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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Ezekiel 4


Verses 4-8

The second symbolical act. - Ezekiel 4:4. And do thou lay thyself upon thy left side, and lay upon it the evil deeds of the house of Israel; for the number of the days during which thou liest thereon shalt thou bear their evil deeds. Ezekiel 4:5 . And I reckon to thee the years of their evil deeds as a number of days; three hundred and ninety days shalt thou bear the evil deeds of the house of Israel. Ezekiel 4:6 . And (when) thou hast completed these, thou shalt then lay thyself a second time upon thy right side, and bear the evil deeds of the house of Judah forty days; each day I reckon to thee as a year. Ezekiel 4:7 . And upon the siege of Jerusalem shalt thou stedfastly direct thy countenance, and thy naked arm, and shalt prophesy against it. Ezekiel 4:8 . And, lo, I lay cords upon thee, that thou stir not from one side to the other until thou hast ended the days of thy siege. - Whilst Ezekiel, as God's representative, carries out in a symbolical manner the siege of Jerusalem, he is in this situation to portray at the same time the destiny of the people of Israel beleaguered in their metropolis. Lying upon his left side for 390 days without turning, he is to bear the guilt of Israel's sin; then, lying 40 days more upon his right side, he is to bear the guilt of Judah's sin. In so doing, the number of the days during which he reclines upon his sides shall be accounted as exactly equal to the same number of years of their sinning. נשׂא עון , “to bear the evil deeds,” i.e., to take upon himself the consequence of sin, and to stone for them, to suffer the punishment of sin; cf. Numbers 14:34, etc. Sin, which produces guilt and punishment, is regarded as a burden or weight, which Ezekiel is to lay upon the side upon which he reclines, and in this way bear it. This bearing, however, of the guilt of sin is not to be viewed as vicarious and mediatorial, as in the sacrifice of atonement, but is intended as purely epideictic and symbolical; that is to say, Ezekiel, by his lying so long bound under the burden of Israel and Judah which was laid upon his side, is to show to the people how they are to be cast down by the siege of Jerusalem, and how, while lying on the ground, without the possibility of turning or rising, they are to bear the punishment of their sins. The full understanding of this symbolical act, however, depends upon the explanation of the specified periods of time, with regard to which the various views exhibit great discrepancy.

