Ezekiel shaves his head - Artist unknown

After explaining how the siege of the city was to take place, God told Ezekiel,

“Take a sharp sword and use it as a razor to shave your head and beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair inside the city. Then take a third of the hair and strike it with a sword all around the city. Scatter the final third to the wind – I will unleash a sword behind them. Take a few of the hairs and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. Again, take a few of these and throw them into a fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to all of Israel.”

The Prophet Ezekiel shaves his head and burns his hair - Artist unknownGod said,

“This is Jerusalem which I have set in the center of all nations with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness, she has rebelled against all my laws and decrees more even than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and refused to follow my statutes.

Therefore, this is what the sovereign Lord says, “You have been more arrogant and unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you! Therefore, I myself am against you and will inflict punishment upon you in sight of the other nations.

Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. In your midst, parents will eat their children and children will eat their parents. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter any survivors to the winds. Because you have defiled my sanctuary with your vile images and detestable practices, I will withdraw. I will not look on you with pity nor spare you. A third of your people will die of the plague or perish by famine; a third will fall by the sword outside your walls; and a third I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword.

Then my anger will be vented and my wrath against them will subside and I will be appeased. And when I have spent my wrath upon them, they will know that I the Lord have spoken in my zeal.

I will make you desolate and an object of scorn among the nations around you, in sight of all who pass by. You will be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and an object of horror to the nations around you. When I shoot at you with my deadly and destructive arrows of famine, I will shoot to destroy you. I will bring more and more famine upon you and cut off your supply of food. I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will leave you childless. Plague and bloodshed will overwhelm you, and I will bring my sword against you.”

What the story means to us today

Refusing God’s will is futile – and those who try will be judged according to their acts

Ezekiel’s prophecy is profound and ultimately, astonishingly accurate. God tells Ezekiel to shave off his hair, then divide it into thirds. With each third of hair, he is instructed to burn, spread across the city, and scatter to the wind – with a few hairs tucked away in his garment and a few hairs thrown into a fire. The hair symbolizes the people of Jerusalem.

As told in 2 Kings 25:8, Nebuzaradan sets fire to Jerusalem killing one third of the people. A few verses later, in 2 Kings 25:18, we find that one third die by the sword while 2 Kings 25:11 tells us that the final third are scattered into the wind, many dying of plague and starvation. However, as foretold by God (“tuck a few hairs in your garment”), some of his people will be protected.

The Israelites (and the city of Jerusalem) were beloved by God and yet, they turned their back on him. As God’s chosen people and precursors to the Messiah, God expected much from them. They were to be an example to all other nations, demonstrating righteousness and faith – yet they disappointed God by rebelling against him and flatly refusing his will. This of course, is not possible without repercussions. Like those today who refuse to heed God’s will, later verses will show us that the Israelites were judged according to their acts.

Additional thoughts and considerations

The powerful symbolism behind a priest shaving his head

The Prophet Ezekiel shaves his head and burns his hair - Artist unknownGod instructs Ezekiel to shave his head in an act symbolic of the “shaving” God is about to impart on Israel. In the ancient Near East, hair was a sign of consecration to God and shaving of the head and facial hair was a ritual reserved only for the dead.

To a priest, removing hair from the head was an act of defilement and would have been greatly humiliating for Ezekiel. In fact, shaving of facial hair would have been shameful for any citizen. During times of war, captured combatants would be forced to shave their hair and beard as a means of demoralizing the enemy.

In this instance, the act is symbolic of the humiliation (and mourning) Israel will see when God imparts punishment on a people who are no longer holy to God.

Freewill, human choice, and consequences

We must remember the purpose of Ezekiel’s prophecy. He is showing the people precisely what will happen if they refuse to honor God’s will. They have one last chance to stop their rebellion. If they choose not to, they will suffer the consequences of their choice. Although God’s punishment seems harsh, they have every opportunity to avoid it.

Ironically, even though the Israelites have freewill, God knows what they will choose. It’s one of the bizarre aspects of a higher-power. The freedom to choose is available to everyone, but God already knows what those choices will be. Ezekiel’s prophecy, as with all biblical prophecies, becomes self-fulfilling.

Cannibalism in Jerusalem – an unfathomable punishment for rebellion

In Leviticus 26:14, God warns Israel in clear terms the consequences of failing to carry out his commands – he will bring terror, disease, famine, defeat, and will force them to “eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters”. God’s warning is repeated in Deuteronomy 28:53.

God tells Ezekiel he will inflict punishment on Israel in sight of all other nations. This punishment includes the most humiliating act imaginable – parents eating their children and children eating their parents. The punishment is detestable, but God aims to ensure Israel is thoroughly humiliated before all nations, that they become “an object of horror to the nations around them”. By cutting off their food supply and placing them in unbelievably insufferable conditions, God knows what they will ultimately choose to do.

