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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Ezekiel 4

 

 

Verses 1-17

EXPOSITION

Prior to any detailed examination of the strange series of acts recorded in this and the following chapter, we are met with the question whether they were indeed visible and outward acts, or only imagined by the prophet in a state of ecstasy and afterwards reported by him to the people. Each view has been maintained by commentators of repute. I adopt, with scarcely any hesitation, the former, and for the following reasons.

Ezekiel 4:1

The first sign in this method of unspoken prophecy was to indicate to the exiles of Tel-Abib that which they were unwilling to believe The day of uncertain hopes and fears, of delusive dreams and promises (Jeremiah 27:16; Jeremiah 28:1-3; Jeremiah 29:21), was nearly over. The siege of Jerusalem in spite of Zedekiab's Egyptian alliance, was a thing decreed. Four years before it came—we are now between the fourth month of the fifth year (Ezekiel 1:2) and the sixth month of the sixth year (Ezekiel 8:1) of Zedekiah. and the siege began in the ninth year (2 Kings 25:1)—Ezekiel, on the segnius irritant principle, brought it, as here narrated, before the eyes of the exiles. That he did so implies a certain artistic culture, in possessing which he stands alone, so far as we know, among the prophets of Israel, and to which his residence in the land of the Chaldees may have contributed. He takes a tile, or tablet of baked clay, such as were used in Babylon and Assyria for private contracts, historical inscriptions, astronomical observations (Pliny, 'Hist. Nat.,' 7.57), and the like, which were, in fact, the books of that place and time, and of which whole libraries have been brought to light in recent excavations (Layard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' ch. 22) and engraves upon it the outlines of "a city" (Revised Version), in which the exiles would at once recognize the city of their fathers, the towers which they had once counted (Isaiah 33:18; Psalms 48:12), the temple which had been their glory and their joy. Bricks with such scenes on them were found among the ruins of Nimroud, now in the British Museum. It is not difficult to picture to ourselves the wondering curiosity with which Ezekiel's neighbours would watch the strange proceeding. In this case the sign would be more impressive than any spoken utterance.

Ezekiel 4:2

Lay siege against it, etc. The wonder would increase as the spectators looked on what followed. Either tracing the scene on the tablet, or, more probably, as Ezekiel 4:3 seems to indicate, constructing a model of the scene, the prophet brings before their eyes all the familiar details of a siege, such as we see on numerous Assyrian bas-reliefs: such also as the narratives of the Old Testament bring before us. There are

. Other interpretations, which see in it the symbol of the circumvallation of the city, or of the impenetrable barrier which the sins of the people had set up between themselves and Jehovah, or of the prophet himself as strong and unyielding (Jeremiah 1:18), do not commend themselves. The flat plate did not go round the city, and the spiritual meaning is out of harmony with the context. This shall be a sign, etc. (comp. like forms in Ezekiel 12:6, Ezekiel 12:11; Ezekiel 24:25, Ezekiel 24:27). The exiles of Tel-Abib, who wore the only spectators of the prophet's acts, are taken as representatives of "the house of Israel," that phrase being commonly used by Ezekiel, unless, as in verses 5, 6, and Ezekiel 37:16, there is a special reason for noting a distinction for Jonah as representing the whole nation.

Ezekiel 4:4

Lie thou also upon thy left side, etc. We find the explanation of the attitude in Ezekiel 16:46. Samaria was on the "left hand," i.e. to the north, as a man looked to the east. So the same word yamin is both "the south" (1 Samuel 23:19, 1 Samuel 23:24; Psalms 84:12) and "the right hand." Here, accordingly, the "house of Israel" is taken in its specific sense, as the northern kingdom as distinguished from the "house of Judah" in Ezekiel 16:6. Thou shalt bear their iniquity; ie; as in all similar passages (Exodus 28:43; Le Exodus 5:17; Exodus 7:18; Numbers 18:1, et al.), the punishment of their iniquity. The words so taken will help us to understand the numerical symbolism of the words that followed. The prophet was by this act to identify himself with both divisions of the nation, by representing in this strange form at once the severity and the limits of their punishment. I adopt, without any hesitation, the view that we have here the record of a fact, and not of a vision narrated. The object of the act was to startle men and make them wonder. As week after week went on this, exceptis excipiendis, was to be Ezekiel's permanent attitude, as of one crushed to the very ground, prostrate under the burden thus laid upon him, as impersonating his people.

Ezekiel 4:5

Three hundred and ninety days, etc. The days, as stated in Ezekiel 4:6, stand for years according to the symbolism (with which Ezekiel was probably acquainted) of Numbers 14:34. How we are to explain the precise number chosen is a problem winch has much exercised the minds of interpreters. I will begin by stating what seems to me the most tenable solution. In doing this I follow Smend and Cornill in taking the LXX. as giving the original reading, and the Hebrew as a later correction, made with a purpose.

(a) It taught the certainty of the punishment. No plots, or rebellions, or alliances with Egypt, could avert the doom of exile from these who should survive the siege of Jerusalem.

(b) It taught the exiles to accept their punishment with patience, but with hope. There was a limit, and that not very far off, which some of them might live to see, and beyond which there lay the hope of a restoration for both Israel and Judah. If that hope was not realized to the extent which Ezekiel's language impiles, the same may be, said of the language of Isaiah 40-66; whether we refer those chapters to Isaiah himself or to the "great unknown" who followed Ezekiel, and may have listened to his teaching.

