Using symbolisms, God shows Ezekiel how to launch a siege against a rebellious Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1 – 4:17)
God told Ezekiel to take a block of clay and inscribe the city of Jerusalem on it (creating a model of the city). Then Ezekiel was told to mimic a siege of the city – build siege ramps next to it, set up military camps around the city, and place battering rams next to the city walls.
Next, Ezekiel was told to take an iron frying pan and place it as an impenetrable wall between Ezekiel and the city. God told Ezekiel to face the iron wall – the city of Jerusalem will be under siege and Ezekiel will be the Besieger.
God instructed Ezekiel to lay on his left side. He told Ezekiel he was to bear the sin of the Israelites for the number of days he laid on his side. The number of days was the number of years Israel had sinned against God – for 390 days Ezekiel would bear the sin of the people of Israel.
After 390 days, Ezekiel was to turn and lay on his right side and with bared arm, prophecy against the people. God told Ezekiel he would tie him up with ropes so he could not turn from one side to the other until the days of the siege were complete.
God laid out detailed plans for Ezekiel’s sustenance during the 390-day siege. He was directed to weigh out 20 shekels of food to eat each day at set times and to measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink at set times. Ezekiel was told to take barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt to make bread for himself. The bread was to be baked as would a loaf of barley bread except he must use human excrement for fuel and bake it in sight of the people. God told Ezekiel, “In this same way, the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them to.”
Ezekiel plead with God, “Please, no, I have never defiled myself! Since I was young, I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No impure meat has ever entered my mouth.”
“Very well,” God said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.”
God then told Ezekiel, “I am about to cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food and water in anxiety and despair, for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin.”
What the story means to us today
The use of symbolism in the Bible
God often uses symbolic representations to explain his commands to Man. Most notably, we see much use of symbolism in Revelation, Daniel, Isaiah, and in Ezekiel, such as this instance when God uses symbolism to explain the dreadful task Ezekiel must face. Today, writers still recognize the effectiveness of symbolism. Symbolism creates not only meaning, but stimulates emotion which aids in learning. Commandments alone are dry and shallow. Symbolism adds depth to the communication and allows execution of the writer’s mantra, “Show, don’t tell.” The Bible uses much symbolism as an effective means to illustrate God’s wishes.
God gives warning to the people of Judah
At this time, Ezekiel has been muted and lays on his side acting out the symbolic acts in front of the people. It’s not difficult to imagine the people gathering in crowds around Ezekiel’s home waiting to see what he will act out next.
Additional thoughts and considerations
A reluctant people refuse to listen to God
God instructs Ezekiel to place an iron frying pan between Ezekiel and the city during the siege. The iron wall likely represents Israel’s reluctance to accept Ezekiel’s message and hints at the tough (iron-clad) resistance Ezekiel will experience.
How can a man survive laying on his side for 430 days?
God did not instruct Ezekiel to lay on his side for 24 hours each day. In fact, God tells Ezekiel to prepare meals which would require moving about the house. Later we will see Ezekiel sitting in his home with the elders during the final days of the siege.
Why should Ezekiel be required to bear the sins of the rebellious Israelites?
Before Christ was sent to earth, as a priest, the salvation of his people was Ezekiel’s responsibility. In fact, God has already told Ezekiel he is accountable for the people. As part of his priestly duties, Ezekiel must do his best to convince the people to turn away from sin – a task what will not be pleasant.
What did God mean, “With bared arm, prophesy against Israel?”
God told Ezekiel to lay on his right side and with bared arm, prophesy against the city. This phrase is similar to “rolling up your sleeves” when taking on a heavy task. It is easy to visualize Ezekiel with a sleeve rolled up and arm extended upward with clinched fist, demanding the people renounce their evil ways.
Why would God concede to Ezekiel’s request to not eat defiled food?
God commands Ezekiel to eat bread cooked over a fire fueled with human excrement. The final product would be a defiled bread, an affront to a priest like Ezekiel. Normally, animal dung would be used for cooking fires (wood was too valuable a resource to waste on fires). Using human excrement to prepare food would be offensive to ancient Israelites. In fact, Old Testament law required the people dig holes and bury their excrement for health reasons. By God’s good grace, he listens to Ezekiel’s argument and allows him to eat undefiled bread instead. The people however, will still be forced to eat defiled foods supplied by the foreign nations to which they will soon be banished.
The science and history behind the story
A “hin” of water
A “hin” was an ancient Hebrew measure of liquids. One hin equaled about 12 quarts. The sixth part of a hin mentioned in this story equates to 2 pints or 32 ounces of water – about half the recommended daily consumption of water for an average person.
How much is twenty shekels of food?
Standards for weight varied in the Near East but generally, a Hebrew unit of 1 shekel equaled 4 ounces (11.5 grams). Twenty shekels of food equates to 8 ounces or one-half pound of bread – barely enough to avoid starvation.
The Assyrians and Babylonians left well-documented descriptions of wartime attacks. The attacking army would construct a large earthen ramp to bridge the moats surrounding the city. The ramp would extend towards the upper section of the city’s protective wall. Battering rams would then be driven up the ramp and used to destroy the city’s walls.
