Ezekiel 4:4
Lie you also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it: according to the number of the days that you shall lie on it you shall bear their iniquity.
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(4) Lie thou also upon thy left side.—Here a fresh feature of this symbolical prophecy begins, while the former siege is still continued (Ezekiel 4:7).

Lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it.—The expression, to bear the iniquity of any one, is common in Scripture to denote the suffering of the punishment due to sin. (See, among many other passages, Ezekiel 18:19-20; Ezekiel 23:35; Leviticus 19:8; Numbers 14:34; Isaiah 53:12.) It is clear, therefore, that Ezekiel is here to represent the people as enduring the Divine judgment upon their sins. This may seem inconsistent with his representing at the same time the besiegers of Jerusalem, the instruments in the Divine hand for inflicting that punishment; but such inconsistencies are common enough in all symbolic representations, and neither offend nor in any way mar the effect of the representation. “The house of Israel” is here expressly distinguished from “the house of Judah,” and means the ten tribes. They are symbolised by the prophet’s lying on his left side, because it was the Oriental habit to look to the east when describing the points of the compass, and the northern kingdom was therefore on the left.

Ezekiel 4:4-6. Lie thou also, &c. — “In his own house, Ezekiel 3:24. This was to be his posture, not without intermission, but in the exercise of his prophetical office, during that part of each day, when the people were likely to observe his conduct.” — Bishop Newcome. Upon thy left side — The left side, as being the least respectable, signified Israel, or the ten tribes: the right side, as being most honoured, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin; or, as it is generally expressed, the kingdom of Judah. Ezekiel’s lying on one side for a long time together, signified the great patience of God in bearing with the sins of Israel. And lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days, &c. — From the days that I shall order thee to lie upon thy left side thou shalt understand how many years I have borne with their iniquity, for each day was to signify a year: see Ezekiel 4:6. Thou shalt bear their iniquity — Thou shalt, in the way of a sign or symbol, suffer for their iniquity, namely, in lying so long upon one side. Or, thou shalt pre-signify the punishment which they shall bear. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity — This verse explains the former: I have pointed out the number of years wherein apostate Israel sinned against me. According to the number of days, three hundred and ninety days — “This number of years will take us back, with sufficient exactness, from the year in which Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar to the first year of Jeroboam’s reign, when national idolatry began in Israel.” — Bishop Newcome. Some, however, rather suppose that the years are meant which intervened between the falling of Solomon into idolatry, and the carrying away of the ten tribes by Shalmanezer, at which time they entirely ceased to be a nation or people of themselves, and were wholly dispersed and mixed with other nations. Thou shalt bear the iniquity of Judah forty days — So many years there were from the time when King Josiah entered into a solemn covenant to serve and worship God, (from whence their future idolatry received a great aggravation,) to the destruction of the city and temple. I have appointed thee each day for a year — Days frequently stand for years in the prophetical accounts of time.4:1-8 The prophet was to represent the siege of Jerusalem by signs. He was to lie on his left side for a number of days, supposed to be equal to the years from the establishment of idolatry. All that the prophet sets before the children of his people, about the destruction of Jerusalem, is to show that sin is the provoking cause of the ruin of that once flourishing city.The siege being thus represented, the condition and suffering of the inhabitants is exhibited by the condition of one, who, bound as a prisoner or oppressed by sickness, cannot turn from his right side to his left. The prophet was in such a state.

Bear their iniquity - The prophet was, in a figure, to bear their iniquities for a fixed period, in order to show that, after the period thus foretold, the burden of their sins should be taken off, and the people be forgiven. Compare Leviticus 16:21-22.

4. Another symbolical act performed at the same time as the former, in vision, not in external action, wherein it would have been only puerile: narrated as a thing ideally done, it would make a vivid impression. The second action is supplementary to the first, to bring out more fully the same prophetic idea.

left side—referring to the position of the ten tribes, the northern kingdom, as Judah, the southern, answers to "the right side" (Eze 4:6). The Orientals facing the east in their mode, had the north on their left, and the south on their right (Eze 16:46). Also the right was more honorable than the left: so Judah as being the seat of the temple, was more so than Israel.

bear the iniquity—iniquity being regarded as a burden; so it means, "bear the punishment of their iniquity" (Nu 14:34). A type of Him who was the great sin-bearer, not in mimic show as Ezekiel, but in reality (Isa 53:4, 6, 12).

Lie thou also; a posture which was to signify the settled resolution of the besiegers, who had taken up their abode till the siege were finished in taking Jerusalem.

