring them out of the country where they are staying, but they will not enter the country of Israel, and you will know that I am Yahweh. 39 House of Israel, Lord Yahweh says this: Go on, all of you, worship your foul idols, but later we shall see if you don't listen to me! Then you will stop profaning my holy name with your offerings and your foul idols.'"
As usually after pronouncements of divine judgment, Yahweh softens the terrible warnings of judgment with promises of redemption and restoration.
Question: God compares the years of the
Israelite's desert exile among the Gentile nations to what previous desert
exile? Were all the people of the first exile restored to the Promised Land?
See Numbers 14:1-11, 20-35).
Answer: He compares the exile judgment of Israelites/Judahites into the deserts of the Gentile nations in the east to the children of the Exodus generation. They rebelled in refusing to take possession of the Promised Land and were condemned to forty years in the wilderness until their children learned obedience to Yahweh's laws and commands.
In the judgment of the Exodus generation, only their children saw the Promised Land. All those who refused to repent died in the desert just as the present exiles who refuse to renounce idol worship and repent will never return to Israel.
shall make you pass under the crook, bring you to respect the covenant
Or "pass under the staff," is an allusion to the manner of a shepherd counting off animals in the herd or flock. It is perhaps a reference to God's tithe in Leviticus 27:32, In all tithes on herds or flocks, the tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman's staff will be consecrated to Yahweh... In other words, Yahweh will count those who have repented and returned to the covenant as belonging to Him in the "flock" of Israel. Those not counted as belonging to Yahweh "under the crook" will come out of the deserts, but they will not return to the Promised Land, and He will purge them from the community of the covenant people (verse 38). Their fate will be like that of those who refuse to repent in Jeremiah 13:9-11 and the false prophets in Ezekiel 13:9, My hand will be against the prophets... they will not be admitted to the council of my people, their names will not be entered in the roll of the House of Israel, they will not set foot on the soil of Israel.... This judgment reminds us of Jesus' teaching on separating out the flock of sheep (the righteous) from goats (the wicked) in the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46.
Ezekiel 20:40-44 ~ Yahweh's Promise of a Future Restoration
40 For on my holy mountain, on the high mountain of Israel, declares the Lord Yahweh, is where the whole House of Israel, everyone in the country, will worship me. There I shall accept and there expect your presents, your choicest offering and all your consecrated gifts. 41 I shall welcome you like a pleasing smell when I bring you back from the peoples and gather you from the countries throughout which you have been scattered, and through you I shall display my holiness for all the nations to see; 42 and you will know that I am Yahweh, when I bring you back to the soil of Israel, to the country which I pledged my word to give to your ancestors. 43 There you will remember your past behavior and all the actions by which you have defiled yourselves, and you will loathe yourselves for all the wrongs which you have committed. 44 And you will know that I am Yahweh, when I treat you as respect for my own name requires, and not as your wicked behavior and corrupt actions deserve, House of Israel, declares the Lord Yahweh.'"
As we have seen in the study of the Book of Jeremiah, the fierce prophecies of divine judgment are followed by promises of forgiveness and restoration (Jer 3:11-4:4; 7:1-7; 16:14-15, 19-21; 23:5-8; 31:1-14; 23-34; 32:37-44; 33:14-22; 50:6-20; in Ezekiel thus far see 11:17-21; 17:23-24). For those counted as belonging to Yahweh, they will return from exile to worship Him on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. The covenant people will reestablish liturgical worship in offering Yahweh gifts, sacrifice, and incense. The fulfillment of Yahweh's judgments and promises are the proof they will need to "know that I am Yahweh."
Question: Is this the same way the New Covenant
people of God offer liturgical worship?
Answer: In the Liturgy of the Mass, we offer our gifts of alms for the good of the Church, we offer incense with our prayers, and we offer our gifts of bread and wine that become the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
44 And you will
know that I am Yahweh, when I treat you as respect for my own name requires,
and not as your wicked behavior and corrupt actions deserve, House of Israel,
declares the Lord Yahweh.'"
Question: How will God treat the Israelites that He restores to the land? See Ex 34:6-7.
Answer: God will treat the new generation of repentant and restored people not as they deserve but according to His attributes of compassion and mercy.
Yahweh will show His people His mercy and forgive His people's guilt as He has since their liberation from slavery in Egypt (Num 14:19). But in his compassion he forgave their guilt instead of killing them, time and again repressing his anger instead of rousing his full wrath, remembering they were creatures of flesh, a breath of wind that passes, never to return (Ps 78:38-39).
Chapter 21: The Sword of Yahweh
Chapter 21 contains three oracles that begin with the phrase "The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows." The oracles describe Yahweh's sword of judgment unsheathed. The word "sword" links all three of the oracles (repeated fifteen times in verses 8, 9, 10, 14 twice, 16, 17, 19 three times, 20, 24, 25, 33 twice).