In the first place, the separation of the guilt into that of the house of Israel and that of the house of Judah is closely connected with the division of the covenant people into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. That Ezekiel now is to bear the sin of Israel upon the left, that of Judah on the right side, is not fully explained by the circumstance that the kingdom of the ten tribes lay to the left, i.e., to the north, the kingdom of Judah to the right, i.e., to the south of Jerusalem, but must undoubtedly point at the same time to the pre-eminence of Judah over Israel; cf. Ecclesiastes 10:2. This pre-eminence of Judah is manifestly exhibited in its period of punishment extending only to 40 days = 40 years; that of Israel, on the contrary, 390 days = 390 years. These numbers, however, cannot be satisfactorily explained from a chronological point of view, whether they be referred to the time during which Israel and Judah sinned, and heaped upon themselves guilt which was to be punished, or to the time during which they were to atone, or suffer punishment for their sins. Of themselves, both references are possible; the first, viz., in so far as the days in which Ezekiel is to bear the guilt of Israel, might be proportioned to the number of the years of their guilt, as many Rabbins, Vatablus, Calvin, Lightfoot, Vitringa, J. D. Michaelis, and others suppose, while in so doing the years are calculated very differently; cf. des Vignoles, Chronol. I. p. 479ff., and Rosenmüller, Scholia, Excurs. to ch. iv. All these hypotheses, however, are shattered by the impossibility of pointing out the specified periods of time, so as to harmonize with the chronology. If the days, reckoned as years, correspond to the duration of their sinning, then, in the case of the house of Israel, only the duration of this kingdom could come into consideration, as the period of punishment began with the captivity of the ten tribes. But this kingdom lasted only 253 years. The remaining 137 years the Rabbins have attempted to supply from the period of the Judges; others, from the time of the destruction of the ten tribes down to that of Ezekiel, or even to that of the destruction of Jerusalem. Both are altogether arbitrary. Still less can the 40 years of Judah be calculated, as all the determinations of the beginning and the end are mere phantoms of the air. The fortieth year before our prophecy would nearly coincide with the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign, and therefore with the year in which this pious king effected the reformation of religion. Ezekiel, however, could not represent this year as marking the commencement of Judah's sin. We must therefore, as the literal meaning of the words primarily indicates, regard the specified periods of time as periods of punishment for Israel and Judah. Since Ezekiel, then, had to maintain during the symbolical siege of Jerusalem this attitude of reclining for Israel and Judah, and after the completion of the 390 days for Israel must lie a second time ( שׁנית , Ezekiel 4:6) 40 days for Judah, he had to recline in all 430 (390 + 40) days. To include the forty days in the three hundred and ninety is contrary to the statements in the text. But to reckon the two periods together has not only no argument against it, but is even suggested by the circumstance that the prophet, while reclining on his left and right sides, is to represent the siege of Jerusalem. Regarded, however, as periods of punishment, both the numbers cannot be explained consistently with the chronology, but must be understood as having a symbolical signification. The space of 430 years, which is announced to both kingdoms together as the duration of this chastisement, recalls the 430 years which in the far past Israel had spent in Egypt in bondage (Exodus 12:40). It had been already intimated to Abraham (Genesis 15:13) that the sojourn in Egypt would be a period of servitude and humiliation for his seed; and at a later time, in consequence of the oppression which the Israelites then experienced on account of the rapid increase of their number, it was - upon the basis of the threat in Deuteronomy 28:68, that God would punish Israel for their persistent declension, by bringing them back into ignominious bondage in Egypt - taken by the prophet as a type of the banishment of rebellious Israel among the heathen. In this sense Hosea already threatens (Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3, Hosea 9:6) the ten tribes with being carried back to Egypt; see on Hosea 9:3. Still more frequently, upon the basis of this conception, is the redemption from Assyrian and Babylonian exile announced as a new and miraculous exodus of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, e.g., Hosea 2:2; Isaiah 11:15-16. - This typical meaning lies also at the foundation of the passage before us, as, in accordance with the statement of Jerome,

(Note: Alii vero et maxime Judaei a secundo anno Vespasiani, quando Hierusalem a Romanis capta templumque subversum est, supputari volunt in tribulatione et angustia et captivitatis jugo populi constitui annos quadringentos triginta, et sic redire populum ad pristinum statum ut quomodo filii Israel 430 annis fuerunt in Aegypto, sic in eodem numero finiatur: scriptumque esse in Exodus 12:40. - Hieronymus.)

it was already accepted by the Jews of his time, and has been again recognised in modern times by Hävernick and Hitzig. That Ezekiel looked upon the period during which Israel had been subject to the heathen in the past as “typical of the future, is to be assumed, because only then does the number of 430 cease to be arbitrary and meaningless, and at the same time its division into 390 + 40 become explicable.” - Hitzig.

