Take thee a tile.
In this chapter there begins a series of symbols utterly impossible of modern interpretation. This ministry of symbolism has still a place in all progressive civilisation. Every age, of course, necessitates its own emblems and types, its own apocalypse of wonders and signs, but the meaning of the whole is that God has yet something to be revealed which cannot at the moment be expressed in plain language. If we could see into the inner meaning of many of the controversies in which we are engaged, we should see there many a divinely drawn symbol, curious outlines of thought, parables not yet ripe enough for words. How manifold is human life! How innumerable are the workers who are toiling at the evolution of the Divine purpose in things! One man can understand nothing but what he calls bare facts and hard realities; he has only a hand to handle, he has not the interior touch that can feel things ere yet they have taken shape. Another is always on the outlook for what pleases the eye; he delights in form and colour and symmetry, and glows almost with thankfulness as he beholds the shapeliness of things, and traces in them a subtle geometry. Another man gets behind all this, and hears voices, and sees sights excluded from the natural senses; he looks upon symbolism, upon the ministry of suggestion and dream and vision; he sees best in the darkness; the night is his day; in the great cloud he sees the ever-working God, and in the infinite stillness of religious solitude he hears, rather in echoes than in words, what he is called upon to tell the age in which he lives. Here again his difficulty increases, for although he can see with perfect plainness men, and can understand quite intelligibly all the mysteries which pass before his imagination and before his spiritual eyes, yet he has to find words that will fit the new and exciting occasion; and there are no fit words, so sometimes he is driven to make a language of his own, and hence we come upon strangeness of expression, eccentricity of thought, weirdness in quest and sympathy, — a most marvellous and tumultuous life; a great struggle after rhythm and rest, and fullest disclosure of inner realities, often ending in bitter disappointment, so that the prophet's eloquence dissolves in tears, and the man who thought he had a glorious message to deliver is broken down in humiliation when he hears the poor thunder of his own inadequate articulation. He has his "tile" and his iron pan; he lays upon his left side, and upon his right side; he takes unto him wheat and barley, beans, and lentils; he weighs out his bread, and measures out his water, and bakes "barley cakes" by a curious manufacture; and yet when it is all over he cannot tell to others in delicate enough language, or with sufficiency of illustration, what he knows to be a Divine and eternal word.
Even if one hundred and ninety days be the true reading, it is most improbable that the prophet should have been on his side immovable for half a year, and it appears impossible when other actions had to be done simultaneously. The hypothesis of Klostermann hardly deserves mention. This writer supposes that the prophet lay on his side because he was a cataleptic and temporarily paralysed, that he prophesied against Jerusalem with outstretched arm, because his arm could not be withdrawn, being convulsively rigid, and that he was dumb because struck with morbid "alalia." It is surprising that some reputable scholars should seem half inclined to accept this explanation. They perhaps have the feeling that such an interpretation is more reverent to Scripture. But we need to remind ourselves, as Job reminded his friends, that superstition is not religion (Job 13:7-12
; Job 21:22
). The book itself appears to teach us how to interpret the most of the symbolical actions. In Ezekiel 24:3
the symbol of setting the caldron on the fire is called uttering a parable. The act of graving a hand at the parting of the ways (Ezekiel 21:19
) must certainly be interpreted in the same way, and, though there may be room for hesitation in regard to some of them, probably the actions as a whole. They were imagined merely. They passed through the prophet's mind. He lived in this ideal sphere; he went through the actions in his phantasy, and they appeared to him to carry the same effects as if they had been performed.
Pertray upon it the city, even Jerusalem.
With the fourth chapter we enter on the exposition of the first great division of Ezekiel's prophecies. The prophecies may be classified roughly under three heads. In the first class are those which exhibit the judgment itself in ways fitted to impress the prophet and his hearers with a conviction of its certainty; a second class is intended to demolish the illusions and false ideals which possessed the minds of the Israelites and made the announcement of disaster incredible; and a third and very important class expounds the moral principles which were illustrated by the judgment, and which show it to be a Divine necessity. In the passage before us the bare fact and certainty of the judgment are set forth in word and symbol and with a minimum of commentary, although even here the conception which Ezekiel had formed of the moral situation is clearly discernible. That the destruction of Jerusalem should occupy the first place in the prophet's picture of national calamity requires no explanation. Jerusalem was the heart and brain of the nation, the centre of its life and its religion, and in the eyes of the prophets the fountainhead of its sin. The strength of her natural situation, the patriotic and religious associations which had gathered round her, and the smallness of her subject province gave to Jerusalem a unique position among the mother cities of antiquity. And Ezekiel's hearers knew what he meant when he employed the picture of a beleaguered city to set forth the judgment that was to overtake them. That crowning horror of ancient warfare, the siege of a fortified town, meant in this case something more appalling to the imagination than the ravages of pestilence and famine and sword. The fate of Jerusalem represented the disappearance of everything that had constituted the glory and excellence of Israel's national existence. The manner in which the prophet seeks to impress this fact on his countrymen illustrates a peculiar vein of realism which runs through all his thinking (vers. 1-3). He is commanded to take a brick and portray upon it a walled city, surrounded by the towers, mounds, and battering rams which marked the usual operations of a besieging army. Then he is to erect a plate of iron between him and the city, and from behind this, with menacing gestures, he is as it were to press on the siege. The meaning of the symbols is obvious. As the engines of destruction appear on Ezekiel's diagram, at the bidding of Jehovah, so in due time the Chaldaean army will be seen from the walls of Jerusalem, led by the same unseen Power which now controls the acts of the prophet. In the last act Ezekiel exhibits the attitude of Jehovah Himself, cut off from His people by the iron wall of an inexorable purpose which no prayer could penetrate. Thus far the prophet's actions, however strange they may appear to us, have been simple and intelligible. But at this point a second sign is as it were superimposed on the first, in order to symbolise an entirely different set of facts — the hardship and duration of the Exile (vers. 4-8). While still engaged in prosecuting the siege of the city, the prophet is supposed to become at the same time the representative of the guilty people and the victim of the Divine judgment. He is to "bear their iniquity" — that is, the punishment due to their sin. This is represented by his lying bound on his left side for a number of days equal to the years of Ephraim's banishment, and then on his right side for a time proportionate to the captivity of Judah.
Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread.
They had sinned in excess, and God would take away their plenty. Hosea 13:6
, "According to their pasture, so were they filled"; they had full pastures, fed largely, exalted their hearts, and thought they should never want; they forgot God in their fulness, and He made them to remember Him in a famine. Fulness of bread was the sin of Sodom, and the sin of Jerusalem also. God brake the staff of bread. They sinned in defiling themselves with idols, and offered meal and oil, honey and flour, for a sweet savour to their idols (Ezekiel 16
), and now they must eat polluted bread among the Gentiles.
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