The Third Drama
Chapter 5 is devoted to the third drama.
Here, God told Ezekiel to take a sword and shave his head and beard.(5:1) It would be humiliating for a Jew, or an middle eastern man, to have his head and beard shaved off by another. Ezekiel was a priest, and priests were not to have off their heads or beards. (Leviticus 21:5) The new king of the Ammonites shamed King David’s servants by shaving off half their beards. (2 Samuel 10:4) The message is that God will soon humiliate and shame Israel.
The fact that a sword, and not a razor, was used, indicates this shame and humiliation will come in a military conflict.
There is also here a connection to Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 7:20. When God told King Ahaz he would defeat Syria with the king of Assyria, he said “In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the river-with the king of Assyria-the head and the hair of the feet and it will sweep away the beard also.” (Isaiah 7:20) In Ezekiel 5:1, God says I will do the same to Jerusalem that I did to Syria. The razor this time will be the Babylonians instead of the Assyrians.
Next, God told Ezekiel to divide his cut hair into 3 batches by weight. (5:1) He was to do different things with each batch. Each batch represents a different fate for the people of Jerusalem. God’s judgment is measured and deliberate.
Ezekiel was to take the first batch into the middle of the city (symbolized by the brick described in 4:1) and burn it after the siege was over as he enacted the siege in chapter 4. (5:2)
He was to take the second batch and scatter it around the city, then strike it all with the sword.
Ezekiel was to take the third batch and scatter it to the wind. But God said he would still take the sword to that part.
Lastly, God said to take a small portion and bind it in the skirts of Ezekiel’s robe. (5:3) Still part of this was to be cast into the fire. And God said “from there fire will come out into all the house of Israel”. (5:4)
The picture here is the destruction of the city Jerusalem, but more so, the whole of the population of Judah, all that is left of Israel. It is a picture of how the people will die.
God explained the symbols of this drama starting in verse 12. One third of the people would die by pestilence and famine (12). This is symbolized by fire and burning as judgment. One third would fall by the sword of the invaders, symbolized by beating the hair with the sword. One third would escape to be scattered into exile, but would still face judgment by the sword there.
God’s judgment was devastating. God said the punishment will be so bad, it would be something God had never done and would never do again. (5:9) This is hyperbole, I think, to say it is terribly bad. He said he would make them a desolation. (14) We saw God use that word repeatedly in Jeremiah. It meant he would make the place inhabitable. He would make them a reproach to all nations, a horror, and a warning. In other words, nations would look at them and say they must have been a terrible people to have incurred this much wrath from God.
Beginning in 5:5, the Lord explained why he was executing this terrible destruction. He explained that Israel, symbolized by Jerusalem, rebelled against God and broke the covenant. He said they were, in fact, worse than the Gentle nations around them.
Here is his list of Israel’s violations:
violated his rules and statutes by doing wickedness (6);
violating his rules more than the Gentile nations around them (6);
Being turbulent (7); and
defiling the sanctuary with detestable things (11) and abominations;
We saw in Leviticus 26 that God set forth the punishments for disobedience of the covenant rules. In Ezekiel 5, he explains that he will do those very things to Jerusalem.
sword & pestilence (Lev.26:25; Ez. 5:17);
famine via cut off food supply (Lev.26:26; Ez. 5:16);
eating children (Lev. 26:29; Ez. 5:10);
exile (Lev. 26:39; Ez. 5:10)
set his face against them (Lev. 26:17; Ez. 5:8).
Why does it matter that God punished Israel according to the curses for violating the covenant? It shows God’s punishment here is not arbitrary or unfair.
God is consistent. He is unchanging. He executed devastating judgment on the Canaanites, using Israel as his sword. He now executes devastation judgment on an apostate Israel, using Babylon as his sword. It gives you a picture of what eternal punishment must be like as God’s wrath is poured out for eternity.
There is some hope for Israel here. Let’s go back to Leviticus 26 and the curses of the covenant. God extended hope by saying, after his wrath was poured out, it would cease. If Israel came to a point of confession, God would restore them. He said:
Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 26:44-45).