This latter view is not, of course, to be understood as Hitzig and Hävernick take it, i.e., as if the 40 years of Judah's chastisement were to be viewed apart from the 40 years' sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness, upon which the look of the prophet would have been turned by the sojourn in Egypt. For the 40 years in the wilderness are not included in the 430 years of the Egyptian sojourn, so that Ezekiel could have reduced these 430 years to 390, and yet have added to them the 40 years of the desert wanderings. For the coming period of punishment, which is to commence for Israel with the siege of Jerusalem, is fixed at 430 years with reference to the Egyptian bondage of the Israelites, and this period is divided into 390 and 40; and this division therefore must also have, if not its point of commencement, at least a point of connection, in the 430 years of the Egyptian sojourn. The division of the period of chastisement into two parts is to be explained probably from the sending of the covenant people into the kingdom of Israel and Judah, and the appointment of a longer period of chastisement for Israel than for Judah, from the greater guilt of the ten tribes in comparison with Judah, but not the incommensurable relation of the divisions into 390 and 40 years. The foundation of this division can, first of all, only lie in this, that the number forty already possessed the symbolical significance of a measured period of divine visitation. This significance it had already received, not through the 40 years of the desert wandering, but through the 40 days of rain at the time of the deluge (Genesis 7:17), so that, in conformity with this, the punishment of dying in the wilderness, suspended over the rebellious race of Israel at Kadesh, is already stated at 40 years, although it included in reality only 38 years; see on Numbers 14:32. If now, however, it should be supposed that this penal sentence had contributed to the fixing of the number 40 as a symbolical number to denote a longer period of punishment, the 40 years of punishment for Judah could not yet have been viewed apart from this event. The fixing of the chastisement for Israel and Judah at 390 + 40 years could only in that case be measured by the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, if the relations of this sojourn presented a point of connection for a division of the 430 years into 390 and 40, i.e., if the 40 last years of the Egyptian servitude could somehow be distinguished from the preceding 390. A point of contact for this is offered by an event in the life of Moses which falls within that period, and was fertile in results for him as well as for the whole of Israel, viz., his flight from Egypt in consequence of the slaughter of an Egyptian who had ill-treated an Israelite. As the Israelites, his brethren, did not recognise the meaning of this act, and did not perceive that God would save them by his hand, Moses was necessitated to flee into the land of Midian, and to tarry there 40 years as a stranger, until the Lord called him to be the saviour of his nation, and sent him as His messenger to Pharaoh (Ex 2:11-3:10; Acts 7:23-30). These 40 years were for Moses not only a time of trial and purification for his future vocation, but undoubtedly also the period of severest Egyptian oppression for the Israelites, and in this respect quite fitted to be a type of the coming time of punishment for Judah, in which was to be repeated what Israel had experienced in Egypt, that, as Israel had lost their helper and protector with the flight of Moses, so now Judah was to lose her king, and be given over to the tyranny of the heathen world-power.

(Note: Another ingenious explanation of the numbers in question has been attempted by Kliefoth, Comment. p. 123. Proceeding from the symbolical signification of the number 40 as a measure of time for divine visitation and trial, he supposes that the prescription in Deuteronomy 25:3 - that if an Israelite were to be subject to corporal punishment, he was not to receive more than 40 stripes - is founded upon this symbolical signification - a prescription which, according to 2 Corinthians 11:24, was in practice so carried out that only 39 were actually inflicted. From the application and bearing thus given to the number 40, the symbolical numbers in the passage before us are to be explained. Every year of punishment is equivalent to a stripe of chastisement. To the house of Israel 10 x 39 years = stripes, were adjudged, i.e., to each of the ten tribes 39 years = stripes; the individual tribes are treated as so many single individuals, and each receives the amount of chastisement usual in the case of one individual. Judah, on the contrary, is regarded as the one complete historical national tribe, cause in the two faithful tribes of Judah and Benjamin the people collectively were represented. Judah, then, may receive, not the number of stripes falling to individuals, but that only which fell upon one, although, as a fair compensation, not the usual number of 40, but the higher number - compatible with the Torah - of 40 stripes = years. To this explanation we would give our assent, if only the transformation into stripes or blows of the days of the prophet's reclining, or of the years of Israel's punishment, could be shown to be probable through any analogous Biblical example, and were not merely a deduction from the modern law of punishment, in which corporal punishment and imprisonment hold the same importance. The assumption, then, is altogether arbitrary irrespective of this, that in the case of the house of Israel the measure of punishment is fixed differently from that of Judah; in the former case, according to the number of the tribes; in the latter, according to the unity of the kingdom: in the former at 39, in the latter at 40 stripes. Finally, the presupposition that the later Jewish practice of inflicting only 30 instead of 40 stripes - in order not to transgress the letter of the law in the enumeration which probably was made at the infliction of the punishment - goes back to the time of the exile, is extremely improbable, as it altogether breathes the spirit of Pharisaic micrology.)

