Ezekiel 4:1-17 (NIV) 1 “Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. 2 Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. 3 Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel. 4 “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. 5 I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel. 6 “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. 7 Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. 8 I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege. 9 “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. 10 Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. 11 Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. 12 Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” 13 The LORD said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.” 14 Then I said, “Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth.” 15 “Very well,” he said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement.” 16 He then said to me: “Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, 17 for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin.
On verses 1-17: In 2003, illusionist and endurance artist David Blaine put himself in a transparent box suspended 30 feet over the River Thames while going without food for 44 days. The city of London and millions around the world watched in curiosity. Approximately 2,600 years before this, the prophet Ezekiel would perform similar stunts in the city of Babylon, except that his stunts were not simply to test his endurance or to entertain the masses. Rather these stunts were object lessons that carried a spiritual message for the Israelites exiled in Babylon.
The first part of the object lesson seems simple enough for a child to do with Lego bricks (v1-3): make a mini-model of Jerusalem using a writing tablet (or a brick) and show how the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem.
The second part of the object lesson is much stranger (v4-8): Ezekiel is to lie for 390 days on his left side (facing north to symbolize the Northern Kingdom of Israel, some scholars say) and then for 40 days on his right side (facing south to symbolize the Southern Kingdom of Judah, some scholars say). Each day that Ezekiel lay on his side was to represent a year of the Israelites’ sin. In this way Ezekiel was to symbolically “bear their sin” (v4). He would be tied up the whole time (v8).
The third part of the object lesson is for Ezekiel to mix materials which were not normally mixed together to make bread (v9-13). He was to eat limited amounts of such bread and drink limited amounts of water at set times each day. This was all to symbolize the dire conditions and the scarcity of food created by the siege (v16-17).
A fourth part of the object lesson is for Ezekiel to bake the bread over human excrement (v12-15), which would have been considered a violation of Jewish ceremonial law and an act of defiling oneself (Deuteronomy 23:9-14). This was to symbolize how the Israelites had violated God’s commands and defiled themselves by eating the defiled food of other nations, which probably meant that they worshiped the gods of other nations and against God’s commands yoked themselves to unbelievers. Being a law-abiding priest, Ezekiel is unwilling to defile himself in this way, so God tells Ezekiel to bake the bread over cow manure instead. Baking bread over cow manure did not carry with it the same defiling implications, but probably smelled just as bad.
What can we learn from all this?
God is the most remarkable teacher and communicator. If you want people to remember an important message, use an image that they will not soon forget.
God is acutely aware of our sin and the effects that our sin causes for us and for others.
We think sin will satisfy us, when ultimately sin causes us to starve. We think sin will get us everything we need, when in reality sin causes us to never have enough.
We think sin will get us ahead, when ultimately sin immobilizes us and keeps us lying on our side, unable to move forward.
We think sinning will set us free, when actually sin only ties us up.
Ezekiel was only able to partially bear the people’s sin in a symbolic way by lying down temporarily. Ezekiel’s actions did not take away the people’s sin, but only illustrated it. Centuries later, Jesus Christ would fully bear all of our sins for real by hanging on a cross, taking our sins away.
Heavenly Father, You are the most powerful communicator of all time. Thank You for showing us in graphic, unforgettable ways how sin immobilizes us, ties us up, and causes us to starve. Thank You for Your Son Jesus who came to save us from our sin. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!