Ezekiel 21:2 (in other versions 20:46)

"Son of man, set your face toward the south; preach against the south and prophesy against the forest of the southland."

As is evident from v. 6 (in other versions 21:2), Ezekiel here is prophesying against Jerusalem and its upcoming destruction:

Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel

However it's not clear where Ezekiel is standing. Some have suggested that Ezekiel is standing in Babylon. However this doesn't help much, since we know Babylon is almost directly east of Jerusalem (see map below), so Jerusalem would be west, not south of it. Jeremiah 1:14 also seems to associate Babylon with the north, but Jeremiah might be more concerned with the evil associated with the north than true geographical north, see discussion here. So why would Ezekiel describe Jerusalem as laying to the south? More importantly, where is Ezekiel standing during this oracle, and does it matter?

Also note that Ezekiel is said to set his face towards the south. This is very important. Because it's not enough to say that the Chaldeans took a northern route, as some would posit, since the text makes it clear that the prophet himself is standing north of Jerusalem, and is turning his face in a southern direction towards the city.

Babylonian empire of Nebuchadnezzar

2 Answers 2


In the Bible, the phrase, “land of the north” always refers to either Babylon or Media (Jer 25:9, 11, 25, 26, 46:6, 10, 20, 24, 26, 50:1–3, 8-10, 41-43, 51:47-49, Eze 26:7, Zech 2:6, 7, 6:8-10, etc) It may come as a surprise that Babylon was regarded as north of Jerusalem.; however, for a traveller to go to Babylon required that from Jerusalem he travel (initially) north. Hence Babylon became the land of the north.

By the reverse logic, when standing in Babylon, Jerusalem might be expected to be designated as "south"; but the situation is a bit more complex.

In Eze 20:46 we have three words translated ";south" (or similar) as follows:

Son of man, set your face toward the south [תֵּימָן teman]; preach against the south [דָּרוֹם darom] and prophesy against the forest of the southland [נֶגֶב negev].

All three words are used of the south direction, including that of the sanctuary, or the south wind, or the land of the south. Barnes summarizes this:

In this verse occur three Hebrew synonyms for "south," denoting:

(1) the region on the right, Teman 1 Samuel 23:24;

(2) the region of dryness, Negeb Joshua 15:4;

(3) the region of brightness, Darom Deuteronomy 33:23.

The variety of terms helps the force of the application. Chebar is in the north of Babylonia; from the north the Chaldaeans came upon Judaea (see the Ezekiel 1:4 note).

Here is Barnes comment on Eze 1:4 (very similar to others' comments)

Out of the north - From this quarter the Assyrian conquerors came upon the holy land. The vision, though seen in Chaldaea, had reference to Jerusalem, and the seer is to contemplate judgment as it is coming upon the holy land. Others consider the words expressive of the special seat of the power of Yahweh. The high mountain range of Lebanon that closed in the holy land on the north naturally connected to the inhabitants of that country the northern region with the idea of height reaching to heaven, from which such a vision as this might be supposed to come.

Thus, when standing in Babylon, it might be quite reasonable to speak of Jerusalem as the land of the "south".

  • 1
    Even if I were to accept your northern route theory (to which there's no evidence), how would you explain the expression "set your face toward the south"? I made it clear in my post that a simple "northern route theory" would not resolve this specific problem.
    – bach
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 0:02
  • @Bach - I provided the evidence in my answer by quoting Jer 25:9, 11, 25, 26, 46:6, 10, 20, 24, 26, 50:1–3, 8-10, 41-43, 51:47-49, Eze 26:7, Zech 2:6, 7, 6:8-10. Your own question is further evidence that "south" means Jerusalem in this context as quoted by Barnes.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 1:29
  • 1
    Dottard, who asked for evidence to prove that south is Jerusalem? I know that it is so, my question was why? Did you even read my question? You have to start paying more attention, your inattentiveness is getting to me.
    – bach
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 15:03
  • In Britain, one always goes "up" to London, even though it is in the south and at sea level. Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 17:38
  • @Bach - you should read Rom 2:1 before making such accusation. I answered that in my first paragraph and my final quote.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 20:38

I think you are incorrectly linking multiple separate prophesies against different groups/location and considering them as a single prophecy against the city of Jerusalem. From the text I think it's clear they are separate distinct prophecies happening. Many of them are connected and interelated but they are not all uniformly against the same people / location.

In many modern translations - such as the NIV - they actually have the verses in the sections of scripture you have identified (Ezekiel 20:1, Ezekiel 20:45 and Ezekiel 21:1) all clearly distinguished as separate prophecies. They have actually inserted "Titles" in the text to make the separation more distinct and apparent to the reader.

