You also, son of man, take you a tile, and lay it before you, and portray on it the city, even Jerusalem:…
Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem, etc. This chapter presents difficulties to the student. There is the question whether it is to be understood literally or metaphorically; or, more correctly, whether the things here set forth were really done or were only visional. The commands given in vers. 1-3 might have been literally executed; but the directions of vers. 4-8 could not have been literally carried out. Hence Fairbairn and others conclude that the actions must have taken place in vision. "It is enough to suppose," says Dr. Currey, "that when the prophet was bidden to do such acts, they were impressed upon his mind with all the vividness of actual performance. In spirit, he grasped the sword and scattered the hair (Ezekiel 5:1-4), and saw herein the coming events thus symbolized. They would only have lost force by substituting bodily for mental action. The command of God gave to the sign the vividness of a real transaction, and the prophet communicated it to the people, just as it had been stamped on his own mind, with more impressiveness than could have been conveyed by the language of ordinary metaphor." Again, it is by no means easy to decide what is the precise reference of the three hundred and ninety days, and the forty days, each day in a year. The different interpretations have been so ably sustained by their respective advocates, that it seems to us that it would be presumptuous dogmatically to assert that it must mean either one or another. But let us endeavour to discover the homiletic aspects of this chapter.
I. INQUIRE THE REASON WHY, IN THIS CHAPTER AND ELSEWHERE, GOD HAS MADE KNOWN HIS WILL BY REMARKABLE SYMBOLS. There are many such symbols in the prophecies by Ezekiel. And in those by Jeremiah we have the rod of an almond tree, and the seething pot (Jeremiah 1:11-16), the linen girdle, and the bottles of wine (Jeremiah 13), the potter's earthen vessel (Jeremiah 19), the two baskets of figs (Jeremiah 24), and the yoke of iron (Jeremiah 28). Many other examples might be cited item other portions of the sacred Scriptures. We cannot think that these striking symbols were employed to conceal truth, or to make the apprehension of the truth more difficult. That would have been inconsistent with revelation - the contradiction of revelation. And it seems to us that it would have been out of harmony with the character of God to have used remarkable symbols to obscure his Word. They were intended rather, we conceive, to arouse attention, to stimulate inquiry, and impress upon the mind the truths shadowed forth by them. Fairbairn has well said, "As the meaning obviously did not lie upon the surface, it called for serious thought and inquiry regarding the purposes of God. A time of general backsliding and corruption is always a time of superficial thinking on spiritual things. And just as our Lord, by his parables, that partly veiled while they disclosed the truth of God, so the prophets, by their more profound and enigmatical discourses, sought to arouse the careless from their security, to awaken inquiry, and stir the depths of thought and feeling in the soul. It virtually said to them, "You are in imminent peril; direct ordinary discourse no longer suits your case; bestir yourselves to look into the depths of things, otherwise the sleep of death shall overtake you."
II. ENDEAVOUR TO SET FORTH THE MEANING OF THESE REMARKABLE SYMBOLS.
1. Here is a representation of the siege of Jerusalem. (Vers. 1-3.) Directions are given to Ezekiel to portray a siege of the holy city; and to prepare the fort or siege tower, and the mound, and the encampments, and battering rams, and lay siege to it. Notice:
(1) The great Agent in this siege. The prophet was to besiege it, acting as the representative of Jehovah. "If the prophet, as commissioned by God, enters on such a siege, the real besieger of Jerusalem is the Lord God; and the Chaldeans appear as mere instruments in the Divine hand" (Schroder). Nebuchadnezzar and his army unconsciously did the work of God. And the prophet was to do his work with resolution and might (ver. 7). The uucoveted arm indicates one about to engage in vigorous exertion (cf. Isaiah 52:10). So the siege here foreshadowed would be prosecuted with determination and power.
(2) The cause of this siege, The sin of the people has brought it upon them. This is indicated by the iron pan or plate which Ezekiel was to set up between himself and the city (ver. 3). "It is clear from the expression, between thee and the city, that a relation of separation, of division, between Jerusalem as portrayed upon the brick and the representative of God is m, ant to be expressed. Only on the ground of such a relation between God and Jerusalem can we explain alike the hostile attitude of the prophet's race, and especially the clause, and it is in siege, and along with that, vers. 1 and 2" (Schroder). "Their iniquities had separated between them and their God" (Isaiah 59:2). That their calamities were caused by their sins appears also from the prophet being called to bear the iniquity of the house of Israel and the house of Judah (vers. 5, 6). And in the last verse it is expressly stated that they should "consume away for their iniquity." Sin is the one great cause of suffering and sorrow, of calamity and loss.
