Ezekiel 4


Prior to any detailed examination of the strange series of acts recorded in

this and the following chapter, we are met with the question whether they

were indeed visible and outward acts, or only imagined by the prophet in a

state of ecstasy and afterwards reported by him to the people. Each view

has been maintained by commentators of repute. I adopt, with scarcely any

hesitation, the former, and for the following reasons:


  • the whole context shows that they were to be substitutes for spoken teaching.

They belong to the period of the prophet’s silence.


  • This mode of teaching, though not carried to the same extent, was part

of the normal method of a prophet’s work. Zedekiah’s horns of iron

(I Kings 22:11); Isaiah’s walking “naked and barefoot” for three years

(Isaiah 20:2-3); Jeremiah’s yokes of wood (Jeremiah 27:2),

probably even the latter prophet’s journey to the Euphrates (Ibid. ch.

13:4); and Hosea’s marriage with a harlot (Hosea 1-3), were all outward

objective facts. We are only disposed to take a different view of Ezekiel’s

acts because they are more startling and repulsive; but to adopt a non-natural

interpretation on this a priori ground of feeling is not the act of an

honest interpreter. We have to admit that outwardly the life of the prophets

of Israel might present analogies to the phenomena of ether religions or

other times. The acts of Ezekiel may find a parallel in those of Simeon

Stylites or George Fox; of Jesus the son of Ananus, who for seven years

and five months walked to and fro in Jerusalem, uttering his woes against

the city and the holy house (Josephus, ‘Bell. Jud.,’ 6:6, 3); of Solomon

Eagle, as he, in like manner, walked through the streets of London during

the great Plague (Defoe. ‘Hist. of the Plague,’ p. 519, edit. 1869).


1 “Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and portray

upon it the city, even Jerusalem:”  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; 28:1-3; 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 (ch. 1:2) and the sixth month of the sixth year (ch. 8:1) of Zedekiah.

and the siege began in the ninth year (II 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

Nimrod, 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 neighbors would watch the strange proceeding. In this case the

sign would be more impressive than any spoken utterance.


2 “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.”  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 v. 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:


  • the forts (as in II Kings 25:1; Jeremiah 52:4; ch. 17:17; 21:22; 26:8), or,

perhaps, the wall of circumvallation, which the besiegers

erected that they might carry on their operations in safety;


  • 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; 32:24; 33:4; Ezekiel, ut supra);


  • the camps (plural in the Hebrew and Revised Version), or encampments,

in which they were stationed in various positions found the city;


  • 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; I Samuel 15:9, et al., Revised Version),

or, better, “full grown wethers or rams” (Furst). Like the Greek κρίος

krios(Xen., ‘Cyrop.,’ 7:4. 1; II Maccabees 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 ch.21:22, uses the

word, for which the Septuagint gives βελοστάσειςbelostaseis -, 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 Septuagint 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.




A Pictorial Sermon (vs. 1-2)


The method of this prophecy is as instructive as the substance of it. Let us,

therefore, consider this by itself.


  • IT WAS NOVEL. Hitherto prophets had usually preached by word of

mouth, though indeed occasionally they had given visible illustrations of

their sermons. Thus Jeremiah had worn a symbolical yoke of iron

(Jeremiah 28:10). But to draw a picture on a tile was a new method of

prophecy. The pulpit is generally too conservative of old methods, too

timid of innovation. The preacher should not be a slave of fashion. But,

then, he should be careful not to be in bondage to an old fashion any more

than to a new fashion. He ought to be ready to embrace any novel method

that promises to make his work more effective.



great brick libraries which have been discovered in the very region where

Ezekiel was living, and which include works of the very date of his

ministry, contain similar pictorial representations — inscribed

representations of sieges. Therefore Ezekiel was adapting his teaching to

the manners of his contemporaries. It is as though a modern preacher,

unable to reach all the persons he desired to address from the pulpit, should

write in the newspapers. Therefore the most effective weapon of the day

should be secured by the preacher. The enemy have breech-loading rifles:

why should the friends of the truth be content with old flint muskets?


  • IT WAS EFFECTIVE. Mere novelty for its own sake is childish.

