Summary: God commands Ezekiel to visually demonstrate how severe the destruction of Jerusalem is going to be and restates that He has just cause to judge these people.
In Chapter 5, the prophet Ezekiel continues his prophetic parade of visual aids. In this chapter he is told to shave with a sword and burn his hair.
A serious student of the Bible will note that Ezekiel’s visual demonstrations (and the historical events that they represented) follow Moses’ warnings in Leviticus 26. In that chapter Moses emphasized God’s blessing if the people would forsake idols and follow God, but set out a pattern of discipline that God would use if the people rejected holy living. The Sword is one of disciplines. Leviticus 26 is a haunting picture of exactly how God did what he did.
VERSES 1-4 Shave and a Haircut
God commands Ezekiel to shave both his head and his beard, not using a razor, but using a sword. God commands him to weigh the hair and divide it into equal piles, one-third each. Then he is commanded to burn a third of the hair within the city. Then he is required to strike another third of that hair with the sword. Finally, he is to take another third of the hair and scatter it to the wind. However, in the midst of this he is to take a small portion of the hair and tuck it inside his robe.
In the message God gives Ezekiel, he further explains the visual demonstration as his destruction of a third of the people by famine and plague, a third of the people destroyed by the sword, and another third of the people scattered and running from violence.
For a Jewish man, to shave his head was a symbol of shame. It also was used a symbol of mourning. In this case, it is used as both.
VERSES 5-7 A Declaration
If you’ve ever read the Declaration of Independence then you know that it is much more than a statement that the American people were going to be free. It lays out more than 25 issues that had brought the delegates to the place where they were leading the colonists to make a break with England. It carefully defines the steps that they have taken in an effort to resolve the issues with the crown and its representatives. Finally, the Declaration declares what they are going to do. They are declaring themselves to be an independent nation.
In a similar declaration, God explains the purposes behind actions that Ezekiel is demonstrating. The hair represents Jerusalem, surrounded by pagan nations. God placed her with a purpose in mind. Rather than being a shining light and a holy example among the pagan nations she rebelled and became even more defiled that the nations around her. They were more unruly than the other nations because they were literally defying God.
Here is an interesting idea in regards to accountability before God. God considered Jerusalem (and His people) to be WORSE than the pagan nations because they had the illumination of the Law. They had a Word from God for how to live and rather than abiding by the Law they sought idolatry. While God will hold us all accountable, believer and unbeliever alike, there is an element of rebellion against God that is especially true for the believer who rejects God’s pattern for righteousness and chooses sin, that makes his sinful conduct so much more despicable than that of unbelievers.