Ezekiel 4:6

Each day for a year. The Hebrew formula is that of iteration—"a day for a year, a day for a year." It originates, as has been said, in Numbers 14:34. What has been known as the year-day theory of prophetic interpretation flows naturally from it, and has been applied

Ezekiel 4:7

Thine arm shall be uncovered. This, as in Isaiah 52:10, was the symbol of energetic action. The prophet was to be, as it were, no apathetic spectator of the siege which he was thus dramatizing, but is as the representative of the Divine commission to control and guide it. The picture of the prophet's attitude, not merely resting on his side and folding his hands, as a man at ease might do, but looking intently, with bare outstretched arm, at the scene portrayed by him, must, we may well imagine, have added to the startling effect of the whole procedure. We note the phrase, "set thy face," as specially characteristic of Ezekiel (here, and, though the Hebrew verb is not the same, Ezekiel 14:8; Ezekiel 15:7). The words "prophesy against it" may imply some spoken utterance of the nature of a "woe," like that of the son of Ananus (see above), but hardly, I think, a prolonged address.

Ezekiel 4:8

I will lay bands upon thee, etc. The words point to the supernatural constraint which would support the prophet in a position as trying as that of an Indian yogi or a Stylite monk. He would himself be powerless to move (exceptis excipiendis, as before) from the prescribed position. There is, perhaps, a reference to Ezekiel 3:25. The people would have "put bands" upon the prophet to hinder his work; Jehovah will "put bands" upon him to help, nay, to constrain, him to finish it.

Ezekiel 4:9

Take thou also unto thee, etc. The act implies, as I have said, that there were exceptions to the generally immovable attitude. The symbolism seems to have a twofold meaning. We can scarcely exclude a reference to the famine which accompanied the siege. On the other hand, one special feature of it is distinctly referred, not to the siege, but to the exile (Ezekiel 4:13). Starting with the former, the prophet is told to make bread, not of wheat, the common food of the wealthier class (Deuteronomy 32:14; Psalms 81:16; Psalms 147:14; Jeremiah 12:13; Jeremiah 41:8), nor of barley, the chief food of the poor (Ezekiel 13:19; Hosea 3:2; John 6:9), but of these mixed with beans (2 Samuel 17:28), lentils (2 Samuel 17:28; Genesis 25:34)—then, as now, largely used in Egypt and other Eastern countries—millet (the Hebrew word is not found elsewhere), and fitches, i.e. vetches (here also the Hebrew word is found only in this passage, that so translated in Isaiah 28:25-27 standing, it is said, for the seed of the black cummin). The outcome of this mixture would be a coarse, unpalatable bread, not unlike that to which the population of Paris was reduced in the siege of 1870-71. This was to be the prophet's food, as it was to be that of the people of Jerusalem during the 390 days by which that siege was symbolically, though not numerically, represented. It is not improbable, looking to the prohibition against mixtures of any kind in Deuteronomy 22:9, that it would be regarded as in itself unclean.

Ezekiel 4:10

Thy meat, etc.; better, food, here and elsewhere. Coarse as the food was, the people would have but scanty rations of it. Men were not, as usual, to measure the corn, but to weigh the bread (Le 26:26). Taking the shekel at about 220 grains, the twenty shekels would be about 10 or 12 ounces. The common allowance in England for prison or pauper dietaries gives, I believe from 24 to 32 ounces, Besides other food. And this was to be taken, not as hunger prompted, but at the appointed hour. once a day. The whole scene of the people of the besieged city coming for their daily rations is brought vividly before us.

Ezekiel 4:11

The sixth, part of an hin, etc. According to the varying accounts of the "hin" given by Jewish writers, this would give from 6 to 9 of a pint. And this was, like the food, to be doled out once a day. Possibly "the bread of affliction and the water of affliction," in 1 Kings 22:27 and Isaiah 30:20, contains a reference to the quantity as well as the quality of a prison dietary as thus described. Isaiah's words may refer to the siege of Sennacherib, as Ezekiel's do to the siege of Nebuchadnezzar.

Ezekiel 4:12

Thou shall bake it with dung, etc. The process of baking in ashes was as old as the time of Abraham (Genesis 18:6), and continues in Arabia and Syria to the present day. The kneaded dough was rolled into thin flat cakes, and they were placed upon, or hung over, the hot wood embers of the hearth or oven. But in a besieged city the supply of wood for fuel soon fails. The first resource is found, as still often happens in the East, in using the dried dung of camels or of cattle. Before Ezekiel's mind there came the vision of a yet more terrible necessity. That supply also might tail, and then men would be forced to use the dried contents of the "draught houses" or cesspools of Jerusalem. They would be compelled almost literally to fulfil the taunt of Rabshakeh (Isaiah 36:12). That thought, as bringing with it the ceremonial pollution of Le Ezekiel 5:3 : Ezekiel 7:21, was as revolting to Ezekiel as it is to us; but like Dante, in a like revolting symbolism ('Inf.,' 18.114), he does not shrink from naming it. It came to him, as with the authority of a Divine command, that he was even to do this, to represent the extreme horrors of the siege. And all this was to be done visibly, before the eyes of his neighbours at Tel-Abib.

Ezekiel 4:13

Even thus shall the children of Israel, etc. The strange command takes a wider range. It symbolizes, not the literal horrors of the siege, but the "defiled bread" which even the exiles would be reduced to eat. So taken, the words remind us of the risk of eating unclean, food, which almost inevitably attended the position of the exiles (Hosea 9:3; Daniel 1:8), and which, it may be, Ezekiel had already tell keenly. There is obviously something more than can be explained by a reference to "the bitter bread of banishment," or to Dante's "Come sa di sale … " ('Par.,' 17.58).

