Monday, January 31, 2011

Ezekiel 4

The siege wall (vs. 1-3)—Jerusalem was going to come under siege for a protracted period of time; four symbolic acts, from 4:1-5:17, represent the fall of the city. This seems to indicate that this portion of Ezekiel’s prophecy took place before 586 B.C. when the Babylonians finally sacked the city and destroyed Solomon’s temple. The first of these analogies is found in these three verses. The prophet is commanded to build a clay brick representation of Jerusalem and then “lay siege against it" (v. 2). “This will be a sign to the house of Israel” (v. 3).

Lying on his left side (vs. 4-8)—Ezekiel is then ordered to lie upon his left side, representing the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The “lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it” (v. 4) suggests that Jehovah, in some form, would put Israel’s sin on the prophet. This is indicated as well in verse 6, where Ezekiel lies on his right side (Judah), and “you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days” (v. 6). The 390 days (v. 5) and 40 days (v. 6), which represent “a day for each year” are inexplicable in exact terms. No exact historical dates will fit these years as to when Israel and Judah’s punishment began. Commentators are divided on the meaning; one suggested that the 390 and 40 indicated the intensity of the punishment, and I like that idea. Another commentator adds the years together, which produces 430 years, the time of their Egyptian history from Abraham to Moses (Exodus 12:40). The text doesn’t explain the exact meaning, so all we can do is speculate. Ezekiel would continue to prophecy against Jerusalem (v. 8) and the Lord would force him to continue this analogy “till you have ended the days of your siege” (v. 8).

Ezekiel’s bread (vs. 9-17)—If you are interested in knowing what Ezekiel ate here, go to your local grocery store and buy some “Ezekiel’s Bread,” which I personally think tastes horrible, but others like it. It’s very healthy, I’ll say that, and he was commanded by the Lord to eat it for 390 days. The whole thing is obviously has a huge degree of symbolism and latitude, for Ezekiel could hardly have gathered all these needed materials if he was lying on his side the whole time. So apparently, for a portion of each day, in the sight of the people, he reclined on his side. They would naturally ask what he was doing, and he would explain. The “twenty shekels a day” (v. 10) that he was allowed to eat amounts to about eight ounces; the “one-sixth of a hin” of water that was his daily ration (v. 11) amounts to about a quart, or maybe just two-thirds of a quart; exactly how much a “hin” was is not totally clear. The whole thing is designed to signify the starvation that Jerusalem would suffer during the period (vs. 4-8) of the siege (vs. 1-3). The Lord first commanded Ezekiel to bake the bread using human waste (v. 12)—foreign nations and their products were considered unclean—but the prophet was also a priest and observed strict dietary laws, though I’m not aware of any place in the Old Testament that forbids using human dung for fuel; it was common in the Middle East because of the scarcity of wood. Even though his objection is not exactly to the point (v. 14), the thought of using human waste was abominable to Ezekiel, so the Lord allowed him to substitute cow dung instead (v. 15). All of this is designed to denote the dire straits Jerusalem would face, so dire that they would resort to any measure to save their lives (vs. 16-17).