Ezekiel Chapter 4: 390 Days, The Siege of Jerusalem

May 19th, 2009 | By | Category: Ezekiel, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Ezekiel Chapter 4: 390 Days, The Siege of Jerusalem

Ezek. 4:1 Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem:

Ezek. 4:2 And lay siege against it, and build a fort against it, and cast a mount against it; set the camp also against it, and set battering rams against it round about.

Ezek. 4:3 Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.

Ezekiel was told to take a tile and draw upon it the city of Jerusalem. If two-dimensional, the drawing was an outline with perhaps “Jerusalem” written on it. The tile would have been very large so that spectators could watch the prophet act out in pantomime the coming siege, capture, and destruction of Jerusalem (and of Judah, the entire two-tribe kingdom). Ezekiel worked out in the open so that others could watch.

Ezekiel also had to “set the [enemy] camp” besieging the city and battering rams. He first took the part of the aggressor, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Then, starting with verse 4, he changed sides and took the part of the nation of Israel. Notice that he hid behind an “iron pan.”

What was the purpose of this pantomime? to “be a sign to the house of Israel,” to dramatize what would happen to Jerusalem.

Ezek. 4:4 Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity.

Ezek. 4:5 For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.

A day for a year was the principle, so that 390 days signified 390 years. Ezekiel was instructed to lie on his left side for 390 days to remind Israel of their iniquity and then on his right side for 40 additional days (verse 6) to bear Judah’s iniquity.

The Period of the Kings covered 513 years in the chronology of the nation of Israel. The 390 years were a unit of time within the 513 years, as follows:

513 years in Period of the Kings

-120 years (40 + 40+ 40 years for reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon)

-3 years (Rehoboam reigned 3 years before Jeroboam took the 10 tribes)

390 years

After King Solomon’s death, there was national dissatisfaction with Rehoboam because he followed bad advice and put burdens (taxes) on the people. When Jeroboam heard of the dissatisfaction, he returned to Israel from exile in Egypt, and the nation was subsequently divided into two kingdoms: the ten-tribe kingdom and the two-tribe kingdom. At this point in time the 390 years began. In other words, Rehoboam was the king of the entire

nation for only three years. When Jeroboam divided the nation, God started the judgment against the ten tribes. Jeroboam set up rival places of worship at Dan and Bethel to wean the people away from Jerusalem. As a result, those in the ten tribes were estranged from God, for not worshipping at Jerusalem constituted disobedience.

The vast majority of the ten-tribe kings were assessed as evil, whereas Judah, the two-tribe kingdom, had both good and bad kings. Especially in the ten tribes, the practice of Baal worship was incorporated, although both kingdoms were held accountable. The ten tribes picture Catholicism; the two tribes, Protestantism. Roman Catholicism has adopted more heathen practices than Protestantism.

Ezek. 4:6 And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.

For the first 40 years of his ministry, the Prophet Jeremiah warned Judah of an impending disaster or judgment. The 40 years, which coincided with the reigns of several kings, are calculated as follows. King Josiah of Judah reigned 31 years, and Jeremiah began his ministry after 13 years of Josiah’s reign had expired; hence 18 years remained of Josiah’s reign (31 – 13 = 18).

18 years of Josiah’s 31-year reign

+11 years of Jehoiachim’s reign

+11 years of Zedekiah’s reign

40 years

The separation of the nation into two kingdoms                   Jeremiah’s ministry began

began in the fourth year of Rehoboam.                                             in 646 BC.

996 BC                                                                        646 BC

-390 years -40 years

606 BC                                                                        606 BC

Note: The 40 years ended at the same time as the 390 years—in 606 BC with the destruction of Jerusalem. When news did finally come that Jerusalem had been taken and destroyed, Ezekiel’s mouth was loosed so that he could again speak normally, not just on the command of the Lord. Thus his dumbness was a sign to the people of Israel that his prophecy was accurate. (In the New Testament, Zacharias was struck dumb until John the Baptist was named.)

Ezek. 4:7 Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it.

Ezekiel lay on one side and raised the other arm. For his arm to be uncovered meant he showed a fist, which signified God’s displeasure, judgment, fury.

