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I have checked a variety of translations of this verse, and they all seem to have differences, indicative of unclear Hebrew language. For example (the relevant part of the verse following the sharpened sword that will cause slaughter):

“…should we then make mirth? It contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree.” A.V.

“…Desire hath rejoiced the sceptre of my son. It is despising every tree.” Y.L.T.

“…should we then make mirth? It contemneth the rod of My son, as every tree.” Companion Bible

“…Shall we rejoice in the sceptre of my son, Judah? The sword despises every such stick.” N.I.V. 1987 ed.

“…Or shall we rejoice, the rod of My son despising every tree?” N.A.S.B.

“…Or do we make mirth? You have despised the rod, my son, with everything of wood.” R.S.V.

“…Now will you laugh? Those far stronger than you have fallen beneath its power!” N.L.T.

I am aware that verses 25 to 27 are taken by Christians to be a prophecy about the future Messiah, the Son of God, but there seems to be a clear distinction between ‘my son’ in verse 10 and this later part. Therefore, could those conversant with Hebrew explain any problems with grasping the meaning of verse 10?

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    What a good question! I await the answer of those whose Hebrew is better than mine, but we can immediately call into question the NIV because "Judah" is not in the Hebrew. This is a theological interpretation that does not honor the text sufficiently IMO. BTW some bibles have this verse as 21:15 instead of 21:10. Nov 27, 2023 at 14:50
  • @DanFefferman Indeed, the less literal and the more 'dynamic equivalent' versions get, the more liberties might be taken! Putting in 'Judah' when it is nowhere in the text is pure interpretation on the part of the NIV. I hope answers might pick up on that. Glad to know about the different verse numbers.
    – Anne
    Nov 27, 2023 at 16:36
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    The current NIV (2011) does not have "Judah" but "royal son".
    – Dottard
    Nov 27, 2023 at 20:09
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    There is a definite contrast between the (ruling) implement of a son . . . and that of any tree. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil ? The rule of Christ superior to the rule of legal commandment ?
    – Nigel J
    Nov 27, 2023 at 20:55

2 Answers 2

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Below is a pared down interlinear of the segment in question, taken from biblehub.com (Interlinear). Though I’m not conversant in Hebrew, I’ll try to present the translation issues of Ezekiel 21:10 as best I understand them.

Ezekiel 21:10

  א֣וֹ               נָשִׂישׂ               שֵׁבֶט         בְּנִי        מֹאֶסֶת         כָּל־עֵֽץ׃ 
 wood all  it despises  of my son   the scepter   should we make mirth    then

Translating this part of Ex 21:10 is difficult apparently due to a lack of punctuation, connecting words, or clear indicators of case (subject/object markers). For the purpose of this discussion, I have divided the words into four syntactical units, presented below in the order taken from the interlinear (Note: I will reference these units according to how they are worded in the KJV, even when translations have rendered them differently):

  1. should we then make mirth?
  2. the rod of my son
  3. it contemneth
  4. every tree

Each unit is like a piece of a puzzle that can be put together in different ways depending on the choice and placement of punctuation, and the addition of connecting words. The differences in how each piece is understood and the ways they are put together account for the variation seen in the English translations. For example, while “should we make mirth” is generally translated as a question/interrogative statement, differences in where the question mark is placed can have a significant impact on meaning:

Should we then make mirth? – KJV

Shall we rejoice in the scepter of my royal son? – NIV

Or shall we rejoice, the rod of My son despising every tree? – NASB

While there is much that can be said regarding the differences among the translations, I want to focus on those that pertain to the unit “the rod of my son.” Specifically, I examined a number of translations, looking at which syntactic function "the rod of my son" is assigned in each, whether it is construed to be the subject or object, or given some other role.

First I note that the verb “contemneth” is feminine and singular. Since it agrees with the sword (v9) in number and gender, “sword” is understood to be the antecedent of the “it” in “it contemneth.” Accordingly, some translations have “sword” as the subject with “every tree” as the object. In these translations, the unit “the rod of my son” is joined to that of “should we make mirth” and functions in a qualitative capacity.

Shall we rejoice in the scepter of my royal son? The sword despises every such stick. – NIV and BSB

Or shall we rejoice in the scepter of My son? The sword despises every tree. – LSB

Other translations, like the NASB above, equate “the rod of my son” with the sword and make “the rod of my son” the subject and “every tree” the object.

my Son's scepter, the sword, is despising every tree – ISV

the rod of my son, it contemneth every tree – ERV

Still other translations draw a sharp distinction between the sword and “the rod of my son.” In these translations, “the rod of my son” functions as the object while “every tree” functions in a qualitative capacity.

It contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree. – KJV

It is despising the scepter of My son [as] every tree. – LSV

Returning to the OP’s question, I think the underlying reason why Ez 21:10, as well as the passage in general, is hard to translate has to do with the style and composition, which is more poetry than prose. Poetry generally disregards grammatical rules. Relying on imagery and other literary devices, it constructs messages with a minimum of words yet of often greater depth and breadth of meaning, if of less precision and clarity, than that of prose. In my opinion, the terseness and ambiguity of Ez 21:10 allows the same words to convey different meanings depending on one’s point of reference, whether that be from a particular point in time or from a spiritual rather than a historical perspective.

While I cannot unpack all the shades of meaning in Ez 21:10, I’d like to address one point. The OP notes that “I am aware that verses 25 to 27 are taken by Christians to be a prophecy about the future Messiah, the Son of God, but there seems to be a clear distinction between ‘my son’ in verse 10 and this later part.“ I would say that the words of Ez 21:10 are especially applicable to the Messiah, recalling how he is pierced and the mirth of the mocking spectators.

In context Ezekiel 21 depicts how the sword, the instrument of God’s justice, is sharpened against the sins of men. Into this setting appears one who is called “my son,” and it is against “the rod of my son” that the sword pours out God’s wrath, as though it were any tree, as though it were every tree (cf Ezekiel 21:13). The tree here is evocative of human weakness and frailty, or of all humanity.

Viewed through the lens of God’s mercy, the words of Ez 21:10 can be seen as a cause for rejoicing, referencing Christ’s triumph over death and sin. From this perspective, the connection between verses 10 and 27 then becomes more clear, and the words of v27 understood as marking the turning of the tide against the reign of death and sin.

Ezekiel 21:27

27 I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.

Yet still, the words hold a vision of a future that remains to be fulfilled, when “the rod of My son” will be raised in judgment against all men. The words “should we make mirth?” then becoming a call for all to repent and mourn.

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  • That point: "Relying on imagery and other literary devices, it constructs messages with a minimum of words yet of often greater depth and breadth of meaning, if of less precision and clarity, than that of prose." Going through Ezekiel just now, I am struck with the poetic nature of it but had not thought to consider that regarding vs. 10. And I shall have to rethink my assumption that vss. 25-27 do not relate to vs. 10. You've explained in a way I can understand.
    – Anne
    Dec 1, 2023 at 16:20
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    @Anne I have edited my response to address the connection between v10 and v27. Thank you for this question. As is often the case for me, the process of thinking through it has been truly rewarding.
    – Nhi
    Dec 5, 2023 at 15:01
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Ellicott succinctly sums up the difficulties in translation of Eze 21:10:

There is, however, serious difficulty as to the construction and meaning of the clause. The ancient versions and many commentators have more or less changed the text without improvement. The original is obscure in its extreme brevity, and allows “the rod of my son” to be either the object (as it is taken in the text) or the subject (as in the margin).

Literally, the last half of Eze 21:10 makes almost no sense as it reads:

... then should we rejoice the scepter of my son it rejects all wood

Here are some suggestions about how to understand this difficult verse:

Ellicott:

Contemneth the rod of my son.—This refers to Genesis 49:9-10, in which Jacob addresses Judah as “my son,” and foretells that “the sceptre shall not depart from” him until Shiloh come. There is another allusion to the same passage in Ezekiel 21:27. Comp, also Ezekiel 17:22-23. ...

The true sense is probably that which makes the clause into an objection offered by the Jew to the prophet’s denunciation: “But ‘the rod of my son’ despiseth every tree;” i.e., the Divine promise of old to Judah is sure, and his sceptre must remain whatever power arises against it. The objection was in a certain sense true, but the objectors had little idea of the means by which its truth should be established, and vainly imagined that it gave a temporal security to the kingdom of Judah, whatever might be its sins. The prophet does not notice the objection further than to go on with his prediction of the approaching desolation.

For numerous other suggestions see https://biblehub.com/commentaries/ezekiel/21-10.htm

However, none is really satisfactory. It is possible that the Hebrew text is corrupt at this point. Even the LXX is little help which reads (Brenton):

that thou mayest slay victims; be sharpened that thou mayest be bright, ready for slaughter, slay, set at nought, despise every tree.

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  • The links to Genesis 49:9-10 and Ezekiel 21:27 cf. 17:22-23 help open this obscure verse up. This makes it more understandable.
    – Anne
    Dec 1, 2023 at 16:26

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