Ezekiel 24 is one hinge of the book together with Ezekiel 33. The former chapter ends with the sign of Ezekiel’s muteness that God says will last until the day when the fugitive from Jerusalem will come with the news that the city has fallen. The latter chapter shows the fulfillment of that sign. Between these two chapters are seven oracles against foreign nations. For now we are going to explore chapters 24 and 25 and to more generally look at one way of understanding the structure of the oracles against foreign nations. Click here to download the outline handout.
There are two halves of chapter 24. The first half relates the “parable” of the boiling pot and the second half tells us the prophetic signs of the death of Ezekiel’s wife and of Ezekiel’s muteness.
A new section is marked by the introduction: “In the 9th year, in the 10th month, on the 10th day of the month” (which we know was 15 Jan 587 B.C.). This was the beginning date of the siege of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon. While he was mute, Ezekiel penned the seven oracles against foreign nations.
The “parable” begins thus: “Set on the pot, set it on; pour in water also; put in it the pieces of meat, all the good pieces, the thigh and the shoulder; fill it with choice bones. Take the choicest one of the flock; pile the logs under it; boil it well; seethe also its bones in it” (Ezekiel 24:3-5).
Then there are two parts that both begin: “Therefore thus says the Lord YHWH: Woe to the bloody city!” (Ezekiel 24:6, 9).
In the first part: the city is identified as “the pot whose corrosion is in it, and whose corrosion has not gone out of it.” So the “parable” of the boiling pot is an allegory. Apparently then this allegory continues and they are told: “Take out of it piece after piece, without making any choice” and then it begins explaining that she put it on the bare rock, she did not pour it out on the ground to cover it with dust.
The text has already begun to explain that this is “For the blood she has shed is in her midst” and so “to rouse my wrath, to take vengeance, I have set on the bare rock the blood she has shed, that it may not be covered” (Ezekiel 24:7-8). We have seen in the previous section that one of the major charges against Jerusalem was that of bloodshed in the open and now this will happen to the city itself in judgment.
Then the next section begins “Therefore thus says the Lord YHWH: Woe to the bloody city!” and we continue to see the interpretation of the allegory. I say this is the interpretation because it fits what we saw at the beginning. Just as it began “take the choicest one of the flock” and “pile the logs under it” and “boil it well” and seethe the bones in it, now God says, “I also will make the pile great. Heap on the logs, kindle the fire, boil the meat well, mix in the spices, and let the bones be burned up.” Now we see the idea again “its abundant corrosion does not go out of it” and so it is thrown in the fire with its corrosion.
Then the explanation: “On account of your unclean lewdness, because I would have cleansed you and you were not cleansed from your uncleanness, you shall not be cleansed anymore till I have satisfied my fury upon you” (Ezekiel 24:13). The allegory is picturing the sacrifice of Jerusalem, but the problem is that Jerusalem is not a clean animal and so the soup ends up being a mess. And with such sacrifices the law required covering the blood with earth but instead this blood was poured out on a bare rock to provoke God to anger.
And so it is too late for Jerusalem to be cleansed so that they would make a good sacrifice to God. Instead, all of God’s wrath and fury will be poured out on this unclean sacrifice.
The allegory of the boiling pot is especially appropriate given that the image represents the siege of Jerusalem.
The second half of the chapter has two related parts. As we have often seen in Ezekiel – the first part is longer and more detailed and the second part is like an afterwave that gives a summary. Here the first part relates to us the sign of Ezekiel’s wife’s death and the afterwave relates the sign of his muteness.
Thus the whole chapter has an allegory and signs, two of Ezekiel’s common means of communication.
Ezekiel’s wife is said to be “the delight of [his] eyes.” God says, “I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.” After the people come asking what this sign means, YHWH explains to them, “I will profane my sanctuary, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul, and your sons and daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword…and…you shall not mourn or weep.”
Additionally, God had told Ezekiel (1) sigh, but not aloud, (2) make no mourning for the dead, (3) bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet, and (4) do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men. In other words, Ezekiel was not allowed to grieve the way that people would normally grieve at the time, instead he had to pretend like nothing has happened even though she was the delight of his eyes.
And after the people come asking him what the sign means, Ezekiel explains these pairs in the reverse order: “You shall do as I have done” (4) you shall not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men, (3) your turbans shall be on your heads and your shoes on your feet, (2) you shall not mourn or weep, and (1) you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another.
This telling of the sign and its interpretation ends: “Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign; according to all that he has done you shall do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord YHWH” (Ezekiel 24:24).
The afterwave likewise, but more briefly ends, “So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am YHWH” (Ezekiel 24:27b).
The afterwave sign also mirrors the first sign’s interpretation in its description. The second sign is on the day when God will (A’) take from them their stronghold, (B’) their joy and glory, (C’) the delight of their eyes, and (D’) their soul’s desire, and also (E’) their sons and daughters.
The interpretation of the first sign had listed, (A) I will profane my sanctuary, (B) the pride of your power, (C.) the delight of your eyes, and (D) the yearning of your soul and (E) your sons and daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword.
The two lists are clearly parallel, with God’s sanctuary identified as “their stronghold” and “the pride of your power” called “their joy and glory.”
