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When Scripture speaks about God, it invariably uses masculine imagery. God is King, not Queen. God is Father, not Mother. When Scripture uses pronouns in reference to God, it always uses male pronouns—He, Him, His. God is never “she” or “it.” Even though the NT term for the Spirit, pneuma, is a neuter noun, the writers of the NT always used masculine pronouns to refer to the Spirit. It is “the Spirit, He,” not “it” (e.g., Jn 15:26). In addition, the church is represented as the wife or bride of Christ, who is Husband (Eph 5:22–33). This is similar to OT imagery in which Israel was the wife of God (Hs 1–3; Ezk 16).
It is also important to recognize that this is not merely functional terminology. That is, it is not just language that is designed for us to use in our relationship to God, without reference to real conditions. God the Father actually is the Father of God the Son (Jn 17:1–5). Even in the internal relationships within God’s being, the relationship between these two persons is that of a father to a son. Furthermore, we are not intended to use the human standard of a father or husband to interpret God’s fatherliness or Christ’s husband character, but rather we are to see God as the epitome of what those ought to be and then to measure our experience by the standard of the Father and Christ.
Is this patriarchal? Yes, it is. But as Christians, we are bound to take our theology from Scripture, not from the cultural standards around us. Most of the cultures surrounding ancient Israel had goddess figures, as did the Roman culture of NT times. But the writers of Scripture always treated this as among the most heinous kinds of idolatry. If we are to be faithful to our Christian heritage, we must stick to Scripture.
Does this patriarchalism mean that the Bible holds women to be inferior? Not at all. Scripture often depicts God as treating His people in the way a caregiver would treat a child. Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Lk 13:34–35). Further, the Bible elevates women in ways contrary to the pagan cultures of the day. They are equal partners of the grace of God given in Christ (Gl 3:28).
But Scripture still speaks of God in a masculine manner. God is Father, and we ought to be eternally grateful for the fact that He is the ultimate model of what a father ought to be. Christ is Husband, and as such He reveals what a husband ought to do for his wife. Both women and men in our time ought to be grateful for the fact that God is the perfect example of what these roles entail. This enables both men and women to know the Father and Christ in ways that are life transforming.
16:44–47 What is the meaning of the proverb “Like mother, like daughter”? Judah followed the pattern of sin and depravity of her cultural ancestors, her “mother” the Hittites and her “father” the Amorites (v. 45). Samaria, the northern kingdom of Israel, was the “older sister.” The phrase did not suggest that Samaria was older than Judah, but it was the first to become ripe for judgment (v. 46; cp. 1 Kg 12:1–33).
16:48–50 Judah was called the “sister” of Sodom since both Israel and Judah had followed the same course as Sodom in pride and perversion (v. 49). “Daughters” often referred to villages that were the suburbs of the larger cities. Judah’s reprimand was more excessive than either Sodom or Samaria; she deserved a more severe judgment (vv. 50–54).
16:59–63 Despite the inevitability of judgment for breaking their covenant (v. 59), Ezekiel closed his story of the unfaithful sister, Judah, with a promise of restoration and a new covenant. He used emphatic language; in essence, God was saying, “I myself” will make a new everlasting and unbreakable covenant with her (vv. 60, 62). The prophet added that “you will remember your ways and be ashamed” when the Lord makes atonement for her sin—a phrase pungent with Messianic overtones similar to Zec 2:10–14. Judah’s new covenant would be based on repentance, an idea Ezekiel expanded in 17:22–24 and 34:23–29 (see also Jr 31:31–34).
17:11–21 A fifth reason that Judah fell was because of her trust in political alliances instead of the Lord (17:1–24). Commentators generally agree on the interpretation of this parable of the great eagle and the cedar (vv. 1–10). The weight of evidence suggests that the story was about Judah’s dependence upon alliances with Nebuchadnezzar, the great eagle. At the same time, in secret treaty with another great eagle—Pharaoh Hophra—Judah hoped to gain independence from Babylon’s control. But Hophra’s kingdom withered and was no longer a factor when Zedekiah was finally overthrown.
