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:
They belong to the period of the prophet’s silence.
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
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
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
the city and the holy house (Josephus, ‘
Eagle, as he, in like manner,
walked through the streets of
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
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
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,
far as we know, among the prophets of
land of the Chaldees may have contributed. He takes a tile, or tablet of baked clay,
such as were used in
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,
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
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:
perhaps, the wall of circumvallation, which the besiegers
erected that they might carry on their operations in safety;
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);
in which they were stationed in various positions found the city;
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 βελοστάσεις – belostaseis -, 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, ‘
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.
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?
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.
It made the message enduring. The brick libraries
have been deposited in the
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
a siege, and his action was intended for a sign to the house 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.
ENDURING A STATE OF
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
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.
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
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
such friendship hollow, and such aid ineffectual.
The inhabitants of
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
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,
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
by Ezekiel, unless, as in vs. 5-6, and ch. 37:16, there is a special
reason for noting a distinction for
4 “Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of
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.
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
sense, as the northern kingdom as distinguished from the “house of
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
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.
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
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
Ezekiel contemplated the
contemporaneous restoration of
(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
should survive the siege of
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
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.
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
DIVIDED! And the punishment of its two divisions is apportioned
according to their respective guilt. For
dye, there was to be, as it were, another Egyptian bondage (Hosea 8:13 and 9:3
seem to predict a literal return to
been figurative only). For
in the wilderness for forty years a period of punishment, but also of
preparation lot a re-entry into the land of promise.
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
standing by itself. With this addition this last on merges into the previous
in the number of the years the measure, not of the punishment, but of the
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
are, on this view, reckoned from Josiah’s reformation (B.C. 624), which
would bring us to B.C. 585-4. And the sin
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.
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
536, and therefore a larger number was inserted to allow time for a more
6 “And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side,
and thou shalt bear
the iniquity of the house of
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:
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
him so that he cannot move; and then for a shorter period on the other
side, with the idea of the sin of
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.
It is bearing sin in
true proportion. The guilt of
sin of the blue states in
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
to THE AGGRAVATION OF CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS!
How much has each added to that awful load?
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
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
WICKEDNESS OF THOSE WHO ARE NEAR TO US! One who
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.
thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of
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
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
reduced in the siege of 1870-71. This was to be the prophet’s food, as it
to be that of the people of
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
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),
continues in Arabia and
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
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.
the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of
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… “
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
THE HEAVENLY GIFT!
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
indulgence, lowers and vitiates all he consumes.
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
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
a speedy return to
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
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
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
privation, of hunger, and of thirst. It was foretold that in a sense this
should be God’s appointment, the effect of that retributive
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.
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,
and fell. The innocent, no doubt, suffered with the guilty; those who
mourned over the defection of
PROMINENT AGENTS IN THAT DEFECTION! No man can live apart
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.
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.
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
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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