Upon thy left side, to note the less worthy part, the ten tribes, or Samaria, which was from Jerusalem toward the left hand, and was head of the ten tribes.

Lay the iniquity; take upon thee in the representation thereof both guilt and punishment; bear both, not to expiate, but to exemplify what they should suffer.

The house of Israel, distinguished from Judah; it is the ten tribes.

According to the number of the days; by that proportion of time thou shalt know and intimate to them how long I have borne patiently with their sins, and how long they shall bear their own punishment.

Thou shalt bear their iniquity; signifying that as the prophet in the sign, so God in very deed, had patiently borne with them. Lie thou also upon thy left side,.... Some think this was not in reality, but in vision, as Kimchi observes; and so Maimonides (c); and in like manner they understand his eating and drinking by measures and preparing food, as he is directed in a following part of this chapter: but others are of opinion that all this was really done. The reasons given on both sides are not despicable. It is urged against the reality of the fact, that the prophet, without a miracle, could never have lain so long on one side; and besides, this seems to be contradicted by a later account, of his sitting in his house before the expiration of those days; since from the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year, in which he began to prophesy, Ezekiel 1:1, (and this order was seven days after that at least, Ezekiel 3:15), to the fifth day of the sixth month of the sixth year, when we find him sitting, Ezekiel 8:1; were but four hundred and thirteen days; and if seven are taken out from thence, there are but four hundred and six; whereas the whole time of his lying for Israel and Judah were four hundred and thirty; and it is further observed, that it does not seem decent that the prophet should be obliged really to eat such bread as he was ordered to make. On the other hand it is observed, that the order of portraying the siege of Jerusalem on a the, and setting an iron pan for a wall, seem to direct to the doing of real facts, and to that this order is subjoined, without any mark of distinction; besides, the prophet was to have this portrait in view, while he was lying on his side, and uncover his arms, which seem to denote real facts: and was to prophesy, not by words, for he was to be dumb, Ezekiel 3:26; but by facts; and he was to do all this in the sight of his people; and if the order to make a cake of bread was not to be really performed in the manner directed, there would have been no occasion of deprecating it. The learned Witsius (d), who has collected the arguments on both sides, is inclined to the latter; and observes from others, that some persons have lain longer on one side than the prophet, without a miracle: particularly a certain paralytic nobleman, who lay sixteen years in such a manner: and as for the computation of time, Cocceius is of opinion that the forty days for Judah are included in the three hundred and ninety for Israel; and which indeed seem to be the whole number, Ezekiel 4:9; and which at once solves the difficulty; and besides, the force of the objection may be taken off by observing, that the fifth year might be intercalated, and consist of thirteen months, which was common with the Jews to have a "Veadar", or intercalated month: nor is it dishonourable nor unusual for the Lord to call his dear servants sometimes to hard and disagreeable service, as both these cases seem to be, when he has ends of his own glory, and the good of others, to be answered thereby. And the lying on the left side for the sins of the house of Israel was, as Jarchi thinks, because that Samaria, which was the head of the ten tribes, lay to the left of Jerusalem: see Ezekiel 16:46; or rather, because the left hand is not so honourable as the right; it may show that the Lord had not such an esteem for Israel us for Judah;

and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it; not to atone for it, but to show what was the cause of their captivity; far herein the prophet was no type of Christ, but represented the people of Israel; who had been grievously sinning against God, during the term of time hereafter mentioned, and now would be punished for it; for by "iniquity" is meant the punishment of it, which is often the sense of the word used; see Genesis 4:13;

according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity: which are particularly declared in Ezekiel 4:5.

(c) Moreh Nevochim, par. 2. c. 46. (d) Miscel. Sacr. tom. 1. l. 1. c. 12. sect. 14, 15, &c.

Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the {b} house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity.

(b) By this he represented the idolatry and sin of the ten tribes (for Samaria was on his left hand from Babylon) and how they had remained in it three hundred and ninety years.

4. lay the iniquity … upon it] The meaning seems to be that as when one lies on his side it bears his weight, so this laying of the prophet’s weight upon his side is a symbol of the weight of punishment which shall be laid on Israel for its iniquity. Others propose to alter the pointing and read: and I will lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon thee. The alteration is unnecessary.

thou shalt bear their iniquity] To “bear iniquity” is a standing expression meaning to bear the punishment of iniquity. Possibly the word actually means “punishment of iniquity” in such phrases. The prophet does not bear the iniquity of Israel instead of Israel, as the servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53, his act is entirely symbolical, representing how Israel shall bear its iniquity.