Eccentricity may win notoriety, but it will not honor truth. Erratic

methods lower the dignity of truth. The preacher has to remember the

solemn, the awful character of his message. But, then, a novel and almost

alarming method may be most suitable for conveying the message. In this

matter the means must be subservient to the end. Now, Ezekiel’s method

was remarkably suitable for his purpose.


Ø      It made his message intelligible to all. People who cannot read may

understand a picture, and the same picture may speak to men of

different languages. Raphael’s ‘Transfiguration’ is intelligible to

Englishmen who do not know a word of Italian. Pictorial preaching

is easily understood.


Ø      It made the message vivid and impressive. We feel most strongly

what we see in picture before our eyes. The failure of preaching is

often owing to the fact that the truth proclaimed is accepted only in

words which do not suggest clear, strong ideas. It may be admitted

by the reason, but it is not embraced by the imagination. The truth

which has power over us is not that which we consent to in cold,

intellectual agreement, but that which stands to the eyes of the

soul as a present reality. Therefore, after we have made our meaning

clear and proved our preposition to demonstration, a large part of our

work remains, viz. to impress the truth on the imagination and the

heart of our hearers; and to be impressive, the truth must be vivid.

There is always scope for pictorial preaching. All preachers who are

effective with the multitudes resort to this method.


Ø      It made the message enduring. The brick libraries of Babylon which

have been deposited in the British Museum are almost as fresh and

sound today as when they were first produced three thousand years

ago. It is just possible that some day Ezekiel’s tile may be dug up

uninjured! Sermons may be forgotten, but truth endures; and it is

the mission of the preacher so to burn the truth into the hearts of

his hearers that it shall even outlast Babylonian libraries and be

seen through all eternity.



Siege (v. 2)


By the remarkable symbolism described in this chapter, Ezekiel was himself

assured that the metropolis of his country was about to endure the horrors

of a siege, and his action was intended for a sign to the house of Israel.

Jerusalem, like many of the ruinous cities of antiquity, and indeed of

modern times, underwent the calamity again and again. It was probably the

siege by Nebuchadnezzar which was foretold by the symbol of the tile and

the iron pan. To be besieged was a not uncommon incident of warfare. But

the prophet of God treated this approaching catastrophe, not merely as a

fact of history, but as a moral and Divine lesson.





Ø      Community in civic life. Every city always has its own social

characteristics. Citizens take a pride in the prosperity and glory of

their city, especially if it be the metropolis of the nation. In our

own time Paris was besieged by the German army, and its unity

was never so realized as when thus encompassed by the enemy.


Ø      Community in resistance and hostility. Distinctions of rank and of

social position almost vanish when a common danger threatens every

class alike.  Each man takes his share in the defense of the city, in

bearing the common burden. All are drawn together by their

community in dread or in defiance of the foe.


Ø      Community in the experience of suffering. Hunger and thirst,

privation and want of rest, are shared by all the citizens of a

beleaguered city. Men who partake the same calamity are drawn

together by their common experience. The annals of a siege will

usually be found to contain the record of remarkable cases of

heroic unselfishness and public devotion.



JERUSALEM. There may well have been manifested a community in

spiritual discipline and profit.


Ø      The vanity of human pride and ambition was strikingly exhibited.

The Jews were a vain glorious people; they possessed many

distinctive marks of superiority raising them above the heathen,

and their knew and boasted that it was so. They took credit to

themselves for much for which they ought to have offered thanks

to God. Their self-confidence and glorying were rebuked in the most

emphatic manner when their fair and famed metropolis was besieged

and threatened with destruction. This lesson is impressed upon their

countrymen with unsparing faithfulness by the ancient

Hebrew prophets.


Ø      Equally pointed was the lesson conveyed as to the utter vanity of

mere human help. The Jews did indeed sometimes seek alliances

which might befriend and assist them in their distress; but against

such alliances they were repeatedly warned by the prophets, whose

duty it was to assure their countrymen of the vanity of the help of

man. Especially were they rebuked for seeking friendship and aid

from Egypt against, the forces of the Eastern foe; and they found

such friendship hollow, and such aid ineffectual.


