Ezekiel 4:1-17 – Model City as a Sign of Doom
SummaryEzekiel builds a model of Jerusalem and acts out symbolic plays as a sign of doom from the Lord.
AnalysisThis 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).