Ezekiel 21:1-12 ~ Oracle #1: The Sword of Yahweh
1 The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 2 "Son of man, turn to the right; utter your word towards the south, prophesy against the forest land of the Negeb. 3 Say to the forest of Negeb, Hear the word of Yahweh! The Lord Yahweh says this: Listen; I am about to kindle a fire in you which will burn up every green tree in you as well as every dry one; it will be an unquenchable blaze and every face will be scorched by it from the Negeb to the north. 4 All humanity will see that it was I, Yahweh, who kindled it, and it will not be extinguished." ' 5 I said, "Lord Yahweh, they say of me, He does nothing but speak in riddles!'" 6 Then the word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 7 "Son of man, turn towards Jerusalem, utter your word towards the sanctuary and prophesy against the land of Israel. 8 Say to the land of Israel, Yahweh says this: Now I am against you; I am about to unsheathe my sword and rid you of the upright and the wicked alike. 9 Since I am going to rid you of upright and wicked alike, I shall unsheathe my sword against everyone alive, from the Negeb to the north, 10 so that everyone alive will know that I, Yahweh, am the one who has unsheathed my sword; it will not go back again.' 11 "Son of man, groan as though your heart were breaking. Utter your bitter groans where they can see you. 12 And if they say, Why these groans?' reply, Because of the news which is about to come, all hearts will sink, all hands grow weak, all spirits grow faint and all knees turn to water. It is coming now, it is here! declares Lord Yahweh.'"
This oracle is an allegory of a forest fire kindled by God. It will be a work of destruction that "all humanity shall see" (verses 2-4). The allegory opens with God addressing Ezekiel as "Son of man" and closes with "All humanity will see..." In verses 2-4, God tells Ezekiel to turn towards the south in the direction of southern Judah and the desert of the Negeb and speak of the unleashing of God's sword of destruction. The destruction will begin in the southernmost region of Judah in the Negeb and spread north to Jerusalem. When Ezekiel protests that the people do not understand his "riddles," Yahweh recasts His message in plain language in verses 6-10.
Question: In verse 11, what symbolic act is
Ezekiel to perform while giving the oracle and why?
Answer: He is to perform a symbolic act of the city's fall. He is to groan as though his heart is breaking, and when the people ask why, he is to tell them it is because the destruction "is coming now."
Ezekiel 21:13-22 ~ Oracle #2: The Song of the Sword
13 The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 14 "Son of man, prophesy. Say, The Lord says this. Say: The sword, the sword has been sharpened and polished, 15 sharpened for slaughter, polished to flash like lightning ... 16 He has had it polished to be wielded, this sword sharpened and polished to put in the slaughterer's hand! 17 Shout and wail, son of man, for it will come on my people, on all the chief men of Israel doomed like my people to the sword! So beat your breast, 18 for this will be an ordeal ... declares the Lord Yahweh. 19 So prophesy, son of man, and clap your hands! Let the sword pass three times, that sword for victims, that sword for a great victim, threatening them from every side! 20 To make hearts sink and make sure many fall, I have posted the slaughtering sword at every gate to flash like lightning, polished for slaughter. 21 Be sharp, on the right, be ready on the left, whichever way your blade is needed! 22 I too shall clap my hands and sate my fury! I, Yahweh, have spoken.'"
Question: Into whose hand will God place His sword of divine judgment?
Answer: Into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.
19 So prophesy,
son of man, and clap your hands! Let the sword pass three times, that sword for
victims, that sword for a great victim, threatening them from every side!
The new command to prophesy in verse 19 is a signal that the oracle is entering a new phase. The new phase is in three parts:
Ezekiel is to "clap" his hands in approval of the coming judgment. The sword will pass three times or be redoubled from south to north, from the Negeb in the south, then north to Jerusalem and beyond, slicing one direction and then back and then forward again. Perhaps the three times depicts the punishment for the threefold rebellion described in 20:8, 13, and 21. The victims (plural) and great victim (singular) refer to the people of Jerusalem and the Davidic prince, Zedekiah. Yahweh has sentenced all to death and commissioned the sword of judgment to perform the deadly task; there will be no escape.
Ezekiel 21:23-32 ~ Oracle #3 ~ The King of Babylon at the Crossroads
23 The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, 24 "Son of man, mark out two roads for the sword of the king of Babylon to come along, making both of them begin from the same country. Then put up a signpost, put it where the road leaves for the city, 25 trace the route which the sword should take for Rabbah-of-the-Ammonites, and for Judah, to the fortress of Jerusalem. 26 For the king of Babylon has halted at the fork where these two roads diverge, to take the omens. He has shaken the arrows, questioned the household gods, inspected the liver. 27 The lot marked Jerusalem' is in his right hand: there to set up battering-rams, give the word for slaughter, raise the war cry, level battering-rams against the gates, cast up earthworks, build entrenchments. 28 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. 29 And so the Lord Yahweh says this, Since you have brought your guilt to mind by parading your misdeeds and flaunting your sins in everything you do: because you have drawn attention to yourselves, you will be captured. 30 As for you, impious and wicked prince of Israel, whose doom is approaching to put an end to your crimes, 31 the Lord Yahweh says this: They will take away your diadem and remove your crown. Everything will be changed; the low will be raised and the high brought low! 32 Ruin, ruin, I shall bring such ruin as never was before, until the rightful ruler comes, on whom I shall bestow it.'"