4–6. Symbol of the people’s bearing their iniquity

In the former symbol the prophet carried on the siege, representing the besiegers; here he changes his part and represents the besieged. This symbol is shewn contemporaneously with the former, of which it is but the inner side. He is commanded to lie first on his left side for a great number of days; thus he bears the iniquity of the Northern Kingdom. To bear the iniquity means to endure the punishment due to it. When the prophet is said to bear the iniquity of Israel, the meaning is that in his action he is a sign or symbol of the house of Israel bearing its iniquity. Lying on his side, held down as with cords (Ezekiel 4:8) and unable to turn he represents Israel pressed down and held in the grasp of the punishment of its iniquity. The left side represents the Kingdom of Israel, which lay to the left or north. The number of days during which the prophet lies on his side corresponds to the number of years during which Israel shall be bound under the weight of its iniquity (Ezekiel 4:5). Secondly, having finished the days for the Northern Kingdom the prophet has to lie on his right side forty days to represent Judah also bearing its iniquity for forty years. The right side is suitable to Judah, which lay on the south or right. The prophet being unable to lie on both sides at once has to lie first on one and then on the other. It is obvious, however, that the symbolism here is not quite exact. Israel and Judah bear the penalty of their iniquity for part of the time simultaneously. The period of bearing iniquity ends for both at the same moment, when both are restored together as the prophet hopes. Consequently Judah’s forty years are concurrent with the last forty years of Israel’s chastisement. The whole period is not 390 + 40 = 430, but 390 in all for Israel and the last 40 of that period for Judah. See on Ezekiel 4:6.Verse 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, 24; Psalm 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 ver. 6. Thou shalt bear their iniquity; ie., as in all similar passages (Exodus 28:43; Leviticus 5:17; Leviticus 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. After the Lord had pointed out to the prophet the difficulties of the call laid upon him, He prepared him for the performance of his office, by inspiring him with the divine word which he is to announce. - Ezekiel 2:8. And thou, son of man, hear what I say to thee, Be not stiff-necked like the stiff-necked race; open thy mouth, and eat what I give unto thee. Ezekiel 2:9. Then I saw, and, lo, a hand outstretched towards me; and, lo, in the same a roll of a book. Ezekiel 2:10. And He spread it out before me; the same was written upon the front and back: and there were written upon it lamentations, and sighing, and woe. Ezekiel 3:1. And He said to me: Son of man, what thou findest eat; eat the roll, and go and speak to the house of Israel. Ezekiel 3:2. Then opened I my mouth, and He gave me this roll to eat. Ezekiel 3:3. And said to me: Son of man, feed thy belly, and fill thy body with this roll which I give thee. And I ate it, and it was in my mouth as honey and sweetness. - The prophet is to announce to the people of Israel only that which the Lord inspires him to announce. This thought is embodied in symbol, in such a way that an outstretched hand reaches to him a book, which he is to swallow, and which also, at God's command, he does swallow; cf. Revelation 10:9. This roll was inscribed on both sides with lamentations, sighing, and woe (הי is either abbreviated from נהי, not equals אי, or as Ewald, 101c, thinks, is only a more distinct form of הוי or הו). The meaning is not, that upon the roll was inscribed a multitude of mournful expressions of every kind, but that there was written upon it all that the prophet was to announce, and what we now read in his book. These contents were of a mournful nature, for they related to the destruction of the kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple. That Ezekiel may look over the contents, the roll is spread out before his eyes, and then handed to him to be eaten, with the words, "Go and speak to the children of Israel," i.e., announce to the children of Israel what you have received into yourself, or as it is termed in Ezekiel 3:4, דּברי, "my words." The words in Ezekiel 3:3 were spoken by God while handing to the prophet the roll to be eaten. He is not merely to eat, i.e., take it into his mouth, but he is to fill his body and belly therewith, i.e., he is to receive into his innermost being the word of God presented to him, to change it, as it were, into sap and blood. Whilst eating it, it was sweet in his mouth. The sweet taste must not, with Kliefoth, be explained away into a sweet "after-taste," and made to bear this reference, that the destruction of Jerusalem would be followed by a more glorious restoration. The roll, inscribed with lamentation, sorrow, and woe, tasted to him sweetly, because its contents was God's word, which sufficed for the joy and gladness of his heart (Jeremiah 15:16); for it is "infinitely sweet and lovely to be the organ and spokesman of the Omnipotent," and even the most painful of divine truths possess to a spiritually-minded man a joyful and quickening side (Hengstenberg on Revelation 10:9). To this it is added, that the divine penal judgments reveal not only the holiness and righteousness of God, but also prepare the way for the revelation of salvation, and minister to the saving of the soul.
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