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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

Ezekiel 4

Verses 1-17

Chapter Four

Teaching By Object Lessons

In this and the first part of the next chapter we find God telling the prophet to use what We might think of as the kindergarten method of compelling attention to the word he was to make known. In a series of object lessons he was to illustrate God’s dealings with the city of Jerusalem and the houses of Israel and Judah. First we have the pictured siege of Jerusalem.

“Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and portray upon it a city, even Jerusalem: and lay siege against it, and build forts against it, and cast up a mound against it; set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it round about. And take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face toward it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel”-vers. 1-3.

All this was in order to draw the attention of the captives and to lead them to inquire as to the meaning of the sign or symbol. At the very time that the prophet was in this way illustrating the siege of Jerusalem, the armies of the Chaldeans had thrown a cordon around the doomed city and were pressing for its complete surrender, or failing in that its exposure to all the horrors of an Oriental sack. False prophets were endeavoring to persuade those of the captivity that God would never permit His holy city and His beautiful sanctuary to be overrun and destroyed by the idolatrous armies of Nebuchadnezzar. But these optimists spoke out of their own hearts, not by divine revelation or inspiration, and the falsity of their utterances was soon to be made manifest. The solemn facts that needed to be considered were these: the city was denied already by the vicious practices of the people of Judah, and the sanctuary had been contaminated for years by the setting up of images of heathen gods and goddesses within its sacred precincts. Therefore, He who is a jealous God and will not give His glory to another, could not in righteousness defend the place where His name had been so terribly profaned. God had been very patient and had waited long upon a rebellious and gainsaying people. Now His long-suffering mercy had come to an end, and He was to be toward His people as an enemy, taking as it were the part of their cruel foes in order that Judah might be chastened for her sins and manifold transgressions. It was not that His heart was changed toward His people, but His holiness demanded that their sins be dealt with. Their wickedness had left them helpless before their foes, and there was no power to resist the oppressor.

The next sign was of a different character and yet connected intimately with that which had preceded it.

“Moreover lie thou 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. For I have appointed the years of their iniquity to be unto thee a number of days, even three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And again, when thou hast accomplished these, thou shalt lie on thy right side, and shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah: forty days, each day for a year, have I appointed it unto thee. And thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with thine arm uncovered; and thou shalt prophesy against it. And, behold, I lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to the other, till thou hast accomplished the days of thy siege”-vers. 4-8.

It is not easy to understand the exact meaning of the times recorded here. J. N. Darby says, “It is certain that these days do not refer to the duration of the kingdom of Israel apart from Judah, nor to that of Judah, because the kingdom of Israel lasted only about 254 years, while that of Judah continued about 134 years after the fall of Samaria.” He suggests, therefore, that “the longer period mentioned is reckoned from the separation of the ten tribes under Rehoboam, counting the years as those of Israel, because from that moment Israel had a separate existence and comprised the great body of the nation; while Judah was everything during the reign of Solomon, which lasted forty years. After his reign Judah would be comprised in the general name of Israel according to Ezekiel’s usual habit, although on certain occasions he distinguishes them on account of the position of Zedekiah and of God’s future dealings” (Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, p. 413, new ed.). This is perhaps as good an explanation as any of the day-for-a-year periods during which Ezekiel was to lie first on one side and then on the other, as the people of the captivity looked on. He was to be their sign, telling of God’s long-drawn-out patience to their fathers and intimating that this day of His mercy was now coming rapidly to a close. The hand of Jehovah was to be upon him, enabling him to fulfil these weary vigils, which otherwise would have been almost impossible for flesh and blood.

The third sign was designed to express Jehovah’s disgust at the vile abominations connected with the idolatrous practices into which His people had fallen from time to time.

“Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, 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, even three hundred and ninety days, shalt thou eat thereof. And thy food which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it. And thou shalt drink water by measure, the sixth part of a hin: from time to time shalt thou drink. And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it in their sight with dung that cometh out of man. And Jehovah said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations whither I will drive them. Then said I, Ah Lord Jehovah! 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 of beasts; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth. Then He said unto me, See, I have given thee cow’s dung for man’s dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread thereon. 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 fearfulness; and they shall drink water by measure, and in dismay: that they may want bread and water, and be dismayed one with another, and pine away in their iniquity”-vers. 9-17.

To a pious Jew, the manner in which the prophet’s food was to be prepared, according to the first command of the Lord, would be unspeakably abhorrent. Ungodly men have misread these directions and have inveighed against the supposition that a holy God could ever have given such instruction. Misreading the command to prepare the food with human excrement as though it meant to mix unclean filth with the vegetables the prophet was to eat, has given ground for this. But the offal was to be used in the fuel, not in the food. And when Ezekiel (like Peter at Caesarea) protested that nothing unclean had ever entered his mouth, God, in pity for His servant, ordered that the dung of cattle be used instead. Anyone who has made a fire of buffalo chips on our western plains will understand at once what is meant. The food itself would not actually be contaminated, but the method of its preparation was meant to impress the captivity with God’s detestation of everything connected with the worship of the false gods of the nations. Idolatry is ever unclean and so exceedingly vile that nothing could be too filthy to picture its abominable character in the sight of Jehovah.

In times of famine men have resorted to the most detestable things for food in their efforts to satisfy the cravings of their hunger. To such straits Jerusalem was reduced, and as the siege progressed, conditions would become worse and worse. There could be no mitigation of Judah’s sufferings so long as they refused to heed the voice of God speaking through His servants the prophets. At this very time Jeremiah, in the holy city, was giving a similar testimony to that of Ezekiel among the captives in Chaldea, yet the people refused to hearken, so judgment had to take its course.

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Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/ezekiel-4.html. 1914.