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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 8–17
Verses 8–17

Here is another prophecy of the sword, which is delivered in a very affecting manner; the expressions here used are somewhat intricate, and perplex interpreters. The sword was unsheathed in the Ezek. 21:1-7; here it is fitted up to do execution, which the prophet is commanded to lament. Observe,

I. How the sword is here described. 1. It is sharpened, that it may cut and wound, and make a sore slaughter. The wrath of God will put an edge upon it; and, whatever instruments God shall please to make use of in executing his judgments, he will fill them with strength, courage, and fury, according to the service they are employed in. Out of the mouth of Christ goes a sharp sword, Rev. 19:15. 2. It is furbished, that it may glitter, to the terror of those against whom it is drawn. It shall be a kind of flaming sword. If it have rusted in the scabbard for want of use, it shall be rubbed and brightened; for though the glory of God’s justice may seem to have been eclipsed for a while, during the day of his patience and the delay of his judgments, yet it will shine out again and be made to glitter. 3. It is a victorious sword, nothing shall stand before it (Ezek. 21:10): It contemneth the rod of my son as every tree. Israel, said God once, is my son, my first-born. The government of that people was called a rod, a strong rod; we read (Ezek. 19:11) of the strong rods they had for sceptres. But when the sword of God’s justice is drawn it contemns this rod, makes nothing of it; though it be a strong rod, and the rod of his son, it is no more than any other tree. When God’s professing people have revolted from him, and are in rebellion against him, his sword despises them. What are they to him more than another people? The marginal reading gives another notion of this sword: It is the rod of my son; and we know of whom God has said (Ps. 2:7), Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee, and (Ezek. 21:9) Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron. This sword is that rod of iron which contemns every tree and will bear it down. Or, This sword is the rod of my son, a correcting rod, for the chastening of the transgression of God’s people (2 Sam. 7:14), not to cut them off from being a people. It is a sword to others, a rod to my son.

II. How the sword is here put into the hand of the executioners: “It is the rod of my Son, and he has given it that it may be handled (Ezek. 21:11), that it may be made use of for the end for which it was drawn. It is given into the hand, not of the fencer to be played with, but of the slayer to do execution with. The sword of war my Son makes use of as a sword of justice, and to him all judgment is committed. It is made bright (Ezek. 21:15), it is wrapped up, that it may be kept safe, and clean, and sharp for the slaughter, not as Goliath’s sword was wrapped up in a cloth only for a memorial,” 1 Sam. 21:9.

III. How the sword is directed, and against whom it is sent (Ezek. 21:12): It shall be upon my people; they shall fall by this sword. It is repeated again, as that which is scarcely credible, that the sword of the heathen shall be upon God’s own people; nay, it shall be upon all the princes of Israel; their dignity and power as princes shall be no more their security than their profession of religion as princes of Israel. But, if the sword be at any time upon God’s people, have they not comfort within sufficient to arm them against every thing in it that is frightful? Yes, they have, while they conduct themselves as becomes his people; but these had not done so, and therefore terrors, by reason of the sword, shall be upon those that call themselves my people. Note, While good men are quiet, not only from evil, but from the fear of it, wicked men are disturbed not only with the sword, but with the terrors of it, arising from a consciousness of their own guilt. This sword is directed particularly against the great men, for they had been the greatest sinners among them; they had altogether broken the yoke and burst the bonds (Jer. 5:5), and therefore with them in a special manner God’s controversy is, who had been the ringleaders in sin. The sword of the slain is the sword of the great men that are slain, Ezek. 21:14. Though they have furnished themselves with places of retirement, places of concealment, where they flatter themselves with hopes that they shall be safe, they will find that the sword will enter into their privy chambers, and find them out there, as the frogs, when they were one of Egypt’s plagues, found admission into the chambers of their kings. The sword, the point of this sword, is directed against their gates, against all their gates (Ezek. 21:15), against all those things with which they thought to keep it out and fortify themselves against it. Note, The strongest gates, though they be gates of brass, ever so well barred, ever so well guarded, are no fence against the point of the sword of God’s judgments. But when that is pointed against sinners, 1. They are ready to fear the worst; their hearts faint, so that they are not able to make any resistance. 2. The worst comes; whatever resistance they make, it is to no purpose, but they are ruined, and their ruins are multiplied. But what need have we to observe the particular directions of this sword when it has a general commission, is sent with a running warrant? (Ezek. 21:16): “Go thee, one way or other, which way thou wilt, turn to the right hand or to the left, thou wilt find those that are obnoxious, for there are none free from guilt; and thou hast authority against them, for there are none exempt from punishment; and therefore, whithersoever thy face is set, that way do thou proceed, and, like Jonathan’s sword, from the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, thou shalt never return empty,” 2 Sam. 1:22. Note, So full is the world of wicked people that, which way soever God’s judgments go forth, they will find work, will find matter to work upon. That fire will never go out on this earth for want of fuel. And such various methods God has of meeting with sinners that the sword of his justice is still as it was at first when it flamed in the hand of the cherubim: it turns every way, Gen. 3:24.

