The siege of Jerusalem. (1-8) The famine the inhabitants would suffer. (9-17)
Verses 1-8 The prophet was to represent the siege of Jerusalem by signs. He was to lie on his left side for a number of days, supposed to be equal to the years from the establishment of idolatry. All that the prophet sets before the children of his people, about the destruction of Jerusalem, is to show that sin is the provoking cause of the ruin of that once flourishing city.
Verses 9-17 The bread which was Ezekiel's support, was to be made of coarse grain and pulse mixed together, seldom used except in times of urgent scarcity, and of this he was only to take a small quantity. Thus was figured the extremity to which the Jews were to be reduced during the siege and captivity. Ezekiel does not plead, Lord, from my youth I have been brought up delicately, and never used to any thing like this; but that he had been brought up conscientiously, and never had eaten any thing forbidden by the law. It will be comfortable when we are brought to suffer hardships, if our hearts can witness that we have always been careful to keep even from the appearance of evil. See what woful work sin makes, and acknowledge the righteousness of God herein. Their plenty having been abused to luxury and excess, they were justly punished by famine. When men serve not God with cheerfulness in the abundance of all things, God will make them serve their enemies in the want of all things.
Ezekiel 4:1-17 . SYMBOLICAL VISION OF THE SIEGE AND THE INIQUITY-BEARING.
1. tile--a sun-dried brick, such as are found in Babylon, covered with cuneiform inscriptions, often two feet long and one foot broad.
2. forth--rather, "watch tower" ( Jeremiah 52:4 ) wherein the besieges could watch the movements of the besieged [GESENIUS]. A wall of circumvallation [Septuagint and ROSENMULLER]. A kind of battering-ram [MAURER]. The first view is best.
a mount--wherewith the Chaldeans could be defended from missiles.
battering-rams--literally, "through-borers." In Ezekiel 21:22 the same Hebrew is translated "captains."
3. iron pan--the divine decree as to the Chaldean army investing the city.
set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city--Ezekiel, in the person of God, represents the wall of separation between him and the people as one of iron: and the Chaldean investing army. His instrument of separating them from him, as one impossible to burst through.
set . . . face against it--inexorably ( Psalms 34:16 ). The exiles envied their brethren remaining in Jerusalem, but exile is better than the straitness of a siege.
4. Another symbolical act performed at the same time as the former, in vision, not in external action, wherein it would have been only puerile: narrated as a thing ideally done, it would make a vivid impression. The second action is supplementary to the first, to bring out more fully the same prophetic idea.
left side--referring to the position of the ten tribes, the northern kingdom, as Judah, the southern, answers to "the right side" ( Ezekiel 4:6 ). The Orientals facing the east in their mode, had the north on their left, and the south on their right ( Ezekiel 16:46 ). Also the right was more honorable than the left: so Judah as being the seat of the temple, was more so than Israel.
bear the iniquity--iniquity being regarded as a burden; so it means, "bear the punishment of their iniquity" ( Numbers 14:34 ). A type of Him who was the great sin-bearer, not in mimic show as Ezekiel, but in reality ( Isaiah 53:4 Isaiah 53:6 Isaiah 53:12 ).
5. three hundred and ninety days--The three hundred ninety years of punishment appointed for Israel, and forty for Judah, cannot refer to the siege of Jerusalem. That siege is referred to in Ezekiel 4:1-3 , and in a sense restricted to the literal siege, but comprehending the whole train of punishment to be inflicted for their sin; therefore we read here merely of its sore pressure, not of its result. The sum of three hundred ninety and forty years is four hundred thirty, a period famous in the history of the covenant-people, being that of their sojourn in Egypt ( Exodus 12:40 Exodus 12:41 , Galatians 3:17 ). The forty alludes to the forty years in the wilderness. Elsewhere ( Deuteronomy 28:68 , Hosea 9:3 ), God threatened to bring them back to Egypt, which must mean, not Egypt literally, but a bondage as bad as that one in Egypt. So now God will reduce them to a kind of new Egyptian bondage to the world: Israel, the greater transgressor. for a longer period than Judah (compare Ezekiel 20:35-38 ). Not the whole of the four hundred thirty years of the Egypt state is appointed to Israel; but this shortened by the forty years of the wilderness sojourn, to imply, that a way is open to their return to life by their having the Egypt state merged into that of the wilderness; that is, by ceasing from idolatry and seeking in their sifting and sore troubles, through God's covenant, a restoration to righteousness and peace [FAIRBAIRN]. The three hundred ninety, in reference to the sin of Israel, was also literally true, being the years from the setting up of the calves by Jeroboam ( 1 Kings 12:20-33 ), that is, from 975 to 583 B.C.: about the year of the Babylonians captivity; and perhaps the forty of Judah refers to that part of Manasseh's fifty-five year's reign in which he had not repented, and which, we are expressly told, was the cause of God's removal of Judah, notwithstanding Josiah's reformation ( 1 Kings 21:10-16 , 2 Kings 23:26 2 Kings 23:27 ).
