Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Prophecy Against The Ammonites (Ezekiel 21:28-32)

The following quote is taken from

 "Humans are Fuel for Fire - As for you, son of man, prophesy: Thus says the Lord GOD against the Ammonites and their insults: A sword, a sword is drawn for slaughter, burnished to consume and to flash lightning, because you planned with false visions and lying divinations to lay it on the necks of depraved and wicked men whose day has come when their crimes are at an end.  Return it to its sheath!  In the place where you were created, in the land of your origin, I will judge you.  I will pour out my indignation upon you, breathing my fiery wrath upon you, I will hand you over to ravaging men, artisans of destruction.  You shall be fuel for the fire, your blood shall flow throughout the land.  You shall not be remembered, for I, the LORD, have spoken.  (Ezekiel 21:28-32 NAB)"
           This passage is a prophecy against the Ammonites.  The Ammonites were an ancient nation who were descendants of Lot (Abraham's nephew) and one of his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38).  The Ammonites were constantly at war with the nation of Israel, and their relations were always hostile (Judges 3:13; 2 Chronicles 20; Nehemiah 4:7).  They even oppressed the Israelites for 18 years (Judges 10:6-9).  Again and again, their mission seemed to be not only to oppress Israel and take their land, but to humiliate and disgrace them: they threatened to gouge the right eyes out of every man of Jabesh Gilead (1 Samuel 11:1-2), and they humiliated a peaceful delegation of Israelite ambassadors by shaving their beards and cutting off their clothing, leading to a war (2 Samuel 10; 1 Chronicles 19).  They were also known for their cruelty in times of war:  "This is what the LORD says: 'For three sins of Ammon, even for four, I will not relent.  Because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders...'" (Amos 1:13, NIV).
            This particular passage in Ezekiel mirrors other passages in the books of prophecy of the Old Testament, stating that God would wipe out the nation of the Ammonites (Jeremiah 49:1-6; Ezekiel 25:1-7; Zephaniah 2:8-9).  God had given the Ammonites a chance to make peace with Israel during the reign of King David, but the Ammonites rejected the peaceful offer (2 Samuel 10; 1 Chronicles 19).  Eventually, God's patience ran out, and he determined to allow them to be conquered as they had conquered and oppressed other nations.  By the end of the Roman Empire, the  nation of Ammon was completely dissolved, absorbed into the Arabians [1].
            This is a prophecy of war, and like many of the prophecies, it describes what the conquerors will do to the nation that is being conquered.  The Bible does not record that the Ammonites were actually burned alive; "fuel for the fire" can be literally translated as "food for the fire" or "consumed by God's anger".  Fire and burning are used in Hebrew to designate any destruction, whether of humans or objects.  To be consumed by fire, in this context, means to be destroyed in war [2].  The meaning is not necessarily literal.  In any case, as another passage in Ezekiel notes, God does not take pleasure in the deaths of anyone (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11).

[1] Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho, (originally written circa 160 CE) translated by Henry Brown, 1745.  Pg. 167.
An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, Thomas Hartwell Horne, 1836.  Pg. 405.
[2] Gesenius's Lexicon, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (translated by Samuel P. Tregelles), 1847