2. Here is a representation of the sufferings of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
(1) These are symbolized by the prostrate attitude of the prophet bearing the sins of the people (vers. 4-6). In the former portion of the chapter Ezekiel represents the Lord; but here and in subsequent verses he represents the besieged and suffering people. His lying down, and inability to turn from one side to another, "is a figure of the wretched condition of the people during the time of the siege" (cf. Psalm 20:8; Isaiah 50:11; Amos 5:2).
(2) The miseries of the people are also represented by the scarcity of food and its loathsome associations. The prophet is directed to "take wheat, and barley, and beans," etc. (ver. 9). "It is suggested in this way that the besieged will in their distress be compelled to gather together everything that can possibly be turned into bread. This state of matters is represented yet more strongly by means of the one vessel, which shows that of each separate sort not much more is to be had" (Schroder). Ezekiel, moreover, has to take his food by weight and measure, and only at long intervals (vers. 10, 11). And although in that country less is needed to sustain life than in our colder climate, yet the quantity allowed the prophet is not more than half what is usually regarded as necessary. The quantity, as some one observes, was too much for dying, too little for living. So would the people suffer want and hunger during the long siege. From the scarcity of food we proceed to its impurity. It is represented as having been baked with fuel of the most offensive kind - with human ordure (ver. 12). But in answer to a pathetic appeal of the prophet, he is allowed to use the dried ordure of cattle instead thereof. To this he made no objection. "He was, in fact, used to it; for the dried dung of beasts is used for fuel throughout the East wherever wood is scarce, from Mongolia to Palestine. Its use, indeed, extends into Europe, and subsists even in England." The significance of this symbol is stated: "Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them." The reference is to the impurities of heathenism. Those who in their own land had disregarded the commands of God would in their exile find the corruptions of heathenism a grievous offence unto them. And then in its close (vers. 16, 17) the chapter recurs to the sufferings during the siege. The misery was to grow and to become so great as to cause amazement and dismay. The people would take their scanty portion in deep sorrow; and so great would be the scarcity of the prime necessaries of life as to strike them dumb with anguish. Such were the miseries which they had brought upon themselves by their long course of sin.
III. APPLY THE INSTRUCTIONS WHICH THIS SUBJECT HAS FOR US.
1. An impressive illustration of the omniscience of God. Nothing less than infinite knowledge could have foretold to Ezekiel the things symbolized in this chapter. They did not seem in the least degree probable when he published them. "If we accept," says Dr. Currey, "the fifth year of Jehoiachin's captivity (as is most probable) for the year in which Ezekiel received this communication,... it was a time at which such an event would, according to human calculation, have appeared improbable. Zedekiah was the creature of the King of Babylon, ruling by his authority in the place of Jehoiachin, who was still alive; and it could scarcely have been expected that Zedekiah would have been so infatuated as to provoke the anger of the powerful Nebuchadnezzar." Yet he did so; and this prophecy was fulfilled. Nothing can be hidden from God (Psalm 139.). To him the future is visible as the present. This is exhibited by Isaiah as an evidence that the Lord is the true God (Isaiah 41:21-29; Isaiah 44:6-8; Isaiah 46:9-11).
2. Sin transforms persons and places in the sight of God. Think of what Jerusalem had been before him: "the city of God;" "the faithful city;" "the holy city;" "the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth." But now, alas, how changed it is! Formerly he had been its Defender; now he has become its Besieger. Sin darkens and deforms human character; it takes away the glory of cities and covers them with shame.
3. The certainty of the punishment of sin. The chosen people shall not escape punishment if they persist in sin. The sacred city, with the temple which God had chosen as his dwelling place (Psalm 132:13, 14), will afford no protection to a people who have obstinately rebelled against him. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished;" "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," etc. Sin carries within itself the germ of its own punishment.
4. The power of God to inflict punishment upon the obstinately rebellious. He can use the heathen as his instruments for this purpose. He can break the staff of bread, and dry up the springs of water, etc.
5. The heinousness and perilousness of sin. (Cf. Jeremiah 2:19; Jeremiah 44:4.) Let us cultivate hearty obedience to the Lord God. - W.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem: