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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 4

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem:

Take thee a tile - a sun-dried brick, such as are found in Babylon, covered with cuneiform inscriptions, often two feet long, one broad.

Verse 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.

Build a fort against it - rather, a watch-tower (Jeremiah 52:4) wherein the besiegers could watch the movements of the Besieged (Gesenius). A wall of circumvallation (The Septuagint and Rosenmuller). A kind of battering-ram Maurer). The first view is best.

A mount - wherewith the Chaldeans could be defended from missiles.

Battering-rams - literally, through-borers. In Ezekiel 21:22 the same Hebrew is translated "captains."

Verse 3

Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.

An iron pan - symbolically representing the divine decree as to the Chaldean army investing the city.

Set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city - Ezekiel, in the person of God, represents the wall of separation decreed to be between him and the people as one of iron, and the Chaldean investing army, His instrument of separating them from him, as one impossible to burst through.

Set thy face against it - inexorably (Psalms 34:16). The exiles envied their brethren remaining in Jerusalem; but exile is better than the straitness of a siege.

Verse 4

Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity.

Lie thou also upon thy left side - another symbolical act, performed at the same time as the former, in vision, not in external action, wherein it would have been only puerile: narrated as a thing ideally done, it would make a vivid impression. The second action is supplementary to the first, to bring out more fully the same prophetic idea.

Left side - referring to the position of the ten tribes, the Northern Kingdom; as Judah, the Southern, answers to "the right side" (Ezekiel 4:6). The Orientals, facing the East in their mode, had the North on their left and the South on their right (Ezekiel 16:46). Also, the right was more honourable than the left; so Judah, as being the seat of the temple, was more so than Israel.

According to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it, thou shalt bear their iniquity - iniquity being regarded as a burden; so it means, "bear the punishment of their iniquity" (Numbers 14:34). A type of Him who was the great sin-bearer, not in mimic show, as Ezekiel, but in reality (Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:6; Isaiah 53:12).

Verse 5

For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.

Three hundred and ninety days. The 390 years of punishment appointed for Israel, and forty for Judah, cannot refer to the siege of Jerusalem. That siege is referred to (Ezekiel 4:1-3), not in a sense restricted to the literal siege, but comprehending the whole train of punishment to be inflicted for their sin; therefore we read here merely of its sore pressure, not of its result. The sum of 390 and 40 years is 430-a period famous in the history of the covenant people, being that of their sojourn in Egypt (Exodus 12:40-41; Galatians 3:17). The 40 alludes to the 40 years in the wilderness. Elsewhere (Deuteronomy 28:68; Hosea 9:3) God threatened to bring them back to Egypt, which must mean, not Egypt literally, but a bondage as bad as that one in Egypt. So now God will reduce them to a kind of new Egyptian bondage to the world: Israel, the greater transgressor, for a longer period than Judah (cf. Ezekiel 20:35-38).

Not the whole of the 430 years of the Egypt-state is appointed to Israel; but this shortened by the forty years of the wilderness sojourn, to imply that a way is open to their return to life by their having the Egypt-state merged into that of the wilderness - i:e., by ceasing from idolatry, and seeking, in their sifting and sore troubles, through God's covenant, a restoration to righteousness and peace (Fairbairn). The 390, in reference to the sin of Israel, was also literally true, being the years from the setting up of the calves by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:20-33) - i:e., from 975 to 585 B.C. about the year of the Babylonian captivity; and perhaps the 40 of Judah refers to that part of Manasseh's 55 years' reign in which he had not repented, and which, we are expressly told, was the cause of, God's removal of Judah, notwithstanding Josiah's reformation (1 Kings 21:10-16; 23:26-27 ).

Verse 6

And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.

Each day for a year - literally, a day for a year, a day for a year. Twice repeated, to mark more distinctly the reference to Numbers 14:34. The picturing of the future under the image of the past, wherein the meaning was far from lying on the surface, was intended to arouse to a less superficial mode of thinking, just as the partial vailing of truth in Jesus' parables was designed to, stimulate inquiry; also, to remind men that God's dealings in the past are a key to the future, because He moves on the same everlasting principles, the forms alone being transitory.

Verse 7

Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it.

Thine arm shall be uncovered - to be ready for action, which the long Oriental garment usually covering it would prevent (Isaiah 52:10).

Thou shalt prophesy against it - this gesture of thine will be a tacit prophecy against Jerusalem.

Verse 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 - (Ezekiel 3:25) i:e., a constraint or restriction.

Thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another - to imply the impossibility of their being able to shake off their punishment.

Verse 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 wheat, and barley ... - instead of fine meal or simple flour used for delicate cakes (Genesis 18:6), the Jews should have a coarse mixture of six different kinds of grain, such as the poorest alone would eat.

Fitches - spelt or dhourra.

