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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 4

Verse 1

Here God begins to speak more openly by means of his servant, and not to speak only, but to signify by an outward symbol what he wishes to be uttered by his mouth. Hence he orders the Prophet to paint Jerusalem on a brick Take therefore, he says, a brick, and place it in thy sight: then paint on it a city, even Jerusalem This is one command: then erect a tower against it. He describes the form of ancient warfare; for then when they wished to besiege cities, they erected mounds from which they filled up trenches: then they moved about wooden towers, so that they might collect the soldiers into close bands, and they had other machines which are not now in use. For fire-arms took away that ancient art of warfare. But God here Simply wishes the picture of a city to be besieged by Ezekiel. Then he orders him to set up a pan or iron plate, like a wall of iron This had been a childish spectacle, unless God had commanded the Prophet to act so. And hence we infer, that sacraments cannot be distinguished from empty shows, unless by the word of God. The authority of God therefore is the mark of distinction, by which sacraments excel, and have their weight and dignity, and whatever men mingle with them is frivolous. For this reason we say that all the pomps of which the Papal religion is full are mere trifles. Why so? because men have thought out whatever dazzles the eyes of the simple, without any command of God.

But if any one now objects, that the water in baptism cannot penetrate as far as the soul, so as to purge it of inward and hidden filth, we have this ready answer: baptism ought not to be considered in its external aspect only, but its author must be considered. Thus the whole worship under the law had nothing very different from the ceremonies of the Gentiles. Thus the profane Gentiles also slew their victims, and had whatever outward splendor could be desired: but that was entirely futile, because God had not commanded it. On the other hand, nothing was useless among the Jews. When they brought their victims, when the blood was sprinkled, when they performed ablutions, God’s command was added, and afterwards a promise: and so these ceremonies were not without their use. We must therefore hold, that sacraments at first sight appear trifling and of no moment, but their efficacy consists in the command and promise of God. For if any one reads what Ezekiel here relates, he would say that it, was child’s play. He took a brick, he painted a city on it: it was only a figment: then he had imaginary machines by which he besieged the city: why boys do better than this: next he set up a plate of iron like a wall: this action is not a whit more serious than the former. Thus profane men would not only despise, but even carp at this symbol. But when God sends his Prophet, his authority should be sufficient for us, which is a certain test for our decision, and cannot fail, as I have said. First, he says, paint a city, namely Jerusalem: then lay siege to it, and move towards it all warlike instruments: place even כרים, kerim, which some interpret “leaders,” but they are “lambs,” or “rams,” for the Hebrews metaphorically name those iron machines by which walls are thrown down “rams,” as the Latins do. Some indeed prefer the rendering leaders,” but I do not approve of their opinion. At length he says, this shall be a sign and on this clause we must dwell: for, as I already said, the whole description may be thought useless, unless this testimony be added: indeed the whole vision would be insipid by itself, unless the savor arose from this seasoning, since God says, this should be a sign to the Israelites.

When God pronounces that the Prophet should do nothing in vain, this ought to be sufficient to lead us to acquiesce in his word. If we then dispute according to our sense, he will show that what seems foolish overcomes all the wisdom of the world, as Paul says. (1 Corinthians 1:25.) For God sometimes works as if by means of folly: that is, he has methods of action which are extraordinary, and by no means in accordance with human judgment. But that this folly of God may excel all the wisdom of the world, let this sentence occur to our minds, when it is here said, Let this be for a sign to the house of Israel. For although the Israelites could shake their heads, and put out their tongues, and treat the Prophet with unbridled insolence, yet this alone prevailed sufficiently for confounding them, that God said, this shall be for a sign And we know of what event it was a sign, because the Israelites who had been drawn into captivity thought they had been too easy, and grieved at their obedience: then also envy crept in when they saw the rest of the people remaining in the city. Therefore God meets them and shows them that exile is more tolerable than to endure a siege in the city if they were enclosed in it. Besides, there is little doubt that this prophecy was directed against the Jews who pleased themselves, because they were yet at ease in their rest. For this reason, therefore, God orders the Prophet to erect towers, then to pitch a camp, and to prepare whatever belongs to the siege of a city, because very soon afterwards the Chaldeans would arrive, who had not yet oppressed the city, but are just about to besiege it, as we shall afterwards see at length.

