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Ezekiel 4:1-17 – Model City as a Sign of Doom

Summary

Ezekiel builds a model of Jerusalem and acts out symbolic plays as a sign of doom from the Lord.

Analysis

This is the first of a series of symbolic one-man dramas, in which Ezekiel acts out the future destruction of Jerusalem and the exile. His audience, the Jews in exile, was still tied by family and feelings to their home city. These enacted parables were arresting ways of communicating God's word of doom and judgment upon Jerusalem. They function as "a sign for the house of Israel" (4:3). These enacted signs are not unique to Ezekiel; Isaiah walked naked and barefoot through Jerusalem for three years (Isaiah 20:3)!

In the first of these prophetic signs or acts, Ezekiel builds a model of the city from clay, a kind of toy Jerusalem, and lays siege to it. In the second enacted parable, the prophet bears the guilty burden of Judah and Israel, one day for every year of their sin. For much of the day (but surely not all or he could not eat-see below) he lies only on his left side for 390 days (for Israel and Judah, from David to the exile), and then only on his right side for forty days (the years of the exile?). During the forty days, Ezekiel also prophesied against the model of Jerusalem.

During the 390 days for Israel and Judah, Ezekiel eats a very limited diet (half a pound of food and two-thirds of a quart of water), symbolizing famine, destruction, and exile. This shows not only the destruction of the city and the temple, but the exile as well: "Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread, unclean, among the nations to which I will drive them" (4:13). God shows some pity for the prophet, however, allowing him to use cattle dung for fuel (a common practice even today in some places) instead of human excrement as originally commanded (4:15).

Ezekiel 4:1-17

The Siege of Jerusalem Portrayed

4And you, O mortal, take a brick and set it before you. On it portray a city, Jerusalem; 2and put siege-works against it, and build a siege-wall against it, and cast up a ramp against it; set camps also against it, and plant battering-rams against it all round. 3Then take an iron plate and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; set your face towards it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel.

4 Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it; you shall bear their punishment for the number of the days that you lie there. 5For I assign to you a number of days, three hundred and ninety days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment; and so you shall bear the punishment of the house of Israel. 6When you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah; forty days I assign you, one day for each year. 7You shall set your face towards the siege of Jerusalem, and with your arm bared you shall prophesy against it. 8See, I am putting cords on you so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have completed the days of your siege.

9 And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days, you shall eat it. 10The food that you eat shall be twenty shekels a day by weight; at fixed times you shall eat it. 11And you shall drink water by measure, one-sixth of a hin; at fixed times you shall drink. 12You shall eat it as a barley-cake, baking it in their sight on human dung. 13The Lord said, ‘Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread, unclean, among the nations to which I will drive them.’ 14Then I said, ‘Ah Lord God! I have never defiled myself; from my youth up until now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by animals, nor has carrion flesh come into my mouth.’ 15Then he said to me, ‘See, I will let you have cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.’

16 Then he said to me, Mortal, I am going to break the staff of bread in Jerusalem; they shall eat bread by weight and with fearfulness; and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. 17Lacking bread and water, they will look at one another in dismay, and waste away under their punishment.

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10 February 2011

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