While Ezekiel thus reclines upon one side, he is to direct his look unchangingly upon the siege of Jerusalem, i.e., upon the picture of the besieged city, and keep his arm bare, i.e., ready for action (Isaiah 52:10), and outstretched, and prophesy against the city, especially through the menacing attitude which he had taken up against it. To be able to carry this out, God will bind him with cords, i.e., fetter him to his couch (see on Ezekiel 3:25), so that he cannot stir from one side to another until he has completed the time enjoined upon him for the siege. In this is contained the thought that the siege of Jerusalem is to be mentally carried on until its capture; but no new symbol of the state of prostration of the besieged Jerusalem is implied. For such a purpose the food of the prophet (Ezekiel 4:9.) during this time is employed.

Verses 9-17

The third symbolical act. - Ezekiel 4:9. And do thou take to thyself wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentiles, and millet, and spelt, and put them in a vessel, and prepare them as bread for thyself, according to the number of the days on which thou liest on thy side; three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat it. Ezekiel 4:10 . And thy food, which thou eatest, shall be according to weight, twenty shekels for a day; from time to time shalt thou eat it. Ezekiel 4:11 . And water shalt thou drink according to measure, a sixth part of the hin, from time to time shalt thou drink it. Ezekiel 4:12 . And as barley cakes shalt thou eat it, and shalt bake it before their eyes with human excrement. Ezekiel 4:13 . And Jehovah spake; then shall the children of Israel eat their bread polluted amongst the heathen, whither I shall drive them. Ezekiel 4:14 . Then said I: Ah! Lord, Jehovah, my soul has never been polluted; and of a carcase, and of that which is torn, have I never eaten from my youth up until now, and abominable flesh has not come into my mouth. Ezekiel 4:15 . Then said He unto me: Lo, I allow thee the dung of animals instead of that of man; therewith mayest thou prepare thy bread. Ezekiel 4:16 . And He said to me, Son of man, lo, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, so that they will eat bread according to weight, and in affliction, and drink water by measure, and in amazement. Ezekiel 4:17 . Because bread and water shall fail, and they shall pine away one with another, and disappear in their guilt. - For the whole duration of the symbolical siege of Jerusalem, Ezekiel is to furnish himself with a store of grain corn and leguminous fruits, to place this store in a vessel beside him, and daily to prepare in the form of bread a measured portion of the same, 20 shekels in weight (about 9 ounces), and to bake this as barley cakes upon a fire, prepared with dried dung, and then to partake of it at the different hours for meals throughout the day. In addition to this, he is, at the hours appointed for eating, to drink water, in like manner according to measure, a sixth part of the hin daily, i.e., a quantity less than a pint (cf. Biblisch. Archהol. II. p. 141). The Israelites, probably, generally prepared the עגּות from wheat flour, and not merely when they had guests (Genesis 18:6). Ezekiel, however, is to take, in addition, other kinds of grain with leguminous fruits, which were employed in the preparation of bread when wheat was deficient; barley - baked into bread by the poor (Judges 7:13; 2 Kings 4:42; John 6:9; see on 1 Kings 5:8); פּול , “beans,” a common food of the Hebrews (2 Samuel 17:28), which appears to have been mixed with other kinds of grain for the purpose of being baked into bread.

(Note: Cf. Plinii Histor. Natur. xviii. 30 : “Inter legumina maximus honos fabae, quippe ex qua tentatus sit etiam panis...Frumento etiam miscetur apud plerasque gentes et maxime panico solida ac delicatius fracta.” )

