Ezekiel 5:1-17 . VISION OF CUTTING THE HAIRS, AND THE CALAMITIES FORESHADOWED THEREBY.
1. knife . . . razor--the sword of the foe (compare Isaiah 7:20 ). This vision implies even severer judgments than the Egyptian afflictions foreshadowed in the former, for their guilt was greater than that of their forefathers.
thine head--as representative of the Jews. The whole hair being shaven off was significant of severe and humiliating ( 2 Samuel 10:4 2 Samuel 10:5 ) treatment. Especially in the case of a priest; for priests ( Leviticus 21:5 ) were forbidden "to make baldness on their head," their hair being the token of consecration; hereby it was intimated that the ceremonial must give place to the moral.
balances--implying the just discrimination with which Jehovah weighs out the portion of punishment "divided," that is, allotted to each: the "hairs" are the Jews: the divine scales do not allow even one hair to escape accurate weighing (compare Matthew 10:30 ).
2. Three classes are described. The sword was to destroy one third of the people; famine and plague another third ("fire" in Ezekiel 5:2 being explained in Ezekiel 5:12 to mean pestilence and famine); that which remained was to be scattered among the nations. A few only of the last portion were to escape, symbolized by the hairs bound in Ezekiel's skirts ( Ezekiel 5:3 , Jeremiah 40:6 , 52:16 ). Even of these some were to be thrown into the fiery ordeal again ( Ezekiel 5:4 , Jeremiah 41:1 Jeremiah 41:2 , &c. Jeremiah 44:14 , &c.). The "skirts" being able to contain but few express that extreme limit to which God's goodness can reach.
5, 6. Explanation of the symbols:
Jerusalem--not the mere city, but the people of Israel generally, of which it was the center and representative.
in . . . midst--Jerusalem is regarded in God's point of view as center of the whole earth, designed to radiate the true light over the nations in all directions. Compare Margin ("navel"), Ezekiel 38:12 , Psalms 48:2 , Jeremiah 3:17 . No center in the ancient heathen world could have been selected more fitted than Canaan to be a vantage ground, whence the people of God might have acted with success upon the heathenism of the world. It lay midway between the oldest and most civilized states, Egypt and Ethiopia on one side, and Babylon, Nineveh, and India on the other, and afterwards Persia, Greece, and Rome. The Phoenician mariners were close by, through whom they might have transmitted the true religion to the remotest lands; and all around the Ishmaelites, the great inland traders in South Asia and North Africa. Israel was thus placed, not for its own selfish good, but to be the spiritual benefactor of the whole world. Compare Psalms 67:1-7 throughout. Failing in this, and falling into idolatry, its guilt was far worse than that of the heathen; not that Israel literally went beyond the heathen in abominable idolatries. But "corruptio optimi pessima"; the perversion of that which in itself is the best is worse than the perversion of that which is less perfect: is in fact the worst of all kinds of perversion. Therefore their punishment was the severest. So the position of the Christian professing Church now, if it be not a light to the heathen world, its condemnation will be sorer than theirs ( Matthew 5:13 , 11:21-24 , Hebrews 10:28 Hebrews 10:29 ).
7. multiplied--rather, "have been more abundantly outrageous"; literally, "to tumultuate"; to have an extravagant rage for idols.
neither have done according to the judgments of the nations--have not been as tenacious of the true religion as the nations have been of the false. The heathen "changed" not their gods, but the Jews changed Jehovah for idols (see Ezekiel 5:6 , "changed My judgments into wickedness," that is, idolatry, Jeremiah 2:11 ). The Chaldean version and the Masora support the negative. Others omit it (as it is omitted in Ezekiel 11:12 ), and translate, "but have done according to the judgments," &c. However, both Ezekiel 11:12 and also this verse are true. They in one sense "did according to the heathen," namely, in all that was bad; in another, namely, in that which was good, zeal for religion, they did not. Ezekiel 5:9 also proves the negative to be genuine; because in changing their religion, they have not done as the nations which have not changed theirs, "I (also) will do in thee that which I have not done."
8. I, even I--awfully emphatic. I, even I, whom thou thinkest to be asleep, but who am ever reigning as the Omnipotent Avenger of sin, will vindicate My righteous government before the nations by judgments on thee.
10. fathers . . . eat . . . sons--alluding to Moses words ( Leviticus 26:29 , Deuteronomy 28:53 ), with the additional sad feature, that "the sons should eat their fathers" (see 2 Kings 6:28 , Jeremiah 19:9 , Lamentations 2:20 , 4:10 ).
11. as I five--the most solemn of oaths, pledging the self-existence of God for the certainty of the event.
defiled my sanctuary--the climax of Jewish guilt: their defiling Jehovah's temple by introducing idols.
diminish--literally "withdraw," namely, Mine "eye" (which presently follows), that is, My favors; Job 36:7 uses the Hebrew verb in the same way. As the Jews had withdrawn from God's sanctuary its sacredness by "defiling" it, so God withdraws His countenance from them. The significance of the expression lies in the allusion to Deuteronomy 4:2 , "Ye shall not diminish aught from the word which I command you"; they had done so, therefore God diminishes them. The reading found in six manuscripts, "I will cut thee off," is not so good.
12. Statement in plain terms of what was intended by the symbols ( Ezekiel 5:2 ; see Ezekiel 6:12 , Jeremiah 15:2 , 21:9 ).
draw out . . . sword after them--( Leviticus 26:33 ). Skeptics object; no such thing happened under Zedekiah, as is here foretold; namely, that a third part of the nation should die by pestilence, a third part by the sword, and a third be scattered unto all winds, and a sword sent after them. But the prophecy is not restricted to Zedekiah's time. It includes all that Israel suffered, or was still to suffer, for their sins, especially those committed at that period ( Ezekiel 17:21 ). It only received its primary fulfilment under Zedekiah: numbers then died by the pestilence and by the sword; and numbers were scattered in all quarters and not carried to Babylonia alone, as the objectors assert (compare Ezra 1:4 , Esther 3:8 , Obadiah 1:14 ).
pestilence . . . and famine--signified by the symbol "fire" ( Ezekiel 5:2 ). Compare Isaiah 13:8 , Lamentations 5:10 ; plague and famine burning and withering the countenance, as fire does.
13. cause my fury to rest upon them--as on its proper and permanent resting-place ( Isaiah 30:32 , Margin).
I will be comforted--expressed in condescension to man's conceptions; signifying His satisfaction in the vindication of His justice by His righteous judgments ( Deuteronomy 28:63 , Proverbs 1:26 , Isaiah 1:24 ).
they shall how--by bitter experience.
14. reproach among the nations--They whose idolatries Israel had adopted, instead of comforting, would only exult in their calamities brought on by those idolatries (compare Luke 15:15 ).
15. instruction--literally, "a corrective chastisement," that is, a striking example to warn all of the fatal consequences of sin. For "it shall be"; all ancient versions have "thou," which the connection favors.
16. arrows of famine--hail, rain, mice, locusts, mildew (see Deuteronomy 32:23 Deuteronomy 32:24 ).
increase the famine--literally, "congregate" or "collect." When ye think your harvest safe because ye have escaped drought, mildew, &c., I will find other means [CALVIN], which I will congregate as the forces of an invading army, to bring famine on you.
17. beasts--perhaps meaning destructive conquerors ( Daniel 7:4 ). Rather, literal "beasts," which infest desolated regions such as Judea was to become (compare Ezekiel 34:28 , Exodus 23:29 , Deuteronomy 32:24 , 2 Kings 17:25 ). The same threat is repeated in manifold forms to awaken the careless.