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The Sword of Judgment

21 (21:6)[a] The Lord’s message came to me: “Son of man, turn toward[b] Jerusalem and speak out against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel and say to them,[c] ‘This is what the Lord says: Look,[d] I am against you.[e] I will draw my sword[f] from its sheath and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked.[g] Because I will cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked, my sword will go out from its sheath against everyone[h] from the south[i] to the north. Then everyone will know that I am the Lord, who drew my sword from its sheath—it will not be sheathed again!’

“And you, son of man, groan with an aching heart[j] and bitterness; groan before their eyes. When they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you will reply, ‘Because of the report that has come. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand will be limp; everyone[k] will faint, and every knee will be wet with urine.’[l] Pay attention—it is coming and it will happen, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

The Lord’s message came to me: “Son of man, prophesy and say: ‘This is what the Lord says:

“‘A sword, a sword is sharpened,
and also polished.
10 It is sharpened for slaughter,
it is polished to flash like lightning!

“‘Should we rejoice in the scepter of my son? No! The sword despises every tree![m]

11 “‘He gave it to be polished,
to be grasped in the hand—
the sword is sharpened, it is polished—
giving it into the hand of the executioner.
12 Cry out and moan, son of man,
for it is wielded against my people;
against all the princes of Israel.
They are delivered up to the sword, along with my people.
Therefore, strike your thigh.[n]

13 “‘For testing will come, and what will happen when the scepter, which the sword despises, is no more?[o] declares the Sovereign Lord.’

14 “And you, son of man, prophesy,
and clap your hands together.
Let the sword strike twice, even three times!
It is a sword for slaughter,
a sword for the great slaughter surrounding them.
15 So hearts melt with fear and many stumble.
At all their gates I have stationed the sword for slaughter.
Ah! It is made to flash, it is drawn for slaughter!
16 Cut sharply on the right!
Swing to[p] the left,
wherever your edge[q] is appointed to strike.
17 I too will clap my hands together,
I will exhaust my rage;
I the Lord have spoken.”

18 The Lord’s message came to me: 19 “You, son of man, mark out two routes for the king of Babylon’s sword to take; both of them will originate in a single land. Make a signpost and put it at the beginning of the road leading to the city. 20 Mark out the routes for the sword to take: ‘Rabbah of the Ammonites’ and ‘Judah with Jerusalem in it.’[r] 21 For the king of Babylon stands at the fork[s] in the road at the head of the two routes. He looks for omens:[t] He shakes arrows, he consults idols,[u] he examines[v] animal livers.[w] 22 Into his right hand[x] comes the portent for Jerusalem—to set up battering rams, to give the signal[y] for slaughter, to shout out the battle cry,[z] to set up battering rams against the gates, to erect a siege ramp, to build a siege wall. 23 But those in Jerusalem[aa] will view it as a false omen. They have sworn solemn oaths,[ab] but the king of Babylon[ac] will accuse them of violations[ad] in order to seize them.[ae]

24 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because you have brought up[af] your own guilt by uncovering your transgressions and revealing your sins through all your actions, for this reason you will be taken by force.[ag]

25 “‘As for you, profane and wicked prince of Israel,[ah]
whose day has come, the time of final punishment,
26 this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
Tear off the turban;[ai]
take off the crown!
Things must change.[aj]
Exalt the lowly;
bring low the exalted![ak]
27 A total ruin I will make it![al]
Indeed, this[am] will not be
until he comes to whom is the right, and I will give it[an] to him.’[ao]

28 “As for you, son of man, prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says concerning the Ammonites and their coming humiliation:[ap]

“‘A sword, a sword drawn for slaughter,
polished to consume,[aq] to flash like lightning—
29 while seeing false visions about you
and reading lying omens about you[ar]
to place you[as] on the necks of the profane wicked,[at]
whose day has come,
the time of final punishment.
30 Return it to its sheath![au]
In the place where you were created,[av]
in your native land, I will judge you.
31 I will pour out my anger on you;
the fire of my fury I will blow on you.
I will hand you over to brutal men,
who are skilled in destruction.[aw]
32 You will become fuel for the fire—
your blood will stain the middle of the land;[ax]
you will no longer be remembered,
for I, the Lord, have spoken.’”