Verse 4

We must first consider the scope of this prophecy, and we shall then discuss more conveniently its separate parts. It is not doubtful that God wished to oppose the pride of the people, for they thought themselves punished more severely than they deserved. And this is customary with hypocrites, because while they dare not acquit themselves altogether, they yet murmur as if God afflicted them too severely, then they willingly offer something in compensation that they may free themselves from punishment. For although they confess themselves guilty, yet they do not cease to turn aside, and think if God descends to equity with them, that either they will escape, or at least be less miserable. Such was the disposition of the ancient people, as is well known. We now only need to repeat what we have said before: that the Jews were more obstinate because God had spared them. Nor did they think this only temporary, but they exulted with great freedom, as if they had settled all their business with God. Meanwhile the exiles were constantly complaining, first, that God had treated them so severely, and yet had in clemency pardoned the Jews: then they thought that they had been deceived, and that if they had prudently attended to their own affairs they could have escaped the miseries by which they were oppressed. Now, therefore, Ezekiel is ordered to come forward into the midst of them, and shortly to show that no other result is possible but that the whole people should receive the reward of their wickedness. But because simple teaching was not sufficient to stir them up, a vision is added, and to this end the Prophet is ordered to lie on one side for three hundred and ninety days, and on the other side forty days. Now the interpretation is added, that days are taken for so many years But the meaning is, that the people through three hundred and ninety years carried on war with God, because they had never ceased from sin. Hence the Prophet is ordered to take upon him the iniquity of so many years: but God appointed him days for years, then forty years are added which belong to the people of Judah.

This place is variously twisted by interpreters. I will not refer to all their comments, for they have fatigued themselves in vain by inventing arguments which vanish of their own accord: I will not spend the time in refuting them, but will only endeavor to elicit the genuine sense. Some extend the name of Israel to the whole body of the people, but this must be rejected; for they begin the three hundred and ninety years from the first revolt, of which mention is made in the Book of Judges, (Judges 2:2,) and they gather together those years during which the Israelites often fell into impiety: hence they reckon the three hundred and ninety years, and subtract those periods in which religion and the pure worship of God flourished, as under Gideon, under Samson for some time, and under David and Solomon. They subtract then those years in which piety flourished among the people, and the remainder reaches about three hundred and ninety years. But it would be absurd to include the tribe of Judah under the name of Israel, when a comparison between each kingdom is made. We know, indeed, that all the posterity of Abraham were so named by their father Jacob, when, therefore, the name of Israel is put, the twelve or thirteen tribes are comprehended without exception; but when there is comparison, Israel signifies only the ten tribes, or that adulterous kingdom which set up Jeroboam as king after the death of Solomon. (1 Kings 12:20.) Since, then, both Israel and Judah are treated of here, it is by no means suitable that the prophecy should speak of the whole people, and mix the tribe of Judah with the rest. Then the event itself dispels many clouds and takes away all room for controversy: for if we number the years from the revolt in Rehoboam’s time, we shall find three hundred and ninety years till the siege of Jerusalem. What then can be easier, and what room is there for conjectures? I wonder that Jerome, since he relates nothing but mere trifles, yet boasts of some wonderful wisdom; for he says, he did not do it for the sake of boasting, and truly he has little cause for it; for if any one will read his Commentary, he will find nothing but what is puerile. (1 Kings 12:28.) But, as I have already said, since the name of Israel everywhere signifies the ten tribes, this interpretation is best here: namely, that the obstinacy of the ten tribes was continued through three hundred and ninety years. For, as is sufficiently, known, Jeroboam erected two altars, that he might turn away the people from the worship of God: for he thought himself not sufficiently established in his kingdom, so as to retain the obedience of the people, unless he turned them away from the house of David. Therefore he used that artifice — thus the worship of God was corrupted among the Israelites. Now by idolatry the Prophet here points out the other sins of the people; for from this fountain flowed all other iniquities. After they had once cut themselves off from God, they became forgetful of the whole law. The Prophet therefore includes all their corruptions under this one expression, since by the edict of their king this people had shaken off the yoke of God, for which Hosea reproaches them. (Hosea 5:11.) We now understand the three hundred and ninety years of Israel’s iniquity, because the people then rejected the law, and followed foreign superstitions, which Jeroboam fabricated with no other intention than That; of strengthening the power of his kingdom, just as earthly kings are influenced by no other desire, although they pretend, and even magnificently boast, that they seek God’s glory with the utmost devotion, yet their religion is only a delusion; provided only that they retain the people in obedience and duty, any kind of worship, and any mode of worshipping God, is the same to them. Such, therefore, was the cunning of Jeroboam: but his posterity greatly deteriorated, so that the worship of God could never be restored among the Israelites. Circumcision, indeed, remained, in which they imitated what Moses had commanded in the law, but at the same time they had two altars, and those profane ones, instead of one only. At length they did not hesitate openly to adopt the idolatries of the Gentiles: hence they so mixed up God with their inventions, that what even they valued under the pretense of piety, was an abomination to him. This is the reason why God says that the iniquity of the people of Israel has endured for three hundred and ninety years