Ø      The inhabitants of Jerusalem and the people of Judah generally were,

by the siege of the city, directed to seek Divine deliverance. The city

might fall; its walls might be leveled with the dust; its defenders might

be slain; its inhabitants decimated. But all this might be overruled for

the nation’s real and lasting good, should calamity and humiliation

lead to repentance, should Divine favor be entreated, and a way of

salvation be opened up to the remnant of the people.


3 “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.”  An iron pan. The word is used in Leviticus 2:5; 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 ch. 12:6, 11; 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 vs. 5-6, and ch. 37:16, there is a special

reason for noting a distinction for Judah as representing the whole nation.


4 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.” Lie thou also upon thy left side, etc.

We find the explanation of the attitude in ch. 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” (I 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 v. 6. Thou shalt bear their iniquity; ie., as in all similar passages

(Exodus 28:43; (Leviticus 5:17; 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.


5 “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.”

Three hundred and ninety days, etc. The days, as stated in

v. 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 which 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 Septuagint as

giving the original reading, and the Hebrew as a later correction, made

with a purpose.


  • 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

(ch.16:53-55; 37:19-22; 47:13), as indeed Isaiah also seems to do

(Isaiah 11:13-14), and Jeremiah (31:6, 12, 27). The teaching of Ezekiel’s

acts, then, had two distinct purposes.


Ø      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.


Ø      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 chps.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.


  • 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 9:3

seem to predict a literal return to Egypt, but Ibid. 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.


  • 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” (II Corinthians 11:24). Thus

thirty-nine were assigned to each of the ten tribes, leaving forty for Judah

standing by itself. With this addition this last on merges into the previous



  • 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 above, 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.


  • 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 II 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 said, in favor of the first one above. The text of the Hebrew, as we

find it, may have risen out of the fact 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.


6 “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.”  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:


  • to the “seventy weeks” of Daniel 9:24-27, and
  • the twelve hundred and sixty and the three days and a half of

Revelation 11:3, 9.



Sin Bearing (vs. 4-6)


Ezekiel is to bear the sin of his people, doing it indeed symbolically every

night, by lying first on one side, with the idea that the sin of Israel is upon

him so that he cannot move; and then for a shorter period on the other

side, with the idea of the sin of Judah resting on him and holding him

down. This shows that a prophet is more than a messenger from God to

men. He is one of the people, and his function involves his bearing

somewhat of their sin. This must be the case with all servants of God who

would be helpful to their brethren. Thus Christ’s sin bearing, while it stands

alone in its tremendous endurance and its glorious efficacy, is anticipated

and followed in a minor degree.                                    




Ø      It is bearing sin for others. Ezekiel took on him the burden of the

sin of the guilty nation. Vicarious endurance of sin runs through

all life. No man keeps his sin to himself. All who love the sinner

bear some of the weight of his sin. CHRIST THE SINLESS

bears our sin.


Ø      It is bearing sin for brethren. The prophet was to identify himself

with his people, and thus to come to bear their sin. Christ became

one of us that He might bear our sin for us. Pharisaical scorn for

the sin of others betrays the spirit of Cain.


Ø      It is bearing sin in true proportion. The guilt of Israel is greater than

that of Judah (How many would be offended for me to say that the

sin of the blue states in America are greater than those of the red?

CY – 2014), and its punishment is accordingly of longer duration.

These facts are recognized in Ezekiel’s symbolical periods of

endurance. As all sin is not equal, all sin does not produce the same

distress on the sin bearer. The aggravation of the world’s sin leads


How much has each added to that awful load?


  • SIN BEARING IS A REAL ENDURANCE. Ezekiel’s action was

symbolical, but it suggested a true spiritual experience.


Ø      Sin is borne vicariously in the thought of it. We may refuse to note our

brother’s ill conduct, and if so we may pass it by with indifference.

But the prophet must study the signs of the times; Christ must

take the real state of the world into His thought and heart; the man

of Christian sympathy must consider deeply and sadly the great sin

of mankind.


Ø      This is borne in the shame of it. Each man is only guilty of his own

misconduct. Yet we are all conscious of the shame of the sin of those

who are closely related to us. A child’s sin is his father’s shame. The

Christian spirit makes the shame of the sin of others felt by those who

have escaped it.


This is borne in the suffering of it. We cannot but suffer for THE


would help and save his brethren must bear the suffering of their sins.