Ezekiel 20:1 is titled: Rebellious Israel is purged

Before the other scriptures you mentioned there is another separation at Ezekiel 20:30 titled: Rebellious Israel Renewed.

These two passages go together. The first pronouncing a judgement and purging of Israel - the second a subsequent renewal that follows

Then Ezekiel moves into a new prophecy against a different region and people's. In the NIV at Ezekiel 20:42 we have the title: Prophecy against the South. To be clear - this is not Jerusalem and generally not a region considered to be inhabited by Israel. As Dottard correctly pointed out in his answer rather then using the word "South" the original Hebrew actually uses 3 separate words which identify an area which is approximately to the south of Jerusalem - Negev, Teman and Dorman. These words are often used as a shorthand for south - but really only in relationship to Jerusalem (and because often scripture was written from that perspective). These are considered placeholder names in the Bible. Almost like "Markers" on the map to describe locations / directions and they just so happen to be "south" relative to Jerusalem.

Negrev is a dry desert region to the south of Jerusalem. It basically the region South of Beersheeba See here which shows a map of its location.

Temen is basically a "Border town" for the region of Edom. It's also to the south of Jerusalem but is actually the North West corner of Edom a region that continues south east from there. See a map that shows this here.

And similarly Darom is a placeholder name used to mean South. I don't have a clear etymology but multiple sources I read linked it to do with the word bright"

If you understand how these names are used and look on a map at where these locations identify it becomes apparent Ezekiel is not prophecising against Jerusalem in these verses. He is either A) Prophecising against the people who inhabit the region's south of Jerusalem. The specific region around where the desert of Negrev and town of Teman are located.

or B) Prophecising over all the land until these points. With them serving as a kind of "Southern Border" which the prophecy extends to.

We can in fact find later examples when Ezekiel again uses some of these same names in prophecies against these regions. For example in Ezekiel 25:13 he prophecises over the Entire region of "Edom". He uses the same border town to the south of Jerusalem Teman once again. Its located at the northern border of Edom - along with another town called Dedan Located at the Southern border of Edom - in order to basically "set the boundaries" of the region the prophecy would effect. You can again see both of the map here

When we move into the next chapter 21 he then picks up a new prophecy specificially against the sanctuary of Jerusalem.

  • Marshall, thanks for your answer, initially I was actually thinking along those lines, but the context makes it clear beyond doubt that south is nothing but Jerusalem. The last verse of chapter 20 reads: "Then I said, “Sovereign Lord, they are saying of me, ‘Isn’t he just telling parables?’" If you think chapter 21 is a distinct prophecy then there is no answer to this question. It's obvious from context that 21:1 is the answer. God is saying you're right, no more talking in riddles (as he was til now), tell them explicitly that Jerusalem will fall.
    – bach
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 15:15
  • Thus it is clear that south is nothing but Jerusalem, and 21:1 is the explanation of the parable mentioned before. Ezekiel is actually full of such arrangements, see e.g., Ezekiel 17 first part is parable, second part (v.11 and onward) is explanation of it. And there are many more. Cambridge bible also says that 20:45 until end really belongs to chapter 21, and is misplaced. Furthermore all scholars agree that the parable of south is really a reference to Jerusalem.
    – bach
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 15:15
  • I'd be happy to see evidence that can prove that this is not the case, but first you would have to explain how you are reading these verses (ch. 20-21) together as a whole. Also the fact that no commentator has suggested that these are separate oracles to me is strong evidence that your theory is baseless. Nail in the coffin sorta thing. I'm sorry but titles alone cannot be counted as evidence that they are separate, you'd need something better than that.
    – bach
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 15:16
  • The only way out is to posit that 21:1-6 (and possibly 20:49) is a gloss and was added later by a redactor who thought south is nothing but Jerusalem, and with this he meant to complete the answer to Ezekiel's question in 20:49, but he was mistaken because south was really a designation for the Negev, not Jerusalem. I'm not comfortable with this, but it's the only way we can salvage this answer, if at all. 21:1 is clearly an explanation of the parable in 20, there's no way around it.
    – bach
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 15:45
  • So I'm not reading verses 20-21 in isolation. That will likely give a "skewed view" as your not going to see the overall "pattern" of prophecy. Better is to actually consider the format and structure of the entire book of Ezekiel.. Because the book follows a "consistent" and "repeating" pattern" and the whole way through the pattern is used to "jump around the map" and speak prophecies over different people and regions. Different regions are continually intermixed with each other as the prophet speaks - but its easy to see when this happens and to whom each prophecy is directed
    – Marshall
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 16:10

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