The difficulty in the second clause is greater, because the computation does not agree exactly. After the death of Josiah we shall only find twenty-two years to the destruction of the city. But we know that this king, of his eminent piety, took care that God should be sincerely worshipped; for he purged the whole land of all its defilements. Where, then, will be those forty years? Hence it is necessary to take a part of the reign of Manasseh, because then Jerusalem not only revolted from the teaching of the law, but that tyrant cruelly raged against all the Prophets, and the city was defiled by innocent blood. Hence it will be necessary to omit the reign of Josiah, then a part of the reign of Manasseh must be cut off, because he did not immediately relapse into idolatry; but after he grew up, then the worship of God and the examples of his fathers being despised, he turned aside to strange and fictitious worship, though he did not persist in his impiety to the end of his life. Eighteen years, then, must be taken and joined to the two-and-twenty, that the number which the Prophet uses may be made up, unless, perhaps, any one would rather take a part of the reign of Josiah. (2 Kings 22:0) For although that pious king did his utmost to uphold the worship of God, yet we know that the people of very wickedness strove with the goodness of God. For when the law was found no amendment followed, for the memory of all its doctrine had grown obsolete; but when it was placed before the people they ought to have become new. But so far from those who had been previously alienated from God becoming wise again, they betrayed their obstinacy more and more. Since then, the impiety of the people had been detected, it is not surprising that the people of Judah is said to have sinned for forty years. Certainly this latter explanation pleases me most, because the Prophet refers to continuous years, which followed the captivity of the ten tribes; although I do not reject the other interpretation, because it reckons those years during which Manasseh exercised his tyranny against God’s servants, and endeavored as much as he could to abolish his pure worship, and to pollute it with the filth of all the nations. Now, therefore, we understand the forty years of the iniquity of the tribe of Judah.

As to those interpreters who refer the four hundred and thirty years to the siege of the city, as if God’s vengeance was thus satisfied, I fear it will not hold good; it seems to me not a suitable explanation; it only signifies that it is not surprising if their enemies besiege the city so long, since they did not cease to provoke God for as many years as the siege continued days. The city was besieged a whole year and two or three months. The beginning of the siege continues to the end of the half year, but it was finished in three or four months, when Pharaoh endeavored to free the Jews, who were then his allies and confederates, by bringing up his army. Then Nebuchadnezzar went forth to meet him, and the city was relieved for a short time. Now if we take three hundred and ninety days, we shall find a whole year at first, that is three hundred and sixty-five years, although then there was an intercalary month, and they had not their year defined as we now have; but yet there will be three hundred and sixty-five days, which make a complete year. The two months will make sixty days, so we shall have four hundred and twenty days. Now a month and a half elapsed before the return of Nebuchadnezzar. Then the computation will amount to four hundred and thirty years. But interpreters are satisfied, because the siege of the city endured to a time which answers to that prescribed to Abraham. For God entered into covenant with Abraham four hundred and thirty years before the promulgation of the law. But I do not see why they are so satisfied with this resemblance. Nor is this the meaning of our Prophet. When he speaks of a siege he certainly regards especially the destruction of the city. Therefore I do not think that the days of the siege are here enumerated as a just punishment, but only that years are compared with days, that they may determine how long the siege should be, and that the end was not to be, expected until the whole people perished.

