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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ezekiel 4

CHAP. IV.

Under the type of a siege, is shewed the time from the defection of Jeroboam to the captivity. By the provision of the siege is shewed the hardness of the famine.

Before Christ 594.

Verse 1

Ezekiel 4:1. Take thee a tile A slate. See Jeremiah 1:11; Jeremiah 13:4. Maimonides, not attending to the primitive mode of information made use of by Ezekiel here, by Jeremiah in the passages referred to, and by several other of the prophets, is much scandalised at several of these actions, unbecoming, as he supposed, the dignity of the prophetical office: and is therefore for resolving them in general into supernatural visions, impressed on the imagination of the prophet; and this because some few of them, perhaps, may admit of such an interpretation. His reasoning on this head is to the following effect: As the prophet thought that in a vision, ch. Eze 8:8-9 he was commanded to dig in the wall, that he might enter and see what was doing within; and that he did dig, and entered through a hole, and saw what was to be seen; so likewise when he was commanded in the present passage to take a tile, and in ch. 5 to take him a sharp razor, we should conclude that both these actions were merely supernatural visions; it arguing an impeachment of the divine wisdom to employ his ministers in actions of so low a kind. But here, says Bishop Warburton, the author's reasoning is defective, because what Ezekiel saw, in the chambers of imagery, ch. 8 was in a vision; therefore, says Maimonides, his delineation of the plan of the siege, and his shaving his beard, chap. 4 and 5 were likewise in vision. But to make this inference logical, it is necessary that the circumstances in the viiith, and those in the ivth and vth chapters, be shewn to be specifically the same. Examine them, and they are found to be very different. That in the viiith was to shew the prophet the excessive idolatry of Jerusalem, by a sight of the very idolatry itself. Those in the ivth and vth were to convey the will of God by the prophet to the people in a symbolic action. Now in the first place the information was properly in vision, and fully answered the purpose, namely, the prophet's information; but in the latter a vision had been improper, for a vision to the prophet was of itself no information to the people. See the Divine Legation, vol. 3: and, for more on the subject of these prophetic actions, the note on chap. Ezekiel 12:3.

Verse 3

Ezekiel 4:3. Take thou unto thee an iron pan The prophet takes to him an iron pot or vessel, such as fire was wont to be carried in before the Chaldean and Persian generals, when they went to battle. And he puts it for a wall of iron between him and the city, to signify the force and strength of that army whose symbol was fire. Then he sets, or hardens his face against the city, as men look fiercely, who are inflexibly bent on the ruin of another; and he lays siege to it, or declares the city should be besieged by surrounding it. In all this scenery, the text, says Ezekiel, was a sign to the house of Israel, or, in other words, a type of what the Chaldean king and his army should act against Jerusalem. See Bishop Chandler's Defence, p. 170.

Verse 4

Ezekiel 4:4. Lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it By the iniquity is meant the punishment of the iniquity of the house of Israel; and though several commentators interpret this passage of what was past, there seems no doubt that it was intended to foretel and pre-signify what was future; namely, how many years the children of Israel and Judah were to suffer the punishment of their iniquity; but we should observe, that in the three hundred and ninety days are not only denoted the three hundred and ninety years during which the children of Israel were to suffer the punishment of their iniquity, but also the three hundred and ninety days themselves, during which Jerusalem was to be besieged and reduced to the utmost distress by famine. Compare the 11th with the 16th verse. Ezekiel takes meat and drink by measure for three hundred and ninety days, the meaning whereof is explained in the 16th and 17th verses; namely, that the famine should rage for so many days in Jerusalem: but the same Ezekiel lying upon his side pre-signifies how long Israel and Judah should lie under the punishment of their iniquity; namely, Israel three hundred and ninety, and Judah forty years. But this matter, says Calmet, is so pregnant with difficulties, that it requires a whole dissertation to consider it.

Verse 5

Ezekiel 4:5.— Three hundred and ninety days] This number of years, see Eze 4:6 will take us back, with sufficient exactness, from the year in which Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadrezzar to the first year of Jeroboam's reign, when national idolatry began in Israel.

Verse 6

Ezekiel 4:6. Forty days Reckon near fifteen years and six months in the reign of Manasseh, two years in that of Amon, three months in that of Jehoahaz, eleven years in that of Jehoiakim, three months and ten days in that of Jehoiachin, and eleven years in that of Zedekiah; and there arises a period of forty years, during which gross idolatry was practised in the kingdom of Judah. Manasseh's reformation, 2Ch 33:13 is supposed to have lasted during the remainder of his reign; and Josiah was uniformly a good king. Ib. Ezekiel 34:2. Forty days may have been employed in spoiling and desolating the city and temple.