Ezekiel 4:14

Then said I, Ah, Lord God! etc. The formula is, curiously enough, equally characteristic of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 9:8; Ezekiel 11:13; Ezekiel 20:49) and of his teacher and contemporary (Jeremiah 1:6; Jeremiah 4:10; Jeremiah 14:13; Jeremiah 32:17). The Vulgate represents it by A, a, a. His plea, which reminds us at once of Daniel 1:8 and Acts 10:14, is that he has kept himself free from all ceremonial pollution connected with food. And is he, a priest too, to do this? That be far from him! Anything but that! The kinds of defilement of which he speaks are noted in Exodus 22:31; Le Exodus 7:24; Exodus 11:1-10 :39, 40; Exodus 17:15. The "abominable things" may refer either to the unclean meats catalogued in Deuteronomy 14:3-21 (as e.g. in Isaiah 65:4), or as in the controversy of the apostolic age (Acts 15:1-41.; 1 Corinthians 8:1; Revelation 2:20), to eating any flesh that had been offered in sacrifice to idols. The prophet's passionate appeal is characteristic of the extent to which his character had been influenced by the newly discovered Law of the Lord (2 Kings 22:1-20.; 2 Chronicles 34:1-33.), i.e. probably by the Book of Deuteronomy.

Ezekiel 4:15

Lo, I have given thee, etc. The concession mitigates the horror of the first command, though even this was probably regarded as involving some ceremonial uncleanness. It served, at any rate, to represent, in some measure, the pressure of the siege.

Ezekiel 4:16

The staff of bread. The phrase occurs again in Ezekiel 5:16; Ezekiel 14:13, and also in Le 26:26; Psalms 105:16. In Isaiah 3:1 the thought is the same, but the Hebrew word is different. They shall eat bread by weight, etc. The phrase occurs, it may be noted, in Le 26:26, one of the verses above referred to. The care and astonishment, implying that the wonted cheerfulness of meals would have departed, meet us again in Ezekiel 12:19.

Ezekiel 4:17

Consume away for their iniquity, etc. Another echo from the book which had entered so largely into the prophet's education (see Le 26:39, where the Hebrew for "pine" is the same as that here rendered "consume"). To the wretchedness of physical privation there was to be added the consciousness of the sufferers that it was caused by their own evil deeds.

HOMILETICS.

Ezekiel 4:1, Ezekiel 4:2

A pictorial sermon.

The method of this prophecy is as instructive as the substance of it. Let us, therefore, consider this by itself.

I. IT WAS NOVEL. Hitherto prophets had usually preached by word of mouth, though indeed occasionally they had given visible illustrations of their sermons. Thus Jeremiah had worn a symbolical yoke of iron (Jeremiah 28:10). But to draw a picture on a tile was a new method of prophecy. The pulpit is generally too conservative of old methods, too timid of innovation. The preacher should not be a slave of fashion. But, then, he should be careful not to be in bondage to an old fashion any more than to a new fashion. He ought to be ready to embrace any novel method that promises to make his work more effective.

II. IT WAS ACCORDING TO THE MANNER OF THE TIMES. The great brick libraries which have been discovered in the very region where Ezekiel was living, and which include works of the very date of his ministry, contain similar pictorial representations—inscribed representations of sieges. Therefore Ezekiel was adapting his teaching to the manners of his contemporaries. It is as though a modern preacher, unable to reach all the persons he desired to address from the pulpit, should write in the newspapers. Therefore the most effective weapon of the day should be secured by the preacher. The enemy have breech-loading rifles: why should the friends of the truth be content with old flint muskets?

III. IT WAS EFFECTIVE. Mere novelty for its own sake is childish. Eccentricity may win notoriety, but it will not honour truth. Erratic methods lower the dignity of truth. The preacher has to remember the solemn, the awful character of his message. But, then, a novel and almost alarming method may be most suitable for conveying the message. In this matter the means must be subservient to the end. Now, Ezekiel's method was remarkably suitable for his purpose.

1. It made his message intelligible to all. People who cannot read may understand a picture, and the same picture may speak to men of different languages. Raphael's 'Transfiguration' is intelligible to Englishmen who do not know a word of Italian. Pictorial preaching is easily understood.

2. It made the message vivid and impressive. We feel most strongly what we see in picture before our eyes. The failure of preaching is often owing to the fact that the truth proclaimed is accepted only in words which do not suggest clear, strong ideas. It may be admitted by the reason, but it is not embraced by the imagination. The truth which has power over us is not that which we consent to in cold, intellectual agreement, but that which stands to the eyes of the soul as a present reality. Therefore, after we have made our meaning clear and proved our preposition to demonstration, a large part of our work remains, viz. to impress the truth on the imagination and the heart of our hearers; and to be impressive, the truth must be vivid. There is always scope for pictorial preaching. All preachers who are effective with the multitudes resort to this method.

3. It made the message enduring. The brick libraries of Babylon which have been deposited in the British Museum are almost as fresh and sound today as when they were first produced three thousand years ago. It is just possible that some day Ezekiel's tile may be dug up uninjured! Sermons may be forgotten, but truth endures; and it is the mission of the preacher so to bum the truth into the hearts of his hearers that it shall even outlast Babylonian libraries and be seen through all eternity.

Ezekiel 4:4-6

Sin bearing.

Ezekiel is to bear the sin of his people, doing it indeed symbolically every night, by lying first on one side, with the idea that the sin of Israel is upon him so that he cannot move; and then for a shorter period on the other side, with the idea of the sin of Judah resting on him and holding him down. This shows that a prophet is more than a messenger from God to men. He is one of the people, and his function involves his bearing somewhat of their sin. This must be the case with all servants of God who would be helpful to their brethren. Thus Christ's sin bearing, while it stands alone in its tremendous endurance and its glorious efficacy, is anticipated and followed in a minor degree.

I. SIN BEARING IS VICARIOUS.

1. It is bearing sin for others. Ezekiel took on him the burden of the sin of the guilty nation. Vicarious endurance of sin runs through all life. No man keeps his sin to himself. All who love the sinner bear some of the weight of his sin. Christ the Sinless hears our sin.

