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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 4

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3409. B.C. 595.

In this chapter, to try the faith of those Jewish captives who regarded Jerusalem with affection and a pious disposition, and to rebuke the presumption of those false prophets and their votaries, who expected a speedy return to it, Ezekiel, by a figure, warns them of its approaching calamities.

(1,) He represents the close siege of it, and the fortifications that should be raised against it, by besieging a portraiture of it, lying three hundred and ninety days on his left, and forty on his right side, thus declaring of how long continuance those sins were, which God visited upon that people, Ezekiel 4:1-8 .

(2,) The famine which should rage in the city and among the captives is represented by his eating coarse bread, baked in a very mean and disagreeable manner, so long as this typical representation lasted, Ezekiel 4:9-17 .

Verse 1

Ezekiel 4:1. Take a tile, &c., and lay it before thee The prophets often foreshowed impending judgments by significant emblems, which usually strike more powerfully than words. So Jeremiah was commanded to go down to the potter’s house, and observe how frequently vessels were marred in his hands, (chap. 18.,) and to take one of those earthen vessels and break it in the sight of the elders of the Jews, (chap. 19.,) that they might thereby be sensibly taught the greatness of God’s power, and their own frailty. So here God commands Ezekiel to take a tile, or such a slate as mathematical lines, or figures, are usually drawn upon, and there to make a portraiture of Jerusalem, thereby to represent it as under a siege. We may observe, that God often suited prophetical types and figures to the genius and education of the prophets themselves: so the figures which Amos makes use of are generally taken from such observations as are proper to the employment of a shepherd, or a husbandman. Ezekiel had a peculiar talent for architecture, therefore several of his representations are suitable to that profession. And they that suppose the emblem here made use of to be below the dignity of the prophetical office, may as well accuse Archimedes of folly for making lines in the dust: see Lowth.

Verses 2-3

Ezekiel 4:2-3. And lay siege against it Make a portraiture of a siege, and of such warlike instruments as are used in sieges, figuring every thing just as when an army lies before a place with an intention of taking it. Moreover, take thou an iron pan Or rather, an iron plate, probably such as cakes were baked on. “This,” says Bishop Newcome, “may denote the strong trenches of the besiegers, or their firmness and perseverance in the siege; or, according to others, that there was an iron wall between the besieged and God, whom the prophet represented;” namely, the sins of the people, which separated between them and God, and prevented him from showing them mercy.

Verses 4-6

Ezekiel 4:4-6. Lie thou also, &c. “In his own house, Ezekiel 3:24. This was to be his posture, not without intermission, but in the exercise of his prophetical office, during that part of each day, when the people were likely to observe his conduct.” Bishop Newcome. Upon thy left side The left side, as being the least respectable, signified Israel, or the ten tribes: the right side, as being most honoured, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin; or, as it is generally expressed, the kingdom of Judah. Ezekiel’s lying on one side for a long time together, signified the great patience of God in bearing with the sins of Israel. And lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days, &c. From the days that I shall order thee to lie upon thy left side thou shalt understand how many years I have borne with their iniquity, for each day was to signify a year: see Ezekiel 4:6. Thou shalt bear their iniquity Thou shalt, in the way of a sign or symbol, suffer for their iniquity, namely, in lying so long upon one side. Or, thou shalt pre-signify the punishment which they shall bear. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity This verse explains the former: I have pointed out the number of years wherein apostate Israel sinned against me. According to the number of days, three hundred and ninety days “This number of years will take us back, with sufficient exactness, from the year in which Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar to the first year of Jeroboam’s reign, when national idolatry began in Israel.” Bishop Newcome. Some, however, rather suppose that the years are meant which intervened between the falling of Solomon into idolatry, and the carrying away of the ten tribes by Shalmanezer, at which time they entirely ceased to be a nation or people of themselves, and were wholly dispersed and mixed with other nations. Thou shalt bear the iniquity of Judah forty days So many years there were from the time when King Josiah entered into a solemn covenant to serve and worship God, (from whence their future idolatry received a great aggravation,) to the destruction of the city and temple. I have appointed thee each day for a year Days frequently stand for years in the prophetical accounts of time.

Verses 7-8

Ezekiel 4:7-8. Thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem Thou shalt look toward Jerusalem, or toward the portraiture of it upon the tile, with a threatening countenance, as men do toward the city which they are besieging. And thine arm shall be uncovered Or, stretched out, as the Vulgate reads it. Their habits were anciently so contrived, that their right arms were disengaged from their upper garments, that they might be the more ready for action. So ancient statues and coins represent heroes with their right arms bare, and out of the sleeves of their garments. Thus God is said to make bare his arm, Isaiah 52:10, where he is represented as subduing his adversaries, and bringing salvation to his people. And thou shalt prophesy against it Thou shalt signify by these signs what shall happen to it. And, behold, I will lay bands upon thee See Ezekiel 3:25. God is said to do what was done in consequence of his command. And thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another This may mean, that the Lord would powerfully enable, and even constrain him to lie quietly in the posture appointed him, till the days were accomplished, in the sense explained in note on Ezekiel 4:4, this being intended to signify that the Chaldeans should continue the siege, and should be, as it were, fixed and fastened there, as by bonds, till the city was taken. This evidently seems to have been a real transaction, and not a vision, otherwise it does not appear how it could have been a sign to the people; for how could any thing be a sign to them, of which they were not eye-witnesses? Till thou hast ended the days of thy siege “The three hundred and ninety days, mentioned Ezekiel 4:5; Ezekiel 4:9, it seems, were designed, not only to signify the years of Israel’s sin, but the continuance of the siege of Jerusalem. That siege lasted, from the beginning to the end of it, seventeen months, as appears from 2 Kings 25:1-4. But the king of Egypt, coming to relieve the city, was the occasion of raising the siege for some time, as appears from Jeremiah 37:3. So that it may reasonably be gathered from the authority of the text, joined to the circumstances of the story, that the siege lasted about thirteen months, or three hundred and ninety days.”

