Ezekiel 16:4
And as for your nativity, in the day you were born your navel was not cut, neither were you washed in water to supple you; you were not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.
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(4) Washed in water to supple thee.—The various particulars of this and the following verse describe a child cast out into the field immediately upon its birth, unpitied by any one, and in a condition in which it must soon have perished. Neither the text nor the margin seems to have hit upon the sense of the word translated “to supple,” the probable meaning of which is “to cleanse.” The rubbing of the body of the new-born infant with salt, a custom still prevailing in some parts of the east, probably had a symbolical, as well as a supposed physical effect; and is recommended for the latter reason by Galen (De Sanit. i. 7). The wrapping the body tightly in swaddling-bands (Comp. Luke 2:7) is still common, even in Italy. The time here referred to in the life of Israel is that in which it passed from its embryonic state in the family of the patriarchs to a nation in the bondage of Egypt. Despised, oppressed, and enslaved, no other people ever became a nation under such circumstances. Humanly speaking, national life was an impossibility for them.

Ezekiel 16:4. As for thy nativity, &c. — “Jerusalem is here represented under the image of an exposed infant, whom God preserved from destruction, brought up, espoused and exalted in sovereignty. But she proved faithless and abandoned; and therefore God threatens her with severe vengeance, but graciously promises that afterward he would fulfil his early covenant with her. The allegory is easily understood; and has much force, liveliness, and vehemence of eloquent amplification. The images are adapted to a people immersed in sensuality.” — Bishop Newcome. Thy navel was not cut — The navel-string, by which thou wast held to the body of thy mother, none took care to cut. By this and the other metaphorical expressions in this and the next verse, the prophet hints how despised a people Israel was, and in what a forlorn condition when they went first into Egypt. Neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee — Hebrew, למשׁעי, ad aspectum meum, as Buxtorf renders it, that is, when I first beheld thee, or, ut jucunda aspectu esses, that thou mightest be pleasant to behold. Some render it, To make thee shine. The meaning is, to cleanse thee from the pollutions of thy birth. Thou wast not salted at all — It seems it was then customary to rub new-born infants over with salt; probably to dry up the humours of their bodies. All the expressions here used allude to the custom observed by the eastern nations at the birth of their children; and “the design of the prophet is to mark out that state of impurity wherein the Hebrews were found in Egypt, plunged in idolatry and ignorance, and oppressed with cruel servitude.”16:1-58 In this chapter God's dealings with the Jewish nation, and their conduct towards him, are described, and their punishment through the surrounding nations, even those they most trusted in. This is done under the parable of an exposed infant rescued from death, educated, espoused, and richly provided for, but afterwards guilty of the most abandoned conduct, and punished for it; yet at last received into favour, and ashamed of her base conduct. We are not to judge of these expressions by modern ideas, but by those of the times and places in which they were used, where many of them would not sound as they do to us. The design was to raise hatred to idolatry, and such a parable was well suited for that purpose.To supple thee - i. e., to cleanse thee. 4. Israel's helplessness in her first struggling into national existence, under the image of an infant (Ho 2:3) cast forth without receiving the commonest acts of parental regard. Its very life was a miracle (Ex 1:15-22).

navel … not cut—Without proper attention to the navel cord, the infant just born is liable to die.

neither … washed in water to supple thee—that is, to make the skin soft. Rather, "for purification"; from an Arabic root [Maurer]. Gesenius translates as the Margin, "that thou mightest (be presented to thy parents to) be looked upon," as is customary on the birth of a child.

salted—Anciently they rubbed infants with salt to make the skin firm.

In the day thou wast born; either in the day I called Abraham to leave his idolatry; or when in Egypt you began to multiply into a nation; or when you were brought out of Egyptian bondage. Or whether you fix any other time, it was a helpless and miserable state they were in.

Thy navel was not cut: as the new-born infant cannot do this for its own preservation, and as there is great danger if not carefully and skilfully done, as it is the early care of the hand that delivers the child, so was the care and love of God towards this people when they could not, and others would not, help them, and this will be declared in a continued allegory. The preventing mercy of God was showed in this.

Washed in water. Born in blood, unpleasant to behold, thou must have weltered therein, and perished; none washed thee, that thou mightest be handled, but I; I purged away the blood and uncleanness of thy birth, took thee up, nursed, provided for, and disposed of thee.

Thou wast not salted: salt is of a drying, abstersive, and cleansing nature, and was used to purge, dry, and strengthen the new-born child, to make it the more lovely and lively.

