This chapter should be read seamlessly with the previous, as it provides both the grisly outcome of the siege (5:1-4) and the divine commentary on the reason for the extreme judgments upon the nation (5:5-17).
The siege of Jerusalem dramatized in chapter 4 culminates in the brutal destruction of its inhabitants. Ezekiel carries out another sign-act to picture the tragic end of the siege and city. He is instructed by God to take a sharp sword and shave his head and beard. His hair is to be divided by weight (using a balance) into three piles. The first pile is burned in the midst of the city. The second is slashed with his sword all around the city. The third is scattered to the wind, with a few strands of hair saved and tucked into his robe—although even some of those are later plucked out of the robe and burned (5:2-4).
Later in the chapter, the Lord explains what is already rather painfully clear: a third of the people in Jerusalem will die of pestilence (5:12) and famine (5:10); a third will die by the sword, presumably when the city is overrun by the invaders (5:12). The final third will be scattered to the winds of exile, while being chased by the sword (5:12).
The major part of the chapter declares the reason for the Lord’s displeasure with his people—the cause of the coming judgment (5:5-17). Israel has flagrantly violated the Lord’s rules and statutes, becoming more corrupt than the surrounding nations (5:6-7). They have defiled His sanctuary with idols and evil (5:11).
This rebellion has led to judgment: “therefore . . . I, even I, am against you” (5:8). In stark, emotive terms, the Lord bares His heart (before He bares His arm). He speaks of his anger (5:13, 15), fury (4x—see 5:13, 15) and jealousy (5:13). He promises not to “spare” or have “pity” (5:11). This coming divine judgment will be the worst ever: “I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again” (5:9).
To underscore the certainty of this macabre pronouncement, the Lord repeatedly emphasizes His sovereign right and power to carry this out: “I am the Lord, I have spoken” (5:15, see also verse 13, 17). He swears by himself to accomplish His righteous judgment: “Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, surely . . .” (5:11).
Visions of God
Israel was convinced that, because of God’s covenant with them, they could expect His deliverance and support. The false prophets proclaimed the “good news” that the exile would be short, the deported king would come home, and the city (especially the Temple) would be spared. After all, they were God’s people so He must be on their side.
They missed the fact that the covenant, which was indeed unfailing, was not unconditional. Deuteronomy 28 set forth both blessings and brutal curses. Obedience would bring good things; disobedience would bring disaster. Now disaster was coming, as God had warned.
The Lord is jealous for His people’s loyalty. Israel was convinced that, because of God’s covenant with them, they could expect His unconditional support and deliverance. The false prophets proclaimed the “good news” that the exile would be short, the deported king would come home, and the city (especially the Temple) would be spared. After all, they were God’s people so He must be on their side. They missed the fact that the covenant, which was indeed unfailing, was not unconditional. Deuteronomy 28 set forth both blessings and brutal curses. Obedience would bring good things; disobedience would bring disaster. Now disaster was coming, as God had warned. The Lord’s fury stems from His jealousy: “And they shall know that I am the LORD—that I have spoken in my jealousy—when I spend my fury upon them” (5:13). Jealousy is God’s righteous response to infidelity in the covenant relationship He has with Israel. As a wounded husband, the LORD is jealous for His adulterous people who have gone after other gods (abominations — 5:9, 11).
The Lord is furious when loyalty and obedience are flagrantly discarded. God does not treat disloyalty lightly. The truth that He is slow to anger should not lead us to conclude He always says no to anger. “Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself” (5:13). Here we see some of the groundwork for what will happen on the cross—when God vents His righteous fury against sin but directs against Himself instead of where it rightfully belongs—upon us (Romans 3:21-26).
If God is against us, who can be for us? Romans 8:31 is certainly true when it says that “If God is for us, who can be against us?” However, the converse is equally (and fearfully) true as well. “[T]herefore thus says the LORD God: Behold, I, even I, am against you” (5:8). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31).
Words to Watchmen
Faithfully declaring or dramatizing God’s word will, at times, be painfully difficult. Ezekiel is given a message to deliver that is both painful for him to deliver and others to hear. But unless watchmen declare the truth of God’s wrath against sin, they truncate the good news of His gracious forgiveness against sinners and blunt the warning that those in rebellion need to hear. Watchmen, if they are faithful to their charge, will at times convey a message that is outside of the plausibility structures of their hearers. They won’t believe it as true because they can’t conceive it as true. Sometimes, only in time will they know a “prophet has been among them” (33:33).