This especially holds true of the lentiles, a favourite food of the Hebrews (Genesis 25:29.), from which, in Egypt at the present day, the poor still bake bread in times of severe famine (Sonnini, R. II. 390; ἄρτος φάκινος , Athenaeus, IV. 158). דּחן , “millet,” termed by the Arabs ”Dochn” (Arab. dchn), panicum , a fruit cultivated in Egypt, and still more frequently in Arabia (see Wellsted, Arab. I. 295), consisting of longish round brown grain, resembling rice, from which, in the absence of better fruits, a sort of bad bread is baked. Cf. Celsius, Hierobotan, i. 453ff.; and Gesen. Thesaur. p. 333. כּסּמים , “spelt or German corn” (cf. Exodus 9:32), a kind of grain which produces a finer and whiter flour than wheat flour; the bread, however, which is baked from it is somewhat dry, and is said to be less nutritive than wheat bread; cf. Celsius, Hierobotan, ii. 98f. Of all these fruits Ezekiel is to place certain quantities in a vessel - to indicate that all kinds of grain and leguminous fruits capable of being converted into bread will be collected, in order to bake bread for the appeasing of hunger. In the intermixture of various kinds of flour we are not, with Hitzig, to seek a transgression of the law in Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:9. מספּר is the accusative of measure or duration. The quantity is to be fixed according to the number of the days. In Ezekiel 4:9 only the 390 days of the house of Israel's period of punishment are mentioned - quod plures essent et fere universa summa (Prado); and because this was sufficient to make prominent the hardship and oppression of the situation, the 40 days of Judah were omitted for the sake of brevity.

(Note: Kliefoth's supposition is untenable, that what is required in Ezekiel 4:9-17 refers in reality only to the 390 days of Israel, and not also to the 40 days of Judah, so that so long as Ezekiel lay and bore the sins of Israel, he was to eat his food by measure, and unclean. For this is in contradiction with the distinct announcement that during the whole time that he lay upon the one side and the other, he was besieging Jerusalem; and by the scanty and unclean food, was to portray both the deficiency of bread and water which occurred in the besieged city (Ezekiel 4:17), as well as the eating of unclean bread, which impended over the Israelites when among the heathen nations. The famine which took place in Jerusalem during the siege did not affect the ten tribes, but that of Judah; while unclean bread had to be eaten among the heathen not only by the Israelites, but also by the Jews transported to Babylon. By the limitation of what is prescribed to the prophet in Ezekiel 4:9-15 to the time during which the sin of Israel was to be borne, the significance of this symbolical act for Jerusalem and Judah is taken away.)

' מאכלך וגו , “thy food which thou shalt eat,” i.e., the definite portion which thou shalt have to eat, shall be according to weight (between subject and predicate the substantive verb is to be supplied). Twenty shekels = 8 or 9 ounces of flour, yield 11 or 12 ounces of bread, i.e., at most the half of what a man needs in southern countries for his daily support.

(Note: In our climate (Germany) we count 2 lbs. of bread for the daily supply of a man; but in warm countries the demand for food is less, so that scarcely 1 1/2 lbs. are required. Wellsted ( Travels in Arabia, II. p. 200) relates that “the Bedoweens will undertake a journey of 10 to 12 days without carrying with them any nutriment, save a bottle full of small cakes, baked of white flour and camel or goat's milk, and a leather bag of water. Such a cake weighs about 5 ounces. Two of them, and a mouthful of water, the latter twice within 24 hours, is all which they then partake of.”)