Ezekiel in a lower degree anticipated that type of vicarious suffering set

forth in Isaiah 53, which CHRIST ALONE FULLY REALIZED!

The Saviour of men must ever be one who sacrifices himself for men,

by suffering the hurt of the sin of men.



FROM SIN. We cannot see all the deep mystery of this; but we can discern

its glorious issue.


Ø      The sin bearer is a propitiation to God. The Lamb of God who bears

away the sin of the world is God’s beloved Son, in whom He is well

pleased. God cannot be pleased with mere suffering; but He may well

be delighted with the spirit of obedience, holiness, and love that is

manifested in vicarious suffering, and as a glorious intercession.


Ø      The sin bearing should move the guilty to repentance. The Jews were to

learn a lesson from Ezekiel. Christ’s cross preaches repentance.


7 “Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and

thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it.”

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, ch.14:8; 15:7). The

words “prophesy against it” may imply some spoken utterance of the

nature of a “woe,”  but hardly, I think, a prolonged address.


8 “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.”  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 ch.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.


9 “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.”  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 (v. 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; 147:14; Jeremiah 12:13; 41:8), nor of barley, the chief food of the

poor (ch. Ezekiel 13:19; Hosea 3:2; John 6:9), but of these mixed with beans

(II Samuel 17:28), lentils (Ibid.); 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.


10 “And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty

shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it.”  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.


11 “Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin:

from time to time shalt thou drink.” 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 I 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.


12 “And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with

dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.” 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 fail, 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 fulfill 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 neighbors at Tel-Abib.


13 “And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their

defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them.”

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 felt 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).



Defiled Bread (v. 13)


Among the many inconveniences of the exile this was to be included, that

the Jews would not be able to secure that their food should be cooked in

their own manner, and so kept free from ceremonial defilement. But is

there not a latent irony in the suggestion of such a thing as a serious

calamity? Does it not show that the spirit of the Pharisees, who would

strain out a gnat and swallow a camel, HAD ALREADY APPEARED? These

Jews, who would be so alarmed at the prospect of external defilement, had

already corrupted and befouled their souls with the vilest sin. Nevertheless,

if they did feel the shame of the external defilement, it would come to them

as a fitting retribution. Outward shame is the just penalty of INWARD SIN!



bad man touches turns to corruption. The sweetest food becomes foul in

the mouth of the wicked. A morally bad musician desecrates the good

music which he tries to interpret by breathing into it A CORRUPT

FEELING!  The best book will be degraded by an evil minded reader.

Such a person will contrive to extract sinful suggestions from the Bible;

and then perhaps he will even denounce the sacred volume as immoral

in its tendency.



finest wheaten loaf is a corrupt thing when it has been stolen. A dishonest

style of business degrades all its proceeds. When a man grows fat on the

gains which he has extorted from the helpless by cunning or force, he has

brought moral degradation into his home and corruption to his table. The

very bread with which he feeds his innocent children is a vile thing, and the

hungry poor whom his wicked practices are starving may have the

consolation of knowing that the crusts they gnaw in reeking cellars are

cleaner in the sight of God than the dainties of his sumptuous banquets.



SPIRIT. If the hand of the Giver is ignored, the bread is at once degraded.

It becomes but a dead mass of earth. THE HEAVENLY HAND that gave it

makes its highest value. Taken in faith and gratitude, the common bread of

a daily meal has something of a sacramental nature in it.  But

INGRATITUDE SPOILS ALL!  The Israelites, loathing the manna in the

wilderness and murmuring against their God, did their worst to corrupt






  • It may be devoured in low animal greed and lust of food. Then the

Divine sanctity of it vanishes, and it becomes a degraded thing. The glutton

who lives to eat defiles the best bread. So, too, the man who accepts the

other gifts of Providence which are bestowed upon him, solely for self

indulgence, lowers and vitiates all he consumes.