Nor swaddled: this usage for the continued preservation of the infant, for strengthening it, setting its limbs, and keeping them in their right and orderly posture, is most necessary to be observed, and yet there was none that would do this for this infant: so forlorn was the state of the Jews in their birth, without beauty, weltering in blood, without strength, new-born, without friend that might act the mother’s or midwife’s office. And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born,.... Which refers either to the time when Abraham was called out of Ur of the Chaldeans, who had before been an idolater; or rather to the time when the children of Israel were in Egypt, and there grew and multiplied, and became a numerous body of people; who, upon their coming out of it, were brought into some form, and became a nation or body politic, which may be called the day of their birth as a people; see Hosea 2:3;

thy navel was not cut; alluding to what is done to a newborn infant, when the midwife immediately takes care to cut the navel string, by which the child adheres to its mother, and takes in its breath and nourishment in the womb; but now, being of no longer use that way, it is cut and tied up, for the safety both of mother and child, who otherwise would be in great danger; and this denotes the desperate condition the Israelites were in when in Egypt, where they were greatly oppressed and afflicted, and in very imminent danger of being destroyed; to which the Targum refers it:

neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee: which also is done, to an infant as soon as born, to cleanse it from the menstruous blood, to make the flesh sleek, and smooth, and amiable; which, as Kimchi and Ben Melech observe, is done in hot water:

thou wast not salted at all; which was done, either by sprinkling salt upon it, or using salt and water (h), as a detersive of uncleanness, to prevent putrefaction, to dry up the humours, and harden the flesh, and consolidate the parts:

nor swaddled at all; to bring the several members of the body into form and shape; see Luke 2:7; and these things being of necessity to be done immediately, were, as Kimchi observes, lawful to be done even on a sabbath day, according to the traditions of the elders (i).

(h) Vid. Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 2. c. 25. (i) Vid. T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 129. 2.

And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast {b} born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to cleanse thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.

(b) When I first brought you out of Egypt and planted you in this land to be my Church.

4. as for thy nativity] The circumstances of thy birth were these, as follows. The family of Israel, represented by Jerusalem, is compared to an exposed infant, for whom the things absolutely necessary to preserve its life were not done. The reference is to the history of the family in Canaan, and in its descent to Egypt, when it was feeble, unprotected and in danger of perishing.

to supple thee] The word is otherwise unknown. Targ. “for purification,” probably guessed, but some such sense is required. Fried. Del. refers to an Assyrian root signifying to wash.

wast not salted at all] An ancient custom was to rub the newborn infant with salt—“tenera infantium corpora … solent ab obstetricibus sale contingi ut sicciora sint et restringantur,” Jerome. The ceremony was probably partly religious as well as healthful.Verse 4. - As for thy nativity, etc. We ask, as we interpret the parable, of what period in the history of Israel Ezekiel speaks. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are ignored by him, and he starts from a time of misery and shame. It is obvious that the only period which corresponds to this is that of the sojourn of Israel as an oppressed and degraded people in the land of Goshen. He paints, with a Dantesque minuteness, the picture of a child just born, abandoned by its mother and neglected by all others from the very moment of its birth. It lies unwashed and foul to look upon. No woman's care does for it the commonest offices of motherhood. For to supple, read, with the Revised Version, to cleanse. The practice still met with in the East of rubbing the newborn child with salt may have rested partly on sanitary grounds (Jerome, in loc. Galen, 'De San.,' 1:7), partly on its symbolic meaning (Numbers 18:19). When this was done, the child was wrapt in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:7), but these too were wanting in the picture which Ezekiel draws. The whole scene may have been painted from the life. Such a birth may well have been witnessed during the march of the exiles, when the brutality of their Chaldean drivers allowed no halt, and the child was left to perish of neglect, and the thought may then have flashed across Ezekiel's mind that the pity which he felt for the deserted infant was a faint shadow of that which Jehovah had felt for Israel in the degradation of their heathen bondage. The rule expounded in Ezekiel 14:13-20 is here applied to Jerusalem. - Ezekiel 14:21. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, How much more when I send my four evil judgments, sword, and famine, and evil beasts, and pestilence, against Jerusalem, to cut off from it man and beast? Ezekiel 14:22. And, behold, there remain escaped ones in her who will be brought out, sons and daughters; behold, they will go out to you, that ye may see their walk and their works; and console yourselves concerning the evil which I have brought upon Jerusalem. Ezekiel 14:23. And they will console you, when ye see their walk and their works: and ye will see that I have not done without cause all that I have done to her, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah. - By כּי in Ezekiel 14:21 the application of the general rule to Jerusalem is made in the form of a reason. The meaning, however, is not, that the reason why Jehovah was obliged to act in this unsparing manner was to be found in the corrupt condition of the nation, as Hvernick supposes, - a thought quite foreign to the context; but כּי indicates that the judgments upon Jerusalem will furnish a practical proof of the general truth expressed in Ezekiel 14:13-20, and so confirm it. This כּי is no more an emphatic yea than the following "אף is a forcible introduction to the antithesis formed by the coming fact, to the merely imaginary cases mentioned above" (Hitzig). אף has undoubtedly the force of a climax, but not of an asseveration, "verily" (Hv.); a meaning which this particle never has. It is used here, as in Job 4:19, in the sense of אף כּי; and the כּי which follows אף swollof hcihw in this case is a conditional particle of time, "when." Consequently כי ought properly to be written twice; but it is only used once, as in Ezekiel 15:5; Job 9:14, etc. The thought is this: how much more will this be the case, namely, that even a Noah, Daniel, and Job will not deliver either sons or daughters when I send my judgments upon Jerusalem. The perfect שׁלּחתּי is used, and not the imperfect, as in Ezekiel 14:13, because God has actually resolved upon sending it, and does not merely mention it as a possible case. The number four is significant, symbolizing the universality of the judgment, or the thought that it will fall on all sides, or upon the whole of Jerusalem; whereby it must also be borne in mind that Jerusalem as the capital represents the kingdom of Judah, or the whole of Israel, so far as it was still in Canaan. At the same time, by the fact that the Lord allows sons and daughters to escape death, and to be led away to Babylon, He forces the acknowledgment of the necessity and righteousness of His judgments among those who are in exile. This is in general terms the thought contained in Ezekiel 14:22 and Ezekiel 14:23, to which very different meanings have been assigned by the latest expositors. Hvernick, for example, imagines that, in addition to the four ordinary judgments laid down in the law, Ezekiel 14:22 announces a new and extraordinary one; whereas Hitzig and Kliefoth have found in these two verses the consolatory assurance, that in the time of the judgments a few of the younger generation will be rescued and taken to those already in exile in Babylon, there to excite pity as well as to express it, and to give a visible proof of the magnitude of the judgment which has fallen upon Israel. They differ so far from each other, however, that Hitzig regards those of the younger generation who are saved as צדּיקים, who have saved themselves through their innocence, but not their guilty parents, and who will excite the commiseration of those already in exile through their blameless conduct; whilst Kliefoth imagines that those who are rescued are simply less criminal than the rest, and when they come to Babylon will be pitied by those who have been longer in exile, and will pity them in return.

