Ezekiel 4 - Outline of Ezekiel (MENU page)
In the previous chapters, the LORD called and commissioned Ezekiel to be a watchman to Israel, to warn all who would listen of impending judgment. But then, He instructed His prophet to shut himself in his house, where he would be struck dumb, unable to speak to the people whom he was supposed to reach. In ch. 4 and 5, Ezekiel is instructed to act out several symbolic object lessons (or, signs), which would depict and predict various aspects of the siege of Jerusalem (which, at the time, was still about 4 years in the future). These actions would take more than a year to complete. Only then would their significance be explained, as the prophet's mouth would be opened, to declare "Thus saith the LORD..." (3:24-27).
 
1. Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee,
and pourtray
{ie., portray} upon it the city, [even] Jerusalem:
2 And lay siege against it, and build a fort against it, and cast a mount against it;
set the camp also against it, and set [battering] rams against it round about.
3 Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it [for] a wall of iron between thee and the city:
and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it.
This [shall be] a sign to the house of Israel.
The sign of the Tile -
Several other prophets were also instructed to act out dramatic illustrations, to emphasize the LORD's message (eg., Isa 20:2-4; Jer 13:1-10; 18:2-12; Hos 1:2-9). However, Ezekiel used this method of communication more than any of the others.
...take... a tile... pourtray {ie., portray} upon it... Jerusalem... and lay siege against it...
The word 'tile' {HB= lebanah} is usually translated 'brick.' According to some ancient sources, bricks were typically about "two feet long, one foot broad, and four inches thick" [quote from TSK]. The root word {HB= laban} means 'white.'
     Ezekiel was to build a model of Jerusalem on this platform. He was then to cause a toy army to advance against the miniature city, with siege mounds and other methods of breaking over or through the city wall.
...moreover take... an iron pan... a wall between thee and the city... set thy face against it...
As the builder of this model city, Ezekiel had it in his power to deliver his miniature 'Jerusalem' from the enemy armies. But, he would not do so. In this, he was illustrating the LORD's position toward the real Jerusalem, which He had established. There was a barrier between its occupants and the One who could deliver them. He would not hear their cries for help. His face was set {ie., He was determined} to exercise the judgment which they deserved (cp. Isa 59:1,2).
...This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.
But would they understand its significance? Probably not. Although the 'watchman' was active, he remained silent.
4 Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it:
[according] to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity.
5 For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days,
three hundred and ninety days:
so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.
6 And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side,
and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days:
I have appointed thee each day for a year.
7 Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem,
and thine arm [shall be] uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it.
8 And, behold, I will lay bands upon thee,
and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another,
till thou hast ended the days of thy siege.
The sign of the prophet's Posture -
Four specific aspects of the siege are depicted (this is the second). They can be viewed individually. However, they were all acted out around the model of Jerusalem on a tile.
...lie thou upon thy left side... three hundred and ninety days... bear the iniquity of the house of Israel...
Each day was representative of one year of the sin of Israel {ie., the northern kingdom}.
     There has been considerable debate concerning whether these years are to be counted from the fall of Jerusalem into the future (to correspond in some way with the duration of punishment upon the nation's sin), or to be counted back, counting the years of unrepentant rebellion which led up to the fall of Jerusalem.
     The confusion is due to two factors: (A) the word 'iniquity' {HB='avon} can refer either to the 'depravity of sin' or the 'punishment for sin,' and (B) the LXX Greek translation, reads '190 days' rather than 390 days. Although some attempt to place the period of punishment between the fall of Jerusalem and the time of the Maccabees (c. 167 BC), the dates do not align well. From other passages, we understand that Israel's punishment extends throughout the Times of the Gentiles, which has already lasted more than 2,400 years.
     It seems much more probable that the 390 years began at the root of the rebellious sin which led to the division of the nation and which characterized the northern kingdom until its fall. Counting back 390 years from the fall of Jerusalem (in 586 BC) brings us to 976 BC. According to our Chart of Israel's Kings & Prophets, this would be early in Solomon's reign, during the construction of the first Temple. During Solomon's reign, Jeroboam instigated rebellion against the anointed king (1Kin 11:26-f). This rebellion may have been allowed by the LORD, because of Solomon's unfaithfulness to Him (1Kin 11:1-4). Following Solomon's death, Jeroboam led the secession of the ten northern tribes (1Kin 12:19,20), and established idolatrous worship with his golden calves (1Kin 12:32,33). The idolatry of the northern kingdom (Israel) persisted until its fall, in 721 BC. However, the period of "the iniquity of Israel" did not end with the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom, because Judah continued in the same idolatrous apostasy. Thus, the 390 years may be counted from the beginnings of apostasy during Solomon's reign, to the fall of Jerusalem (in 586 BC).
     The dating in the Chart of Israel's Kings (above) attempts to correlate the reigns of the kings with actual calendar years. However, there is some uncertainty in this correlation, because partial years (of a king's reign) were often counted as full years, and years of co-regency were sometimes recorded as though they were separate periods. Thus, the original Scofield Reference Bible, following Ussher's Chronology, dates the division of the kingdom at 975 BC. If this is accurate, 390 years elapsed between Jeroboam's establishment of idolatry in Israel and the fall of Jerusalem.
