12/20/09 Ezekiel was a priest and therefore not permitted to shave (Lev 21:5; Ez 44:20). Yet God tells him to, and with a sword no less. Ezekiel likely cut himself multiple times in the process, so probably looked a sight as people gathered to watch. By the time he was done he probably had a sizable audience around his clay tablet, which depicted the siege in Jerusalem.
Scales, a symbol of judgment, weighed the hair of his beard into thirds. One pile he placed in the center of the city drawn on the tablet and there he burned it. Then with his sword he struck a third of it around the city, and the other third he threw to the wind.
All this showed how the people of Jerusalem would die. However, a few hairs he was to rescue and tuck into his robe, then he was to take some of that and burn it. Even those saved would find death another way.
The thirds imagery is linked to the trumpet plagues in Rev 8. All of this symbolism would have been pretty clear to the onlookers. But in case there as any doubt God sent a verbal message a long with it.
God set his people in the middle of those whom he wanted them to teach, but instead they had fallen even worse into sin than their neighbors. Why? Because they had God’s law and they did what they did clearly knowing what they did. “When the law was given sin increased…” (Rom 5). And because his people had profaned his name among the nations, God would now do his work of setting the record straight, that this was not the way his people were to be.
Their sins were specifically two: they had broken God’s laws and defiled his sanctuary with their own created idols, and “abominations.” Therefore, God would have not pity and would not spare, not by actively punishing but by simply withdrawing and allowing evil to have its way. When this was done God’s anger would run out.
It’s important that all of this is a prediction. God wasn’t simmering in anger trying to resist an explosion of temper. He was planning his anger as the appropriate, necessary, and therefore most loving and merciful response he could make. He wanted to finish it so he could end the anger.
The entire reason God was giving these warnings was so that the people would repent, turn around, and return to him. If they would do that then he would be able to not do all he was saying he must do, for their sake and his own.