2. It is bearing sin for brethren. The prophet was to identify himself with his people, and thus to come to bear their sin. Christ became one of us that he might bear our sin for us. Pharisaical scorn for the sin of others betrays the spirit of Cain.

3. It is bearing sin in true proportion. The guilt of Israel is greater than that of Judah, and its punishment is accordingly of longer duration. These facts are recognized in Ezekiel's symbolical periods of endurance. As all sin is not equal, all sin does not produce the same distress on the sin bearer. The aggravation of the world's sin leads to the aggravation of Christ's sufferings. How much has each added to that awful load?

II. SIN BEARING IS A REAL ENDURANCE. Ezekiel's action was symbolical, but it suggested a true spiritual experience.

1. Sin is borne vicariously in the thought of it. We may refuse to note our brother's ill conduct, and if so we may pass it by with indifference. But the prophet must study the signs of the times; the Christ must take The real state of the world into his thought and heart; the man of Christian sympathy must consider deeply and sadly the great sin of mankind.

2. This is borne in the shame of it. Each man is only guilty of his own misconduct. Yet we are all conscious of the shame of the sin of those who are closely related to us. A child's sin is his father's shame. The Christian spirit makes the shame of the sin of others felt by those who have escaped it.

3. This is borne in the suffering of it. We cannot but suffer for the wickedness of those who are near to us. One who would help and save his brethren must bear the suffering of their sins. Ezekiel in a lower degree anticipated that type of vicarious suffering set forth in Isaiah 53:1-12; which Christ alone fully realized. The Saviour of men must ever be one who sacrifices himself for met, by suffering the hurt of the sin of men.

III. SIN BEARING IS FOR THE PURPOSE OF DELIVERANCE FROM SIN. We cannot see all the deep mystery of this; but we can discern its glorious issue.

1. The sin bearer is a propitiation to God. The Lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world is God's beloved ,Son, in whom he is well pleased. God cannot be pleased with mere suffering; but he may well be delighted with the spirit of obedience, holiness, and love that is manifested in vicarious suffering, and may take this as an ample compensation and a glorious intercession.

2. The sin bearing should move the guilty to repentance. The Jews were to learn a lesson from Ezekiel. Christ's cross preaches repentance.

Ezekiel 4:13

Defiled bread.

Among the many inconveniences of the exile this was to be included, that the Jews would not be able to secure that their food should be cooked in their own manner, and so kept free from ceremonial defilement. But is there not a latent irony in the suggestion of such a thing as a serious calamity? Does it not show that the spirit of the Pharisees, who would strain out a gnat and swallow a camel, had already appeared? These Jews, who would be so alarmed at the prospect of external defilement, had already corrupted and befound their souls with the vilest sin. Nevertheless, if they did feel the shame of the external defilement, it would come to them as a fitting retribution. Outward shame is the just penalty of inward sin.

I. BREAD IS DEFILED WHEN IT IS TAKEN BY A SINNER. All that a bad man touches turns to corruption. The sweetest food becomes foul in the mouth of the wicked. A morally bad musician desecrates the good music which he tries to interpret by breathing into it a corrupt feeling. The best book will be degraded by an evil minded reader. Such a person will contrive to extract sinful suggestions from the Bible; and then perhaps he will even denounce the sacred volume as immoral in its tendency.

II. BREAD IS DEFILED WHEN IT IS GOT BY EVIL MEANS. The finest wheaten loaf is a corrupt thing when it has been stolen. A dishonest style of business degrades all its proceeds. When a man grows fat on the gains which he has extorted from the helpless by cunning or force, he has brought moral degradation into his home and corruption to his table. The very bread with which he feeds his innocent children is a vile thing, and the hungry poor whom his wicked practices are starving may have the consolation of knowing that the crusts they gnaw in reeking cellars are cleaner in the sight of God than the dainties of his sumptuous banquets.

III. BREAD IS DEFILED WHEN IT IS EATEN IN AN UNWORTHY SPIRIT. If the hand of the Giver is ignored, the bread is at once degraded. It becomes but a dead mass of earth. The heavenly hand that gave it makes its highest value. Taken in faith and gratitude, the common bread of a daily meal has something of a sacramental nature in it. But ingratitude spoils all. The Israelites, loathing the manna in the wilderness and murmuring against their God, did their worst to corrupt the heavenly gift.

IV. BREAD IS DEFILED WHEN IT IS EATEN FOR AN UNWORTHY PURPOSE.

1. It may be devoured in low animal greed and lust of food. Then the Divine sanctity of it vanishes, and it becomes a degraded thing. The glutton who lives to eat defiles the best bread. So, too, the man who accepts the other gifts of Providence which are bestowed upon him, solely for self indulgence, lowers and vitiates all he consumes.

2. It may be converted into energy for sin. The bad man goes forth and does wickedly in the strength of the bread which the holy God has given to fit him for the service of goodness. Can any act of defilement be worse than that? To preserve our bread from corruption let us recollect the apostolic direction, "Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON

Ezekiel 4:2

Siege.

By the remarkable symbolism described in this chapter, Ezekiel was himself assured that the metropolis of his country was about to endure the horrors of a siege, and his action was intended for a sign to the house of Israel. Jerusalem, like many of the ruinous cities of antiquity, and indeed of modern times, underwent the calamity again and again. It was probably the siege by Nebuchadnezzar which was foretold by the symbol of the tile and the iron pan. To be besieged was a not uncommon incident of warfare. But the prophet of God treated this approaching catastrophe, not merely as a fact of history, but as a moral and Divine lesson.

I. THE GENERAL LESSONS VIVIDLY PRESENTED BY A CITY ENDURING A STATE OF SIEGE.

1. Community in civic life. Every city always has its own social characteristics. Citizens take a pride in the prosperity and glory of their city, especially if it be the metropolis of the nation. In our own time Paris was besieged by the German army, and its unity was never so realized as when thus encompassed by the enemy.

