IN EZEKIEL 5, EZEKIEL EXTENDS BY one more his list of parabolic actions and then reports God’s words as to their significance.
Ezekiel sharpens a sword and uses it as a straight razor. He shaves his head, beard and all. After tucking a few strands into his garments, he divides the rest into three piles. The first he puts into the city (i.e., onto the clay tablet that is the model of the city of Jerusalem, Ezek. 4:1), and sets the hairs alight, perhaps with a live coal. Another third he scatters on the ground all around the city, and then whacks them and whacks them with his sword until only tiny pieces are left. The final third he throws up into the wind, a few hairs at a time, until they have all blown away. A few strands tucked into his garments he now takes out and throws onto the smoldering coal and ashes within the model city, and they too burst into flame and are consumed.
The significance of all this is spelled out in Ezekiel 5:12: a third of the people will die within the city (from the famine of the siege), a third will die by the sword in the final breakout, and the remaining third will be scattered into exile.
The entire chapter emphasizes that it is God himself who is going to bring down this judgment on his people: highlight every instance of “I” in Ezekiel 5:8-17. This is what takes place when the Lord shoots to kill (Ezek. 5:16). “Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again” (Ezek. 5:9); the formula means that this judgment is as bad as temporal judgments get. Jesus himself uses virtually the same words with respect to the impending judgment on Jerusalem in his century (Matt. 24:21).
God says his wrath must be poured out. Yet this wrath is not ungovernable temper. God insists that when judgment has been meted out, his wrath will subside and his anger will cease (Ezek. 5:13). This outbreak of wrath forms part of a list of punctuated outbreaks of wrath from the Fall on: the curse in Genesis 3, the Flood, Babel, slavery in Egypt, various judgments in the desert (including the wilderness wanderings for forty years), and so on. In cycles of judgment corresponding to cycles of particularly egregious sin, God pours out his wrath. All of this forms part of the necessary biblical theology behind Romans 3:20-26: there is no solution to the threat of God’s righteous wrath upon his creatures who have rebelled against him—until in the person of his Son God himself bears the wrath we deserve, preserving his justice while justifying us.