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A Sword against Jerusalem


And you, O mortal, take a sharp sword; use it as a barber’s razor and run it over your head and your beard; then take balances for weighing, and divide the hair. 2One third of the hair you shall burn in the fire inside the city, when the days of the siege are completed; one third you shall take and strike with the sword all around the city; and one third you shall scatter to the wind, and I will unsheathe the sword after them. 3Then you shall take from these a small number, and bind them in the skirts of your robe. 4From these, again, you shall take some, throw them into the fire and burn them up; from there a fire will come out against all the house of Israel.

5 Thus says the Lord G od: This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. 6But she has rebelled against my ordinances and my statutes, becoming more wicked than the nations and the countries all around her, rejecting my ordinances and not following my statutes. 7Therefore thus says the Lord G od: Because you are more turbulent than the nations that are all around you, and have not followed my statutes or kept my ordinances, but have acted according to the ordinances of the nations that are all around you; 8therefore thus says the Lord G od: I, I myself, am coming against you; I will execute judgments among you in the sight of the nations. 9And because of all your abominations, I will do to you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. 10Surely, parents shall eat their children in your midst, and children shall eat their parents; I will execute judgments on you, and any of you who survive I will scatter to every wind. 11Therefore, as I live, says the Lord G od, surely, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations—therefore I will cut you down; my eye will not spare, and I will have no pity. 12One third of you shall die of pestilence or be consumed by famine among you; one third shall fall by the sword around you; and one third I will scatter to every wind and will unsheathe the sword after them.

13 My anger shall spend itself, and I will vent my fury on them and satisfy myself; and they shall know that I, the L ord, have spoken in my jealousy, when I spend my fury on them. 14Moreover I will make you a desolation and an object of mocking among the nations around you, in the sight of all that pass by. 15You shall be a mockery and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious punishments—I, the L ord, have spoken— 16when I loose against you my deadly arrows of famine, arrows for destruction, which I will let loose to destroy you, and when I bring more and more famine upon you, and break your staff of bread. 17I will send famine and wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children; pestilence and bloodshed shall pass through you; and I will bring the sword upon you. I, the L ord, have spoken.

By another vision God confirms what he had lately taught concerning the siege of Jerusalem. For he orders the Prophet to shave the hairs off his head and his beard, then to distribute them into three parts, and to weigh them in a balance. He mentions a just balance, that equity may be preserved, and that one portion may not surpass another. There is no doubt that by the hairs he understands the inhabitants of Jerusalem, as by the head he understands the seat itself of their dwelling-place. Then the application will follow; but this I shall pass by today, because I cannot proceed farther. It is sufficient to hold briefly, that men are here designated by hairs, for hair can scarcely be counted, indeed that of the beard is countless; such was the multitude at Jerusalem, for we know that the city was very populous. We know, again, that it took occasion for pride from this; when they saw that they were strong in the multitude of their people, they thought themselves equal, if not superior, to all enemies, and hence their foolish confidence, which destroyed them. God then commanded the Prophet to shave off all the hairs of his head and of his beard. Thus he taught that not even one man should escape the slaughter, because he says, make the sword pass, or pass it, over thy head, then over thy chin, so that nothing may remain. We see, then, how far the passing of the razor is to go — until no hair remains entire on either the head or beard. Whence it follows, that God will take vengeance on the whole nation, so that not one of them shall survive. As to his ordering three parts to be weighed, and a proportion to be kept between them, in this way he signifies what we have often seen in Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 15:2) — Whosoever shall have escaped the sword shall perish by famine, and whosoever shall escape the famine shall perish by some other means. But here God explains at length the manner in which he was about to destroy all the Jews, although they were distributed into various ranks. For their condition might seem different when some had been put to flight, and others had betaken themselves to Egypt. But in this variety God shows that it detracts nothing from his power or intention of destroying them to a man.