Neither of these views does justice to the words themselves or to the context. The meaning of. Ezekiel 14:22 is clear enough; and in the main there has been no difference of opinion concerning it. When man and beast are cut off out of Jerusalem by the four judgments, all will not perish; but פּליטה, i.e., persons who have escaped destruction, will be left, and will be led out of the city. These are called sons and daughters, with an allusion to Ezekiel 14:16, Ezekiel 14:18, and Ezekiel 14:20; and consequently we must not take these words as referring to the younger generation in contrast to the older. They will be led out of Jerusalem, not to remain in the land, but to come to "you," i.e., those already in exile, that is to say, to go into exile to Babylon. This does not imply either a modification or a sharpening of the punishment; for the cutting off of man and beast from a town may be effected not only by slaying, but by leading away. The design of God in leaving some to escape, and carrying them to Babylon, is explained in the clauses which follow from וּראיתם onwards, the meaning of which depends partly upon the more precise definition of דּרכּם and עלילותם, and partly upon the explanation to be given of נחמתּם and ונחמוּ אתכם. The ways and works are not to be taken without reserve as good and righteous works, as Kliefoth has correctly shown in his reply to Hitzig. Still less can ways and works denote their experience or fate, which is the explanation given by Kliefoth of the words, when expounding the meaning and connection of Ezekiel 14:21-23. The context certainly points to wicked ways and evil works. And it is only the sight of such works that could lead to the conviction that it was not חנּם, in vain, i.e., without cause, that God had inflicted such severe judgments upon Jerusalem. And in addition to this effect, which is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:23 as produced upon those who were already in exile, by the sight of the conduct of the פּליטה that came to Babylon, the immediate design of God is described in Ezekiel 14:22 as 'ונחמתּם על־הרעה וגו. The verb נחם with על cannot be used here in the sense of to repent of, or be sorry for, a judgment which God has inflicted upon him, but only of evil which he himself has done; and נחם does not mean to pity a person, either when construed in the Piel with an accusative of the person, or in the Niphal c. על, rei. נחמתּם is Niphal, and signifies here to console oneself, as in Genesis 38:12 with על, concerning anything, as in 2 Samuel 13:39; Jeremiah 31:15, etc.; and נחמוּ (Ezekiel 14:23), with the accusative of the person, to comfort any one, as in Genesis 51:21; Job 2:11, etc. But the works and doings of those who came to Babylon could only produce this effect upon those who were already there, from the fact that they were of such a character as to demonstrate the necessity for the judgments which had fallen upon Jerusalem. A conviction of the necessity for the divine judgments would cause them to comfort themselves with regard to the evil inflicted by God; inasmuch as they would see, not only that the punishment endured was a chastisement well deserved, but that God in His righteousness would stay the punishment when it had fulfilled His purpose, and restore the penitent sinner to favour once more. But the consolation which those who were in exile would derive from a sight of the works of the sons and daughters who had escaped from death and come to Babylon, is attributed in Ezekiel 14:23 (נחמוּ אתכם) to the persons themselves. It is in this sense that it is stated that "they will comfort you;" not by expressions of pity, but by the sight of their conduct. This is directly affirmed in the words, "when ye shall see their conduct and their works." Consequently Ezekiel 14:23 does not contain a new thought, but simply the thought already expressed in Ezekiel 14:22, which is repeated in a new form to make it the more emphatic. And the expression את כּל־אשׁר , in Ezekiel 14:22, serves to increase the force; whilst את, in the sense of quoad, serves to place the thought to be repeated in subordination to the whole clause (cf. Ewald, 277a, p. 683).

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