Besides, we see as we go on that the Prophet lay on his side three hundred and ninety days; where there is no mention of forty days, and that part seems to be omitted. Yet this remains fixed, because Israel and Judah had been obstinate in their wickedness; hence the city was besieged until it was utterly taken. Now surely the punishment of Israel cannot be considered as consisting in the overthrow of the holy city; for already the ten tribes had migrated from their country, and did not know what was doing at Jerusalem, except by report. Whatever happened their condition was altogether separate from all the miseries of the people, for they were then quiet in exile. As then the Prophet is ordered to bear the iniquity of Israel for three hundred and ninety days, this ought not to be restricted to the siege. God simply means, since so many years had elapsed during which both Israelites and Jews had not ceased to sin, their final destruction was already at hand. But we know that then the kingdom of Judah was extinguished, and exile was to the ten tribes like death. On this account they had perished; nor did the Prophet bear their iniquity as if they were then paying the penalty of their sins. But we know that this is the customary manner of Scripture, because God reckons sins to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 5:9.) When, therefore, God wished the ten tribes to be dragged into exile, then he punished them for their wickedness three hundred and ninety years. Afterwards he bore with the city of Jerusalem for a certain time, and endured a similar impiety in that tribe, that he should not utterly blot out the memory of the people. But the Jews did not repent, since we also see by Isaiah comparing them with the Israelites, that they became worse. (Isaiah 18:1, 8 [sic ].) Micah reproves them for following the statutes of Omri; (Micah 6:16,) whence it is not surprising if the punishment which they endure should answer to the wickedness in which they had involved themselves. We shall see also that the same subject is repeated by our Prophet in Ezekiel 16:0.

On the whole then, God wished to show the people that they had abused his forbearance too much and too long, since they did not desist from sinning even to the four hundred and thirtieth year. The Israelites indeed began to turn aside from the true worship of God while the Temple still remained pure, but at length the tribe of Judah, by degenerating, became guilty of the same impiety. Now we understand the intention of the Holy Spirit.

I pass on to the words. Thou, says he, shalt lie upon thy left side We must remark that this was not in reality completed, because Ezekiel did not lie for three hundred and ninety days upon his side, but only by a vision, that he might afterwards relate to the people what God had made manifest. As to the opinion of those commentators who think the ten tribes are meant by the left side, because Samaria was situated to the left hand, I do not think it applicable. I do not doubt that God wished to prefer the tribe of Judah to the kingdom of Israel; for although the ten tribes excelled in the number, opulence, and strength of men, yet God always made more, of the kingdom of Judah. For here was the seat of David; and the ten tribes were the posterity of Abraham only after the flesh, the promise remained to Jerusalem, and there also the lamp of God shone, as we have said in many places. Hence the right side signifies that dignity with which God wished always to adorn the kingdom of Judah: but the ten tribes are marked by the left side; because, as I have said, they did not enjoy equal glory with the kingdom of Judah, although they are more numerous, more courageous, and more abundant in all good things. It must now be observed that the burden of bearing their iniquity was imposed on the Prophet: not because God transferred to him the iniquity of the people, as some here invent an allegory, and say that the Prophet was a type of Christ, who bore on himself the iniquity of the people. But an expiation is not here described: but we know that God uses his servants for different purposes. So therefore the Prophet on one side is ordered to oppose Jerusalem, as if he were the king of Babylon; hence he sustains the character of king Nebuchadnezzar when he opposes the city of brick, of which we spoke yesterday. Now he sustains other characters, as of the ten tribes and the kingdom of Judah, when he lies upon his left side three hundred and ninety days , and on his right side forty days For this reason also it is said, I have appointed to thee the years of this iniquity, according to then number, of the days, etc; that is, when I order thee to lie on thy right side so many days, I represent to thee years. For it would have been absurd to demand of the Prophet to lie upon one side four centuries, so God accommodates himself in these figures to our standard; and it is contrary to nature that a man should lie for four centuries, and because that is absurd, God changes years into days; and this is the reason why days are said to be substituted for years. Afterwards it is added, when thou shalt have fulfilled those years, then thou shalt afterwards lie upon thy right side, and shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days Here God shows the tribe of Judah, that when it ought to be frightened by the punishment of the kingdom of Israel, it still persisted in its wickedness hence the Jews could not possibly escape the punishment of the Israelites.