As prophesied, in 2 Kings 6:28, and confirmed in Lamentations 4:10, we find that indeed God’s people stooped to an unfathomable low and were forced to eat their own people or starve.

A secondary objective?

Jerusalem is in the end crushed, humiliated, and ridiculed by other nations because of God’s punishment. However, God’s judgement may have fulfilled a secondary objective. After God’s judgement is satisfied, other nations are struck with fear. If God can do this to his own people, imagine what he will do to Israel’s enemies!

A sword to shave a beard?

God instructs Ezekiel to shave his beard using a sharp sword. In ancient Israel, a sword would range from 2-3 feet long. Thus, shaving with an unnerving tool of war is symbolic of the conquest and judgement of God’s people

The science and history behind the story

The historian Josephus writes of cannibalism in ancient Jerusalem

The historian Josephus wrote in his book Jewish War, an account of cannibalism that took place in Jerusalem around 70 AD during the siege of Jerusalem by Roman legions commanded by Titus. The even shows that cannibalism in the Near East did indeed occur.

According to Josephus, Mary, the daughter of Eleazar, was starving. She took the infant at her breast and said to him:

“Poor little mite! In war, famine, and civil strife, why should I keep you alive? With the Romans there is only slavery and that only if alive when they come; but famine is forestalling slavery, and the partisans are crueler than either. Come you must be food for me, to the partisans an avenging spirit, and to the world a tale, the only thing left to fill up the measure of Jewish misery.”

She then killed her son and roasted him over a fire. She ate one half and hid the rest. When rebels smelled the fire, they demanded to know what she was cooking. She showed them the remaining half of her child and offered them a share. They left in horror. Josephus says the event added to the Roman’s detestation of the Israelites.

Bible Text

The Prophet Ezekiel shaves his head and burns his hair - Artist unknownNIV

“Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. 2 When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword. 3 But take a few hairs and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. 4 Again, take a few of these and throw them into the fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to all Israel.

5 “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. 6 Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees.

7 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.

8 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. 9 Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. 10 Therefore in your midst parents will eat their children, and children will eat their parents. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds. 11 Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will shave you; I will not look on you with pity or spare you. 12 A third of your people will die of the plague or perish by famine inside you; a third will fall by the sword outside your walls; and a third I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword.

13 “Then my anger will cease and my wrath against them will subside, and I will be avenged. And when I have spent my wrath on them, they will know that I the LORD have spoken in my zeal.

14 “I will make you a ruin and a reproach among the nations around you, in the sight of all who pass by. 15 You will be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and an object of horror to the nations around you when I inflict punishment on you in anger and in wrath and with stinging rebuke. I the LORD have spoken. 16 When I shoot at you with my deadly and destructive arrows of famine, I will shoot to destroy you. I will bring more and more famine upon you and cut off your supply of food. 17 I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will leave you childless. Plague and bloodshed will sweep through you, and I will bring the sword against you. I the LORD have spoken.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

2 5 “Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a straight razor, shaving your head and your beard. Then, using a set of balancing scales, divide the hair into thirds. When the days of the siege are over, take one-third of the hair and burn it inside the city. Take another third, chop it into bits with the sword and sprinkle it around the city. The final third you’ll throw to the wind. Then I’ll go after them with a sword.

3–4 “Retrieve a few of the hairs and slip them into your pocket. Take some of them and throw them into the fire—burn them up. From them, fire will spread to the whole family of Israel.

5–6 “This is what GOD, the Master, says: This means Jerusalem. I set her at the center of the world, all the nations ranged around her. But she rebelled against my laws and ordinances, rebelled far worse than the nations ranged around her—sheer wickedness!—refused my guidance, ignored my directions.

7 “Therefore this is what GOD, the Master, says: You’ve been more headstrong and willful than any of the nations around you, refusing my guidance, ignoring my directions. You’ve sunk to the gutter level of those around you.

8–10 “Therefore this is what GOD, the Master, says: I’m setting myself against you—yes, against you, Jerusalem. I’m going to punish you in full sight of the nations. Because of your disgusting no-god idols, I’m going to do something to you that I’ve never done before and will never do again: turn families into cannibals—parents eating children, children eating parents! Punishment indeed. And whoever’s left over I’ll throw to the winds.

11–12 “Therefore, as sure as I am the living God—Decree of GOD, the Master—because you’ve polluted my Sanctuary with your obscenities and disgusting no-god idols, I’m pulling out. Not an ounce of pity will I show you. A third of your people will die of either disease or hunger inside the city, a third will be killed outside the city, and a third will be thrown to the winds and chased by killers.

