Ezekiel 4:6
And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.
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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.According to the number of the days - Or, "to be to thee as a number of days (even as)" etc. Compare the margin reference. Some conceive that these "days" were the years during which Israel and Judah sinned, and date in the case of Israel from Jeroboam's rebellion to the time at which Ezekiel wrote (circa 390 years); and in the case of Judah from Josiah's reformation. But it seems more in accordance with the other "signs," to suppose that they represent not that which had been, but that which shall be. The whole number of years is 430 Ezekiel 4:5-6, the number assigned of old for the affliction of the descendants of Abraham Genesis 15:13; Exodus 12:40. The "forty years" apportioned to Judah Ezekiel 4:6, bring to mind the 40 years passed in the wilderness; and these were years not only of punishment, but also of discipline and preparatory to restoration, so Ezekiel would intimate the difference between the punishments of Israel and of Judah to be this, that the one would be of much longer duration with no definite hope of recovery, but the other would be imposed with the express purpose of the renewal of mercy. 6. each day for a year—literally, "a day for a year, a day for a year." Twice repeated, to mark more distinctly the reference to Nu 14:34. The picturing of the future under the image of the past, wherein the meaning was far from lying on the surface, was intended to arouse to a less superficial mode of thinking, just as the partial veiling of truth in Jesus' parables was designed to stimulate inquiry; also to remind men that God's dealings in the past are a key to the future, for He moves on the same everlasting principles, the forms alone being transitory. When thou hast almost accomplished, or when about to accomplish them, i.e. forty days, before the three hundred and ninety do expire, at the end of three hundred and fifty days turn thou to thy right side, and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah; and that this is the true account appears from this verse, compared with Ezekiel 1:1,2 8:1, say some, and those very learned men. Others will have the forty days distinct from the three hundred and ninety, and reckon them by themselves, and so the better and grammatical construction in the Hebrew seems to carry it, for it speaks in the perfect tense, and lying. a second time. But be these numbers distinct or but one, is no great concern; either way they do plainly speak God’s wonderful patience with Israel and Judah, and point out the time of the miseries of both for their sinfulness.

Again, Heb. a second time. Thou shalt bear the iniquity: see Ezekiel 4:4.

Of the house of Judah; of the two tribes, say some; of the royal family, say others, and countenance it with Isaiah 22:21; and then Israel distinguished is the whole body of the two tribes, and the remnant of the ten tribes that escaped, and embodied with the two tribes; as some did at the first division, others afterward in Asa’s, Jehoshaphat’s, Hezekiah’s, and Josiah’s time, leave their places and came to Jerusalem.

Forty days; it is plain they are so many years, but not so plain where to begin them, whether from Manasseh, or more probably from Josiah’s renewing covenant, until the destruction of the temple, which is forty years; during which time God deferred to punish, expecting whether they would keep covenant and walk with God, or retain their idolatries and wicked ways, which latter they did for thirteen years of Josiah’s reign, for eleven of Jehoiakim, and eleven of Zedekiah’s reign, and five of his captivity, which amount to just forty years; and they are mentioned, say some, apart from the three hundred and ninety, because they were more wickedly abused to promote sin.

And when thou hast accomplished them,.... The three hundred and ninety days, by lying so long on the left side, bearing the sins of the house of Israel in this way; or, as Cocceius renders the words, "and thou shall accomplish them, and thou shalt lie", &c. (g), that is, thou shalt so accomplish these days, that thou mayest lie through forty days on the right hand, and then make bare thine arm, and prophesy against Jerusalem; for he thinks the forty days are part of the three hundred and ninety, as before observed: and so Piscator's note is, "when thou shalt accomplish", &c. namely, when there shall remain yet forty days, as appears by comparing Ezekiel 4:9 with this verse and Ezekiel 4:5; so Polanus interprets the passage: then

lie again on thy right side; that is, for Judah; which tribe, as Jarchi observes, lay to the south, and so to the right of Jerusalem; see Ezekiel 16:46; or rather the prophet lay on the right side for Judah, because more honourable, and in greater esteem with the Lord; nor were their sins so many, or continued in so long as those of the ten tribes; and therefore they, and the punishment of them, are borne a less time by the prophet, as follows:

and thou shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: which some think answers to the forty years of Manasseh's evil reign; others reckon from the thirteenth of Josiah to the end of Zedekiah, and others from the eighteenth of Josiah to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was five years after the carrying of Zedekiah captive:

I have appointed thee each day for a year; which is not only the key for the understanding of the forty days, but also the three hundred and ninety.