6. each day for a year--literally, "a day for a year, a day for a year." Twice repeated, to mark more distinctly the reference to Numbers 14:34 . The picturing of the future under the image of the past, wherein the meaning was far from lying on the surface, was intended to arouse to a less superficial mode of thinking, just as the partial veiling of truth in Jesus' parables was designed to stimulate inquiry; also to remind men that God's dealings in the past are a key to the future, for He moves on the same everlasting principles, the forms alone being transitory.
7. arm . . . uncovered--to be ready for action, which the long Oriental garment usually covered it would prevent ( Isaiah 52:10 ).
thou shalt prophesy against it--This gesture of thine will be a tacit prophecy against it.
8. bands--( Ezekiel 3:25 ).
not turn from . . . side--to imply the impossibility of their being able to shake off the punishment.
9. wheat . . . barley, &c.--Instead of simple flour used for delicate cakes ( Genesis 18:6 ), the Jews should have a coarse mixture of six different kinds of grain, such as the poorest alone would eat.
fitches--spelt or dhourra.
three hundred and ninety--The forty days are omitted, since these latter typify the wilderness period when Israel stood separate from the Gentiles and their pollution, though partially chastened by stint of bread and water ( Ezekiel 4:16 ), whereas the eating of the polluted bread in the three hundred ninety days implies a forced residence "among the Gentiles" who were polluted with idolatry ( Ezekiel 4:13 ). This last is said of "Israel" primarily, as being the most debased ( Ezekiel 4:9-15 ); they had spiritually sunk to a level with the heathen, therefore God will make their condition outwardly to correspond. Judah and Jerusalem fare less severely, being less guilty: they are to "eat bread by weight and with care," that is, have a stinted supply and be chastened with the milder discipline of the wilderness period. But Judah also is secondarily referred to in the three hundred ninety days, as having fallen, like Israel, into Gentile defilements; if, then, the Jews are to escape from the exile among Gentiles, which is their just punishment, they must submit again to the wilderness probation ( Ezekiel 4:16 ).
10. twenty shekels--that is, little more than ten ounces; a scant measure to sustain life ( Jeremiah 52:6 ). But it applies not only to the siege, but to their whole subsequent state.
11. sixth . . . of . . . hin--about a pint and a half.
12. dung--as fuel; so the Arabs use beasts' dung, wood fuel being scarce. But to use human dung so implies the most cruel necessity. It was in violation of the law ( Deuteronomy 14:3 , 23:12-14 ); it must therefore have been done only in vision.
13. Implying that Israel's peculiar distinction was to be abolished and that they were to be outwardly blended with the idolatrous heathen ( Deuteronomy 28:68 , Hosea 9:3 ).
14. Ezekiel, as a priest, had been accustomed to the strictest abstinence from everything legally impure. Peter felt the same scruple at a similar command ( Acts 10:14 ; compare Isaiah 65:4 ). Positive precepts, being dependent on a particular command can be set aside at the will of the divine ruler; but moral precepts are everlasting in their obligation because God cannot be inconsistent with His unchanging moral nature.
abominable flesh--literally, "flesh that stank from putridity." Flesh of animals three days killed was prohibited ( Leviticus 7:17 Leviticus 7:18 , Leviticus 19:6 Leviticus 19:7 ).
15. cow's dung--a mitigation of the former order ( Ezekiel 4:12 ); no longer "the dung of man"; still the bread so baked is "defiled," to imply that, whatever partial abatement there might be for the prophet's sake, the main decree of God, as to the pollution of Israel by exile among Gentiles, is unalterable.
16. staff of bread--bread by which life is supported, as a man's weight is by the staff he leans on ( Leviticus 26:26 , Psalms 105:16 , Isaiah 3:1 ).
by weight, and with care--in scant measure ( Ezekiel 4:10 ).
17. astonied one with another--mutually regard one another with astonishment: the stupefied look of despairing want.