17:22–24 With the nation hopelessly gone, the prophet turned to a messianic theme, speaking of a “tender sprig” taken from the top of a tree and replanted in a prominent place. The Hebrew yoniq (“sprig” or “shoot”) is the same word used in the messianic figure of Is 53:2. Elsewhere, the same word is used for an infant or nursing child (Nm 11:12; Dt 32:25; 1 Sm 15:3; 22:19; Jr 44:7). Synonyms such as choter “shoot,” netser “branch” (Is 11:1), and semach “branch” (Is 4:2; Jr 23:5; Zec 3:8; 6:12) were used figuratively of the Messiah. Ezekiel’s word picture affirmed the certainty of the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem. While some interpreters see this prophecy fulfilled in Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, Ezekiel’s language went beyond these and looked to a time when the Messiah would reign over Israel and over all the earth.
18:1–2 Ezekiel’s sixth reason for the fall of Judah and Jerusalem was the people’s failure to accept responsibility for their sin (see 12:1–7). During the nineteenth century, some commentators claimed that the idea of individual responsibility developed only during the exile. But the concept was present in the earliest writings in the OT. Here, Ezekiel clearly made two points about individual responsibility. First, individuals are not guilty for sins committed by others—past or present—especially by family members (vv. 1–20). Rather, they are responsible for whatever they do. Second, although individuals are responsible for their sins, they are not bound by former sins—their own or others—but can alter their situation by repentance and faith (vv. 21–32).
18:5–9 What constitutes a “righteous” person? Ezekiel presented five principles of conduct for righteous people. First, they do what is “just and right” (v. 5). Second, they worship Yahweh as the one and only God (v. 6a). Third, they maintain marital fidelity and moral purity (v. 6b). Fourth, they are good neighbors (vv. 7–8). Fifth, they respect and obey the laws of God (v. 9).
18:10–20 A person who disregards the laws of God is not to go unpunished because he has a righteous father, nor is a righteous son who follows the way of the Lord guilty for the sin of his wicked father. Ezekiel summarized the principle of individual responsibility in verses 19–20. The rationale for it is found in the historical context. The suffering of the exile was a result of that generation’s persistent rebellion, idolatry, and covenant unfaithfulness. These sins were also seen in their forefathers, a point made clear in 16:1–59. But it was not their fathers’ guilt that brought on their punishment, but their own. The “visitation” of sin mentioned in Ex 20:5 and 34:6–7 was not the transmission of guilt but the consequences of bad choices that affected following generations.
18:21–24 No generation is judged for the sins of a previous one. God always honors genuine repentance, as described in verse 21. Repentance is turning (shuv) from sin and turning to God in faith and obedience. The chiastic (symmetrical, in reverse) structure of verses 21–24 begins and ends with exhortations to repentance. Between them is the Lord’s rhetorical question, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” The implied answer is, No. God does not create some individuals for the specific purpose of meting out His judgment, as some may claim.
18:25–29 The exiles accused God of being unfair because they failed to understand the principles of verses 10–24, in the belief that they were paying for the sins of previous generations. The accusation that the Lord is “unfair” or unjust is a translation of the Hebrew takan, literally “to measure” or “to examine” (1 Sm 2:3; 2 Kg 12:11; Job 28:25; Pr 16:2; 21:2; 24:12; Is 40:12–13; Ezk 45:11). They claimed that God does not “measure” His actions but acts arbitrarily and unjustly. The Lord turned the argument on the hearers, asking them, “Isn’t it your ways that are unfair?” (v. 25).
Judgment for sin is a fixed principle that only can be averted by repentance. When a righteous person abandons righteousness, the judgment of God is released against sin. If the person repents and turns from sin, the judgment is stayed. When a person’s guilt is exposed, the human tendency is to blame someone else (e.g., Gn 3:12–13). At such times God can be a handy scapegoat. It is no surprise that both the exiles under judgment and those still in Judah maintained their innocence and the Lord’s guilt (v. 29).
18:30–32 God’s desire, even in the face of repeated rebellion, is always to deliver—but He will bring judgment if necessary. This is consistent with His character inasmuch as it reveals His wrath against sin and those who choose it (Ex 22:22–24; Nm 11:33; Rm 1:18). When a person repents (shuv) and changes direction, the wrath of God is averted because the person turned from sin to forgiveness and faith (see Zec 1:3–6).
19:1–9 Why is a funeral hymn included? The seventh condition that resulted in Judah’s fall was that the nation was spiritually dead. This chapter contains two funeral laments written in a special meter called qinah, three beats followed by two. The book of Lm, like other funeral poems, was also written in qinah meter (see 2 Sm 1:17–27; 3:33–34; Is 14:4–21; Am 5:1–3). One of Ezekiel’s laments was for the king (vv. 1–9) and the second was for the end of the kingdom (vv. 10–14).