(g) "et absolves hos, et decumbes", Cocceius, Starckius; "et consummabis haec, et jacebis", Montanus.

And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy {c} right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.

(c) Which declared Judah, who had now from the time of Josiah slept in their sins forty years.

6. In Ezekiel 4:5 the number of days for Israel is stated to be 390, and in Ezekiel 4:6 the number for Judah 40. The number 390 creates a difficulty. Several things have to be borne in mind. 1. To bear iniquity means to bear the penalty of it. The period of bearing iniquity, therefore, does not refer to the time of sinning but to the time of being punished for sin. Consequently any allusion to the period of the duration of the Northern Kingdom is excluded. 2. The representation in this prophet, as in all the prophets, is that the overthrow of the state is due to the sin of the people, and this overthrow with the continued state of the Exile and its hardships is the punishment of the people’s sin. To be subdued by the heathen and driven into exile is for the people to have to bear their iniquity. Hence restoration is impossible until the iniquity of the people is paid off, or atoned in suffering (Isaiah 40:2). Israel’s bearing of iniquity comes to an end with the Restoration: “Cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, her iniquity pardoned.” 3. It is the view of all the prophets, Ezekiel included, that the Restoration will embrace all the existing captives both of the North and South, every one called by Jehovah’s name (Isaiah 43:6-7; cf. Isaiah 11:12 seq.; Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:18; Ezekiel 37:16 seq. &c.). And this restoration is final. 4. It follows from all this that the periods during which Israel and Judah bear their iniquity terminate simultaneously. Israel bears iniquity longer than Judah because it began to bear earlier. It is evident (cf. Ezekiel 4:9) that the whole period of bearing iniquity in exile is 390 years, not 390 + 40 or 430, but 350 + 40, the 40 years of Judah running parallel to the last 40 of Israel. The period of 40 years for Judah’s exile is confirmed by ch. Ezekiel 29:11-14, where it is said that Egypt shall be carried into captivity 40 years by Nebuchadnezzar, and at the end of that period restored, though not to its former greatness. Forty years is the period of Chaldean supremacy; at the end of that period Babylon shall fall, a new world arise, and the captive nations shall be restored. Now the prophet cannot possibly have supposed that Israel went into exile 350 years before Judah. From the fall of Samaria (722) to the destruction of Jerusalem (586) is only 136 years. In Ezekiel 4:5 LXX. reads 190 (so Ezekiel 4:9); in Ezekiel 4:4 the reading is 150, which probably is an addition (Field’s Hex.). The number 190 is probably the original one. It is not quite certain from what point the prophet computed, whether from the fall of Samaria (722), which is most natural, or from the deportation of the Northern tribes by Tiglath Pileser twelve years earlier; as he spoke also before the fall of Jerusalem even this point may be somewhat indefinite. Most probably he used general and round numbers, computing the time which Israel had already passed in captivity at 150 years, to which, if the 40 years still to be undergone in common with Judah be added, the whole period is 190 years.

Ezekiel 4:7-8 recapitulate Ezekiel 4:1-6 : Ezekiel 4:7, Ezekiel 4:1-3, and Ezekiel 4:8, Ezekiel 4:4-6. Ezekiel 4:1-6 form one passage describing first the siege (Ezekiel 4:1-3), and secondly the rigours of the siege, which are prolonged into exile (Ezekiel 4:4-6). While enduring these hardships in siege and exile the people are bearing their iniquity. The apparent incongruity of the prophet’s playing two rôles, that of besieger (Ezekiel 4:1-3), and that of being besieged (Ezekiel 4:4-6), could hardly be avoided if both things were to be represented.

Verse 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

(1) to the "seventy weeks" of Daniel 9:24-27, and

(2) the twelve hundred and sixty and the three days and a half of Revelation 11:3, 9. Ezekiel 4:6The second symbolical act. - Ezekiel 4:4. And do thou lay thyself upon thy left side, and lay upon it the evil deeds of the house of Israel; for the number of the days during which thou liest thereon shalt thou bear their evil deeds. Ezekiel 4:5. And I reckon to thee the years of their evil deeds as a number of days; three hundred and ninety days shalt thou bear the evil deeds of the house of Israel. Ezekiel 4:6. And (when) thou hast completed these, thou shalt then lay thyself a second time upon thy right side, and bear the evil deeds of the house of Judah forty days; each day I reckon to thee as a year. Ezekiel 4:7. And upon the siege of Jerusalem shalt thou stedfastly direct thy countenance, and thy naked arm, and shalt prophesy against it. Ezekiel 4:8. And, lo, I lay cords upon thee, that thou stir not from one side to the other until thou hast ended the days of thy siege. - Whilst Ezekiel, as God's representative, carries out in a symbolical manner the siege of Jerusalem, he is in this situation to portray at the same time the destiny of the people of Israel beleaguered in their metropolis. Lying upon his left side for 390 days without turning, he is to bear the guilt of Israel's sin; then, lying 40 days more upon his right side, he is to bear the guilt of Judah's sin. In so doing, the number of the days during which he reclines upon his sides shall be accounted as exactly equal to the same number of years of their sinning. נשׂא עון, "to bear the evil deeds," i.e., to take upon himself the consequence of sin, and to stone for them, to suffer the punishment of sin; cf. Numbers 14:34, etc. Sin, which produces guilt and punishment, is regarded as a burden or weight, which Ezekiel is to lay upon the side upon which he reclines, and in this way bear it. This bearing, however, of the guilt of sin is not to be viewed as vicarious and mediatorial, as in the sacrifice of atonement, but is intended as purely epideictic and symbolical; that is to say, Ezekiel, by his lying so long bound under the burden of Israel and Judah which was laid upon his side, is to show to the people how they are to be cast down by the siege of Jerusalem, and how, while lying on the ground, without the possibility of turning or rising, they are to bear the punishment of their sins. The full understanding of this symbolical act, however, depends upon the explanation of the specified periods of time, with regard to which the various views exhibit great discrepancy.

In the first place, the separation of the guilt into that of the house of Israel and that of the house of Judah is closely connected with the division of the covenant people into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. That Ezekiel now is to bear the sin of Israel upon the left, that of Judah on the right side, is not fully explained by the circumstance that the kingdom of the ten tribes lay to the left, i.e., to the north, the kingdom of Judah to the right, i.e., to the south of Jerusalem, but must undoubtedly point at the same time to the pre-eminence of Judah over Israel; cf. Ecclesiastes 10:2. This pre-eminence of Judah is manifestly exhibited in its period of punishment extending only to 40 days equals 40 years; that of Israel, on the contrary, 390 days equals 390 years. These numbers, however, cannot be satisfactorily explained from a chronological point of view, whether they be referred to the time during which Israel and Judah sinned, and heaped upon themselves guilt which was to be punished, or to the time during which they were to atone, or suffer punishment for their sins. Of themselves, both references are possible; the first, viz., in so far as the days in which Ezekiel is to bear the guilt of Israel, might be proportioned to the number of the years of their guilt, as many Rabbins, Vatablus, Calvin, Lightfoot, Vitringa, J. D. Michaelis, and others suppose, while in so doing the years are calculated very differently; cf. des Vignoles, Chronol. I. p. 479ff., and Rosenmller, Scholia, Excurs. to ch. iv. All these hypotheses, however, are shattered by the impossibility of pointing out the specified periods of time, so as to harmonize with the chronology. If the days, reckoned as years, correspond to the duration of their sinning, then, in the case of the house of Israel, only the duration of this kingdom could come into consideration, as the period of punishment began with the captivity of the ten tribes. But this kingdom lasted only 253 years. The remaining 137 years the Rabbins have attempted to supply from the period of the Judges; others, from the time of the destruction of the ten tribes down to that of Ezekiel, or even to that of the destruction of Jerusalem. Both are altogether arbitrary. Still less can the 40 years of Judah be calculated, as all the determinations of the beginning and the end are mere phantoms of the air. The fortieth year before our prophecy would nearly coincide with the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign, and therefore with the year in which this pious king effected the reformation of religion. Ezekiel, however, could not represent this year as marking the commencement of Judah's sin. We must therefore, as the literal meaning of the words primarily indicates, regard the specified periods of time as periods of punishment for Israel and Judah. Since Ezekiel, then, had to maintain during the symbolical siege of Jerusalem this attitude of reclining for Israel and Judah, and after the completion of the 390 days for Israel must lie a second time (שׁנית, Ezekiel 4:6) 40 days for Judah, he had to recline in all 430 (390 + 40) days. To include the forty days in the three hundred and ninety is contrary to the statements in the text. But to reckon the two periods together has not only no argument against it, but is even suggested by the circumstance that the prophet, while reclining on his left and right sides, is to represent the siege of Jerusalem. Regarded, however, as periods of punishment, both the numbers cannot be explained consistently with the chronology, but must be understood as having a symbolical signification. The space of 430 years, which is announced to both kingdoms together as the duration of this chastisement, recalls the 430 years which in the far past Israel had spent in Egypt in bondage (Exodus 12:40). It had been already intimated to Abraham (Genesis 15:13) that the sojourn in Egypt would be a period of servitude and humiliation for his seed; and at a later time, in consequence of the oppression which the Israelites then experienced on account of the rapid increase of their number, it was - upon the basis of the threat in Deuteronomy 28:68, that God would punish Israel for their persistent declension, by bringing them back into ignominious bondage in Egypt - taken by the prophet as a type of the banishment of rebellious Israel among the heathen. In this sense Hosea already threatens (Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3, Hosea 9:6) the ten tribes with being carried back to Egypt; see on Hosea 9:3. Still more frequently, upon the basis of this conception, is the redemption from Assyrian and Babylonian exile announced as a new and miraculous exodus of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, e.g., Hosea 2:2; Isaiah 11:15-16. - This typical meaning lies also at the foundation of the passage before us, as, in accordance with the statement of Jerome,

