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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 4

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Ezekiel 4:0


Siege of Jerusalem PredictedThe Siege of Jerusalem PortrayedSymbolic Actions Describing the Coming Siege of Jerusalem(Ezekiel 4:1-17)Ezekiel Acts Out the Siege of JerusalemThe Siege of Jerusalem Foretold(Ezekiel 4:1-17)
Ezekiel 4:1-3Ezekiel 4:1-3Ezekiel 4:1-3Ezekiel 4:1-3Ezekiel 4:1-3
Ezekiel 4:4-8Ezekiel 4:4-8Ezekiel 4:4-8Ezekiel 4:4-6Ezekiel 4:4-8
Defiled BreadEzekiel 4:7-8
Ezekiel 4:9-17Ezekiel 4:9-17Ezekiel 4:9-15Ezekiel 4:9-12Ezekiel 4:9-17
Ezekiel 4:13
Ezekiel 4:14
Ezekiel 4:15
Ezekiel 4:16-17Ezekiel 4:16-17

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 4:1-3 1”Now you son of man, get yourself a brick, place it before you and inscribe a city on it, Jerusalem. 2Then lay siege against it, build a siege wall, raise up a ramp, pitch camps and place battering rams against it all around. 3Then get yourself an iron plate and set it up as an iron wall between you and the city, and set your face toward it so that it is under siege, and besiege it. This is a sign to the house of Israel.”

Ezekiel 4:1 “son of man” See note at Ezekiel 2:1.

God commands the prophet to do several dramatic acts of judgment which depict the fall of Jerusalem. Because of Ezekiel 3:25, these dramatic acts were probably performed in front of his house, in public view.

“Get yourself a brick” BDB 527 says that this refers to a tile, not a brick, but the lexicon KB 518 says it was a sun-baked brick (larger in size than modern bricks), probably of white clay. It is uncertain if it was soft clay, which was normally used for writing, or baked clay with an outline of the city scratched into it.

1. get a brick, Ezekiel 4:1, BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERATIVE

a. set it before you

b. inscribe (outline of the city of Jerusalem) on it

c. build siege wall, ramps, camps around the brick

d. place battering rams (i.e., another Qal IMPERATIVE)

2. get an iron plate, Ezekiel 4:3, BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERATIVE (used as a divider)

3. lie on your side, Ezekiel 4:4, BDB 1011, KB 1486, Qal IMPERATIVE

4. take (food items), BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERATIVE

5. take (sharp sword and cut off hair and beard), Ezekiel 5:1, BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERATIVE

The entire context (i.e., chaps. 4-5 is a literary unit) is one sustained dramatic act foreshadowing the siege of Jerusalem.

This occurred exactly four years before the siege of Jerusalem by Babylon, which resulted in the total destruction of the city (i.e., 586 B.C.). Chapters 4 and 5 contain a series of silent, dramatic acts related to God's enforced silence of Ezekiel 3:26.

Ezekiel 4:2 “siege-wall” This (BDB 189) was a series of siege towers that were built to put the archers of the invaders on level with the ramparts of the city (cf. 2 Kings 25:1; Jeremiah 52:4; Ezekiel 4:2; Ezekiel 17:17; Ezekiel 21:27; Ezekiel 26:8).

“raise up a ramp” This was an earthen ramp (BDB 700, cf. 2 Samuel 20:15; Jeremiah 32:24; Jeremiah 33:4) where the ramming instruments (BDB 503, cf. Ezekiel 4:2; Ezekiel 21:27) could be brought against the walls of the city (e.g., the Roman ramp at Masada).

Ezekiel 4:3 “an iron plate” This (BDB 290) is used in Leviticus 2:5; Leviticus 6:21 for a small, concave plate for the baking of bread. In context it seems to relate to God setting His face against His own people and not hearing their cries for help (i.e., His prophet/priest is silent, cf. Ezekiel 3:25-27).