2. Community in resistance and hostility. Distinctions of rank and of social position almost vanish when a common danger threatens every class alike. Each man takes his share in the defence of the city, in bearing the common burden. All are drawn together by their community in dread or in defiance of the foe.

3. Community in the experience of suffering. Hunger and thirst, privation and want of rest, are shared by all the citizens of a beleaguered city. Men who partake the same calamity are drawn together by their common experience. The annals of a siege will usually be found to contain the record of remarkable cases of heroic unselfishness and public devotion.

II. THE SPECIAL LESSONS PRESENTED BY THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM. There may well have been manifested a community in spiritual discipline and profit.

1. The vanity of human pride and ambition was strikingly exhibited. The Jews were a vain glorious people; they possessed many distinctive marks of superiority raising them above the heathen, and their knew and boasted that it was so. They took credit to themselves for much for which they ought to have offered thanks to God. Their self-confidence and glorying were rebuked in the most emphatic manner when their fair and famed metropolis was besieged and threatened with destruction. This lesson is impressed upon their countrymen with unsparing faithfulness by the ancient Hebrew prophets.

2. Equally pointed was the lesson conveyed as to the utter vanity of merely human help. The Jews did indeed sometimes seek alliances which might befriend and assist them in their distress; but against such alliances they were repeatedly warned by the prophets, whose duty it was to assure their countrymen of the vanity of the help of man. Especially were they rebuked for seeking friendship and aid from Egypt against, the forces of the Eastern foe; and they found such friendship hollow, and such aid ineffectual.

3. The inhabitants of Jerusalem and the people of Judah generally were, by the siege of the city, directed to seek Divine deliverance. The city might fall; its walls might be levelled with the dust; its defenders might be slain; its inhabitants decimated. But all this might be overruled for the nation's real and lasting good, should calamity and humiliation lead to repentance, should Divine favour be entreated, and a way of salvation be opened up to the remnant of the people.—T.

Ezekiel 4:4

Substitution.

In order to his being a religious teacher and guardian of his nation, it was necessary that Ezekiel should enter into the state of his fellow—countrymen, and even share the sufferings due to their unbelief and rebellion. The Christian reader cannot fail to discern in the prophet of the Captivity a figure by anticipation of the Lord Jesus, who himself "bare our sins and carried our sorrows." Doubtless Christ bore the iniquity of men in a sense in which no other can do so. Yet there is no possibility of benefiting those who are in a state of sin and degradation, except by stooping to their low estate, participating in their lot, enduring somewhat of their sorrow, and thus bearing their iniquity.

I. WHETHER WILLINGLY OR UNWILLINGLY, IN EVERY NATIONAL CALAMITY THE INNOCENT SUFFER WITH THE GUILTY. The guilt is the nation's, the suffering is the individual's. The righteous may witness against the city's sin and rebellion, but they are overtaken by the city's catastrophe. It is not always that the city is spared for the sake of the ten righteous who are found therein. One common ruin may, as in the case of Jerusalem, overwhelm the inhabitants, alike those who have erred and offended, and those who have raised their voice in protest and in censure.

II. THE RIGHTEOUS BEAR THE INIQUITY OF THEIR NEIGHBOURS BY SENSITIVENESS TO THEIR SINS. As Lot was vexed with the filthy conversation of the dwellers in Sodom, as there were those in Jerusalem who sighed and cried for all the abominations done in the city, so in the midst of a corrupt and ungodly community there may be those who lay to heart their neighbours' iniquity, and who feel bitter distress because of conduct which to callous sinners brings no sorrow. It may be granted that this is to some extent a matter of temperament; that a sensitive character will be afflicted by what a calmer, colder disposition bears with impunity. Yet every good man should watch himself, lest familiarity with abounding sin should dull the edge of his spiritual perceptions, lest he should cease to be distressed because of the prevalence of iniquity.

III. THE RIGHTEOUS BEAR BY SYMPATHY THE SUFFERINGS WHICH SIN ENTAILS UPON THEIR NEIGHBOURS. A siege is usually accompanied by most painful and heartrending incidents; wounds and privations, pestilence and violent death, are all but inseparable from so frightful an aspect of human warfare. The prophet was not a man to think of such incidents, to realize them by vivid imagination and confident anticipation, without being grievously affected. Who is there, with a heart to feel, who can picture to himself the miseries, the disease, the want, the bereavements, which sin daily brings upon every populous city, without taking upon himself something of the burden? We are commanded to "weep with those that weep." And when the calamities which befall our neighbours are the unmistakable results of transgression of Divine commands, we do in a sense bear their iniquities, when we feel for them, and are distressed because of the errors and follies which are the occasion of afflictions and disasters.

IV. THE RIGHTEOUS MAY SOMETIMES, BY THUS PARTICIPATING IN THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR NEIGHBOURS' INIQUITY, BE THE AGENTS IN BRINGING ABOUT REPENTANCE AND DELIVERANCE. Our Lord Jesus Christ so identified himself with the sinful race whose nature he assumed, that he is said to have been "made sin" for us; he "bore our sins in his body on the tree." This was seen, by the infinite wisdom of our Father in heaven, to have been the one way by which salvation could be brought to this sinful humanity. Now we are reminded that, in his endurance of the results of men's sins, Jesus left us an example that we should follow in his steps. He is, indeed, the only Propitiation from sin, the only Ransom for sinners. But the principle underlying redemption is a principle which has an application to the spirit and to the moral life of all the followers of Christ. They are in this world, not simply to keep themselves pure from its evil, but to help to purify others from that evil. And this they can only do by bearing the iniquity of their fellow men; not by keeping themselves aloof froth sinners, not by merely censuring and condemning sinners, but by taking the burden of their sins upon their own renewed and compassionate hearts, by entering into their temptations, and helping to rescue them from such snares; and, above all, by bringing them, in compassion and sympathizing love, into the fellowship of that Divine Saviour who gave himself for us, and who bears and takes away the sin of the world. It is by him only that the world's iniquity is to be pardoned and to be abolished, and to be replaced by the love of and by obedience to a righteous and holy God.—T.

