We have here the sign by which the utter destruction of Jerusalem is set forth; and here, as before, the prophet is himself the sign, that the people might see how much he affected himself with, and interested himself in, the case of Jerusalem, and how it lay to his heart, even when he foretold the desolations of it. He was so much concerned about it as to take what was done to it as done to himself, so far was he from desiring the woeful day.
I. He must shave off the hair of his head and beard (Ezek. 5:1), which signified God’s utter rejecting and abandoning that people, as a useless worthless generation, such as could well be spared, nay, such as it would be his honour to part with; his judgments, and all the instruments he made use of in cutting them off, were this sharp knife and this razor, that were proper to be made use of, and would do execution. Jerusalem had been the head, but, having degenerated, had become as the hair, which, when it grows thick and long, is but a burden which a man wishes to get clear of, as God of the sinners in Zion. Ah! I will ease me of my adversaries, Isa. 1:24. Ezekiel must not cut off that hair only which was superfluous, but cut it all off, denoting the full end that God would make of Jerusalem. The hair that would not be trimmed and kept neat and clean by the admonitions of the prophets must be all shaved off by utter destruction. Those will be ruined that will not be reformed.
II. He must weigh the hair and divide it into three parts. This intimates the very exact directing of God’s judgments according to equity (by him men and their actions are weighed in the unerring balance of truth and righteousness) and the proportion which divine justice observes in punishing some by one judgment and others by another; one way or other, they shall all be met with. Some make the shaving of the hair to denote the loss of their liberty and of their honour: it was looked upon as a mark of ignominy, as in the disgrace Hanun put on David’s ambassadors. It denotes also the loss of their joy, for they shaved their heads upon occasion of great mourning; I may add the loss of their Nazariteship, for the shaving of the head was a period to that vow (Num. 6:18), and Jerusalem was now no longer looked upon as a holy city.
III. He must dispose of the hair so that it might all be destroyed or dispersed, Ezek. 5:2. 1. One third part must be burnt in the midst of the city, denoting the multitudes that should perish by famine and pestilence, and perhaps many in the conflagration of the city, when the days of the siege were fulfilled. Or the laying of that glorious city in ashes might well be looked upon as a third part of the destruction threatened. 2. Another third part was to be cut in pieces with a knife, representing the many who, during the siege, were slain by the sword, in their sallies out upon the besiegers, and especially when the city was taken by storm, the Chaldeans being then most furious and the Jews most feeble. 3. Another third part was to be scattered in the wind, denoting the carrying away of some into the land of the conqueror and the flight of others into the neighbouring countries for shelter; so that they were hurried, some one way and some another, like loose hairs in the wind. But, lest they should think that this dispersion would be their escape, God adds, I will draw out a sword after them, so that wherever they go evil shall pursue them. Note, God has variety of judgments wherewith to accomplish the destruction of a sinful people and to make an end when he begins.
IV. He must preserve a small quantity of the third sort that were to be scattered in the wind, and bind them in his skirts, as one would bind that which he is very mindful and careful of, Ezek. 5:3. This signified perhaps that little handful of people which were left under the government of Gedaliah, who, it was hoped, would keep possession of the land when the body of the people was carried into captivity. Thus God would have done well for them if they would have done well for themselves. But these few that were reserved must be taken and cast into the fire, Ezek. 5:4. When Gedaliah and his friends were slain the people that put themselves under his protection were scattered, some gone into Egypt, others carried off by the Chaldeans, and in short the land totally cleared of them; then this was fulfilled, for out of those combustions a fire came forth into all the house of Israel, who, as fuel upon the fire, kindled and consumed one another. Note, It is ill with a people when those are taken away in wrath that seemed to be marked for monuments of mercy; for then there is no remnant or escaping, none shut up or left.