  • It may be converted into energy for sin. The bad man goes forth and

does wickedly in the strength of the bread which the holy God has given to

fit him for the service of goodness. Can any act of defilement be worse

than that? To preserve our bread from corruption let us recollect the

apostolic direction, “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye

do, do all to the glory of God.”  (I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17)


14 “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.”  Then said I, Ah, Lord God! etc. The

formula is, curiously enough, equally characteristic of Ezekiel (ch.9:8; 11:13;

20:49) and of his teacher and contemporary (Jeremiah 1:6; 4:10; 14:13;

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; 11:39-40; 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.; I 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

(II Kings 22.; II Chronicles 34.), i.e. probably by the Book of Deuteronomy.


15 “Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow’s dung for man’s

dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.” 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.


16 “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:”  The staff of bread. The phrase occurs again in ch.5:16; 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 ch.12:19.


17 “That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with

another, and consume away for their iniquity.” 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.



A Symbolic Famine (vs. 9-17)


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 honored 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 rigors 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.



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 EXHUBERANT 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.



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.



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.



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 OVERWHELMNING!



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.



The Chastisement of Famine (vs. 16-17)


The striking and distressing symbolism described in this chapter must have

brought with great vividness before the mind of the prophet, and before the

minds of his companions in exile, the sufferings that were about to befall

the metropolis which was the pride of their hearts. In the siege which was

to come upon Jerusalem, the citizens should endure the horrors of

privation, of hunger, and of thirst. It was foretold that in a sense this

should be God’s appointment, the effect of that retributive Providence

which devout minds cannot fail to recognize in the government of the

world. If such events took place in accordance with what are called general

laws, since those laws are the consequence and expression of the very

constitution of society, none the less must the Divine hand be recognized,

none the less must it be understood that Divine lessons are to be learned

with reverent submission.


  • A LESSON OF CORPORATE UNITY. As a city, Jerusalem had sinned

by rejecting Jehovah’s worship, and by honoring the gods of the nations;

by disobeying Jehovah’s laws, and following sinful impulses and indulging

in sinful practices. As a city, Jerusalem sinned; as a city, Jerusalem suffered

and fell. The innocent, no doubt, suffered with the guilty; those who

mourned over the defection of Judah (ch. 9:4) with those who were


from his neighbors; least of all is this possible in the life of the city, which is

characterized by a unity that may be designated corporate.


  • A LESSON OF PHYSICAL DEPENDENCE. Bread, water, and fuel

are mentioned in this chapter as necessaries of life; without them men are

condemned to famine and to death. The body is in correlation to nature —

to the provision made for its sustenance and strength. If the supply be cut

off, the body perishes. Familiar and commonplace as this truth is, men

need, in their pride and self-confidence, to be reminded of it. The haughty

Jews stood in need of the lesson. Let an army invest the city, and it is only

a question of time; for the besieged, if unable to beat back the besiegers,

must sooner or later surrender to the force of hunger, if not of arms.


  • A LESSON OF DIVINE RETRIBUTION. It is in this light that the

calamities attending a siege are presented by the prophet. Men may see in a

beleaguered city only a political fact, a military incident, the consequence

of well known causes, the cause of well understood effects. To see all this

is justifiable; to see nothing but this is BLINDNESS!  A thoughtful and

pious mind will look through, will look above, all that is phenomenal. There

is purpose in human affairs, there is Divine meaning, there is revelation.

When men, oppressed by adversity and threatened with ruin, are astonied

one with another, and pine away in their iniquity,” it is possible that they

may be so stupefied as to recognize no moral law in their experience, their

fate. but the enlightened discern in such events indication of the Divine

displeasure and indignation with sin. Chastisement, punishment, is no

chimera invented by a heated imagination; it is a sober, albeit a painful fact,

from which there is NO ESCAPE and NO APPEAL.  The judgments of

God are abroad in the earth; and this is that the inhabitants thereof may

learn righteousness.



not, indeed, explicitly presented in this passage; yet the whole prophetic

symbolism leads up to it. Why are men hungry but that they may call for

the bread of life? and upon whom shall they call but upon God? Whither

shall the parched and thirsting turn but to Him who has the water of life, for

the quenching of their thirst and the satisfaction of their souls? To whom

shall the afflicted address themselves but to Him who can turn the outward

curse into a spiritual blessing, who can make the scourge the means of

healing, and the sword the means of life? In the midst of wrath God

remembers mercy (Habakkuk 3:2); and it is ever true that they who call

upon the Name of the Lord SHALL BE SAVED!



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