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The Symbol of the Siege
v. 1. Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, very likely a Babylonian brick, a foot square and about five inches thick, and lay it before thee, while the clay was still soft, and portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem, drawing the map of the Jewish capital with the usual pencil, or style,
v. 2. and lay siege against it, and build a fort against it, very likely a watch-tower or bulwark, which permitted the invading army to observe every movement of the besieged, and cast a mount against it, the usual earthworks with their trenches; set the camp also against it, to surround the city on all sides, and set battering-rams against it round about, the latter being logs of hard wood, with heads of wrought iron. All this was to be shown in the sketch prepared by the prophet, the map thus emphasizing the fact that Jerusalem would be besieged.
v. 3. Moreover, take thou unto thee an iron pan, such as were used in Jewish households, as well as in the Temple, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city, as representing the divine decree regarding the Chaldean invasion; and set thy face against it, in stern opposition, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel, to the people of God, formerly identical with the covenant nation.
v. 4. Lie thou also upon thy left side, in another symbolical act, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it, like a sickness which causes the diseased person to lie in one position without shifting; according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity, not in a vicarious, but in a symbolical act.
v. 5. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, that Ezekiel was, figuratively, bearing their guilt, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days, a number of years which may refer to the time of the Egyptian bondage, or as simply strokes of divine chastisement; so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.
v. 6. And when thou hast accomplished them, having fulfilled the three hundred and ninety days typical of the bearing of Israel's burden, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days, a number which may refer to various periods in the history of the people or, as some think, to the last forty years of the Egyptian bondage, which were at the same time the years which gave Moses his test for leadership; I have appointed thee each day for a year, that is, one day of the symbolical act stood for a whole year in the actual history to which it referred.
v. 7. Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, which was always before the prophet in the sketch which he had drawn, and thine arm, namely, the free arm in either case, shall be uncovered, bare to the shoulder, to have free use of it at all times, and thou shalt prophesy against it, both by his symbolical acting and by proclaiming the Lord's message.
v. 8. And, behold, I will lay bands upon thee, holding him down, causing him to hold out with patience in the difficult feat proposed, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another, to relieve the tediousness of lying on one side alone, till thou hast ended the days of thy siege, the fulfilling of the time indicating the conquest of the city. No matter in what way God makes known His will, the outstanding fact is that it will certainly be fulfilled, for not one of his words may fail.
The Symbols of the Famine
v. 9. Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, these grains usually being eaten in the form of roasted kernels, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and fitches, or spelt, and put them in one vessel, as signifying the last of provisions to be had, gathered for the extremity of the siege, and make thee bread thereof, food in the customary roasted form, according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side; three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof, the number of Israel's years of oppression being named as sufficient to emphasize the difficulty of the situation.
v. 10. And thy meat which thou shalt eat, the food which he should consume according to this strict rationing, shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day, estimated at some twenty ounces avoirdupois, about half as much as the average man needs for his daily sustenance; from time to time shalt thou eat it, not according to the demands of hunger, but according to the rations provided for, that is, at long intervals, very sparingly.
v. 11. Thou shalt drink also water by measure, instead of according to desire and ordinary need, the sixth part of an hin, approximately a pint and a half; from time to time shalt thou drink.
v. 12. And thou shalt eat it, the food provided for, as barley cakes, baked or roasted in the ashes of his fire, or on stones heated by this fire; and thou shalt bake It with dung that cometh out of man, whose use as fuel must have been exceedingly repulsive, in their sight. The situation, then, was this, that filth and misery surrounded the prophet on every side a very vivid picture, in order to emphasize his message before his countrymen.
v. 13. And the Lord said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread, polluted with the odor of the unspeakable fuel used, among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them, where they would be obliged to sojourn and come in contact with the abominations of the heathen. The uncleanness was not so much a Levitical defilement as a pollution outraging the universal feeling of human beings concerning decency.
v. 14. Then said I, in voicing an objection to the loathsome fuel proposed by the Lord, Ah, Lord God! Behold, my soul hath not been polluted, for so he might interpret Leviticus 5:3; Leviticus 7:21 as pertaining to this present case; for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself or is torn in pieces, Cf Exodus 22:30; Deuteronomy 14:21, neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth. Cf Deuteronomy 14:3. Note the emphasis of the prophet's expression in setting forth his consciousness of the loathsomeness of the method suggested to him.
v. 15. Then He said unto me, in yielding the point for the sake of the prophet's scruples, Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung, a fuel still used very extensively in the Orient, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.
v. 16. Moreover, He said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, bread being one of the chief articles of food, one of man's main articles of nourishment; and they shall eat bread by weight, in careful rations, as demonstrated by the prophet, and with care, in worried anxiety about the means of subsistence; and they shall drink water by measure and with astonishment, in dull grief, in speechless pain,
v. 17. that they may want bread and water, be in dire need of the food barely sufficing for their daily needs, and be astonied one with another, with the stupefied look of total despair, and consume away for their iniquity. Thus the Lord, by these various signs, set forth the early destruction of Jerusalem and the sufferings which would come upon its inhabitants in connection with the Chaldean conquest.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27