(Note: Alii vero et maxime Judaei a secundo anno Vespasiani, quando Hierusalem a Romanis capta templumque subversum est, supputari volunt in tribulatione et angustia et captivitatis jugo populi constitui annos quadringentos triginta, et sic redire populum ad pristinum statum ut quomodo filii Israel 430 annis fuerunt in Aegypto, sic in eodem numero finiatur: scriptumque esse in Exodus 12:40. - Hieronymus.)

it was already accepted by the Jews of his time, and has been again recognised in modern times by Hvernick and Hitzig. That Ezekiel looked upon the period during which Israel had been subject to the heathen in the past as "typical of the future, is to be assumed, because only then does the number of 430 cease to be arbitrary and meaningless, and at the same time its division into 390 + 40 become explicable." - Hitzig.

This latter view is not, of course, to be understood as Hitzig and Hvernick take it, i.e., as if the 40 years of Judah's chastisement were to be viewed apart from the 40 years' sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness, upon which the look of the prophet would have been turned by the sojourn in Egypt. For the 40 years in the wilderness are not included in the 430 years of the Egyptian sojourn, so that Ezekiel could have reduced these 430 years to 390, and yet have added to them the 40 years of the desert wanderings. For the coming period of punishment, which is to commence for Israel with the siege of Jerusalem, is fixed at 430 years with reference to the Egyptian bondage of the Israelites, and this period is divided into 390 and 40; and this division therefore must also have, if not its point of commencement, at least a point of connection, in the 430 years of the Egyptian sojourn. The division of the period of chastisement into two parts is to be explained probably from the sending of the covenant people into the kingdom of Israel and Judah, and the appointment of a longer period of chastisement for Israel than for Judah, from the greater guilt of the ten tribes in comparison with Judah, but not the incommensurable relation of the divisions into 390 and 40 years. The foundation of this division can, first of all, only lie in this, that the number forty already possessed the symbolical significance of a measured period of divine visitation. This significance it had already received, not through the 40 years of the desert wandering, but through the 40 days of rain at the time of the deluge (Genesis 7:17), so that, in conformity with this, the punishment of dying in the wilderness, suspended over the rebellious race of Israel at Kadesh, is already stated at 40 years, although it included in reality only 38 years; see on Numbers 14:32. If now, however, it should be supposed that this penal sentence had contributed to the fixing of the number 40 as a symbolical number to denote a longer period of punishment, the 40 years of punishment for Judah could not yet have been viewed apart from this event. The fixing of the chastisement for Israel and Judah at 390 + 40 years could only in that case be measured by the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, if the relations of this sojourn presented a point of connection for a division of the 430 years into 390 and 40, i.e., if the 40 last years of the Egyptian servitude could somehow be distinguished from the preceding 390. A point of contact for this is offered by an event in the life of Moses which falls within that period, and was fertile in results for him as well as for the whole of Israel, viz., his flight from Egypt in consequence of the slaughter of an Egyptian who had ill-treated an Israelite. As the Israelites, his brethren, did not recognise the meaning of this act, and did not perceive that God would save them by his hand, Moses was necessitated to flee into the land of Midian, and to tarry there 40 years as a stranger, until the Lord called him to be the saviour of his nation, and sent him as His messenger to Pharaoh (Exodus 2:11-3:10; Acts 7:23-30). These 40 years were for Moses not only a time of trial and purification for his future vocation, but undoubtedly also the period of severest Egyptian oppression for the Israelites, and in this respect quite fitted to be a type of the coming time of punishment for Judah, in which was to be repeated what Israel had experienced in Egypt, that, as Israel had lost their helper and protector with the flight of Moses, so now Judah was to lose her king, and be given over to the tyranny of the heathen world-power.