...when thou hast accomplished them, lie... on thy right side... bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days...
The forty years of Judah's sin may be counted from the time of Josiah's reign, during which he removed idolatrous worship and restored the worship of the LORD (c. 625 BC, 2Kings ch. 22-23). Although there had been outward reform, it was not from the heart. The nation turned back into idolatry after Josiah's death. By their repudiation, of the LORD and of the covenant which they had renewed with Him during the brief period of revival, the people of the southern kingdom (Judah) brought irrevocable retribution upon themselves.
     The 430 days (390 + 40) in which Ezekiel would "bear the iniquity of the house of Israel... and... of the house of Judah" would precede the destruction of his model city... and would illustrate that the LORD had long endured the nation's rebellion, and had withheld the judgment which they deserved. He had given them ample time to repent, but they had refused His Word. Therefore, the time of judgment had come.
...and thine arm shall be uncovered... thou shalt prophesy against it.
We are not told that Ezekiel spoke any words at this point. The phrase "thine arm shall be uncovered" refers to the baring or revealing of his strength or power. Having completed the prescribed number of days (which may also be intended to approximate the 18 month duration of the actual siege of Jerusalem), Ezekiel was to destroy his model city. This action foreshadowed what the LORD was about to do to the real city. 2Kin 24:20 - 25:21; Jer 52:1-11
...behold, I will lay bands upon thee... thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another...
The LORD would enable Ezekiel to perform these actions... either supernaturally or through the 'help' of his neighbors (see notes at 3:25). It is probable that, Ezekiel only spent a portion of each day on his side, during this lengthy period. The two signs, which follow, seem to be concurrent with this period, yet they require the prophet to move about somewhat.
9. Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentiles, and millet, and fitches,
and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof,
[according] to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side,
three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof.
10 And thy meat which thou shalt eat [shall be] by weight, twenty shekels a day:
from time to time shalt thou eat it.
11 Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin:
from time to time shalt thou drink.
12 And thou shalt eat it [as] barley cakes,
and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.
13 And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread
among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them.
The sign of the prophet's Diet -
Like those who would be trapped within the besieged city of Jerusalem, Ezekiel would carefully ration his supply of food and water. 'Twenty shekels' {less than ten ounces} of food per day, and 'the sixth part of an hin' {ie., less than a quart} of water, would barely sustain life over such an extended period. Isa 3:1
     The mixture of several types of grains in one container, suggests a diet consisting of whatever can be obtained, and perhaps an attempt to extend the supply of preferred grains {eg., wheat} by dilution with coarse grains, which might have been fed to cattle in better times. Barley loaves were the bread of the poor. During the siege, water would be scarce in Jerusalem, for there was only one limited source, and its security was not assured.
...thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight...
Cooking fuel would also be in short supply. The burning of dried human dung would be a desperate measure. Yet, Jerusalem's inhabitants would experience worse things during the siege, as reward for their sin... as the LORD had foretold, through Moses hundreds of years earlier (Lev 26:26; Deu 28:49-59).
...and the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled {ie., unclean} bread...
Not only would this be the experience of those in the besieged city, but also of the captives carried into other lands, where they would dwell in the deprivation of poverty, and be forced to consume foods which were 'unclean.'
     Although the LORD said these words to Ezekiel, the people who saw the prophet's actions may not have understood the meaning, because the prophet's mouth apparently had not yet been opened, to speak forth God's Word to them.
14 Then said I, Ah Lord GOD!
behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up
even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces;
neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth.
15 Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung,
and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.
16 Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem:
and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care;
and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment:
17 That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another,
and consume away for their iniquity.
Ezekiel, though dumb before the people, made his appeal to the Lord GOD (his Master, the everliving One who has all power).
Unlike most of his nation, Ezekiel desired to live a holy life for the LORD. According to his understanding, this required adherence to the dietary laws (eg., Ex 22:31; Lev 11:39,40; Deu 14:3). Daniel (Dan 1:8) and Peter (Acts 10:13,14) expressed a similar desire to avoid eating unclean foods. The Lord granted the request of Daniel and Ezekiel, but in a later dispensation, He taught Peter about a higher form of purity, not through the Law, but by Grace through faith in Christ (Acts 10:15; 15:7-11).
...Lo, I have granted thee cow's dung for man's dung...
Dried cow's dung is still used for fuel in some parts of the world. It did not have the stigma of being 'unclean' (as did human dung). Yet, it pictured the poverty of the siege, since other fuels (eg., wood) were preferred when available.
...moreover He said unto me... I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem...
In vs.16,17, the LORD explains, to Ezekiel, the significance of his actions as depicting the plight of the residents of Jerusalem during the imminent siege, and beyond (eg., Lev 26:39; Lam 1:11; 4:9,10).

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