Notes on Biblical translation
The word translated to “iron pan” or “iron frying pan” refers to a pan used by the priests for ceremonial grain offerings (it was not used for “frying” at all). This is the only time the item is referenced outside the priestly regulations dictated in Leviticus.
4 “Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. 2 Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. 3 Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the people of Israel.
4 “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. 5 I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel.
6 “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. 7 Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. 8 I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.
9 “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. 10 Weigh out twenty shekels r of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. 11 Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. 12 Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” 13 The LORD said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”
14 Then I said, “Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No impure meat has ever entered my mouth.”
15 “Very well,” he said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.”
16 He then said to me: “Son of man, I am about to cut off the food supply in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, 17 for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin.
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
4 “Now, son of man, take a brick and place it before you. Draw a picture of the city Jerusalem on it. Then make a model of a military siege against the brick: Build siege walls, construct a ramp, set up army camps, lay in battering rams around it. Then get an iron skillet and place it upright between you and the city—an iron wall. Face the model: The city shall be under siege and you shall be the besieger. This is a sign to the family of Israel.
4–5 “Next lie on your left side and place the sin of the family of Israel on yourself. You will bear their sin for as many days as you lie on your side. The number of days you bear their sin will match the number of years of their sin, namely, 390. For 390 days you will bear the sin of the family of Israel.
6–7 “Then, after you have done this, turn over and lie down on your right side and bear the sin of the family of Judah. Your assignment this time is to lie there for forty days, a day for each year of their sin. Look straight at the siege of Jerusalem. Roll up your sleeve, shake your bare arm, and preach against her.
8 “I will tie you up with ropes, tie you so you can’t move or turn over until you have finished the days of the siege.
9–12 “Next I want you to take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, dried millet and spelt, and mix them in a bowl to make a flat bread. This is your food ration for the 390 days you lie on your side. Measure out about half a pound for each day and eat it on schedule. Also measure out your daily ration of about a pint of water and drink it on schedule. Eat the bread as you would a muffin. Bake the muffins out in the open where everyone can see you, using dried human dung for fuel.”
13 GOD said, “This is what the people of Israel are going to do: Among the pagan nations where I will drive them, they will eat foods that are strictly taboo to a holy people.”
14 I said, “GOD, my Master! Never! I’ve never contaminated myself with food like that. Since my youth I’ve never eaten anything forbidden by law, nothing found dead or violated by wild animals. I’ve never taken a single bite of forbidden food.”
15 “All right,” he said. “I’ll let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human dung.”
16–17 Then he said to me, “Son of man, I’m going to cut off all food from Jerusalem. The people will live on starvation rations, worrying where the next meal’s coming from, scrounging for the next drink of water. Famine conditions. People will look at one another, see nothing but skin and bones, and shake their heads. This is what sin does.”
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
The NET Bible
4:1 “And you, son of man, take a brick and set it in front of you. Inscribe a city on it—Jerusalem. 4:2 Lay siege to it! Build siege works against it. Erect a siege ramp against it! Post soldiers outside it and station battering rams around it. 4:3 Then for your part take an iron frying pan and set it up as an iron wall between you and the city. Set your face toward it. It is to be under siege; you are to besiege it. This is a sign for the house of Israel.
4:4 “Also for your part lie on your left side and place the iniquity of the house of Israel on it. For the number of days you lie on your side you will bear their iniquity. 4:5 I have determined that the number of the years of their iniquity are to be the number of days for you—390 days. So bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.
4:6 “When you have completed these days, then lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah 40 days—I have assigned one day for each year. 4:7 You must turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem with your arm bared and prophesy against it. 4:8 Look here, I will tie you up with ropes, so you cannot turn from one side to the other until you complete the days of your siege.
4:9 “As for you, take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, put them in a single container, and make food from them for yourself. For the same number of days that you lie on your side—390 days—you will eat it. 4:10 The food you eat will be eight ounces a day by weight; you must eat it at fixed times. 4:11 And you must drink water by measure, a pint and a half; you must drink it at fixed times. 4:12 And you must eat the food like you would a barley cake. You must bake it in front of them over a fire made with dried human excrement.” 4:13 And the LORD said, “This is how the people of Israel will eat their unclean food among the nations where I will banish them.”
4:14 And I said, “Ah, sovereign LORD, I have never been ceremonially defiled before. I have never eaten a carcass or an animal torn by wild beasts; from my youth up, unclean meat has never entered my mouth.”
4:15 So he said to me, “All right then, I will substitute cow’s manure instead of human excrement. You will cook your food over it.”
4:16 Then he said to me, “Son of man, I am about to remove the bread supply in Jerusalem. They will eat their bread ration anxiously, and they will drink their water ration in terror 4:17 because they will lack bread and water. Each one will be terrified, and they will rot for their iniquity.
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
King James Version
4 Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem: 2 And lay siege against it, and ebuild a fort against it, and fcast a mount against it; set the camp also against it, and set battering rams against it round about. 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.
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. 5 For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, naccording to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. 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. 7 Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it. 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.
9 Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and slentiles, and millet, and tfitches, 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. 10 And vthy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it. 11 Thou shalt drink also water yby measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink. 12 And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight. 13 And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them. 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 dthat which dieth of itself, or eis torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth. 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. 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: 17 That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.