Ezek. 4:8 And, behold, I will lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another, till thou hast ended the days of thy siege.

Invisible “bands” were put on Ezekiel so that he would stay on the proper side all day long. In other words, God assisted Ezekiel with a paralysis, as it were, and, at the same time, kept the flesh from atrophying, yet the forceful lesson was conveyed. The bands also helped the prophet hold out his uncovered arm. Thus the Lord helped Ezekiel from a physical standpoint to endure the days of immobility without physical harm or deterioration. Ezekiel lay on his side during daylight hours only, from sunrise to sunset. He was bound anew each day for 390 consecutive days and then for 40 days. The people going to and from work saw him in the same posture day after day and realized the whole scene pictured a judgment against the nation of Israel. The left side, which portrayed Israel’s iniquity for 390 years, showed more disfavor. The right side, symbolizing Judah’s iniquity for 40 years, showed less disfavor. Thus Ezekiel’s pantomiming was symbolic; it was a sign. The prophet lived a life of sacrifice.

Ezek. 4:9 Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof, according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side, three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof.

Ezek. 4:10 And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it.

Ezek. 4:11 Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink.

Ezek. 4:12 And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.

Ezekiel ate during the 390 days of lying on his side, but even his partaking of food was a sign. Six grains (wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and fitches) were put in a vessel, ground into flour, and made into barley cakes or bread (like “pancakes” but a little thicker with a mound). The bread illustrated the harsh conditions of the coming siege when food would be rationed. At that time all of the storehouses in the city were emptied into a common spot, and the grain was doled out evenly. Incidentally, “fitches” were a simple grain, almost like grass, with tiny seeds.

Ezekiel baked the bread out in the open. He baked enough for the 390 days before he began to lie on his left side. In other words, he baked 390 cakes in advance. Then, at the weight of 20 shekels a day, or about two thirds of a loaf, he ate the bread throughout the day, little by little. Since the bread was coarse, it would be difficult to eat all at one time. Therefore, the instruction to eat “from time to time” was a merciful provision. Moreover, because the tough, dry bread was difficult to swallow, water was permitted, but that too was rationed and was drunk throughout the day, little by little. The daily portion of water was one-sixth part of a hin, or about a pint a day.

One other point: The bread was to be baked with human dung. In other words, human manure was used for fuel.

Ezek. 4:13 And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them.

Because the bread was baked with human dung, it was unclean and was a symbol of humiliation. It portrayed the pollution of the children of Israel.

Ezek. 4:14 Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth.

Ezekiel’s conscience bothered him in regard to the human dung. All of his life he had been careful to observe the Law and eat only clean animals. We are reminded of the Apostle Peter’s reaction to the dream of a sheet let down from heaven with clean and unclean animals (Acts 10:10–14). In order to comply, Ezekiel would need a pile of human excrement near him to do the baking.

Ezek. 4:15 Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow’s dung for man’s dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.

God accommodated Ezekiel’s conscience with the special provision of allowing him to use cow’s dung instead of human dung. However, the cow manure was representative of human manure. The substitution to ease Ezekiel’s conscience is a lesson for us that we should not try to get another to act opposite to his conscience.

Since barley was the harlot’s food, the preparation of the bread as well as the bread itself symbolized spiritual pollution (Num. 5:12–31). Remember, at this time Ezekiel was immobile, he was curtailed in speech, and he ate unpleasant, rationed food.

Ezek. 4:16 Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment:

Ezek. 4:17 That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.

In the siege, the people would experience scarcity of food and lose weight. Not only would bread, water, and fuel be scarce, but the people would use their own dung for baking. They would “drink water by measure, and with astonishment … and be astonied one with another.” The words “astonishment” and “astonied” indicate “as stone,” that is, no gaiety, no mirth. All would be sullen, morose—the people would be like zombies.

In summary, Chapter 4 was a forceful demonstration of what the city of Jerusalem would undergo, and it was an indication of subsequent trouble and hardship in Babylonian captivity.

(1987–1989 and 1973–1976 Studies)

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