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Ezekiel: The Sword of the Lord And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the sanctuaries, and prophesy against the land of Israel: and say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the LORD: Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my SWORD out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of its sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: and all flesh shall know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath; it shall not return any more. Sigh therefore, thou son of man; with the breaking of thy loins and with bitterness shalt thou sigh before their eyes. And it shall be, when they say unto thee, Wherefore sighest thou? that thou shalt say, Because of the tidings, for it cometh: and every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and it shall be done, saith the Lord GOD.
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the LORD: Say,
And also furbished:
It is furbished that it may be as lightning! ‘Shall we then make mirth? The Rod of my son, it contemneth
And it is given to be furbished
That it may be handled:
To give it into the hand of the slayer. Cry and howl, son of man: for it is upon my people, it is upon all the princes of Israel: they are delivered over to the sword with my peo
ple: smite therefore upon thy thigh. For there is a trial; and what if even the Rod that contemneth shall be no more? saith the Lord God. Thou therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite thine hands together.
And let the sword be doubled the third time;
The sword of the deadly wounded:
It is the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded Which compasseth them about.
I have set the point of the sword against all their gates,
That their heart may melt,
And their stumblings be multiplied:
It is pointed for slaughter
Gather thee together, go to the right;
Set thyself in array, go to the left-
I will also smite mine hands together, and I will satisfy my fury: I the LORD have spoken it.
The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying, Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways that the sword of the king of Babylon may come; they twain shall come forth out of one land: and mark out a place, mark it out at the head of the way to the city. Thou shalt appoint a way, for the sword to come to Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and to Judah in Jerusalem the defenced. For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he shook the arrows to and fro, he consulted the teraphim, he looked in the liver. In his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounts, to build forts. O deadly wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day is come, in the time of the iniquity of the end; thus saith the Lord God: Remove the mitre, and take off the crown: this shall be
no more the same: exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.
And thou, son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning the children of Ammon, and concerning their reproach; and say thou:
A sword, a sword is drawn,
For the slaughter it is furbished: "To cause it to devour,
'That it may be as lightning:' whiles they see vanity unto thee, whiles they divine lies unto thee, to lay thee upon the necks of the wicked that are deadly wounded, whose day is come, in the time of the punishment of the end. (Cause it to return into its sheath.) In the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy birth, will I judge thee. And I will pour out mine indignation upon thee; I will blow upon thee with fire of my wrath: and I will deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, skilful to destroy. Thou shalt be for fuel to the fire; thy blood shall be in the midst of the land; thou shalt be no more remembered: for I the LORD have spoken it.
How are we to understand the emblematic action in such prophecy or prophecies of the Sword?
At the outset Ezekiel is seen standing before the expectant audience with no more of emblematic action than is implied in his gazing steadily in a particular direction—the well known direction of the Holy Land, much as Daniel in praying would open his window towards Jerusalem. This of itself would serve for a prophetic text. But it is supplemented by another: the prophet suddenly draws a sword out of its sheath, and the military action that follows presents the sword of the Lord falling upon all flesh. Then the sword is flung aside, and the prophet is seen writhing in agony, an agony so realistic that the audience cannot restrain their cries as to what all this means. This gives Ezekiel his opportunity: his agony was the
agony of a smitten world, under which every spirit should faint and all knees become weak as water.
Now we have an entire change in the symbolism of the sword. It must be remembered that in antiquity all mechanical arts were carried on to music, each trade having its trade song. (A faint relic of this survives, as when we see sailors hauling in a rope to a rude chant, or French washerwomen beating clothes in the brook to a traditional jingle.) Ezekiel is chanting the Song of the Swordmaker at his work, the lengthening clauses of the song suggesting the approach of the deadly weapon to completion. For a single moment the symbolism turns to the other side of the conflict: the careless foe all unconscious of what is preparing against him.
“Shall we then make mirth? The Rod of my son it con
temneth every tree.”
The song of the sword goes on gathering force, until at the word
slayer' all changes to the howls and contortions of the foe on whom the Divine sword has fallen; the flashings of the sword now have become lightnings striking right and left.
There is yet another variation. The point of the sword is seen tracing a line on the ground; it is a forked line, like the branching of ways. Some emblematic action of shaking a quiver, or other mode of divination, makes the meaning complete: the king of Babylon has reached the branching of ways, one leading towards Ammon and one towards Jerusalem, and the lot has decided him for the Jerusalem road. Horrors of war follow against guilty Israel and its prince.
Once more we hear the song of the sword, but in a totally different tone: it is no longer the chant of the workman, but the mockery of Israel's envious neighbors, as they gloat over the sword of the LORD about to descend upon Israel. Suddenly, the prophet plunges the sword into its sheath: the looked for judgment on Israel is restrained. But Divine indignation will visit mocking Ammon.
If in Emblem Prophecy of this type there is, to the modern reader, much that seems strange, and hardly credible, he should bear in mind two considerations. First, Emblem Prophecy is only a single variety of what was a widespread tendency of ancient life,
but has not come down to the modern world, the tendency to blend dumb show with spoken action. And in the second place he must recognize in Ezekiel a rarely gifted dramatist, of the kind only occasionally seen in the acting of a Salvini or the preaching of a Gavazzi, one with whom the faintest gesture movement is as eloquent as the spoken word. What would seem feeble or absurd if performed by an ordinary person may have overpowering appeal when it comes from a man of genius. In Ezekiel we have combined the great prophet and a consummate master of histrionic art.
It has been necessary to digress at all this length upon the types of literature unfamiliar to the modern world. We can now return to the theme of the prophetic books. The sixteen Books of the Prophets are called each after the name of a prophet. The book records the whole activity of this prophet's life: both his ministrations in particular circumstances and his literary presentations of a wider message. We now can see a reason for the change in the arrangement of the Old Testament. As long as the question is of the simple action of an Elijah or Elisha, the stories embodying this can be fitted each into the exact point of the historic narrative to which it belongs. It is different with the wider range of the later prophets; here the whole work of the prophet's life constitutes the prophecy, and it cannot be broken up into fragments. Yet the interesting principle underlying the Old Testament by which literature is used to mark the emphatic points of history is not lost, but only modified. The Books of the Prophets, taken collectively, hold just the relation to the later stages of Israel's history which to the earlier stages were held by stories of patriarchs and judges.
To what has just been said one important exception must be made. A prophetic book stands in the name of a prophet; but sometimes a work of prophecy may be anonymous. There is one notable example of this.* By an accident in the transmission of the Bible through unliterary ages an anonymous book of prophecy has been attached to the Book of Isaiah, and constitutes the last twenty-seven chapters of that book. It is wholly out of keeping with the age of Isaiah; it belongs to a late period, and is the supreme
Another example of anonymous prophecy in the Book of Malachi: see page 252.