Ezekiel called the last kings of Judah “princes” because he did not recognize their legitimate right to reign. The line of kings currently in power had gained the throne by intrigue and murder, and they proceeded to rule without seeking God’s spiritual guidance. As Hosea earlier stated, “They have installed kings, but not through Me” (Hs 8:4). At the death of Josiah, his son Jehoahaz reigned three months. Eliakim, his brother, overthrew him and took the throne name Jehoiakim, pledging allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar. He reigned 11 years, and upon his death was followed by his son Jehoiachin. After a reign of only three months Jehoiachin was taken captive to Babylon (2 Kg 24:8–17) and replaced by Mattaniah, his uncle, to whom Nebuchadnezzar gave the throne name Zedekiah. He reigned as Judah’s last king from 597–586 b.c. (2 Kg 23:31; 24:18).
20:1, 5–6, 8 A contingent of leaders came to “consult the Lord” about Ezekiel’s judgment messages. The Lord responded with five oath-lessons each containing the phrase “I swore to them” (lit. “I lifted my hand to them,” vv. 5–6, 15, 23, 28, 42), signifying that God swore by His name and reputation. First, He had sworn to be their God and deliver them from Egypt (see Ex 20:2) but both they and their fathers responded with rebellion (Ezk 20:5, 6, 8). See the following notes for the other vows in this series.
20:15 Second, the Lord swore to them in the wilderness that He would not let them enter the promised land unless they were obedient. His faithful protection (vv. 16–22, cp. Dt 8:4) was repaid by repeated rebellion.
20:23–24 Third, the Lord swore to disperse the people because they persisted in rebellion, desecrating “My Sabbaths” (vv. 13, 16, 20–21, 24). God chose 70 years for the captivity because of their repeated desecration of the Sabbath and the sabbatical year (Ex 20:8–11; 2 Ch 36:21; see five cycles of rebellion in Lv 26:14–35; 2 Ch 36:21).
20:28–38 Fourth, although the Lord had vowed to give them the land, the people came under judgment because, once in the land, they established bamoth or high places for pagan altars. “What is this high place you are going to?” is a rhetorical question, a reminder that God knew every bamah or pagan shrine they had set up. These idolatrous practices continued while the Judeans were in exile (v. 38).
20:39–49 Fifth, the exile was a divine judgment to purge the nation of sin (vv. 40–44), that the Lord might fulfill his vow to give them the land (v. 42). Verse 46 uses three different words for “south”: timanah “to the right,” since directions were determined by facing east; darom “south” in a geographical sense; and negev referring to the southern portion of the land. The destruction would be of such magnitude that everyone would recognize it as an act of divine judgment (vv. 48–49). (In the MT, vv. 45–49 are Ezk 21:1–5.)
21:1–7 The phrase “Son of man, turn your face toward …” occurs nine times in the Bible, all in Ezk and all in a context of judgment (6:2; 13:17; 20:46; 21:2; 25:2; 28:21; 29:2; 35:2; 38:2). Commentators call Ezekiel’s three messages here “sword oracles,” and they envision indiscriminate judgment of both the “righteous” and the “wicked” (vv. 3–4). The passage raises the issue of whether the use of a pagan nation, Babylon, as God’s “sword” was justifiable. Habakkuk wrestled with this same question and received the same answer: God is sovereign and free to use whomever He wishes to accomplish His purposes (Hab 2:5–20). Those God used, like Babylon, also were accountable to Him (see Ezk 25:1–32:32).
21:8–17 Interpreters who consider this passage a wanton celebration of slaughter are taking a superficial view. This sword song is not a song of delight but a warning of certain judgment. The sword was sharpened and made ready for slaughter (vv. 8–11). Like the Lord, the prophet was visibly moved and grieved by the carnage of judgment (v. 12). The sword was instructed to strike three times to emphasize the extent of judgment (vv. 13–15). Finally, the sword was instructed to strike and do its work (vv. 16–17). Some interpreters try to connect this passage with the sword song of Lamech (Gn 4:23–24), but there is no clear correlation.
