Take you also to you wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel…
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: Take for yourself also wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make bread of it; [according to] the number of the days that you shall lie on your side, even three hundred ninety days, you shall eat of it.