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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Ezekiel 4

II. ORACLES OF JUDGMENT ON JUDAH AND JERUSALEM FOR SIN CHS. 4-24

This section of the book contains prophecies that Ezekiel delivered from the beginning of his ministry (in 593 B.C.) to the fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.). All of these prophecies deal with the coming destruction of the city and related calamities.

"Here begin Ezekiel’s prophecies directed toward others than himself." [Note: Ibid., p. 53.]

". . . Ezekiel’s messages of doom are evidently intended to dismantle official Jerusalemite theology by systematically undermining the four pillars upon which Judah’s (false) sense of security was built: 1. Yahweh’s covenant with Israel . . . (cf. Ezekiel 12:17 to Ezekiel 16:63; Ezekiel 18:1-32; Ezekiel 20:1-44; Ezekiel 22:1 to Ezekiel 24:14). 2. Yahweh’s commitment to his land . . . (Ezekiel 6:1 to Ezekiel 7:27; Ezekiel 21:1-23 [Eng. Ezekiel 20:45 to Ezekiel 21:17]). 3. Yahweh’s commitment to Jerusalem . . . (Ezekiel 4:1 to Ezekiel 5:17 . . . Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 11:25). 4. Yahweh’s covenant with David . . . (Ezekiel 12:1-16; Ezekiel 17:1-24; Ezekiel 19:1-14)." [Note: Block, The Book . . ., pp. 162-63. See also p. 8.]

A. Ezekiel’s initial warnings chs. 4-7

In this section, Ezekiel grouped several symbolic acts that pictured the destruction of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1 to Ezekiel 5:4) and several discourses that he delivered on the subject of Jerusalem’s destruction (Ezekiel 5:5 to Ezekiel 7:27). Most of the exiles believed that the Jews who had gone into captivity would return to the Promised Land soon and that God would not allow the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and the temple. Ezekiel presented a very different picture of the future.

1. Dramatizations of the siege of Jerusalem chs. 4-5

The Lord had shut Ezekiel’s mouth (Ezekiel 3:26), so the first prophecies he delivered were not spoken messages but acted-out parables (cf. 1 Kings 11:30; 1 Kings 22:11; 2 Kings 13:17; Isaiah 20:2-4; Jeremiah 13:1-14; Jeremiah 19:1-10; Acts 21:10-11). Ezekiel evidently appeared somewhat like a mime doing street theater as he dramatized a message without speaking a word.

"The symbolic actions during the prophet’s inability to speak were testimonies to the past wickedness and chastisement of the house of Israel (the whole nation), and prophetic of a coming siege. They are therefore intermediate between the siege of 2 Kings 24:10-16, at which time Ezekiel was carried to Babylon, and the siege of 2 Kings 25:1-11, eleven years later." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 841.]

Verses 1-2

The Lord instructed Ezekiel to construct a model of Jerusalem under siege. He was to build a model of the city using a clay brick (Heb. lebenah) to represent Jerusalem. The Hebrew word for "brick" describes both clay tablets on which people wrote private correspondence, official documents, and other data, as well as common building bricks (cf. Genesis 11:3). It is not clear exactly which type Ezekiel used. In either case, he built a model of the siege of Jerusalem with enemy siege-works, an earth ramp, camps of soldiers, and battering rams, much like a small boy uses toy soldiers and models of tanks and buildings to play war today. It is not clear either whether the whole model fit on the brick or whether the brick just represented the city of Jerusalem. I tend to think the brick represented Jerusalem and Ezekiel built other models that he placed around it. The outline of Jerusalem would have been distinctive and easily recognizable by Ezekiel’s audience, and he may even have labeled the brick as Jerusalem.

Verses 1-3

The brick and the plate 4:1-3

Verse 3

Then Ezekiel was to place an iron plate between himself and his model of the city and to lay siege to Jerusalem. This was to be a sign to the people of Israel of what God would do to the real Jerusalem (cf. Deuteronomy 28:52-57). The meaning of the iron plate or pan is also debatable, though it appears to have been a common cooking griddle (Heb. mahabhath). It may have signified the Babylonian army that made escape from the city impossible, [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 769; Feinberg, p. 33; Cooper, p. 94.] God’s determined hostility against Jerusalem, [Note: Ibid.; Taylor, p. 76.] the barrier of sin that the Jews had raised between themselves and God, [Note: Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1235.] or Ezekiel’s protection as he acted out his drama. [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 769.] I favor the view that it represented a barrier that existed between the people and God, whom Ezekiel represented, that their sin had erected and that their prayers could not penetrate (cf. Isaiah 58:2; Lamentations 3:44).

Evidently Ezekiel built this model scene without speaking to his audience or explaining what he was doing, and he probably did it just outside his house (cf. Ezekiel 3:24-25).

"The purpose of God in this prophetic act was hardly limited to letting Ezekiel and his countrymen in on the future. More important was their need to see that God was not about to let the sins of the city He had chosen go unpunished." [Note: Stuart, p. 55.]

Verses 4-5

Then Ezekiel was to recline in public on his left side for 390 days. This was to represent the number of years that Israel would have to bear punishment for her sins. Evidently when Ezekiel lay on his left side he faced north, the Northern Kingdom. This meant that his body would have been pointing west, toward Jerusalem.