Ezekiel 4:16, Ezekiel 4:17

The chastisement of famine.

The striking and distressing symbolism described in this chapter must have brought with great vividness before the mind of the prophet, and before the minds of his companions in exile, the sufferings that were about to befall the metropolis which was the pride of their hearts. In the siege which was to come upon Jerusalem, the citizens should endure the horrors of privation, of hunger, and of thirst. It was foretold that in a sense this should be God's appointment, the effect of that retributive Providence which devout minds cannot fail to recognize in the government of the world. If such events took place in accordance with what are called general laws, since those laws are the consequence and expression of the very constitution of society, none the less must the Divine hand be recognized, none the less must it be understood that Divine lessons are to be learned with reverent submission.

I. A LESSON OF CORPORATE UNITY. As a city, Jerusalem had sinned by rejecting Jehovah's worship, and by honouring the gods of the nations; by disobeying Jehovah's laws, and following sinful impulses and indulging in sinful practices. As a city, Jerusalem sinned; as a city, Jerusalem suffered and fell. The innocent, no doubt, suffered with the guilty; those who mourned over the defection of Judah with those who were prominent agents in that defection. No man can live apart from his neighbours; least of all is this possible in the life of the city, which is characterized by a unity that may be designated corporate.

II. A LESSON OF PHYSICAL DEPENDENCE. Bread, water, and fuel are mentioned in this chapter as necessaries of life; without them men are condemned to famine and to death. The body is in correlation to nature—to the provision made for its sustenance and strength. If the supply be cut off, the body perishes. Familiar and commonplace as this truth is, men need, in their pride and self-confidence, to be reminded of it. The haughty Jews stood in need of the lesson. Let an army invest the city, and it is only a question of time; for the besieged, if unable to beat back the besiegers, must sooner or later surrender to the force of hunger, if not of arms.

III. A LESSON OF DIVINE RETRIBUTION. It is in this light that the calamities attending a siege are presented by the prophet. Men may see in a beleaguered city only a political fact, a military incident, the consequence of well known causes, the cause of well understood effects. To see all this is justifiable; to see nothing but this is blindness. A thoughtful and pious mind will look through, will look above, all that is phenomenal. There is purpose in human affairs, there is Divine meaning, there is revelation. When men, oppressed by adversity and threatened with ruin, are "astonied one with another, and pine away in their iniquity," it is possible that they may be so stupefied as to recognize no moral law in their experience, their fate. but the enlightened discern in such events indication of the Divine displeasure and indignation with sin. Chastisement, punishment, is no chimera invented by a heated imagination; it is a sober, albeit a painful fact, from which there is no escape and no appeal. The judgments of God are abroad in the earth; and this is that the inhabitants thereof may learn righteousness.

IV. A LESSON OF REPENTANCE AND OF MERCY. This lesson is not, indeed, explicitly presented in this passage; yet the whole prophetic symbolism leads up to it. Why are men hungry but that they may call for the bread of life? and upon whom shall they call but upon God? Whither shall the parched and thirsting turn but to him who has the water of life, for the quenching of their thirst and the satisfaction of their souls? To whom shall the afflicted address themselves but to him who can turn the outward curse into a spiritual blessing, who can make the scourge the means of healing, and the sword the means of life? In the midst of wrath God remembers mercy; and it is ever true that they who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.—T.

HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES

Ezekiel 4:1-8

Vicarious suffering.

Every true prophet is a forerunner of Jesus Christ. We do not detract from the work of the Saviour—we magnify it—when we discern that the same kind of work (though not equal in measure or effectiveness) had been done by the prophets. Ezekiel was called of God, not only to teach heavenly doctrine, but also to suffer for the people. "Thou shalt bear their iniquities." No one can be a faithful servant of God who does not suffer for the cause he serves. Suffering is the badge of a Divine commission.

I. EVERY PROPHET IS A VICAR. He represents God before the people; he represents the people before God. In his whole person, action, suffering, mission, he is a type of Jesus Christ. When men will not listen to his words, he is commanded to speak to them by deeds. The life of the prophet is a prophecy. Ezekiel deals with these captives as with sullen children. To the ignorant he became as ignorant. He condescended to their low estate. Being made dumb by reason of their perversity, he pursues his heavenly task in another way—he teaches them by pictures, object lesson and deed symbol. It is "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little." So long as there remains an avenue to the heart, God will not abandon men.

II. HIS SUFFERING IS VICARIOUS. This prophet was not himself free from sin, and suffering was its effect. Yet the suffering described in this chapter is wholly vicarious. What was justly due to others was laid upon him by God. "I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity." Yet this was impossible without the prophet's willing consent. In proportion as the prophet's mind had expanded under the Divine afflatus, be had considered and comprehended the magnitude of Israel's sin. Their past and their present iniquity was clear and vivid to his mind. He saw its extent and aggravation. He perceived the moral turpitude. He felt its baseness and criminality. He foresaw its bitter fruits. The burden of a nation's sift pressed upon his conscience. He drew it in upon himself and confessed it before God. But, further, Ezekiel represented in himself the severity of Divine judgment—God's sense of sin. Hence he was required to lie upon one side for the space of three hundred and ninety days—a pain to himself, a passive rebuke to the people, in order to represent in visible form God's indignation. Yet there was pictured forth also Divine compassion. Just severity was alleviated; there was but a day for a year. Jerusalem was sacrificed, but it was in order that the people might be saved. Not an item was overlooked by God. The proportionate guilt of Israel and Judah was vividly symbolized in the several acts of the prophet. The one end sought was—repentance.