“this is a sign to the house of Israel” Signs (BDB 16) were God's way to show His people that He was in control of history. Ezekiel uses this phrase often (cf. Ezekiel 4:3; Ezekiel 12:6, Ezekiel 12:11; Ezekiel 24:24). Ezekiel's God-given signs were a dramatic way to communicate with the exiled community. It is uncertain if all of these signs were literally acted out or were literary in nature. The truth and trustworthiness of God's message remains the same either way. One wonders how Ezekiel 4:8 could be literal or related to Ezekiel 3:25.

Verses 4-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 4:4-8 4”As for you, lie down on your left side and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it; you shall bear their iniquity for the number of days that you lie on it. 5For I have assigned you a number of days corresponding to the years of their iniquity, three hundred and ninety days; thus you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. 6When you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah; I have assigned it to you for forty days, a day for each year. 7Then you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem with your arm bared and prophesy against it. 8Now behold, I will put ropes on you so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have completed the days of your siege.”

Ezekiel 4:4 God commands the prophet to lie (BDB 1011, KB 1486, Qal IMPERATIVE) on his left side to bear (BDB 669, KB 724, lit. “to carry,” Qal IMPERFECT) the sin of Israel. Apparently this is a function of the priesthood (cf. Numbers 18:1). The VERB implies the carrying away of sin, like the scapegoat in the ceremony of Leviticus 16:0, the Day of Atonement. However, Ezekiel's actions do not cause God to spare Jerusalem, but judge it (cf. Ezekiel 4:7). Ezekiel's acts show the extent of the people's rebellion (i.e., longevity).

Ezekiel 4:5 “three hundred and ninety days” Ezekiel is told to lie on his side to show the sin of both Israel (Ezekiel 4:4-5) and Judah (Ezekiel 4:6). It is obvious here that “the house of Israel” means the Northern Ten Tribes only.

There has been much difficulty concerning “390 days.” The Septuagint has “190 days” and this may be closer to the original number because the difference in time between chapter Ezekiel 4:2 and 8:1 is only 14 months, which seems not to leave enough time for 430 days of silent witness (i.e., 390 for Israel and 40 for Judah).

It is possible that the combined numbers (i.e., 390 + 40) equals Israel's time in Egypt plus the wilderness wanderings (cf. Genesis 15:13; Exodus 12:40; Acts 7:6; Galatians 3:17). Therefore, it might be a way of referring to the beginning of Israel as a people (i.e., Abraham - Moses). If so, it symbolized that they had always been a sinful, rebellious, stiff-necked people (cf. Ezekiel 2:3-4, Ezekiel 2:7, Ezekiel 2:8).

We as moderns must remember that the ancients used certain numbers in symbolic ways. Often these are round numbers (cf. John J. Davis, Biblical Numerology).

Ezekiel 4:6 “forty days” The number forty in the Bible is often a long period of indefinite time. See Special Topic: Symbolic Numbers in Scripture.

Ezekiel 4:7 “with your arm bared” This was a metaphor for God's effective action against Jerusalem.

God's arm/hand can be for good or woe.

1. positive, Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:16; Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 7:19; 2 Chronicles 32:8; Psalms 98:1; Isaiah 52:10; Jeremiah 32:17-18

2. negative, Jeremiah 6:12; Jeremiah 21:5; Jeremiah 27:5-6; Ezekiel 20:33-34; Ezekiel 30:24-25

Ezekiel 4:8 “I will put ropes on you” This same metaphor is used in Ezekiel 3:25. God directs the prophet's words and actions to communicate His message to His people.

It seems from Ezekiel 3:25 that the prophet was limited to his home. The elders had to go there to see him (cf. Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 14:1; Ezekiel 20:1). He was also allowed to communicate either by a message or a dramatic act only if God directed him.