  1. Ezekiel 21:1 sn Ezek 21:1 in the English Bible is 21:6 in the Hebrew text (BHS). See the note at 20:45.
  2. Ezekiel 21:2 tn Heb “set your face toward.”
  3. Ezekiel 21:3 tn Heb “the land of Israel.”
  4. Ezekiel 21:3 tn The word הִנֵּה (hinneh, traditionally “behold”) draws attention to something and has been translated here as a verb.
  5. Ezekiel 21:3 tn Or “I challenge you.” The phrase “I am against you” may be a formula for challenging someone to combat or a duel. See D. I. Block, Ezekiel (NICOT), 1:201-2, and P. Humbert, “Die Herausforderungsformel ‘hinnenî ’êlékâ’” ZAW 45 (1933): 101-8.
  6. Ezekiel 21:3 sn This is the sword of judgment; see Isa 31:8; 34:6; 66:16.
  7. Ezekiel 21:3 sn Ezekiel elsewhere pictures the Lord’s judgment as discriminating between the righteous and the wicked (9:4-6; 18:1-20; see as well Pss 1 and 11) and speaks of the preservation of a remnant (3:21; 6:8; 12:16). Perhaps here he exaggerates for rhetorical effect in an effort to subdue any false optimism. See L. C. Allen, Ezekiel (WBC), 2:25-26; D. I. Block, Ezekiel (NICOT), 1:669-70; and W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel (Hermeneia), 1:424-25. The words do not require all the people in each category to be cut off.
  8. Ezekiel 21:4 tn Heb “all flesh” (also in the following verse).
  9. Ezekiel 21:4 tn Heb “Negev.” The Negev is the south country.
  10. Ezekiel 21:6 tn Heb “breaking loins.”
  11. Ezekiel 21:7 tn Heb “every spirit will be dim.”
  12. Ezekiel 21:7 sn This expression depicts in a very vivid way how they will be overcome with fear. See the note on the same phrase in 7:17.
  13. Ezekiel 21:10 tn Heb “Or shall we rejoice, scepter of my son? It despises every tree.” The translation understands the subject of the verb “despises,” which is a feminine form in the Hebrew text, to be the sword (which is a feminine noun) mentioned just before this. Alternatively, the line may be understood as “Let us not rejoice, O tribe of my son; it despises every tree.” The same word in Hebrew may be either “rod,” “scepter,” or “tribe.” The word sometimes translated as “or” or taken as an interrogative particle may be a negative particle. See D. I. Block, Ezekiel (NICOT), 1:672, n. The people of Judah should not place false hope in their king, symbolized by his royal scepter, for God’s judgment (symbolized by fire and then a sword) would destroy every tree (see 20:47), symbolizing the righteous and wicked (see 21:3-4).
  14. Ezekiel 21:12 sn This physical action was part of an expression of grief. Cf. Jer 31:19.
  15. Ezekiel 21:13 tn Heb “For testing (will come), and what if also a scepter it despises will not be?” The translation understands the subject of the verb “despises,” which is a feminine form in the Hebrew text, to be the sword (which is a feminine noun) mentioned in the previous verses. The text is very difficult, and any rendering is uncertain.
  16. Ezekiel 21:16 tn Heb “Put to.”
  17. Ezekiel 21:16 tn Heb “face.”
  18. Ezekiel 21:20 tc The MT reads “Judah in fortified Jerusalem,” a geographic impossibility. The translation follows the LXX, which assumes בְּתוֹכָהּ (betokhah, “in it”) for בְּצוּרָה (betsurah, “fortified”). sn As the Babylonians approached from the north, one road would branch off to the left and lead down the east side of the Jordan River to Ammon. The other road would veer to the right and lead down west of the Jordan to Jerusalem.
  19. Ezekiel 21:21 tn Heb “mother.”
  20. Ezekiel 21:21 sn Mesopotamian kings believed that the gods revealed the future through omens. They employed various divination techniques, some of which are included in the list that follows. A particularly popular technique was the examination and interpretation of the livers of animals. See R. R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel, 90-110.