Verse 7

Ezekiel 4:7. And thine arm shall be uncovered Shall be extended. Houbigant. The habits of the ancients were so contrived, that the right hand was disengaged from the upper garment, that they might be more ready for action. See Isaiah 52:10.

Verse 8

Ezekiel 4:8. The days of thy siege That is, the three hundred and ninety days' siege of Jerusalem, mentioned in the preceding verse. That siege, from the beginning to the ending of it, lasted seventy-seven months, as appears from 2 Kings 25:1-4. But the king of Egypt coming to relieve the city occasioned the raising of the siege for some time. So that it may reasonably be gathered from the authority of the text, joined to the circumstances of the history, that the siege lasted about thirteen months, or three hundred and ninety days. See Archbishop Usher's Annals, and Calmet.

Verse 9

Ezekiel 4:9. Take—wheat, &c.— In time of scarcity, it is usual to mix a great deal of the coarse kinds of grain with a little of the better sort, to make the provisions last the longer. Ezekiel was commanded to do this, to signify the scarcity which the inhabitants should suffer during the siege. The twenty shekels, in the next verse, amount to about ten ounces; and the sixth part of an hin, Eze 4:11 is about a pint and a half. See Cumberland's Weights and Measures.

Verse 10

Ezekiel 4:10. From time to time shalt thou eat it And thou shalt eat it at certain hours: that is to say, at the different and stated hours of the day. Houbigant.

Verse 11

Ezekiel 4:11. The sixth part of an hin An hin was about ten pints. The prophet was to take this pittance from day to day, and in small portions from time to time of the same day, while he subjected himself to public notice. At other seasons he might be left to his natural liberty. The act denoted scarcity during the siege.

The humane Mr. Howard allows a prisoner "a pound and a half of good household bread a day, and a quart of good beer: besides twice a day a quart of warm soup made from pease, rice, milk, or barley." 4to. Exodus 3:0 p. 40.

Verse 12

Ezekiel 4:12. Thou shalt bake, &c.— See Lam 4:5 and 1Sa 2:8 where the applicableness of the account concerning the frequent burning of dung in the East, to the case of Ezekiel, is visible. Commentators have remarked something of it; but I do not remember to have met with any who have thoroughly entered into the spirit of the divine command: they only observe, that several nations make use of cow-dung for fuel. The prophet was first enjoined to make use of human dung in the preparation of his food, though at length he obtained permission to use cow-dung for the baking of that bread, which was to be expressive of the miserable food that Israel should be obliged to eat in their dispersion among the Gentiles. Had this been ordered at first, it would by no means have fully or sufficiently expressed those necessities, and that filthiness in their way of living, to which they were to be reduced; for many of the eastern people very commonly use cow-dung in the baking of their bread; he therefore was ordered to make use of human dung, which was terribly significant of the extremities which they were to undergo: no nation made use of that horrid kind of fuel; whereas the other was very common, though it is not very agreeable for the purpose; the bread so baked being burnt, smoaky, and disagreeably tasted. If cow-dung was frequently used in Palestine for fuel, as we have reason to think wood was not more plentiful there anciently, when the country was much fuller of inhabitants, than it is now (see Lamentations 5:4.); its extreme slowness in burning must make the quickness of the fire of thorns very observable, and give life to that passage in Ecclesiastes 7:6. As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool, and to some other places, which have not, I think, been duly observed. The contrast is extremely remarkable. La Roque, taking notice of the excessive slowness of the one, informs us, that it is a common thing among the Arabs on this account to threaten a person with burning him in cow-dung, when they would menace him with a dreadful lingering punishment. On the other hand, every one must be apprized of the short-lived violence of the fire of thorns, furze, and things of that kind: but to make the thought complete, it is necessary to add, that cow-dung, this very slow fuel, is that which is commonly used; and thorns, &c. but seldom. See Observations, p. 140 and Psalms 58:9. How thankful should we be for the plenty of good fuel that we enjoy!

Verse 13

Ezekiel 4:13. Eat their defiled bread, &c.— 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 pre-signified the unclean bread which the children of Israel were to eat among the Gentiles; as also the three hundred and ninety days in the different actions of the prophet adumbrated, as we have observed, both how many years the children of Israel should be punished, and how many days the famine should continue in Jerusalem. It is remarkable, that the prophet foretels that the children of Israel should eat defiled bread among the Gentiles, but not those of Judah, who were to preserve themselves more pure. Hosea threatens the Israelites in the same manner, ch. Ezekiel 9:3. See Calmet and Houbigant.