Verses 9-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ezekiel 4:9-17 9”But as for you, take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt, put them in one vessel and make them into bread for yourself; you shall eat it according to the number of the days that you lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days. 10Your food which you eat shall be twenty shekels a day by weight; you shall eat it from time to time. 11The water you drink shall be the sixth part of a hin by measure; you shall drink it from time to time. 12You shall eat it as a barley cake, having baked it in their sight over human dung.” 13Then the LORD said, “Thus will the sons of Israel eat their bread unclean among the nations where I will banish them.” 14But I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I have never been defiled; for from my youth until now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has any unclean meat ever entered my mouth.” 15Then He said to me, “See, I will give you cow's dung in place of human dung over which you will prepare your bread.” 16Moreover, He said to me, “Son of man, behold, I am going to break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, and they will eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and drink water by measure and in horror, 17because bread and water will be scarce; and they will be appalled with one another and waste away in their iniquity.

Ezekiel 4:9-17 The dramatic action of Ezekiel lying on his side was only part of the symbolism; what he ate and drank and how much he ate and drank also had significance (cf. Ezekiel 4:16-17). The siege would cause famine in Jerusalem.

1. A food shortage required that the people eat a combination of grains, some of which were not normally eaten.

2. It meant less water per day.

3. There would be no wood or oil to cook with. Animal dung would be the only source of fuel. Cow dung was and still is (i.e., India) often used as fuel.

Ezekiel 4:10 “twenty shekels a day by weight” This would equal about 8-10 ounces of bread. This amount is too small for a healthy diet. See Special Topic at Ezekiel 4:11.

“from time to time” This is a Hebrew idiom which means at a set time each day (cf. Ezekiel 4:11; 1 Chronicles 9:25).

Ezekiel 4:11 “a sixth part of a hin by measure” This would be a 1ittle under a pint, according to rabbinical commentators. Ezekiel would lose weight and strength on this diet, which mimicked a siege situation.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Ancient near Eastern Weights and Volumes (Metrology)

Ezekiel 4:13 Using dung as a cooking fuel would make the inhabitants of Jerusalem ceremonially unclean. It would be a symbol of the Levitically unclean food they would be forced to eat as exiles in a foreign land (cf. Daniel 1:8; Hosea 9:3-4).

“I shall banish them” This VERB (BDB 623, KB 673, Hiphil IMPERFECT) describes YHWH's sending the covenant people out of the Promised Land (cf. Jeremiah 8:3; Jeremiah 16:15; Jeremiah 24:9; Jeremiah 27:10, Jeremiah 27:15). However, if they repent, YHWH will restore them (cf. Deuteronomy 30:1, Deuteronomy 30:4; Jeremiah 23:3, Jeremiah 23:8; Jeremiah 29:14; Jeremiah 32:37; Jeremiah 46:28).

Ezekiel presents YHWH's message of the destruction and exile of Jerusalem until it happens and then his message changes to one of a divine restoration (cf. chaps. 33-48).

Ezekiel 4:14 “I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts” This relates to Ezekiel's squeamishness (“I have never been defiled,” BDB 379, KB 375, Pual PARTICIPLE) about the uncleanness involved in this symbolic act. The human dung was the primary issue (cf. Ezekiel 4:12), but he expands his affirmation of his faithfulness to the Mosaic Law in Ezekiel 4:14. He would be referring to animals that had not been properly killed and bled (cf. Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 17:11-16; Deuteronomy 12:16). God responds to the prophet's squeamishness and allows cow dung (BDB 861, only here in the OT) to be substituted for fuel in Ezekiel 4:15.

Ezekiel 4:16 “the staff of bread” This unusual metaphor uses “staff” in the sense of supply (cf. Leviticus 26:26; Psalms 105:16; Isaiah 3:1; Ezekiel 4:16-17; Ezekiel 5:16; Ezekiel 14:13).

Ezekiel 4:17 “waste away in their iniquity” The VERB (BDB 596, KB 628, Niphal PERFECT) means

1. fester, Psalms 38:5

2. rot, Zechariah 14:12 (three times)

3. wear away or dissolve, Isaiah 34:4

It is used three times in Ezekiel describing YHWH's judgment on His people (cf. Ezekiel 4:17; Ezekiel 24:23; Ezekiel 33:10). The choice of this term by Ezekiel may go back to Leviticus 26:39, where it is used twice. Ezekiel, as a trained priest, drew much of his vocabulary from Leviticus.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/ezekiel-4.html. 2021.
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