Let us come to the words make a razor pass over thy head and over, thy beard; and then take scales מאזנים, maznim, is properly called a balance on account of its two ears. Take, therefore, a balance, or scales for weighing, and divide the hair. What this division means I have already explained, because all the Jews were not consumed by the same punishment,, and therefore those who had escaped one kind of destruction boasted that they were safe. Hence they were enraged against God. But this foolish confidence is taken away, when the Prophet is ordered to divide the hair extracted from his head and beard, Divide them, he says; afterwards he adds, a third part. As to God’s distributing the people into three parts, it is not done without the best reason for it; for a part was consumed by famine and distress before the city was taken. But because God marks all miseries by fire, therefore he orders a third part to be cast into the fire, and consumed there. Now because there were two parts remaining, every one promised himself life; for he who escapes present death thinks himself free from all danger, and hence confidence is increased; for we too often think ourselves safe when we have overcome one kind of death. For this reason, therefore, it is added, after thou hast burnt a third part in the fire, he says, take a third part and strike it with the sword Besides, he orders a third part to be burnt in the midst of the city. Ezekiel was then in Chaldea, and not near the city; but we said that all this took place by a prophetic vision. What is here said answers to the wrath of God, because before the siege of the city, a third part was consumed by pestilence, and famine, and distress, and other evils and slaughters; and all these miseries are here denoted by fire. For after the city had been taken, God orders a third part to be struck with the sword. We know this to have been fulfilled when the king with all his company was seized, as he was flying over the plain of Jericho, (2 Kings 25) when meeting with the hostile army; because very many were killed there, the king himself was carried off, his sons murdered in his sight, while his eyes were put out, and he was dragged to Babylon bound in chains. Hence this is the third part, which he commanded the Prophet to strike with the sword, because that slaughter represented the slaughter of the city.

Now it is added, that he should take a third part and cast it to the wind: then follows the threat, I will unsheathe my sword after them Here it is spoken as well of the fugitives who had gone into various countries, as of the poor, who being dispersed after the slaughter of the city, protracted their life but a short time. For we know that some lay hid in the land of Moab, others in that of Ammon, more in Egypt, and that others fled to various hiding-places. This dispersion was as if any one should cast the shorn-off hairs to the wind. But God pronounces that their flight and dispersion would not profit them, because he will draw his sword against them and follow them up to the very last. We see therefore, although at first sight the citizens of Jerusalem differ, as if they were divided into three classes, yet the wrath of God hangs over all, and destroys the whole multitude.

It is now added: Thou shalt take then a small number, and bind them, (that is, that number, but the number is changed,) viz., those hairs of which the number is small in the skirts of thy clothing It either takes away the confidence which might spring up from a temporary escape, or else it signifies that very few should be safe in the midst of the destruction of the whole people, which came to pass wonderfully. If that is received, the correction is added, that God would give some hope of favor because the people was consumed, yet so that the covenant of God might remain. Hence it was necessary that some relics should be preserved, and they had been reduced like Sodom, unless God had kept for himself a small seed. (Isaiah 1:9; Romans 9:29.) Therefore in this sense the Prophet is ordered to bind and to hide in the skirts of his garment, some part of the hair. Moreover, that part is understood only in the third order, because those who had escaped thought that they had obtained safety by flight, especially when they collected themselves in troops. Afterwards it follows, thou shalt then take from these, and throw it into the midst of the fire, and burn it in the fire Out of these few hairs God wishes another part to be burnt and consumed; by which words he signifies, even where only a small portion remains, yet it must be consumed in like manner, or at least that many out of these few will be rejected. And indeed those who seemed to have happily escaped and to have survived safely, were soon after cut off by various slaughters, or pined away by degrees as if they had perished by a slow contagion. But since it pleased him to remember his promise, we gather that a few of the people survived through God’s wonderful mercy: for because he was mindful of his covenant, he wished some part to be preserved, and therefore that correction was interposed, that the Prophet should bind under his skirts a small number. Yet from that remnant, God again snatched away another part, and cast it into the fire. If the filth of the remainder was such, that it was necessary to purge it, and cast part of it into the fire, what must be thought of the whole people, that is, of the dregs themselves? For the portion which the Prophet bound in his skirts was clearly the flower of the people: if there was any integrity, it ought to be seen there.

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