Verse 7

It is added, and towards the siege of Jerusalem thou shalt set or establish thy face Either meaning may be received; either directing and ordering, or establishing and strengthening; although the word directing or ordering pleases me better in this place. He had said, indeed, before, thou shalt direct thy face until Jerusalem shall be besieged; but in my opinion God simply here orders his Prophet to be intent on the overthrow of the city. And thine arm shall be made bare; that is, for expedition: for we know that orientals use flowing tunics and long robes, so that they cannot execute any business without putting off their garments. Hence the Prophet is here ordered to make bare his arm, just as if any one should take his coat half off, and throw it over the other side, that he might have one arm free. Such was the dress of the Prophet, but by a vision, as I have said. Afterwards it is added,that thou, shalt prophesy against it Again God repeats what we saw yesterday: for nothing had been colder than that the Prophet should make bare his arm, and direct his face against towards the siege of a painted city. Had the picture been only an empty one, the spectacle might be justly condemned; but God adds the meaning to the figures, that the prophecy may have more force: as if he had said, I see that these signs are not of themselves of much moment, and you may object to me, why do you concern yourself with these trifles? But whatever you do shall be a certain seal of prophecy. Now we see why God joins the word “prophecy.” Then he adds, Behold I will place upon thee ropes, so that thou canst not turn from, side to side, until thou hast completed the days of thy siege God here signifies that his decree concerning the siege of Jerusalem was inviolable: for as he held his servant so bound down, by this the firmness of his decree was designated, because the Jews thought that they could extricate themselves by their deceits. For we know that they always flattered themselves when the Prophets threatened them. Therefore God signifies that the siege of the city was certain until it was taken; because the Prophet should be bound with cords, and should not move himself, nor turn from one side to the other. And hence we understand, from the figure here used, that the Jews should suffer the same punishments as the ten tribes. Just as if God should say that the time determined for the destruction of the kingdom of Israel had come, and that the same end would happen to the Jews; for ill whatever direction they might escape, yet the same execution of God’s judgment would arrive, as if the matter had been already determined. Now it follows:

Verse 9

It is by no means doubtful, that this verse applies to the siege, because God signifies that the city would then suffer famine, but a little afterwards he adds another vision, from which we gather, that the subject is not only the siege of Jerusalem, but the general vengeance of God against all the tribes, which had fallen on the Jews through their alliance with them, and which ended at length in the siege. But here God shows the future condition of the city Jerusalem. For this various kind of bread is a sign of want, for we make bread of wheat, and if any region is barren there barley is eaten or’ vetches, and if we have but a moderate supply, still wheaten bread is used, but when lentils and beans, and millet and spelt are used, a severer penury is portrayed. In the time of Jerome the name of spelt was in use for “zea,” since he says, it was “gentile” among the Italians. I know not how it agrees with what Jerome calls “vetches;” in his Commentaries he says it is “zea,” and uses that name for spelt, which was then wheat: whatever it is, when leguminous plants are mixed with wheat, and when barley and spelt are used, it shows a deficiency in ordinary food. It is just as if the Prophet Ezekiel were to denounce against the Jews a deficiency in the harvest which they were then reaping while they were free, for this vision was offered to the Prophet before the city was besieged. Hence he threatened want and famine at a time when they were still eating bread made of pure wheat. For he orders all these things to be put in one vessel Hence we gather, that this mixture would be by no means acceptable to delicate palates: for we know that beans and lentils are grosser than wheat, and cannot be kneaded into a dough of the right kind, since the wheat and pulse are dissimilar. For this reason, then, God places them in one vessel Then it is added — thou shalt make bread for thee according to the number of the days The days here numbered are the three hundred and ninety: there is no mention of the forty days, but it may be a part put for the whole. Now it follows:

Verse 10

This confirms what I have said, namely, that the want should be such, that the Prophet dared not eat even that bread to satiety: you shall eat, says he, bread by weight, viz, twenty shekels. These are not complete rounds, so that the sense is, that God commanded his Prophet to live sparingly. When the city was besieged, bread was distributed in pieces to each person. God then here says, that the Jews should be almost famished during the siege, so that they should not have bread except by fixed weight, and that a small one. What follows is more miserable, namely, the want of water; for this is the last stage of calamity when thirst oppresses us. it seems hard, indeed, to want wine, but when water is deficient, this, as I have said, is the last stage of famine, and this the Prophet denounces against the Jews when he says, water was not given to him during the time of the siege unless by measure. I shall leave the rest till to-morrow.

Verse 12

This vision properly belongs to the ten tribes, and, for this reason, I have said that God’s vengeance is not to be considered as to the siege of the city alone, but to be extended longer. After the Prophet had spoken of the siege of Jerusalem, he adds, that their reward was prepared for the children of Israel, because a just God was the avenger of each people. As, therefore, he punished the remnant who as yet remained at Jerusalem, so he avenged the wickedness of the ten tribes in exile at Babylon. For this reason the Prophet is ordered to cook a cake with dung: that is, he is commanded to take human dung instead of fuel: nor does he simply say dung, but the dung of men. By and bye the application follows. Thus the children of Israel shall eat their polluted bread among the Gentiles Now, therefore, we see that the Jews are at length drawn to judgment, because they had not been so touched with the slaughter of their brethren as to repent, but, in the meantime, the wrath of God was conspicuous against the ten tribes, because among the Gentiles those miserable exiles were compelled to eat their bread polluted. We know that cakes are made of the finest flour, for the purer the flour the more delicate is the bread, but the Prophet is ordered to make cakes of barley, and then to cook them in dung, for that uncleanness was forbidden by the law. (Leviticus 5:3; Leviticus 7:21.) Therefore God signifies, that the Israelites were so rejected that they differed in nothing from polluted nations; for the Lord had separated them as we know from the rest of the world: but from the time of their mingling themselves with the filth of the impious, at length, after long forbearance, they were altogether rejected as it is here said. For under this figure a universal pollution is signified, as if he had said, nothing is any longer holy or sacred in Israel, because they are mixed up with the pollutions of all nations: finally, the impure bread embraces within itself all kinds of impiety. Now when he says among the Gentiles, it means, that they would be such inhabitants of the lands among which they were driven, that they should be not only exiles but banished from the land of Canaan, which was their inheritance. In fine, a disinheriting is here marked, when the Jews are said to be driven about hither and thither, so as not to, dwell in the promised land. It follows —

Verse 14

The Prophet here inserts the answer which he received to his request that God would relax his severe command: for it was abominable to eat flesh cooked with human dung, not only on account of the stench, but because religion forbade it: though the Prophet did not regard the taste of his palate, but objects that it was not lawful for him, and relates how anxiously he had abstained during his whole life from all polluted food. For if he had formerly dared to feed promiscuously on all sorts of food, he could not pray against it as he now does, that he should not be compelled to eat polluted bread: but he shows here that he had abstained throughout his whole life from all polluted food. My soul, says he, never was polluted: for soul is often put for the belly: then never have I tasted of a carcass, or of what has been torn in pieces By the figure a part put for the whole, he intends all unclean meats, which were unlawful food, according to the commandments of the law. (Leviticus 9:0.) For because a carcass is mixed with blood, God forbade them to touch the flesh of an animal which died by itself, because it had not been strangled, then if a wild beast should tear a sheep or an ox, that cruelty ought to be detestable to men. Since, therefore, both a carcass and torn and lacerated flesh are unclean food, the Prophet here says, that from his childhood even to that time he had kept the commands of God with his utmost endeavors: hence he obtains, as I have said, some mitigation. Yet he is compelled to eat his flesh cooked with the dung of oxen. This was done by vision, as I said yesterday: but meanwhile God did not change what he had determined concerning the people: viz. that they should eat their bread polluted among the Gentiles. For a cake cooked in the dung of oxen was unclean according to the Law. Hence God shows his own decree was fixed that the Israelites should be mingled among the Gentiles, so that they should contract pollution from their filth. It follows —