III. HIS ACTION IS VICARIOUS. The prophet was a Hebrew, a priest; he loved Jerusalem. Possibly affection was bestowed on the city, which belonged alone to God. For Ezekiel to represent the Babylonian invaders, for him to invest the city with fire and sword, this must have been gall and wormwood. Yet, in vision, he had eaten the roll of God's behests, had digested and assimilated the knowledge of his will. Therefore, in his vicarious character, he has to set his face against the city as the impersonation of the foe; he has to "make bare his arm" to typify the resolute energy of the spoiler. Be the effect upon the Jewish chiefs, already in captivity, what it may; be the effect to exasperate feeling against the prophet or to produce repentance; the prophet is constrained to fulfil his task by a Divine necessity. "Bands are upon him."

IV. HIS ENDURANCE OF RIDICULE IS VICARIOUS. We can well suppose that many who visited Ezekiel in his dwelling would fail to perceive the propriety or utility of this long and irksome penance. They would sneer and laugh at this toy siege, at this childish exposure of an outstretched arm, at this constant recumbence on one side. Be it so; the prophet continues his task unmoved. "The foolishness of God is wiser than men." Littleness and greatness are matters about which men egregiously err. Ezekiel, in his humiliation, was as magnanimous and noble an actor in life's drama as Elijah on Carmel vindicating in solitary sublimity Jehovah's power. What could be baser to the vulgar eye of the world than to bear a felon's cross through the streets, and then to hang in nakedness and pain thereon? "But God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty … and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are." Like his Divine Master, Ezekiel "despised the shame."—D.

Ezekiel 4:9-17

A symbolic famine.

The moral intention for which God imposed this series of painful privations on his prophet was this, viz. to convince the people that their expectation of a speedy return to Jerusalem was vain and futile. Their honoured city, around which God had so long thrown the shield of his protection, could not (so they thought) long remain in the power of the heathen. To explode this bubble delusion, God represented before their eyes the rigours of a military siege, the privations and hardships of the beleaguered inhabitants, along with the final discomfiture of the city's guilty defenders. The prophet in Babylon is still a scapegoat for the people. On him the weight of the stroke at present rests. The bends of sympathy with the people's best interests constrained the prophet to suffer with them and for them. Hence, during three hundred and ninety days he ate no pleasant bread; he lived on the narrowest rations. In the midst of surrounding plenty, he fared (for sublime moral reasons) with the hard pressed and beleaguered Jews. Now, famine has its moral uses.

I. IT BRINGS TO MEMORY THE FORMER AFFLUENCE OF GOD'S PROVISION. If it is possible to sustain our life with ten ounces of bread per diem, and this bread of the coarsest description, then all that we obtain beyond this is proof of the exuberant kindness of our God. As transgressors against God's Law, we should not expect more than bare subsistence—mere prison fare; we have no right to claim even that. Taking this scale with which to measure our former possessions and comforts, we may gain some conception of the amazing love of God. Would that, side by side with a clear idea of his goodness, there was also adequate impression! Every gift of Providence, in excess of bare sustenance, is a token of God's tender affection; brings a message of kindness—is a gospel.

II. FAMINE MAY WELL CONVINCE US OF OUR SINS. We may safely conclude that it is not for small reason that God deprives men of nature's kindly gifts. The internal monitor, as well as the external prophet, teaches us that this interruption of providential supplies is God's act. Many and strange factors may intervene, but a clear eye looks through and beyond all inferior causes, until it discovers the rule of the great First Cause. The pride of earthly kings, the march of armies, the scrutiny of martial sentinels, biting frosts, blustering winds, inroads of insects—a thousand things may serve as the nearest visible cause of famine; but a devout mind will regard all these as the agents and administrators of the most high God. For no other reason would he manifest his anger, save for moral transgression, wilful disloyalty! He would have us to see and to feel how great an evil is sin, by the serious mischief it works—yea, by the severity of his own displeasure. Even famine serves as the Master's ferule, if it brings us back to childlike obedience.

III. FAMINE PROVES TO US HOW EASY IT IS FOR GOD TO AFFLICT. Very obvious is it that frail man hangs on God by a thousand delicate threads. Ten thousand minute avenues are open by which an enemy can approach, chastisement come near. We almost shudder as we think of the manifold forms, and of the majestic ease, with which the avenging God could scourge his rebellious creatures. Let him but change one ingredient in the all-nurturing air, and instead of inhaling health, we should, with every breath, inhale fiery poison. If but the appetite fail, if the digestive organs become weak, if secretions stay their process, lassitude and decay speedily follow. It is enough that God should speak a word, and life for us would be stripped of charm. We should crave to die.

IV. THIS SCARCITY PROVES THAT PRESENT CHASTISEMENT IS DISCIPLINARY. It is not sudden and irremediable death. If God intended that, he would have chosen some other punitive weapon. But this reduction of food to a minimum, this suspension of enjoyment, these obnoxious necessities in preparing a meat, all indicate correction with a view to repentance. If only the sighs of true penitence arise, then quicker than flashing light does God run to remove the burden from our shoulders. To punish men is a grief to God; to pardon is his delight. Yet if present corrections avail nothing to produce righteous obedience, the final infliction will be irrevocable and overwhelming.