(Note: Another ingenious explanation of the numbers in question has been attempted by Kliefoth, Comment. p. 123. Proceeding from the symbolical signification of the number 40 as a measure of time for divine visitation and trial, he supposes that the prescription in Deuteronomy 25:3 - that if an Israelite were to be subject to corporal punishment, he was not to receive more than 40 stripes - is founded upon this symbolical signification - a prescription which, according to 2 Corinthians 11:24, was in practice so carried out that only 39 were actually inflicted. From the application and bearing thus given to the number 40, the symbolical numbers in the passage before us are to be explained. Every year of punishment is equivalent to a stripe of chastisement. To the house of Israel 10 x 39 years equals stripes, were adjudged, i.e., to each of the ten tribes 39 years equals stripes; the individual tribes are treated as so many single individuals, and each receives the amount of chastisement usual in the case of one individual. Judah, on the contrary, is regarded as the one complete historical national tribe, cause in the two faithful tribes of Judah and Benjamin the people collectively were represented. Judah, then, may receive, not the number of stripes falling to individuals, but that only which fell upon one, although, as a fair compensation, not the usual number of 40, but the higher number - compatible with the Torah - of 40 stripes equals years. To this explanation we would give our assent, if only the transformation into stripes or blows of the days of the prophet's reclining, or of the years of Israel's punishment, could be shown to be probable through any analogous Biblical example, and were not merely a deduction from the modern law of punishment, in which corporal punishment and imprisonment hold the same importance. The assumption, then, is altogether arbitrary irrespective of this, that in the case of the house of Israel the measure of punishment is fixed differently from that of Judah; in the former case, according to the number of the tribes; in the latter, according to the unity of the kingdom: in the former at 39, in the latter at 40 stripes. Finally, the presupposition that the later Jewish practice of inflicting only 30 instead of 40 stripes - in order not to transgress the letter of the law in the enumeration which probably was made at the infliction of the punishment - goes back to the time of the exile, is extremely improbable, as it altogether breathes the spirit of Pharisaic micrology.)

While Ezekiel thus reclines upon one side, he is to direct his look unchangingly upon the siege of Jerusalem, i.e., upon the picture of the besieged city, and keep his arm bare, i.e., ready for action (Isaiah 52:10), and outstretched, and prophesy against the city, especially through the menacing attitude which he had taken up against it. To be able to carry this out, God will bind him with cords, i.e., fetter him to his couch (see on Ezekiel 3:25), so that he cannot stir from one side to another until he has completed the time enjoined upon him for the siege. In this is contained the thought that the siege of Jerusalem is to be mentally carried on until its capture; but no new symbol of the state of prostration of the besieged Jerusalem is implied. For such a purpose the food of the prophet (Ezekiel 4:9.) during this time is employed.

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