So the sign is that on the day that the Temple is destroyed a fugitive will come and report the news to Ezekiel who will that day speak again. That the prophet could not speak was a sign of judgment.
The next chapter (Ezekiel 25) does not have a new heading but is nevertheless a totally new section. There does not appear to be any structural connection between these two chapters. Yet the order of chapters 24-25 does harken back to the previous section of Ezekiel particularly to Ezekiel 21:18-32 (part 2 of the allegory of fire and its interpretation) where we saw the king of Babylon was going to go to Jerusalem first and then after Jerusalem to the Ammonites. So Ezekiel 24 tells us about the coming of the king of Babylon to Jerusalem and Ezekiel 25 begins with an oracle against the Ammonites.
So the oracles against the foreign nations will be fulfilled sometime after the destruction of the Temple in Ezekiel 33.
There are three major sections for the oracles against foreign nations. The first four oracles are in Ezekiel 25. There is a new heading opening Ezekiel 26, “in the 11th year, on the 1st day of the month.” And under this heading we see oracles against Tyre and Sidon, which are often grouped together in the Bible. And then there is a new heading for the seventh nation Egypt “In the 10th year, in the 10th month, on the 10th day…”
These headings reveal that the text is not in chronological order of when YHWH gave it to Ezekiel. Instead the arrangement must follow some other pattern.
Our first thought when we see four grouped together in Ezekiel 25 is to assume this is the wisdom pattern of 3+1. But for reasons I will show momentarily, it is better to think of the pattern as 2+2+2+1 where Egypt is the +1.
I already mentioned that it is common in Scripture to treat Tyre and Sidon as a pair. So seeing that +2 is not so difficult to imagine.
That Ezekiel 25 also consists of two pairs will take some examination of the text to see.
First, the first two nations in view are Ammon and Moab. You will remember that these were the sons of Lot. So this is a natural pair.
However, the second oracle is addressed to “Moab and Seir,” the latter is a place identified with the nation of Edom. And the third oracle is addressed to Edom. So why is it best to see the first two oracles as a pair and not the second and third oracles? Primarily because of this line in the second oracle concerning Moab and Seir: “I will give it along with the Ammonites to the people of the East as a possession, that the Ammonites may be remembered no more among the nations” (Ezekiel 25:10). There is no more mention of Seir in the oracle, which instead focuses on Moab. Ezekiel 25:10 harkens back to the first oracle where YHWH said, “therefore behold, I am handing you over to the people of the East for a possession” (Ezekiel 25:4).
The second two oracles are linked by their content that are close mirrors of each other and not of the other two.
Each oracle follows a similar pattern, except that the first one is longer than the rest and duplicates part of the pattern.
Each one begins, “Thus says the Lord YHWH,” then gives us a reason for the oracle “because…,” then gives a judgment “therefore…,” and has a conclusion (three of the four end with “Then (they/you) will know that I am YHWH,” the last adding more, and the other oracle (the third one) ending “declares the Lord YHWH”).
So the conclusions are:
“Then you will know that I am YHWH” (2xs in 1st),
“Then they will know that I am YHWH” (2nd),
“Declares the Lord YHWH” (3rd),
And “Then they will know that I am YHWH, when I lay my vengeance upon them” (4th).
Each pair then ends with “Then THEY will know that I am YHWH.”
The first oracle goes through the pattern twice: “Thus says the Lord YHWH” (v.3, 6), because… (v.3, 6), therefore, behold, I… (v.4, 7), “then you will know that I am YHWH” (v.5, 7).
What they had done was, first, to say, “Aha” over the sanctuary of YHWH when it was profaned and over the land of Israel when it was made desolate and over the house of Judah when they went into exile. And, second, was to clap their hands and stomp their feet and rejoice with “all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel.”
What Moab and Seir did was to say that the house of Judah was like all the other nations. Their sentence was not as severe. The land of the Ammonites was given over as a possession to “the people of the East” (i.e. Babylon) because they said “Aha” and the people of Ammon were to be cut off/perish/destroyed because they clapped and stomped and otherwise rejoiced. Whereas, Moab and Seir simply were to be given over as a possession to “the people of the East.”
The second pair of oracles begin “Thus says the Lord YHWH” (v.12, 15), then “Because [Edom/the Philistines] acted revengefully…and took vengeance… (v.12, 15), “therefore thus says the Lord YHWH [2nd time: Behold] I will stretch out my hand against [Edom/the Philistines] and cut off…” (v.13, 16), and end saying “(A) I will lay my vengeance upon Edom…(B) according to my anger and according to my wrath, (C.) and they shall know my vengeance” (v.14) or “(C) I will execute great vengeance on them (B) with wrathful rebukes…(A) when I lay my vengeance upon them.” These last parts almost read in chiastic order (see letters A,B,C).
Edom and the Philistines had taken advantage of the destruction of Jerusalem to take revenge on the house of Judah with vengeance and so YHWH will lay His vengeance upon Edom and the Philistines and cut them off and destroy their homes.
It seems fairly clear then that the first two oracles are a pair and the second two oracles are a pair. Next time we will look at the next pair: Tyre and Sidon, and the time after that at the seventh oracle, which concerns Egypt.