Verse 16

God returns again to the citizens of Jerusalem, and announces that they should be so destroyed by famine, that they should be reduced to the last extremity, and all but consumed by want. But he places here two forms of punishment: he says, that he should break the staff of bread: then, that their abundance of bread should be small, because they would be compelled to eat their morsels by weight and fear, and to drink water by measure and astonishment. I said they were different forms, because even if bread was sufficient, God often breaks its staff, as he calls it. And this clearly appears from Leviticus 26:26, whence our Prophet has adopted this expression. For here Moses explains what it is to break the staff of bread; because, he says, ten women shall cook their bread in one dish, and then they must bona fide restore the quantity of meal given them; for the bread shall be weighed, and thou shalt eat and not be satisfied. There God had said, I will break the staff of bread: but a clearer explanation follows — namely, although wheat for cooking the bread should be sufficient, and the women should mutually observe each other that no theft should take place, but should return in weight what had been given out to them, yet its nourishment should be deficient. We see then that God breaks the staff of bread, when a sufficiently plentiful supply exists, but those who eat are not satisfied.

That this may appear more clearly, we muse assume the principle that men do not live by bread only, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God, (Deuteronomy 8:3,) for here God signifies that we are not nourished by virtue of the bread, properly speaking: for how can bread be life-giving when it wants both sense and vigor? We see then that there is no force in bread to nourish us which excludes the hidden grace of God, for we live by the word of God. The subject here is not the word of doctrine nor yet spiritual life; but Moses understands that we are sustained not by bread and wine and other food, or by any kind of drink, but by the secret virtue Of God whilst he inspires the bread with rigor for our nourishment. Bread then is our nourishment, but not by any peculiar or intrinsic virtue: this it has from another source, namely, the favor and ordination of God. As, therefore, a small portion of bread is sufficient; for us, so if any one gorge himself he will cry out sooner than be satisfied, unless God inspires the virtue. And for this reason Christ uses that passage against Satan: Man lives not by bread alone, (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4,) because he shows that the life of man was propped up by the secret virtue of God, and that God, whenever it pleases him, does not need these foreign assistances. God then can sustain us by himself: sometimes he uses bread, but only as an adventitious instrument; in the meantime he derogates nothing from his own virtue: hence a staff is taken metaphorically for a prop. For as old men already totter on their legs, and all their limbs being broken down by weakness, support themselves with a staff, so also bread is said to have a staff, because we are propped up by the nourishment. Our strength also becomes deficient, and hence he who takes nourishment is said to refresh himself with food. God, therefore, breaks the staff of bread when he renders men famished, even when they have a sufficient abundance of bread. Neither are they satisfied, how much soever they may gorge themselves, because the food loads instead of refreshes them.

This is the first punishment with which God threatens the Jews. Another also is added, namely, that they shall be destitute of bread. We see then that there is a double mode by which God punishes us by hunger. For although bread is sufficient, yet he breaks and destroys its staff, so that it cannot prop us up nor recall our lost vigor. At length he takes away our bread, because he either strikes our fruits with blight or hail, or makes us suffer under other calamities. Hence barrenness brings want, so that God will affect us with hunger both ways: for he says, behold! I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, and then he adds, they shall eat their bread by weight and in fear, they shall drink their water by measure and in astonishment, because in truth they shall be reduced to such straits that they shall scarcely dare to touch their bread, because while they look forward to the morrow they shall fear and be astonished. And he confirms this opinion in the next verse, that they shall be destitute of bread and water, and shall be astonished: for this explanation agrees better; therefore a man and his brother shall be astonished, that is, they shall look mutually on each other as if astonished. Thus those who are without wisdom and discern nothing but despair are accustomed to act: at length they shall pine away in their iniquity. Again God repeats that the Jews could not complain when he so grievously afflicts them, because they shall receive the reward of their own iniquity. Now follows —

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.