13 “Only then will I calm down and let my anger cool. Then you’ll know that I was serious about this all along, that I’m a jealous God and not to be trifled with.

14–15 “When I get done with you, you’ll be a pile of rubble. Nations who walk by will make coarse jokes. When I finish my angry punishment and searing rebukes, you’ll be reduced to an object of ridicule and mockery, turned into a horror story circulating among the surrounding nations. I, GOD, have spoken.

16–17 “When I shoot my lethal famine arrows at you, I’ll shoot to kill. Then I’ll step up the famine and cut off food supplies. Famine and more famine—and then I’ll send in the wild animals to finish off your children. Epidemic disease, unrestrained murder, death—and I will have sent it! I, GOD, have spoken.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

The NET Bible

5:1 “As for you, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor. Shave off some of the hair from your head and your beard. Then take scales and divide up the hair you cut off. 5:2 Burn a third of it in the fire inside the city when the days of your siege are completed. Take a third and slash it with a sword all around the city. Scatter a third to the wind, and I will unleash a sword behind them. 5:3 But take a few strands of hair from those and tie them in the ends of your garment. 5:4 Again, take more of them and throw them into the fire, and burn them up. From there a fire will spread to all the house of Israel.

5:5 “This is what the sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem; I placed her in the center of the nations with countries all around her. 5:6 Then she defied my regulations and my statutes, becoming more wicked than the nations and the countries around her. Indeed, they have rejected my regulations, and they do not follow my statutes.

5:7 “Therefore this is what the sovereign LORD says: Because you are more arrogant than the nations around you, you have not followed my statutes and have not carried out my regulations. You have not even carried out the regulations of the nations around you!

5:8 “Therefore this is what the sovereign LORD says: I—even I—am against you, and I will execute judgment among you while the nations watch. 5:9 I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again because of all your abominable practices. 5:10 Therefore fathers will eat their sons within you, Jerusalem, and sons will eat their fathers. I will execute judgments on you, and I will scatter any survivors to the winds.

5:11 “Therefore, as surely as I live, says the sovereign LORD, because you defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable idols and with all your abominable practices, I will withdraw; my eye will not pity you, nor will I spare you. 5:12 A third of your people will die of plague or be overcome by the famine within you. A third of your people will fall by the sword surrounding you, and a third I will scatter to the winds. I will unleash a sword behind them. 5:13 Then my anger will be fully vented; I will exhaust my rage on them, and I will be appeased. Then they will know that I, the LORD, have spoken in my jealousy when I have fully vented my rage against them.

5:14 “I will make you desolate and an object of scorn among the nations around you, in the sight of everyone who passes by. 5:15 You will be an object of scorn and taunting, a prime example of destruction among the nations around you when I execute judgments against you in anger and raging fury. I, the LORD, have spoken! 5:16 I will shoot against them deadly, destructive arrows of famine, which I will shoot to destroy you. I will prolong a famine on you and will remove the bread supply. 5:17 I will send famine and wild beasts against you and they will take your children from you. Plague and bloodshed will overwhelm you, and I will bring a sword against you. I, the LORD, have spoken!”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

King James Version

5 And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber’s rasor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thy beard: then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair. 2 Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled: and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a knife: and a third part thou shalt scatter in the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them. 3 Thou shalt also take thereof a few in number, and bind them in thy skirts. 4 Then take of them again, and cast them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire; for thereof shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel.

5 Thus saith the Lord GOD; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her. 6 And she hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations, and my statutes more than the countries that are round about her: for they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them. 7 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye multiplied more than the nations that are round about you, and have not walked in my statutes, neither have kept my judgments, neither have done according to the judgments of the nations that are round about you; 8 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations. 9 And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations. 10 Therefore the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments in thee, and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter into all the winds. 11 Wherefore, as I live, saith the Lord GOD; Surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also diminish thee; neither shall mine eye spare, neither will I have any pity. 12 A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee: and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them. 13 Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted: and they shall know that I the LORD have spoken it in jmy zeal, when I have accomplished my fury in them. 14 Moreover I will make thee waste, and a reproach among the nations that are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by. 15 So it shall be a reproach and pa taunt, an instruction and ran astonishment unto the nations that are round about thee, when I shall execute judgments in thee in anger and in fury and in furious rebukes. I the LORD have spoken it. 16 When I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, which shall be for their destruction, and which I will send to destroy you: and I will increase the famine upon you, and will break your staff of bread: 17 So will I send upon you famine and wevil beasts, and they shall bereave thee; and ypestilence and blood shall pass through thee; and I will bring the sword upon thee. I the LORD have spoken it.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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