Verse 14

Ezekiel 4:14. Abominable flesh This probably means whatever was unclean and particularly forbidden by the Mosaic law. See Leviticus 7:18; Leviticus 19:7. Isaiah 65:4.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Whether the transactions mentioned in this chapter were done in reality or in vision only is disputed (see the Critical Annotations). It is contended by some against the reality, that the position, without a miracle, could not be kept so long, and that the prophet is spoken of as sitting in his house before the expiration of the days. Compare ch. Eze 1:1-2 Ezekiel 8:1. And as for the bread which the prophet is commanded to eat, it seems a severity to which he would scarcely be called. Others, and those too of greatest weight, support the reality of the transaction: the things are spoken of as facts; by these he was to prophesy, when his lips were silent; he was to do this in the sight of the people. His situation or disagreeable diet being enjoined of God for purposes of his glory, he would be comfortably supported under it; and that he really used the bread spoken of, Ezekiel 4:9, his prayer, Ezekiel 4:14, strongly implies.

1. On a tile he is commanded to pourtray the siege of Jerusalem, surrounded with mounts, bulwarks, and battering rams; and the iron pan set between him and the city, against which, as the representative of the Chaldean army, he lays siege, signifies the strength of their works as a wall of iron compassing the city, and the safety in which the besiegers lay, being thus covered; and their fixed resolution to carry the place is implied by the prophet's face set against Jerusalem, and his arm made bare.
2. He is ordered to lie on his left side three hundred and ninety days, and forty days on his right; or to accomplish the number of three hundred and ninety days for Israel, with forty for Judah, bearing their iniquity, the punishment of it, a day for a year.

3. Bound thus by the divine order as Ezekiel was, so should the Chaldean army be, nor stir from the place till they had carried it; and the three hundred and ninety days, during which the prophet lay on his side, may signify the duration of the siege; for though it continued seventeen months in all, 2Ki 25:1-4 yet if the interruption given to it by the Egyptians, Jer 37:5 be deducted, the close siege might not last more than those days.

4. In this way Ezekiel must prophesy, not in words, but by works, which speak strongest, and would leave them inexcusable if they refused to pay attention to them.
2nd, To affect their minds with the terribleness of the famine, which would be the consequence of the siege, the prophet, during the three hundred and ninety days, must use the most wretched provision, and in the most scanty measure.
1. His bread is ordered him of the vilest sort, beans, lentils, millet, fitches, mixed with wheat and barley. To such distress would they be reduced, that the very provender for their cattle would be greedily devoured. They who now live luxuriously know not what straits they may be driven to ere they die.

2. He is to be very sparing of this vile food, eating his bread by weight, and drinking water by measure, allowed barely a sufficiency to keep him alive; a token of their great straits, and their obstinacy to hold out to the very last morsel, Jeremiah 37:21. Note; When God's glory requires it of us, we must not hesitate to endure any hardship, and deny ourselves the lawful comforts of life.

3. He is to bake his bread with human ordure dried, in the sight of the people, that they might be affected with the grievousness of the famine, where fuel as well as food would be wanting, and no distinction be made between clean and unclean. The prophet makes no objection to the wretchedness of the food; but, apprehending that ceremonial defilement would thence accrue to him, from every kind of which, as a priest, he had ever carefully abstained, he prays, if God pleases, for some mitigation in this point; and the Lord permits him to use cow's dung instead of man's. Note; (1.) The fear of sin affects the gracious soul more than any thing beside. (2.) God's condescension to the scruples of Ezekiel should teach us to use the like tenderness towards our brethren, and not to grieve their weak consciences.

4. The intention of God's orders to Ezekiel is explained. He, is a sign to the people. So sore shall be the famine during the siege of Jerusalem, that the little bread which remained should be used with the strictest care, in order to enable them the longer to hold out; yet, with astonishment they will find all their measures broken, their resistance fruitless, and their affairs growing each day more desperate, consuming away for their iniquity, and astonished one with another, unable to relieve or help each other, and shocked to behold the dire effects of famine, fatigue, and sickness, which made the besieged appear rather as spectres than men. And at last, delivered into the hands of the heathen, they should be compelled to eat the defiled bread of the Gentiles, as loathsome as the cakes which the prophet baked. Such are the sad effects of sin; and abused plenty thus justly ends in pining want.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ezekiel 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/ezekiel-4.html. 1801-1803.