21:18–27 The Lord did not endorse divination as legitimate. However, Ezekiel showed that God is in control even when aberrant methods are used to determine the future. Nebuchadnezzar, in his invasion, came to a fork in the road and faced a choice of military objectives: Should he attack Rabbah or Jerusalem? He used three methods of divination (v. 21). The shaking of arrows (belomancy) was intended to determine a yes or no answer to a question. Consulting small household ancestral gods (teraphim, cp. Gn 31:34) was another method for making decisions. Observing the pattern of the holes in an animal liver (hepatoscopy) was another form of divination. The answer Nebuchadnezzar received in each case was the same: Attack Jerusalem!
21:28–32 Why would Ezekiel concern himself with judgment against the Ammonites? The Ammonites and Moabites were descendents of Lot from his incestuous relations with his daughters (Gn 19:30–38). In a sad commentary on the consequences that sin visits on successive generations, their descendents became bitter enemies of the Lord and His people. The Ammonites aided Babylon in the conquest of Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s message makes clear that they will not go unpunished. The sword will also visit judgment upon them (25:1–7).
22:1–12 Some commentators suggest this list of the 15 specific sins of Jerusalem is not Ezekiel’s. But the list compares favorably with 18:5–17. Both lists include bloodshed (22:3, 6); idolatry (v. 4); violation of God’s law (v. 4); perversion of power (v. 6); loss of domestic discipline (v. 7); lack of hospitality to strangers (v. 7); oppression of widows and orphans (v. 7); profaning holy things (v. 8); violating the Sabbath (v. 8); giving false witness (v. 9); eating at pagan shrines (v. 9); sacred prostitution (vv. 10–11); accepting bribes (v. 12); exacting exorbitant interest rates (v. 12); and forgetting God (v. 12).
22:23–31 These sins chronicle the total social disintegration of Judah in which all leaders had a share including princes (vv. 6, 25), priests (v. 26), government officials (v. 27), false prophets (v. 28), and the people (v. 29). In the midst of this decadence the search for one righteous person to make a difference proved fruitless (see Gn 18:16–33).
23:1–14 The parable of the two sisters, Israel and Judah, is comparable to the parable of chapter 16. While that passage was about the seduction of Canaanite religion, this stressed the political alliances that excluded God from their national life. Oholah (Hb “my tent”) represented Israel and Oholibah (Hb “my tent is in her”) represented Judah (see Jr 3:6–12). Ezk 23:22–35 contain four messages of judgment directed at Judah, and verses 36–42 make up a list of crimes similar to the list in 22:1–12 and 18:5–9, 10–13.
24:1–14 The parable of the boiling pot is a poetic story that expands on 11:3. In that passage and here, Jerusalem was the pot, the people were the meat, and Babylon was the fire.
24:15–27 Interpreters question why a compassionate God would take the life of Ezekiel’s wife as an illustration of coming judgment, but there is no reason to assume that was what the Lord did. In providing advance knowledge of her death to Ezekiel (vv. 15–17), He was preparing him to respond to his loss in a way that would make the deepest impression on the prophet’s community. In the ancient Near East, mourning was a public rite in which a family often hired professional mourners to bewail the loss of their loved one. Ezekiel’s unorthodox conduct in the face of his wife’s death—he was instructed not to mourn in public—aroused the people’s curiosity, giving the prophet an opening to declare the word of the Lord. When judgment arrived, there would be no opportunity to conduct the usual ceremonies of mourning for lost loved ones or for the demise of the nation. This passage brings to a conclusion the record of Ezekiel’s ministry as the prophet of judgment to come upon Judah and Jerusalem.
25:1ff The messages against the nations serve four purposes. First, God will judge nations that applauded the fall of Jerusalem. Second, foreign nations were not immune from judgment. Third, these messages were against false gods of nations Judah trusted. Fourth, all will know Yahweh as the one true God.
25:1–7 Ezekiel’s messages against the nations are similar to those found in Is 13:1–23:18; Jr 46:1–51:64; and Am 1:3–2:3. They affirm that all nations who oppose God and His people will be judged. The Lord chose these nations for a particular reason. Each of the first three was a blood relative of the Israelites. Each had become bitter enemies of God and His people. The Ammonites (Ezk 25:2) were the descendents of Lot (Gn 19:38) from an incestuous relationship with his younger daughter. The speech against them is a continuation of the previous message of Ezk 21:28–32. The Ammonites were known for cruelty (Am 1:3), idolatries (1 Kg 11:7, 33), pride (Zph 2:9–10), and hatred for Israel (Dt 23:3–4, Jdg 3:13; 1 Sm 11:1–2; 2 Sm 10:1–14; 2 Kg 24:2; Neh 4:3, 7–8).