Verses 4-8

Lying on the side 4:4-8

Verses 6-7

After the 390 days had expired, he was to lie on his right side for an additional 40 days. This was to represent the number of additional years the Southern Kingdom of Judah would have to suffer punishment for her sins. He was to face Jerusalem with his arm bared signifying Yahweh’s hostility toward His people. The prophesying that he was to do against Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:7) was by means of this skit. The Septuagint has Ezekiel lying on his left side for 190 days and on his right side for 150 days, but the reason for these periods is unknown.

That these days represented years of divine punishment seems clear (Ezekiel 4:6), but what years are in view is a problem. Were they literal or figurative years, and were these years in the past or in the future? Unless they were literal years we have no way of knowing what they represented. If they were future years and began with the year of Jehoiachin’s deportation (597 B.C.), which is the date of reference that Ezekiel used throughout his book, the total 430 years would have ended about 167 B.C. This was the year of the Maccabean rebellion when the Jews began to throw off their foreign oppressors, the Syrians, and took control of their own affairs once again. [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 770; Cooper, p. 95.] But why God divided these years into two such unusual segments remains a mystery. I think the 430 days may have been the total length of the siege of Jerusalem, which God viewed as punishment for 390 years of the Northern Kingdom’s sins and 40 more years of the Southern Kingdom’s sins. The fact that the length of time the Israelites were in Egypt was 430 years (Exodus 12:40) may have reminded Ezekiel’s audience of that former captivity. Likewise Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness has a parallel in this prophecy. In this case the years of sin would have been in the past. [Note: Dyer, "Ezekiel," pp. 1235-36.] Other views are that the 430 days represented the years of the monarchy, or the years Solomon’s temple stood. It still remains difficult, however, to explain exactly which 390 and 40 years God had in mind. [Note: See Allen, p. 66.] Perhaps they were the worst years of sin. In some way the length of the siege corresponded to the past years of Israel and Judah’s sin.

Verse 8

The Lord promised to help Ezekiel lie on his sides by restraining his movements, as though ropes bound him in his positions. Some interpreters believed that God had someone bind Ezekiel with ropes each day, but I do not think the text requires this. Again, it appears that the prophet acted out his drama for only a few hours each day, and it was during this time that God enabled him to lie quietly.

"God’s judgment of sin is inevitable. He is longsuffering (Ezekiel 4:1-8) and may wait for years, but ultimately he will dispense judgment. This judgment will include his people." [Note: Cooper, p. 95.]

"God’s servants may have to undertake tasks involving a lot of tedium, patiently carrying out responsibilities less than entirely pleasant, regularly doing things they would much rather not have to be involved in. Preparing for a Sunday school class week after week, leading a Bible study year by year, visiting shut-ins steadily as time goes by, patiently shaping the behavior of and caring for children as the years come and go, laboring to bring about social change; these sorts of things are hardly always enjoyable. Faithfulness involves sticking to tasks where the reward cannot necessarily be experienced right away. Loyal Christian servants may not see in this life the rewards of their steady labors, but we carry on because God’s work is never done in vain, no matter how hard it may be (1 Corinthians 15:58)." [Note: Stuart, p. 59.]

Verses 9-11

The prophet was also to make provisions so that he would have adequate food to eat and water to drink as he lay on his side for the first 390 days. The Lord prescribed just what and how much he should consume each day: one and one-third pints of water and eight ounces of bread. These were famine rations. His bread was to be a combination of six grains rather than just one, similar to how people during a siege would have to make their bread. They would mix small amounts of whatever they could find rather than using larger quantities of a single grain.

Ezekiel may have eaten at other times of the day when he was not acting out his drama, but during his dramatic presentation each day he only ate and drank as people under siege in Jerusalem would do.

Verses 9-17

The food 4:9-17

This second dramatization took place while Ezekiel was acting out the first 390 days of the siege of Jerusalem with the brick and the plate (Ezekiel 4:1-8). Whereas the main drama pictured the siege as a judgment from God, this aspect of it stressed the severe conditions that would exist in the city during the siege.

Verses 12-15

Ezekiel was to bake his food over a fire made with human excrement, as the Jews under siege in Jerusalem would have to do. The uncleanness of their food did not represent the type of food they would have to eat but the fact that they would have to eat their food among defiled people (in captivity, Ezekiel 4:13). The prophet complained that he had never eaten unclean food (cf. Ezekiel 44:31; Leviticus 22:8; Deuteronomy 12:15-19; Deuteronomy 14:21; Deuteronomy 23:9-14), so the Lord graciously allowed him to prepare his food over a fire made with cow’s dung rather than human feces.

Ezekiel could not have been lying on his side continuously all day because he prepared meals during some of this time. In parts of the Middle East today, some people still use dried animal dung as fuel due to the scarcity of wood. [Note: S. Fisch, Ezekiel, pp. 22-23; D. M. G. Stalker, Ezekiel, p. 67.] God acceded to Ezekiel’s request to substitute animal dung for human feces because the prophet wished to preserve his own purity and because the use of human waste, though more realistic, was not essential to the lesson Ezekiel was to teach the people (cf. Acts 10:14-15).

". . . God was not so much trying to get Ezekiel to violate his own priestly responsibilities as to be reminded of how many compromises of what is usual and normal would have to be made by those cooped up in Jerusalem under overwhelming enemy pressure." [Note: Stuart, p. 61.]

Verses 16-17

All these conditions were to symbolize how people back in Jerusalem were going to have to eat to live during the siege. They would have to eat sparingly because the famine caused by the siege would be severe.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ezekiel-4.html. 2012.