Three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof - the 40 days which complete the 430 (note, Ezekiel 4:5) are omitted, since these latter typify the wilderness period, when Israel stood separate from the Gentiles and their pollutions, though partially chastened by stint of bread and water (Ezekiel 4:16); whereas the eating of the polluted bread in the 390 days implies a forced residence "among the Gentiles," who were "defiled" with idolatry (Ezekiel 4:13). This last is said of "Israel" primarily, as being the most debased (Ezekiel 4:9-15): they had spiritually sunk to a level with the pagan, therefore God will make their condition outwardly to correspond. Judah and Jerusalem fare less hardly, being less guilty: they are to "eat bread by weight and with care" - i:e., have a stinted supply, and be chastened with the milder discipline of the wilderness-period of 40 years. But Judah also is secondarily referred to in the 390 days, as having fallen, like Israel, into Gentile defilements; if, then, the Jews are to escape from the exile among Gentiles, which is their just punishment, they must submit again to the wilderness-probation (Ezekiel 4:16).

Verse 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 shall be by weight twenty shekels ie little more than ten ounces A scant measure to Thy meat ... shall be by weight, twenty shekels - i:e., little more than ten ounces. A scant measure to sustain life (Jeremiah 52:6). But it applies not only to the siege, but to their whole subsequent state.

Verse 11

Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink.

Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin - about a pint and a half.

Verse 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 shalt bake it with dung - as fuel; so the Arabs use beasts' dung, wood-fuel being scarce. But to use human dung so implies the most cruel necessity. It was in violation of the law for the removal of human dung far from the camp, as unclean and defiling the people, in the midst of whose camps the Lord their God walked (Deuteronomy 14:3; Deuteronomy 23:12-14); it must therefore have been done only in vision.

Verse 13

And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them.

Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles - implying that Israel's special distinction was to be abolished, and that they were to be outwardly blended with the idolatrous pagan (Deuteronomy 28:68; Hosea 9:3).

Verse 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.

Ah Lord God! behold, my soul hath not been polluted; for from my youth up, even until now, have I not eaten ... neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth. Ezekiel, as a priest, had been accustomed to the strictest abstinence from everything legally impure. Peter felt the same scruple at a similar command (Acts 10:14: cf. Isaiah 65:4). Positive precepts, being dependent on a particular command, can be set aside at the will of the divine ruler; but moral precepts are everlasting in their obligation, because God cannot be inconsistent with His own unchanging moral nature.

Abominable flesh - literally, flesh that stank from putridity: Flesh of animals three days killed was prohibited (Leviticus 7:17-18; Leviticus 19:6-7).

Verse 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.

I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung - a mitigation of the former order (Ezekiel 4:12); no longer "the dung of man;" still the bread so baked is "defiled;" to imply that, whatever partial abatement there might be for the prophet's sake, the main decree of God, as to the pollution of Israel by exile among the Gentiles, is unalterable.

Verse 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:

I will break the staff of bread - bread by which life is supported, as a man's weight is by the staff he leans on (Leviticus 26:26; Psalms 105:16; Isaiah 3:1).

By weight, and with care - in scant measure (Ezekiel 4:10).

Verse 17

That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity. That they may ... be astonied one with another - mutually regard one another with astonishment - i:e., with the stupefied look of despairing want.


(1) Ezekiel by a vivid representation pourtrayed prophetically the coming siege of Jerusalem, and the wall of separation which God had placed between Himself and the people who once had been so closely united to Him (Ezekiel 4:1-3). Iniquity and apostasy separate between a people and their God (Isaiah 59:2) so that, instead of encompassing them with His favour as with a shield (Psalms 5:12), He gives them up to be environed by their enemies. Let us he warned by the "sign" which the house of Israel is to us, to know that faithfulness to our God is the only path of security and peace.

(2) The prophet also symbolically bore the iniquity of Israel and Judah for the respective times appointed to both (Ezekiel 4:4-6). The severe and lengthened discipline of chastisement was designed for their good at last, God having mercy in store for His ancient people in their latter end, when He has first thoroughly pleaded with them in "the wilderness of the people" (Ezekiel 20:35). Similarly God "hath laid on Christ the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:6; Isaiah 53:12); but in the case of those who have a saving and lasting interest in the atonement of the great Sin-bearer, God sees fit to put them through a discipline of chastisement, that they may be made partakers of His holiness, and heirs of His blessedness at last.

(3) The long sojourn of Israel among the Gentiles, in the midst of pagan defilements, and this in hunger, in thirst, and in want of all things (Deuteronomy 28:48), is represented by Ezekiel living on a very coarse and stinted diet; his bread, moreover, being baked with dung (Ezekiel 4:9-15). The famine at the siege of Jerusalem also is foreshadowed. Such are the evils which sin begets. When the people of God, in soul and spirit, have become assimilated to the people of the ungodly world,it is in righteous retribution appointed that the external condition of the former also shall be brought down to the same low level as the latter. Nothing but a close and consistent walk with God can raise us unequivocally to a sublime elevation above the world.

(4) Ezekiel was more concerned at being required to eat what offended his conscience, than at being required to eat what was not pleasing to his palate (Ezekiel 4:14). Let us always seek to have this testimony of our conscience, that in all, even the least things, our desire is to walk religiously before God and before man.

(5) In the abundance of our food, and even of luxuries, we are too apt to forget the miseries from which we are exempt, and to which others are exposed who have not a sufficiency of provisions. May God give us, besides His other countless gifts, a truly grateful heart!

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/ezekiel-4.html. 1871-8.
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