IV. What is the nature of this sword, and what are the intentions and limitations of it as to the people of God, Ezek. 21:13. It is a correction; it is designed to be so; the sword to others is a rod to them. This is a comfortable word which comes in in the midst of these terrible ones, though it be expressed somewhat obscurely. 1. The people of God begin to be afraid that the sword will contemn even the rod, that the sword will go on with such fury that it will despise its commission to be a rod only, will forget its bounds and become a sword indeed, even to God’s own people. They fear lest the Chaldeans’ sword, which is the rod of God’s anger, contemn its being called a rod, and become as the axe that boasts itself against him that heweth therewith or the staff that lifts up itself as if it were no wood, Isa. 10:15. Or, “What if the sword contemn even the rod? that is, what if this sword make the former rods, as that or Sennacherib, to be contemned as nothing to this? What if this should prove not a correcting rod, but a destroying sword, to make a full end of our church and nation?” This is that which the thinking, but timorous, few are apprehensive of. Note, When threatening judgments are abroad it is good to suppose the worst that may be the consequences of them, that we may provide accordingly. What if the sword contemn the tribe or sceptre? namely, that of Judah and the house of David (so some think Shebet here signifies); what if it should aim at the ruin of our government? If it do, the Lord is righteous and will be gracious notwithstanding. But, 2. These fears are silenced with an assurance that it is not so; the sword shall not forget itself, nor the errand on which it is sent: It is a trial, and it is no more than a trial. He that sends it makes what use of it, and sets what bounds to it, he pleases. Here shall its proud waves be stayed. Note, It is matter of comfort to the people of God, when his judgments are abroad, and they are ready to tremble for fear of them, that, whatever they are to others, to them they are but trials; and, when they are tried, they shall come forth as gold, and the proving of their faith shall be the improving of it.

V. Here the prophet and the people must show themselves affected with these judgments threatened. 1. The prophet must be very serious in denouncing these judgments. He must say, A sword! a sword! Ezek. 21:9. Let him not study for fine words, and a variety of quaint expressions; when the town is on fire people do not so give notice of it, but cry, with a frightful doleful voice, Fire! fire! So must the prophet cry, A sword! a sword! and (Ezek. 21:14), Let the sword be doubled the third time in thy preaching. God speaks once, yea, twice, yea, thrice; it were well if men, after all, would perceive and regard it. It shall be doubled the third time in God’s providence; for it was Nebuchadnezzar’s third descent upon Jerusalem that made a full end of it. Ruin comes gradually, but at last comes effectually, upon a provoking people. Yet this is not all: the prophet is not only as a herald at arms to proclaim war, and to cry, A sword! a sword! once and again, and a third time, but, as a person nearly concerned, he must cry and howl (Ezek. 21:12), must sadly lament the desolations that the sword would make, as one that did himself not only sympathize with the sufferers, but feel from the sufferings. Again (Ezek. 21:14), Prophesy, and smite thy hands together, wring thy hands, as lamenting the desolation, or clap thy hands, as by thy prophecy instigating and encouraging those that were to be the instruments of it, or as one standing amazed at the suddenness and severity of the judgment. The prophet must smite his hands together; for (says God) I will also smite my hands together, Ezek. 21:17. God is in earnest in pronouncing this sentence upon them, and therefore the prophet must show himself in earnest in publishing it. God’s smiting his hands together, as well as the prophet’s smiting, is in token of a holy indignation at their wickedness, which was really very astonishing. When Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam he smote his hands together, Num. 24:10. Note, God and his ministers are justly angry at those who might be saved and yet will be ruined. Some make it an expression of triumph and exultation, agreeing with that (Isa. 1:24), Ah! I will ease me of my adversaries; and that (Prov. 1:26), I also will laugh at their calamity. And so it follows here, I will cause my fury to rest, not only it shall be perfected, but it shall be pleased. And observe with what solemnity, with what authority, this sentence is ratified: “I the Lord have said it, who can and will make good what I have said. I have said it, and will never unsay it. I have said it, and who can gainsay it?” 2. The people must be very serious in the prospect of these judgments. An intimation of this comes in in a parenthesis (Ezek. 21:10): Should we then make mirth? Seeing God has drawn the sword, and the prophet sighs and cries, Should we then make mirth? The prophet seems to give this as a reason why he sighs; as Neh. 2:3; Why should not my countenance be sad, when Jerusalem lies waste? Note, Before we allow ourselves to be merry, we ought to consider whether we should be merry or no. Should we make mirth, we who are sentenced to the sword, who lie under the wrath and curse of God? Shall we make mirth as other people, who have gone a whoring from our God? Hos. 9:1. Should we now make mirth, when the hand of God has gone out against us, when God’s judgments are abroad in the land and he by them calls to weeping and mourning? Isa. 22:11, 13. Shall we now make mirth as the king and Haman, when the church is in perplexity (Est. 3:15), when we should be grieving for the affliction of Joseph? Amos 6:6.