25:8–11 Moab was Lot’s son by his older daughter (Gn 19:37). The Moabites introduced Baal worship to Israel (see Nm 21:1–25:5) and participated in the sins of Ammon (Ezk 25:1–8). Both Ammon and Moab would disappear from the family of nations (vv. 10–11).
25:12–14 The Edomites were descendents of Esau (Gn 25:25), who foolishly sold his birthright to Jacob and held the promises of God in contempt (Gn 25:29–34). He was a profane person (Heb 12:16) who despised his birthright and despised God’s promises (Gn 25:29–34). His descendents were bitter enemies of the Jews. Edom would be laid waste (Is 34:5–17; Jr 49:7–22; Am 1:9–12; Ob 18).
25:15–17 The Philistines, a seafaring people, were condemned because of their constant opposition to the Israelites during the period of settlement in Canaan. Their threat gave impetus to the Israelites’ desire for a king to lead them in warfare. They captured the ark of the covenant (1 Sm 4–5) and were a source of tension from the time of the Judges (Jdg 3:31; 10:7; 13:1–16:31) until the reign of Saul. Ultimately they were responsible for his death (1 Sm 31:1–13). They were judged because they “took revenge with deep contempt, destroying because of their ancient hatred” (Ezk 25:15).
26:1–28:26 Ezekiel devoted chapters 26–28 to the judgment of Tyre, the “rock” and principal city-state of Phoenicia. A massive rock fortress guarded the harbor of this great commercial and shipping center. Ezekiel predicted that many nations would come against this city, its walls would be destroyed, the supposedly impregnable island fortress would be rubble, and the city plundered (vv. 1–6; cp. Is 23:1–18; Jl 3:4–6; Am 1:9–10; Zec 9:2–4).
27:1–36 Tyre was influential as a center of world commerce in its heyday. Ezekiel listed 23 nations, many still in existence, that had trade relations with Tyre. In verses 3–9 he described it as a magnificent ship marked for judgment because of its self-sufficient pride. Its trading partners would lament its fall (vv. 28–36).
28:1 The most enigmatic and debated passage in Ezekiel’s messages against the nations is the lament over the king of Tyre. Although no specific king is mentioned, the king who reigned during Ezekiel’s ministry was Ethbaal II (585–573 b.c.). He was called the “prince” of Tyre, judged for arrogance and greed (vv. 1–10).
28:3 On the name Daniel (Danʾel) in Ezk, see note on 14:14, 20.
28:1–19 This text has presented difficulties for interpreters. Ezekiel compared the king of Tyre to a figure “in Eden, the garden of God” (v. 13). This passage is similar to Isaiah’s taunt against the king of Babylon (Is 14:12–17). The king was seeking divine status (Ezk 28:2, 6). This is not extraordinary, since ancient Near Eastern kings customarily proclaimed themselves divine and were regarded so by their people. But verse 12 adds that the king was a “seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” A detailed description follows, naming nine precious stones covering this impressive figure. Verse 14 adds, “You were an anointed guardian cherub” and “You were on the holy mountain of God.”
These extravagant descriptions could not literally apply to the king of Tyre; the prophet was comparing him with someone with an exalted position in the garden of God, but who became corrupted and lost his favor and position. Of 20 descriptive elements identifiable in this passage, at least 16 can be seen to correlate with Is 14:12–17, written some 150 years earlier. The correspondence leads many conservative scholars to conclude that the passages are related and refer to the fall of Satan, the adversary of God and His people and the source of evil. On this view, Ezekiel was stating—in terms his audience would understand—that Satan was the mastermind behind the king of Tyre.
Other commentators, no less committed to the inerrancy of Scripture, find such a theory speculative, going “beyond what is written” (1 Co 4:6). If Ezekiel had meant to speak of Satan there is no reason why he would not have mentioned him by name, as occurs in other OT passages (1 Ch 21:1; Job 1–2; Zec 3:1–2). Ezekiel, like other prophets of Israel, is known for exaggerated speech; in this passage he magnified the king of Tyre as an exalted Edenic figure in order to amplify the “spectacle” (v. 17) of his disgrace, as one who “will never exist again” (v. 19).