V. PRAYER MODIFIES, IF IT DOES NOT REMOVE, THE SEVERITY OF THE STROKE. The windows of heaven were shut and opened again at the breath of Elijah's prayer. Ezekiel humbly remonstrates with God that he may not be required to violate ceremonial purity. At once the command of God is modified. The tenderness of the prophet's conscience is to be respected. God alters not his plans without sufficient cause; this is sufficient cause. This particular step in his procedure was clearly foreseen; and it was to bring out this request from Ezekiel that the first demand was made. Prayer not only expresses mental desire; it strengthens it also. It does us good every way. It fits us to enjoy, and to improve, the blessing. It softens chastisement.—D.

HOMILIES BY W. JONES

Ezekiel 4:1-17

The siege of Jerusalem and the sufferings of the people symbolized.

"Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem," etc. This chapter presents difficulties to the student. There is the question whether it is to be understood literally or metaphorically; or, more correctly, whether the things here set forth were really done or were only visional. The commands given in Ezekiel 4:1-3 might have been literally executed; but the directions of Ezekiel 4:4-8 could not have been literally carried out. Hence Fairbairn and others conclude that the actions must have taken place in vision. "It is enough to suppose," says Dr. Currey, "that when the prophet was bidden to do such acts, they were impressed upon his mind with all the vividness of actual performance. In spirit, he grasped the sword and scattered the hair (Ezekiel 5:1-4), and saw herein the coming events thus symbolized. They would only have lost force by substituting bodily for mental action. The command of God gave to the sign the vividness of a real transaction, and the prophet communicated it to the people, just as it had been stamped on his own mind, with more impressiveness than could have been conveyed by the language of ordinary metaphor." Again, it is by no means easy to decide what is the precise reference of the three hundred and ninety days, and the forty days, each day in a year. The different interpretations have been so ably sustained by their respective advocates, that it seems to us that it would be presumptuous dogmatically to assert that it must mean either one or another. But let us endeavour to discover the homiletic aspects of this chapter.

I. INQUIRE THE REASON WHY, IN THIS CHAPTER AND ELSEWHERE, GOD HAS MADE KNOWN HIS WILL BY REMARKABLE SYMBOLS. There are many such symbols in the prophecies by Ezekiel. And in those by Jeremiah we have the rod of an almond tree, and the seething pot (Jeremiah 1:11-16), the linen girdle, and the bottles of wine (13), the potter's earthen vessel (19), the two baskets of figs (24), and the yoke of iron (Jeremiah 28:1-17). Many other examples might be cited item other portions of the sacred Scriptures. We cannot think that these striking symbols were employed to conceal truth, or to make the apprehension of the truth more difficult. That would have been inconsistent with revelation—the contradiction of revelation. And it seems to us that it would have been out of harmony with the character of God to have used remarkable symbols to obscure his Word. They were intended rather, we conceive, to arouse attention, to stimulate inquiry, and impress upon the mind the truths shadowed forth by them. Fairbairn has well said, "As the meaning obviously did not lie upon the surface, it called for serious thought and inquiry regarding the purposes of God. A time of general backsliding and corruption is always a time of superficial thinking on spiritual things. And just as our Lord, by his parables, that partly veiled while they disclosed the truth of God, so the prophets, by their more profound and enigmatical discourses, sought to arouse the careless from their security, to awaken inquiry, and stir the depths of thought and feeling in the soul. It virtually said to them, "You are in imminent peril; direct ordinary discourse no longer suits your case; bestir yourselves to look into the depths of things, otherwise the sleep of death shall overtake you."

II. ENDEAVOUR TO SET FORTH THE MEANING OF THESE REMARKABLE SYMBOLS.

1. Here is a representation of the siege of Jerusalem. (Verses 1-3.) Directions are given to Ezekiel to portray a siege of the holy city; and to prepare the fort or siege tower, and the mound, and the encampments, and battering rams, and lay siege to it. Notice:

2. Here is a representation of the sufferings of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

III. APPLY THE INSTRUCTIONS WHICH THIS SUBJECT HAS FOR US.

1. An impressive illustration of the omniscience of God. Nothing less than infinite knowledge could have foretold to Ezekiel the things symbolized in this chapter. They did not seem in the least degree probable when he published them. "If we accept," says Dr. Currey, "the fifth year of Jehoiachin's captivity (as is most probable) for the year in which Ezekiel received this communication,… it was a time at which such an event would, according to human calculation, have appeared improbable. Zedekiah was the creature of the King of Babylon, ruling by his authority in the place of Jehoiachin, who was still alive; and it could scarcely have been expected that Zedekiah would have been so infatuated as to provoke the anger of the powerful Nebuchadnezzar." Yet he did so; and this prophecy was fulfilled. Nothing can be hidden from God (Psalms 139:1-24.). To him the future is visible as the present. This is exhibited by Isaiah as an evidence that the Lord is the true God (Isaiah 41:21-29; Isaiah 44:6-8; Isaiah 46:9-11).

2. Sin transforms persons and places in the sight of God. Think of what Jerusalem had been before him: "the city of God;" "the faithful city;" "the holy city;" "the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth." But now, alas, how changed it is! Formerly he had been its Defender; now he has become its Besieger. Sin darkens and deforms human character; it takes away the glory of cities and covers them with shame.

3. The certainty of the punishment of sin. The chosen people shall not escape punishment if they persist in sin. The sacred city, with the temple which God had chosen as his dwelling place (Psalms 132:13, Psalms 132:14), will afford no protection to a people who have obstinately rebelled against him. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished;" "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," etc. Sin carries within itself the germ of its own punishment.

4. The power of God to inflict punishment upon the obstinately rebellious. He can use the heathen as his instruments for this purpose. He can break the staff of bread, and dry up the springs of water, etc.

5. The heinousness and perilousness of sin. (Cf. Jeremiah 2:19; Jeremiah 44:4.) Let us cultivate hearty obedience to the Lord God.—W.J.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/ezekiel-4.html. 1897.

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Sunday, January 19th, 2020
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