Following the formula saying in verse 23, this oracle divides into three parts:
We first heard of the "King of Babylon" in 17:12 and his part in the destruction of Jerusalem and the capture of Zedekiah (also in 19:9, 23, and 26). Now we are told that it is into his hands that Yahweh will place His sword of divine judgment. Nebuchadnezzar will not be identified by name in the Book of Ezekiel until 26:7.
Rabbah-of-the-Ammonites refers to the Ammonite
capital.3 In position to advance southward into the Levant,
Nebuchadnezzar must decide whether to direct his attack against Judah or the
Ammonites. In customary Near Eastern practice, he decides to resolve the issue
by divination to determine the advice of the pagan gods of Babylon.
Question: What three divinatory techniques does the Babylonian king use?
Answer: First, he shakes the arrows, second, he consults the idols, and third, he has his diviners examine the liver of a sacrifice.
Shaking the arrows uses two inscribed arrows and then drawing one as in drawing a lot in the assumption that the gods led the choosing of one over the other. Each of the omens apparently indicates taking the right turn towards Jerusalem. The scene of Nebuchadnezzar and his army at the crossroads and the Babylonian king consulting pagan divination (verse 26) emphasize that these things mean nothing. It is Yahweh who ordains which road Nebuchadnezzar will take, and it is Yahweh who will manipulate the so-called oracles of the pagans to yield the result He ordains.
inhabitants will believe that these omens are idle, for they have received
Ezekiel's oracle should have been a warning for Jerusalem, but instead, it is ignored because the Jerusalemites believe they have "sworn guarantees" that Yahweh will never allow the destruction of His holy city.
The slaughter in verse 29 is specifically limited to the wicked while in verses 30-32 the doom approaching is directed to Zedekiah, "impious and wicked prince of Israel." He will forfeit his crown and will be among the "high brought low." Notice that again, God speaking through Ezekiel does not refer to Zedekiah as "king."
Ezekiel 21:33-37 ~ Oracle #3 Continued: The Punishment
of the Ammonites
33 "Son of man, prophesy and say, The Lord Yahweh says this: In reply to the Ammonites and their jeers, say: The sword, the sword is drawn for slaughter, polished to devour, to flash like lightning 34 while you have empty visions and consult lying omens, to cut the throats of the wicked, whose doom is approaching to put an end to their crimes. 35 Put it back in the scabbard. The place where you were created, the land of your origin, will be where I judge you. 36 I shall vent my fury on you, breathe the fire of my rage against you and hand you over to barbarous men whose trade is destruction. 37 You will be fuel for the fire, your blood will flow through the country, you will leave no memory behind you; for I, Yahweh, have spoken!'"
Ammon was a partner in Judah's revolt against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar will turn take his army to attack Jerusalem, but that doesn't mean the Ammonites should gloat and jeer over the destruction of Jerusalem because they will not escape "the sword."
In verse 35, the command is to put the sword back into the scabbard. The Ammonites betray their former allies and take pleasure in Jerusalem's destruction. For this dishonorable act and their failure to aid Jerusalem, God will take His vengeance upon the Ammonites. Fire will destroy the city and its population erased from memory (verse 37).
Three important theological points come together in these oracles:
Questions for discussion or reflection:
In the New Covenant in Christ Jesus' Kingdom of the Church, are we under the same covenant obligation in observing the New Covenant Sabbath of Sunday as the Lord's Day? What was the penalty under the Sinai Covenant for profaning the Sabbath obligation? What is the penalty under the New Covenant? See CCC 1242 and 2181.
Answer: Yes. Under the Old Covenant Law, a person could be excommunicated or doing work on the Sabbath or even face the death penalty for intentionally not keeping the Sabbath. Under the Law of the New Covenant, it is a mortal sin to purposely neglect to keep the Lord's Day obligation; a judgment that could lead to eternal death. The failure to keep the Sabbath obligation to attend the sacrifice of the Mass is the first sign that a Catholic is on the dangerous path to apostasy from the covenant with Christ Jesus and His Kingdom of the universal Church.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
1 In Egyptian mythology, Apis or Hapis was a sacred bull, worshipped in the Delta region and identified as the son of Hathor, a primary deity in the pantheon of Ancient Egypt. He was a god of fertility and success in war, but the deity also was believed to serve as an intermediary between humans and other powerful deities.
3 The ruins of Rabbah of the Ammonites are located near modern Amman, Jordan. The only Ammonite city named in the Old Testament, it was located 23 miles east of the Jordan River and was an important stop on the trade route known as the King's Highway (Num 20:17; 21:22).
Catechism references for this lesson (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):