Verse 9

Ezekiel 4:9. Take thou also wheat and barley, &c. In times of scarcity it is usual for people to mix a great deal of the coarse kinds of grain with a little of the better sort, to make their provisions last the longer. This Ezekiel was commanded to do, to signify the scarcity, and the coarse fare the inhabitants should have in the siege of the city. Three hundred and ninety days thou shalt eat thereof During which time the siege lasted: see Ezekiel 4:8. The forty days, mentioned Ezekiel 4:6, seem not to be brought into this account. These, denoting Judah’s sin of forty years’ continuance, being superadded to the three hundred and ninety days of the siege, may signify the days spent in spoiling and desolating the city and temple, and carrying away the remnant of the people. Jerusalem was taken on the ninth day of the fourth month, Jeremiah 52:6; and on the tenth day of the fifth month the temple was burned, Ezekiel 4:12; and so we may reasonably conjecture by the eighteenth of that month, which was the fortieth from the taking of the place, the whole city was burned, and the few Jews who were left were carried into captivity: see Lowth.

Verses 10-12

Ezekiel 4:10-12. And thy meat shall be by weight twenty shekels, &c. In sieges it is common to stint every one to a certain allowance, by which means they can guess how long their provisions will last: twenty shekels is but ten ounces; a short allowance for a day’s sustenance. From time to time shalt thou eat of it This shall be thy daily allowance during the whole three hundred and ninety days. Thou shalt drink also water by measure In sieges it is usual for the enemy to cut off the water from coming into the cities which they besiege, as much as they can, which produces a scarcity of it; the sixth part of a hin Which is about a pint and a half of our measure. Thou shalt eat it as barley cakes Such as people make in haste, when they have not time for preparing a set meal: see Exodus 12:39. This represents the hurry and disorder which would be occasioned by the siege. And thou shalt bake it with dung To signify the scarcity of all kinds of fuel. Sir J. Chardin, in his MS. quoted by Harmer, tells us, “the eastern people always used cow-dung for baking, boiling a pot, and dressing all kinds of victuals that are easily cooked; especially in countries that had but little wood.” And D’Arvieux,

“complaining that one sort of Arab bread smells of smoke, and tastes of the cow-dung used in baking it, informs us, that the peasants often make use of the same fuel, and that all who live in villages where there is not plenty of wood, are very careful to stock themselves with it; the children,” he says, “gather up the dung, and clap it against a wall to dry, from whence the quantity that is necessary for baking, or warming themselves, is taken from time to time.” Harmer, chap. 4. observ. 20, vol. 1. According to Dathius, quoted by Bishop Newcome, the dung of camels, as well as that of cows or oxen, was also “often used by the easterns as fuel for preparing their food.” But the command here given to the prophet, to use human dung, expressed the greatest necessity, and was terribly significant of the extremities which the inhabitants of Jerusalem should undergo during the siege, no nation making use of that offensive kind of fuel.

Verse 13

Ezekiel 4:13. Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles The prophet, speaking above of eating and drinking by weight and measure, foretels the famine in Jerusalem; now in the bread baked with dung is also pre-signified the unclean bread which the children of Israel were to eat among the Gentiles. For their circumstances in their captivity would not permit them to observe the rules of their law relating to unclean meats; and they would be constrained to partake of meats, part of which had been offered to idols. Compare Hosea 9:1-3; Daniel 1:8. Bread is often used in the Hebrew for all sorts of food.

Verses 14-15

Ezekiel 4:14-15. Then said I, Ah, Lord God, &c. He deprecates this, and entreats it may not be enjoined him. Behold, my soul hath not been polluted I have always carefully observed the distinction between meats clean and unclean: I beseech thee, command me not now to eat any thing so contrary to my former practice. Neither came their abominable flesh into my mouth The Hebrew word, פגול , abominable, is used of such meats as were forbidden by the law, as the learned reader may see, Leviticus 7:18; Leviticus 19:7; Isaiah 65:4. Then he said, Lo, I have given thee cow’s dung, &c. This indicated, that even the pious would suffer greatly during the siege of Jerusalem; and that all the circumstances of things would admit of, would be a very small distinction between them and the wicked; for Ezekiel, God’s prophet, could only obtain the exchange of a somewhat less offensive kind of fuel for one extremely offensive.

Verses 16-17

Ezekiel 4:16-17. Behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem I will cause a scarcity of bread in Jerusalem, 2 Kings 25:3; and deprive it of the chief support of man’s life. And they shall eat their bread by weight and with care Here we have a declaration of the meaning of what the prophet was ordered to do, Ezekiel 4:10-11. It was intended to signify, that during the siege, the people of Jerusalem should eat their food very sparingly, and with great anxiety, for fear they should not be able to get a further supply, when what they had was consumed. That they may want bread and water Or, so that they shall want bread and water: and be astonished one at another Shall look upon one another astonished at each other’s ghastly, meager countenances, or at the greatness of their calamities; and consume away, &c. And pine away with hunger and hardships, on account of their wickedness.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4". Benson's Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/ezekiel-4.html. 1857.
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