The Prophetic Sword and the Appointed Slaughter: A Commentary on Ezekiel Chapter 21


In Ezekiel Chapter 21, we find a sobering God When He Is Silent”>prophetic word from God concerning His plans to bring judgment upon Jerusalem through the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. This judgment was the fulfillment of the covenant curses God had warned Israel about if they turned away from Him to serve idols (Deuteronomy 28-29). Though difficult to hear, this prophecy reveals important truths about God’s character, His commitment to keep His word, and His desire for His people to turn from sin and return to Him.

Key Takeaways from Ezekiel 21:

  • God is committed to keeping His word, both in blessings and judgments
  • God’s patience has limits when His people persist in sin and idolatry
  • God uses human agents to carry out His sovereign plans and purposes
  • God’s judgment of Israel was to remove their false trusts and prompt repentance
  • Lamentation and mourning are appropriate responses to God’s refinement through judgment
  • Though God judges, He retains His desire to show mercy when people repent

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The Prophetic Sword and the Appointed Slaughter: A Commentary on Ezekiel Chapter 21

A Series of Messages Concerning God’s Sword (Ezekiel 21:1-17)

Ezekiel 21 begins with a sobering word from God for Ezekiel to “set your face toward Jerusalem” and prophesy against the holy places of Israel (21:2). This command came to Ezekiel at a significant time when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was planning his siege of Jerusalem after defecting from his treaty with the rebellious King Zedekiah.

The Drawn Sword of God’s Judgment (21:3-7)

Ezekiel’s first message highlights an important reality – God is the one ultimately behind even Babylon’s impending attack on Judah and Jerusalem. Ezekiel poetically portrays this by saying, “I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off both righteous and wicked from you” (21:3-4). Though Babylon would swing the sword, God was orchestrating events to bring about His intended purposes – namely the refining purification of His people Israel (Isaiah 48:10-11).

This prophecy would have reminded Israel of the warnings of covenant curses in Deuteronomy 28-29 if they turned from God to serve other gods. It highlights God’s sovereignty even over the nations like Babylon that did not honor Him. Most importantly, it emphasizes God’s commitment to keep His word – both in blessings and judgments.

The Groan of a Broken Heart (21:6-7)

Ezekiel’s emotional response to this sobering prophecy underscores the grief God feels over the judgment of His people. God instructs Ezekiel to “groan with a breaking heart and bitter grief” (21:6). Matthew Henry notes, “The prophet must himself be affected with it and lament it, must sigh and groan, and have his loins filled with pain, as a woman in travail.” [1]

This groaning reflects God’s authentic heart response to bringing affliction on His children, even when deserved. As Hebrews says, “Whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6 NKJV). Discipline is never pleasant, but rooted in love (Hebrews 12:7-11).

A Scholar’s Question About Application (21:8-17)

Ezekiel is then told to answer a question posed by those listening – “will the sword pass through the land and cut off both righteous and wicked?” (21:8-9). Ezekiel confirms the comprehensive judgment – God’s sharpened and polished sword would pass through the entire land leaving none untouched.

Matthew Henry notes the following about this interchange:

The people flattered themselves with hopes that, though judgments should be brought upon them, yet it would be only the wicked that should fall by them, and that the righteous should be delivered…Or, if the righteous must fall with the wicked, yet the wicked they thought would be more severely reckoned with than the righteous. [2]

This question reveals the inclination to presume upon God’s grace and view His judgments as corrective but not truly comprehensive. Yet God makes it clear the judgment would fall on all and remove false trusts – “In order that hearts may melt and the stumbling blocks be removed” (21:15). The purpose was purification and awakening, not ultimate destruction.

The Sword Bearer Babylon and God’s Orchestrating Purpose (21:18-27)

After highlighting the comprehensive reality of the coming judgment, Ezekiel’s prophecy turns to naming Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar as the sword-bearers God would use to afflict His wayward people.

Nebuchadnezzar as God’s Instrument (21:18-23)

Ezekiel is told to take up a signpost pointing the direction toward the two routes the king of Babylon could take in his conquest against Israel – either toward Rabbah of Ammon or fortified Jerusalem (21:18-20). The signpost signals Babylon’s approach and highlights the control God exercised over its king.

The king is pictured “shaking arrows” and “consulting images” to determine which route to take (21:21). But this occult practice merely confirmed the direction God had already determined Babylon would go. The arrows point toward Jerusalem, indicating God’s sovereign direction of Nebuchadnezzar’s hand in the coming siege.

The Destruction of False Hopes (21:24-27)

These prophecies were given because Israel had “made your iniquity to be remembered” (21:24). Ezekiel highlights the false trusts in “omens” and “sworn oaths” that would be shattered when the judgment comes (21:23). The removal of false hopes was an act of refinement to prompt repentance and expose misplaced trusts in anything other than God.

This section closes with a reference to the fall of the last Davidic king until the final heir to throne – Jesus the Messiah (21:26-27, c.f. Luke 1:32-33). The crown being removed prefigures the temporary loss of the Davidic monarchy until Christ’s return. God’s comprehensive judgment spares no external privilege when His people turn from Him.

Lamentation as the Only Response (21:28-32)

After delivering these sobering prophecies, God instructs Ezekiel to “wail” and lament all that is coming upon Israel (21:28). Ezekiel is told to communicate the root issue behind this judgment: “Because it is a testing, and what if the sword despises even the scepter?” (21:13). Israel’s unfaithfulness had opened them to judgment, even upon cherished markers of national identity like the Davidic kingly scepter.

Ezekiel faithfully fulfills the command to lament, wail, and “clap your hands” (21:14-17). Matthew Henry notes that Ezekiel’s profound grief highlights that “even the desolations of the righteous are to be lamented.” [3] Those who love God must grieve over that which grieves Him.

At the same time, Ezekiel’s lament illustrates that God takes no “pleasure in the death of the wicked” and invites all to repentance (Ezekiel 33:11). In the midst of deserved judgment, God retains His heart of compassion. There is hope when people turn again to Him.

Conclusion: Refinement Through Judgment

Ezekiel 21 contains a sobering prophecy of the comprehensive judgment coming upon Jerusalem through Babylon’s siege. This difficult word underscored God’s commitment to keep His covenant promises, remove false trusts, and prompt repentance. Babylon was the instrument, but God the director behind this coming judgment.

For contemporary readers, this prophecy reminds us of the refining purpose behind God’s acts of discipline in the lives of His people. Though painful, discipline is rooted in His steadfast love and desire for us to bear righteous fruit. He is patient, but persistent in removing what competes with our loyalty to Him.

During times of affliction, we must respond as Ezekiel did with lamentation, repentance, and renewed reliance on God alone. Though containing warnings of impending judgment, Ezekiel’s prophecy closes with a glimmer of messianic hope in the promise of a future Davidic King who would come to redeem and restore (21:26-27). God’s grace abounds even in judgment.

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