  21. Ezekiel 21:21 tn This word refers to personal idols that were apparently used for divination purposes (Gen 31:19; 1 Sam 19:13, 16).
  22. Ezekiel 21:21 tn Heb “sees.”
  23. Ezekiel 21:21 tn Heb “the liver.”
  24. Ezekiel 21:22 tn Or “on the right side,” i.e., the omen mark on the right side of the liver.
  25. Ezekiel 21:22 tn Heb “to open the mouth” for slaughter.
  26. Ezekiel 21:22 tn Heb “to raise up a voice in a battle cry.”
  27. Ezekiel 21:23 tn Heb “they”; the referent (the people in Jerusalem) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  28. Ezekiel 21:23 sn When the people of Judah realized the Babylonians’ intentions, they would object on grounds that they had made a treaty with the Babylonian king (see 17:13).
  29. Ezekiel 21:23 tn Heb “he”; the referent (the king of Babylon) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  30. Ezekiel 21:23 tn Or “iniquity.”
  31. Ezekiel 21:23 tn Heb “and he will remind of guilt to be captured.” The king would counter their objections by pointing out that they had violated their treaty with him (see 17:18), thus justifying their capture.
  32. Ezekiel 21:24 tn Heb “caused to be remembered.”
  33. Ezekiel 21:24 tn Heb “Because you have brought to remembrance your guilt when your transgressions are uncovered so that your sins are revealed in all your deeds—because you are remembered, by the hand you will be seized.”
  34. Ezekiel 21:25 tn This probably refers to King Zedekiah.
  35. Ezekiel 21:26 tn Elsewhere in the Bible the turban is worn by priests (Exod 28:4, 37, 39; 29:6; 39:28, 31; Lev 8:9; 16:4), but here a royal crown is in view.
  36. Ezekiel 21:26 tn Heb “This not this.”
  37. Ezekiel 21:26 tn Heb “the high one.”
  38. Ezekiel 21:27 tn Heb “A ruin, a ruin, a ruin I will make it.” The threefold repetition of the noun “ruin” is for emphasis and draws attention to the degree of ruin that would take place. See IBHS 233 §12.5a and GKC 431-32 §133.k. The pronominal suffix (translated “it”) on the verb “make” is feminine in Hebrew. The probable antecedent is the “turban/crown” (both nouns are feminine in form) mentioned in verse 26. The point is that the king’s royal splendor would be completely devastated as judgment overtook his realm and brought his reign to a violent end.
  39. Ezekiel 21:27 tn The pronoun “this” is feminine, while the following negated verb (“will not be”) is masculine. Some emend the verb to a feminine form (see BHS), In this case the statement refers to the destiny of the king's turban crown (symbolizing his reign). See the previous note. It ultimately denotes kingship in Israel, as with “not this” in v. 26.
  40. Ezekiel 21:27 tn Horace D. Hummel, Ezekiel (Concordia Commentary), 2:642, states that the suffixed object of the Hebrew verb for “give” (נָתַן, natan) can be indirect: “to him,” while the direct object (“it”) is understood from the preceding “right.” However, a more likely candidate for the understood object would be “this,” the turban/crown and the kingship it implies. The one who comes already has the “right.”
  41. Ezekiel 21:27 tn Hummel, Ezekiel, 2:658, states that “very early” interpreters saw similarity between this verse and Gen 49:10. Early Christian scholars like Jerome interpreted Ezek 21:27 of Jesus Christ, as did the majority of Christian scholars until rather recent times. The phrase “until he comes to whom it belongs” in Gen 49:10 resembles the words here. “Until” and “comes” are the same in both verses. In both verses there follows a relative pronoun like “who,” the preposition “to,” a prepositional object “him,” and an understood linking verb “is.” An allusion would favor those Hebrew words having the same meaning in