28:20–26 Sidon was the sister city of Tyre, often mentioned together with her. Sidon was the home of Jezebel, wife of Ahab (1 Kg 16:31–34). Her vigorous promotion of Phoenician religion resulted in the widespread replacement of the worship of Yahweh with the cult of Baal. The Lord hid Elijah in Zarephath, a suburb of Sidon (1 Kg 17:9), before he went forth to summon the nation back to the Lord (1 Kg 18:1–2 Kg 2:18). The last two verses in this passage are the Lord’s promise that He would restore Israel in safety to the land after executing His judgment on their surrounding enemies.
29:1, 6–9 This prophecy against Egypt is the first of seven judgment messages against that land that follow in chronological order, except for 29:17–21. Ezekiel gave more attention to Egypt than to any other nation, probably because of its hostility against Israel from the time of the exodus. This prophecy is dated early in 587 b.c. (reckoning from a new year that began in the spring of the previous year), seven months before the fall of Jerusalem. It is usually understood to apply to Pharaoh Hophra. The prophet portrayed Egypt as a splintered reed that would prove worthless; anyone relying on Egypt’s help would be crippled (cp. “tearing all their shoulders,” v. 7).
29:17–21 This second prophecy, earlier than the others, is dated in the spring of 571 b.c. When Nebuchadnezzar’s 13-year siege of Tyre ended unsuccessfully, his armies were left with no spoils with which to pay his soldiers. Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord had allowed him to plunder Egypt as a consolation. The passage concludes with a brief Messianic prophecy that the “horn” of the house of Israel will “sprout” (Hb tsemach), the same word used in Jeremiah’s prophecy of the “righteous Branch” (Jr 23:5–6), the “beautiful and glorious” branch Isaiah foretold (Is 4:2–6), and “My servant, the Branch” of Zeph (Zec 3:8–10).
30:2–4 The third prophecy is undated. It is not the “Wail: Alas” of the funeral lament but the cry of one under judgment, signaling that Egypt would perish on that “day.”
30:13–19 These eight Egyptian centers of religious, political, and military might were marked for judgment as centers of idolatry—gelullim, literally “dung pellets,” Ezekiel’s favorite word for idols (see 6:4). The fall of these centers marked the end of Egypt as a world power, as predicted in 29:14.
30:20–21 The fourth prophecy is dated in the spring of 587 b.c. Pharaoh Hophra was portrayed as helpless before the complete devastation by Nebuchadnezzar.
31:1–9 The fifth prophecy is dated in early summer, 587 b.c. Depicting rulers as trees was a common literary device in the ancient Near East (see Jdg 9:7–21; Is 14:1–8; Ezk 17:1–24; Dn 4:1–37). This king of Assyria was compared to a cedar of Lebanon, the tallest known trees of the ancient world.
32:1–16 This sixth prophecy is dated in late winter, 585 b.c. (just before the spring new year). It is another funeral dirge in qinah meter, lamenting the distress the fall of Egypt would bring to those nations that looked to it for leadership and protection. Egypt’s demise was an act of divine intervention by which all would recognize Yahweh as the one true God.
32:17–32 The seventh prophecy is dated shortly after the previous one, after the spring new year. It is the final lament, not composed in qinah meter but—like the second prophecy in 30:2–4—a wailing song. These two passages are the only examples of a wailing song in the OT.
32:22–32 When Egypt was thrown in the pit (Hb bor, a synonym for sheol), Assyria and Elam, former victims of Babylon’s might, already were there along with two older nations, Meshech, and Tubal—all known for terror and ruthlessness. Edom and the Sidonians also were there, as previously predicted in 25:12–14 and 28:20–26.
33:1–2, 7 This passage is a turning point, as Ezekiel transitioned to messages of hope and restoration in (chaps. 33–45). This message parallels 3:16–21 and reaffirmed Ezekiel’s authority as the prophet of restoration.
33:10–11 The hope of restoration begins with a question, “How then can we survive?” Ezekiel brought a forceful and clear call to “repent, repent,” the imperative form of Hebrew shuv, “turn.”
33:21 The date of this message was early in 585 b.c., nearly two years after the fall of Jerusalem. The text offers no explanation for the delay of news of the fall to reach Babylon. Ezra gave the travel time as five months (Ezr 7:6–9). The news may have come from a refugee who hid along the way to avoid Babylonian troops. Another suggestion is a possible copyist’s error; there is only a one-letter difference in the Hebrew spelling for the twelfth year and the tenth year. The LXX and the Syriac (Aramaic) version adopted that solution. Still another possibility is that Jerusalem’s fall occurred in the summer of 586 b.c. instead of early in 587 b.c., in which case the “twelfth” year should read the “eleventh”; that would reduce the time span to six months, which better fits Ezra’s timetable.