The same is the case with the water. A sixth part of a hin, i.e., a quantity less than a pint, is a very niggardly allowance for a day. Both, however - eating the bread and drinking the water - he shall do from time to time, i.e., “not throughout the entire fixed period of 390 days” (Hävernick); but he shall not eat the daily ration at once, but divided into portions according to the daily hours of meals, so that he will never be completely satisfied. In addition to this is the pollution (Ezekiel 4:12.) of the scanty allowance of food by the manner in which it is prepared. ענּת שׂערים is predicate: “as barley cakes,” shalt thou eat them. The suffix in תּאכלנּה is neuter, and refers to לחם in Ezekiel 4:9, or rather to the kinds of grain there enumerated, which are ground and baked before them: לחם , i.e., “food.” The addition שׂערים is not to be explained from this, that the principal part of these consisted of barley, nor does it prove that in general no other than barley cakes were known (Hitzig), but only that the cakes of barley meal, baked in the ashes, were an extremely frugal kind of bread, which that prepared by Ezekiel was to resemble. The עגּה was probably always baked on hot ashes, or on hot stones (1 Kings 19:6), not on pans, as Kliefoth here supposes. The prophet, however, is to bake them in (with) human ordure. This is by no means to be understood as if he were to mix the ordure with the food, for which view Isaiah 36:12 has been erroneously appealed to; but - as עליהם in Ezekiel 4:15 clearly shows - he is to bake it over the dung, i.e., so that dung forms the material of the fire. That the bread must be polluted by this is conceivable, although it cannot be proved from the passages in Leviticus 5:3; Leviticus 7:21, and Deuteronomy 23:13 that the use of fire composed of dung made the food prepared thereon levitically unclean. The use of fire with human ordure must have communicated to the bread a loathsome smell and taste, by which it was rendered unclean, even if it had not been immediately baked in the hot ashes. That the pollution of the bread is the object of this injunction, we see from the explanation which God gives in Ezekiel 4:13: “Thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the heathen.” The heart of the prophet, however, rebels against such food. He says he has never in his life polluted himself by eating food forbidden in the law; from his youth up he has eaten no unclean flesh, neither of a carcase, nor of that which was torn by wild beasts (cf. Exodus 22:30; Deuteronomy 14:21), nor flesh of sacrifices decayed or putrefying ( פּגּוּל , see on Leviticus 7:18; Isaiah 65:4). On this God omits the requirement in Ezekiel 4:12, and permits him to take for firing the dung of oxen instead of that of men.

(Note: The use of dung as a material for burning is so common in the East, that it cannot be supposed that Ezekiel first became acquainted with it in a foreign country, and therefore regarded it with peculiar loathing. Human ordure, of course, so far as our knowledge goes, is never so employed, although the objection raised by Hitzig, on the other hand, that it would not yield so much heat as would be necessary for roasting without immediate contact, i.e., through the medium of a brick, rests upon an erroneous representation of the matter. But the employment of cattle-dung for firing could not be unknown to the Israelites, as it forms in the Huaran (the ancient Bashan) the customary firing material; cf. Wetzstein's remarks on Delitzsch's Job, vol. I. pp. 377, 8 (Eng. trn.), where the preparation of the g'elle - this prevalent material for burning in the Hauran - from cow-dung mixed with chopped straw is minutely described; and this remark is made among others, that the flame of the g'elle, prepared and dried from the dung of oxen that feed at large, is entirely without smoke, and that the ashes, which retain their heat for a lengthened time, are as clean as those of wood.)

In Ezekiel 4:16., finally, is given the explanation of the scanty allowance of food meted out to the prophet, namely, that the Lord, at the impending siege of Jerusalem, is to take away from the people the staff of bread, and leave them to languish in hunger and distress. The explanation is in literal adherence to the threatenings of the law (Leviticus 26:26 and Leviticus 26:39), which are now to pass into fulfilment. Bread is called “staff of bread” as being indispensable for the preservation of life. To בּמשׁקל , Leviticus 26:26, בּדאגה , “in sorrow,” is added; and to the water, בּשׁמּמון , “in astonishment,” i.e., in fixed, silent pain at the miserable death, by hunger and thirst, which they see before them. נמקּוּ בּעונם as Leviticus 26:39. If we, finally, cast a look over the contents of this first sign, it says that Jerusalem is soon to be besieged, and during the siege is to suffer hunger and terror as a punishment for the sins of Israel and Judah; that upon the capture of the city of Israel (Judah) they are to be dispersed among the heathen, and will there be obliged to eat unclean bread. To this in Ezekiel 5 is joined a second sign, which shows further how it shall fare with the people at and after the capture of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1-4); and after that a longer oracle, which developes the significance of these signs, and establishes the necessity of the penal judgment (Ezekiel 4:5-17).

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Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.