both verses, with “right, legal claim” as the sense for מִשְׁפָּט, (mishpat) rather than “judgment,” since it is more compatible with an allusion. sn A popular alternative view of this verse takes “right” as “judgment,” views the one who comes as Nebuchadnezzar, and translates “until” (עַד, ‘ad) as “when.” The basis for this unique translation of עַד (which rarely can mean “while”) is that here it would refer to the period during which the devastation is realized rather than to its termination point. See L. C. Allen, Ezekiel (WBC), 2:19, 21. Ezekiel often has מִשְׁפָּט as “judgment” and does not use it elsewhere as “right.” God promises to “give” “judgment” to the Babylonians in 23:24, as he would here. However, “right” is a normal sense for מִשְׁפָּט, and even most who see Nebuchadnezzar as the one who comes find an allusion to Gen 49:10 here, though inverted. However, this verse can alter the idea of Gen 49:10 even without Allen’s view, since Gen 49:10 promises that the scepter will not depart from Judah until the Messiah comes, while Ezek 21:27 promises that the royal turban/crown will be a ruin until Messiah comes. Robert W. Jenson, Ezekiel (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 173, favors the traditional view “because of the eschatological rhetoric of the whole poem,” adding that “ending merely with Nebuchadnezzar would be a poetically disastrous anticlimax.” For Ezek 34:23-24 and 37:22, 24-25 promise the restoration of Davidic kingship in the Messiah.
  42. Ezekiel 21:28 tn Heb “their reproach.”
  43. Ezekiel 21:28 tn Heb “to contain, endure,” from כוּל (khul). Since that sense is difficult here, most take the text to read either “to consume” or “for destruction.” GKC 186 §68.i suggests that the form represents the Hiphil of אָכַל (’akhal, “consume”). The ’alef (א) would have dropped out, as it sometimes does and might do with אָכַל in Ezek 42:5. D. I. Block (Ezekiel [NICOT], 1:693) prefers seeing כוּל as a byform of כָּלָה (kalah, “be complete”), with a meaning like “consume” in the Hiphil. The weakness of Block’s suggestion is that כָּלָה does not elsewhere exhibit a Hiphil.
  44. Ezekiel 21:29 tn Heb “in the seeing concerning you falsehood, in divining concerning you a lie.” This probably refers to the attempts of the Ammonites to ward off judgment through prophetic visions and divination.
  45. Ezekiel 21:29 tn The antecedent for you is the sword mentioned in v. 28.
  46. Ezekiel 21:29 sn The second half of the verse appears to state that the sword of judgment would fall upon the wicked Ammonites, despite their efforts to prevent it.
  47. Ezekiel 21:30 sn Once the Babylonian king’s sword (vv. 19-20) has carried out its assigned task, the Lord commands a halt. The resheathed sword will return to the land where it was created, and there itself face judgment. The pronouns continue to be second person feminine singular. The sword figuratively represents the Babylonian nation, whose land is the locus of judgment.
  48. Ezekiel 21:30 tn In the Hebrew text of vv. 30-32 the second person verbal and pronominal forms are generally feminine singular. This continues the address of the personified Babylonian sword from verse 29 (the Hebrew word for “sword” is feminine). “Return” is masculine, either due to the Hebrew preference for the masculine gender, or to the fact that soldiers were men.
  49. Ezekiel 21:31 sn The imagery of blowing on the sword with fire and putting it in the hands of skillful men can evoke the work of smithies.
  50. Ezekiel 21:32 tn Heb “your blood will be in the middle of the land.” sn This can be the blood that covered the sword in its great slaughter (v. 14), figuratively representing the end of Babylon. The pronouns are still second person feminine singular.