Ezekiel 4
Pulpit Commentary
Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem:
Verse 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; Psalm 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 (Layard, ut supra, ch. 7, p. 167). 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.
And lay siege against it, and build a fort against it, and cast a mount against it; set the camp also against it, and set battering rams against it round about.
Verse 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 ver. 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

(1) the forts (as in 2 Kings 25:1; Jeremiah 52:4; Ezekiel 17:17; Ezekiel 21:22; Ezekiel 26:8), or, perhaps, the wall of circumvallation, which the besiegers erected that they might carry on their operations in safety;

(2) then the mount, or mound (the English of the Authorized Version does not distinguish between the two) of earth from which they plied the bows or catapults (Jeremiah 6:6; Jeremiah 32:24; Jeremiah 33:4; Ezekiel, ut supra);

(3) the camps (plural in the Hebrew and Revised Version), or encampments, in which they were stationed in various positions found the city;

(4) the battering rams. Here the history both of the word and the thing has a special interest. The primary meaning of the Hebrew word is "lamb" (so in Deuteronomy 32:14; 1 Samuel 15:9, et al., Revised Version), or, better, "full grown wethers or rams" (Furst). Like the Greek κρίος (Xen., 'Cyrop.,' 7:4. 1; 2 Macc. 12:15), and the Latin aries (Livy, 21:12; 31:32, et al.), it was transferred to the engine which was used to "butt," like a ram, against the walls of a besieged city, and which, in Roman warfare, commonly terminated in a ram's head in bronze or iron. Ezekiel is the only Old Testament writer who, here and in Ezekiel 21:22, uses the word, for which the LXX. gives βελοστάσεις, and the Vulgate arietes. The margin of the Authorized Version in both places gives "chief leaders," taking "rams" in another figurative sense; but, in the face of the LXX. and Vulgate, there is no reason for accepting this. Battering rams frequently appear in Assyrian bas-reliefs of a much earlier date than Ezekiel's time, at Nimroud (Vaux, 'Nineveh and Persepolis,' p. 456), Konyunyik (Layard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 14:0, and elsewhere. They were hung by chains near the bottom of the besiegers' towers, and were propelled against the walls.
Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.
Verse 3. - An iron pan. The word is used in Leviticus 2:5; Leviticus 6:21, et al., for a flat or shallow vessel in which cakes were baked or fried. Such a pan, like the Scotch "girdle," or our "gridiron," may well have formed part of the furniture of the prophet's house when it was taken for this strange use. It was to represent the kind of shield or fence set up on the ground, from behind which the besiegers discharged their arrows. Such shields are seen, like the battering rams, in Assyrian bas-reliefs (Layard, 'Nineveh,' etc., 2:345). 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, 11; Ezekiel 24:25, 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 vers. 5, 6, and Ezekiel 37:16, there is a special reason for noting a distinction for Jonah as representing the whole nation.
Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity.
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.
For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.
Verse 5. - Three hundred and ninety days, etc. The days, as stated in ver. 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.

(1) Jerome and Origen bear witness to the fact that most copies of the former gave 190 years, some 150 and others, agreeing with the Hebrew, 390. The first of these numbers fits in with the thought that Ezekiel's act was to represent the period of the punishment of the northern kingdom. That punishment starts from the first captivity under Pekah about B.C. 734. Reckoning from that date, the 190 years bring us to about B.C. 544. The punishment of Judah, in like manner, dates from the destruction of Jerusalem in B.C. 586, and the forty years bring us to B.C. 546, a date so near the other, that, in the round numbers which Ezekiel uses, they may be taken as practically coinciding. It was to that date that the prophet, perhaps, unacquainted with Jeremiah's seventy years (Jeremiah 25:12), with a different starting point ( B.C. 600) and terminus ( B.C. 536), looked forward as the starting point of the restoration of Israel. It is obvious that Ezekiel contemplated the contemporaneous restoration of Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 16:53-55; Ezekiel 37:19-22; Ezekiel 47:13), as indeed Isaiah also seems to do (Isaiah 11:13, 14), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:6, 12, 27). The teaching of Ezekiel's acts, then, had two distinct purposes.

(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.

(2) Still keeping to the idea of the years of punishment, but taking the Hebrew text, the combination of 390 and 40 gives 430, and this, it is urged, was the number assigned in Exodus 12:40 for the years of the sojourning in Egypt. Then the nation had been one, now it is divided. And the punishment of its two divisions is apportioned according to their respective guilt. For Israel, whose sins had been of a deeper dye, there was to be, as it were, another Egyptian bondage (Hosea 8:13 and Hosea 9:3 seem to predict a literal return to Egypt, but Hosea 11:5 shows it to have been figurative only). For Judah there was to be another quasi-wandering in the wilderness for forty years a period of punishment, but also of preparation lot a re-entry into the land of promise (Currey, Gardiner).

(3) A somewhat fanciful variation on the preceding view connects the 390 days with the forty stripes of Deuteronomy 25:3, reduced by Jewish preachers to "forty stripes save one" (2 Corinthians 11:24). Thus thirty-nine were assigned to each of the ten tribes, leaving forty for Judah standing by itself. With this addition

(3) merges into


(4) The traditional Jewish interpretation, on the other hand (Kimchi), sees in the number of the years the measure, not of the punishment, but of the guilt of Israel and Judah respectively. That of the former is measured (as in the margin of the Authorized Version) from the revolt of the ten tribes ( B.C. 975) to the time at which Ezekiel received the commands with which we are now dealing ( B.C. 595). This computation gives, it is true, only 380 years; but the prophet may be thought of as dealing with round numbers, the 390 being, perhaps, chosen for the reason indicated in (3), or as reckoning with a different chronology. The forty years of the guilt of Judah are, on this view, reckoned from Josiah's reformation ( B.C. 624), which would bring us to B.C. 585-4. And the sin of Judah is thought of as consisting specially in its resistance to that reformation and its rapid relapse into an apostasy like that of Ahaz or Manasseh. It can hardly be said that this is a satisfactory explanation.

(5) Yet another view has been suggested, sc. that the siege of Jerusalem lasted, in round numbers, for 430 days - a day for each year of the national guilt as measured in the last hypothesis. Against this there is the fact that, according to the statements in 2 Kings 25:1-3, the siege lasted for much more than the 430 days, sc. for nearly a year and a half. The conclusion to which I am led, after examining the several hypotheses, is, as I have sail, in favour of (1). The text of the Hebrew, as we find it, may have risen out of the tinct that the ten tribes had not returned as a body, and that there was no sign of their return, when Judah returned in B.C. 536, and therefore a larger number was inserted to allow time for a more adequate interval.
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.
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.
Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it.
Verse 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.
And, behold, I will lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another, till thou hast ended the days of thy siege.
Verse 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.
Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentiles, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof, according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side, three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof.
Verse 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 (ver. 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; Psalm 81:16; Psalm 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.
And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it.
Verse 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 (Leviticus 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.
Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink.
Verse 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.
And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.
Verse 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 Leviticus 5:3: 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.
And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them.
Verse 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).
Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth.
Verse 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; Leviticus 7:24; Leviticus 11:39, 40; Leviticus 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 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; 2 Chronicles 34.), i.e. probably by the Book of Deuteronomy.
Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.
Verse 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.
Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment:
Verse 16. - The staff of bread. The phrase occurs again in Ezekiel 5:16; Ezekiel 14:13, and also in Leviticus 26:26; Psalm 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 Leviticus 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.
That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.
Verse 17. - Consume away for their iniquity, etc. Another echo from the book which had entered so largely into the prophet's education (see Leviticus 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.

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