34:1–2 Chapter 34 is a sequel to the enumeration of Judah’s sins in 22:1–31. Kings and leaders were often called “shepherds” in the ancient Near East. The failure of weak and corrupt “shepherds” of 22:23–31 and the false prophets of 13:1–14:11 gave way to the Lord’s true shepherd promised in 34:11–31.
34:6–31 The Lord is the true Shepherd of Israel. He made clear in this passage by the use of 18 possessive pronouns such as “My flock” and “My sheep.” Human shepherds were accountable to the Divine Shepherd, a concept David well understood (Ps 23:1–6). So the Lord declared that He was against the human shepherds (Ezk 34:2, 10) and would be the true Shepherd. At least 25 verbal forms translated “I will” punctuate verses 10–29. These promises express the Lord’s determination to personally attend His flock. His Messiah will mediate a “covenant of peace” between God and His flock (v. 25; 37:26). Ezekiel joined Jeremiah in outlining the new covenant (34:25–31; Jr 31:31–34).
35:1ff Why was another judgment message spoken against Edom? Some interpreters suggest this message was either superfluous or misplaced and should be moved, perhaps to 25:12–14. But the message indeed was appropriate as a solemn reminder of the tragedy of Esau’s descendants, the Edomites. Jacob’s descendents would receive the blessing Isaac gave to Jacob (Gn 27:27–29). Mention of the judgment of Edom was a reminder of Esau’s loss and a fitting prelude to the restoration of Israel. The Edomites opposed Israel and finally were judged (see also Is 34:5–6; Jr 49:7–22; Ob 1; Mal 1:4).
35:5–15 What were the specific reasons for Edom’s judgment? Five reasons are presented. First, Edom’s hatred that had been harbored for hundreds of years after Jacob’s deception of Esau (v. 5). Second, the Edomites’ encouragement of Israel’s enemies and participation in Israel’s slaughter (v. 5; see Ps 137:7; Ob 10–14). Third, Edom’s belief that the land was still theirs because Jacob obtained it by deception (Ezk 35:10; cp. Gn 27:1–40). Fourth, Edom’s cursing of the mountains of Israel and denial that God gave them to Israel (Ezk 35:12). Fifth, Edom spoke defiantly and strained against God’s will (v. 13).
36:1–15 This passage was a reversal of the message against the mountains in 6:1–14. It was a celebration of the repossession of the land by the Judeans returning from exile. The passage includes additional accusations against Edom. First, when the Judeans were exiled, the Edomites rushed in to claim the land for themselves (vv. 2–3, 5). Second, they plundered Judah and left the land desolate (vv. 3–4). Third, they ridiculed and scorned the people of Judah (vv. 3–6, 15). Consequently, God gave four promises to the Judeans who would be returning: (1) the land would again be fruitful (vv. 8–9; cp. 6:8–10); (2) all the people of Judah ultimately would return, multiply, and prosper in the land (vv. 10–11); (3) their return would be permanent (vv. 12–14); (4) the Judeans would no longer be an object of scorn by other nations (v. 15).
36:16–23 The Lord gave two reasons for restoring the “house of Israel,” the religious community of Judah: (1) He restored them for the sake of His holy name, not because they deserved deliverance (vv. 21–22); (2) the restoration served notice to foreign nations that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was still in control (v. 23).
36:24–32 This passage expands on 11:14–21, the Lord’s promise to the returning exiles, in a series of affirmations. (1) The Lord will honor His promises of restoration (v. 24). (2) He will cleanse the people from their idolatry (v. 25). (3) He will give them a “new heart” and “new spirit” (v. 26). (4) His Spirit will enable them to walk in His laws (v. 27). (5) They will live permanently in the land (v. 28). (6) The Lord will renew His covenant affirmation to have them as His people and be their God (v. 28; cp. Jr 31:32–33). (7) The land will again be productive (vv. 29–30; cp. Am 9:13–15). (8) The Judeans will remember their idolatry and “loathe” themselves (v. 31). (9) Their cities will be resettled (v. 33). (10) Desolate land will again be cultivated (v. 34). (11) The land will be as productive as the garden of Eden (v. 35). (12) All surrounding nations will acknowledge what Yahweh has done (v. 36). (13) He will bless and increase His people like a flock (v. 37).
The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1209–1242.