Ezekiel — Lesson 4

Ezekiel 4 & 5

A. With Chapter 4 begins the message of doom that Ezekiel will preach for the next six years.

B. He predicts a total national captivity, which was contrary to the expectations of most of his listeners.

1. Many of the people thought than an alliance with Egypt would prevent the Babylonians from invading --- but they were wrong.

2. Most of the people never thought that God would allow Jerusalem to be destroyed.

C. Why was Ezekiel told to perform the symbolic actions in these chapters?

1. Ezekiel 2:5 --- Whether they hear or whether they refuse, yet will they know that a prophet has been among them.

2. Ezekiel 3:7 --- The house of Israel will not listen to you because they will not listen to me.

3. Ezekiel was certainly not trying to blend in! God wanted him to be different, which is often the best way to get people's attention. If we are no different from the rest of the world, then why should anyone listen to us?

4. Also, when people have become very hardened, much more may be required to get their attention. God's message to his people had not changed since he gave them the law, but the methods he used to deliver that message changed.

D. Did he actually do these things, or simply see himself doing them in a vision?

1. Some commentators think that these actions were accomplished in a vision.

2. I disagree. These actions would make no sense unless he had an audience. The lesson was not aimed at Ezekiel; it was aimed at his listeners. Also, if it was in a vision then why (later) did Ezekiel complain about the source of fuel that God commanded?

2. The Siege of Jerusalem (4:1-3)

A. These actions would be pointless unless they could be watched by a large number of people.

1. Other prophets used symbolic actions to accompany or illustrate their pronouncements: Ahijah in 1 Kings 11:30; Zedekiah in 1 Kings 22:11; Elisha in 2 Kings 13:17; Isaiah in Isaiah 20:2-4; Jeremiah in Jeremiah 13:1-14 and 19:1-10; and Agabus in Acts 21:10ff.

B. It was probably not very long before word got around that Ezekiel was doing something strange near his home.

C. Ezekiel's 7 day trance-like state in 3:15 had obviously been noticed, so the people probably expected that some sign would soon follow.

D. The centerpiece of the act was a large, rectangular, sun-baked brick on which Ezekiel had drawn an outline of the fortifications of Jerusalem.

E. He placed it on the sand and then put siegeworks against it.

1. The word translated "fort" in the KJV and "siege wall" in the RSV denotes a chain of offensive towers that are built around a city. Another Hebrew word is used to denote mounds of earth that are piled up around a city to make the besiegers level with the walls. Assyrian artifacts have been found that showing siege towers with archers. Some of them were movable and were equipped with built-in battering-rams. (The Babylonians had once been part of the Assyrian empire.)

F. Ezekiel was next told to take an iron plate, and place it as an iron wall between himself and the city.

1. The iron plate was probably a large, saucer-shaped piece of metal that was used as a hot plate over burning embers to bake bread.

G. What does the iron plate denote?

1. Some suggest it is part of the siege wall, in which case Ezekiel would represent the besiegers.

2. Others suggest that it would be more in keeping with Ezekiel's prophetic role for him to represent God in this drama. With this view, the iron plate could represent God's determined hostility toward Jerusalem, or it could represent the sin that stood between God and his people.

a) (Lam. 3:44) "You have covered Yourself with a cloud, that prayer should not pass through."

3. But it was God who judged the city and brought the armies against it. Thus, Ezekiel could be representing the besieging army and representing God.

H. Apparently Ezekiel acted all of this out without a word of explanation to his audience. In fact, Ezekiel 3:26 may be an indication that he was unable to speak during this period.

3. The Days of Punishment of Israel and Judah (4:4-8)

A. It appears that the model of the siege was set up as a permanent visual aid that remained while Ezekiel carried on these further actions.

B. In this second act, Ezekiel plays the part of his own people and acts as the bearer of the punishment for their sins.

C. The goal is to show the duration of the punishment of the two nations, and to show that both Israel and Judah will be punished.

1. Ezekiel is told to bear their iniquity. That means he represents the punished people.

D. The message is to Judah and Israel. The suffering of Israel was already apparent.

1. Ever since her capital city, Samaria, had been destroyed in 722, Israel had been depopulated and her people scattered throughout the Assyrian empire.

2. Ezekiel is making it clear that the Northern kingdom is being punished for its sins.

3. Only a part of Judah was in captivity at this time.

E. Ezekiel was telling Judah that it would suffer similarly, but for a shorter period of time.

F. Ezekiel lay on the ground in an east-west direction with his head westward toward Jerusalem. When he was on his left side, he was facing north toward Israel. When he was on his right side, he faced south toward Judah.

G. Ezekiel lay on his left for 390 days (Israel) and on his right for 40 days (Judah). What do these numbers represent?

1. First we are told that each day represents a year.

a) The same symbolism occurs in Numbers 14:34, where again we are plainly told that a day represents a year.

b) Some take this passage to mean that a day is always equal to a year in prophecy. That is, they speak of the "day equals a year" idea as being a universal principle in Biblical prophecy.

c) If it is universal, then why does God point it out here but does not point it out elsewhere? Perhaps a better conclusion is that God tells us when the principle is in operation, which is what he does here --- and when he doesn't tell us, we shouldn't assume it.

2. The significance of 390 and 40 is apparent when we add them together to get the total duration of the punishment, which is 430 days/years.

a) Exodus 12:40-41 tells us that the Egyptian captivity lasted 430 years. ("Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.")

b) The Egyptian captivity wasn't partial --- it embraced the entire nation. Ezekiel is telling the people that they will ALL go into captivity. The Judeans remaining in their land would not be there for long.

c) Under this view, the 430 years is symbolic of another national captivity.

d) Hosea 8:13 describes the captivity of the northern kingdom as a "return to Egypt." Later in 9:3 he explains that when he says Egypt he means Assyria.

e) To threaten the people with "Egypt" was to threaten them with total captivity, which is exactly what happened.

f) Why break the 430 years into 390 and 40?

(1) The 40 year period gives the reason why Judah was going into captivity.

(2) 40 years was the time of punishment for unbelief and disobedience. It was the time of the wandering in the wilderness.

(a) Numbers 14:33-34 ("For each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know my rejection.")

i) Interestingly, this is the only other passage whether the "day equals a year" is specifically mentioned --- which further supports a figurative understanding of the 390 and 40 days.

(3) Some suggest that the 390 is larger than the 40 to indicate that Isreal was more wicked than Judah, but in Ezekiel, Judah is regarded as more wicked than Israel (23:11).

3. Many commentators try to interpret the 390 years and the 40 years chronologically.

a) But how we do know when to begin or when to end? And do we look for a period of 430 years, or do the 390 years and the 40 years run concurrently?

b) If we start with the Assyrian captivity in 722 and travel forward in time either 430 years or 390 years, we end up at times of history that are not significant.

c) If we end with the decree of Cyrus in 539 and go back in time either 430 or 390 years, we start at times of history that are not significant.

d) Some start with the deportation of Jehoiachin in 597. Going forward 430 years brings us to 167, which is the time of the Maccabean rebellion. (See my notes on Daniel.)

(1) But why start here? The symbolism obviously includes Israel, and they went into captivity over a hundred years earlier.

(2) This is probably the best chronological approach, but I much prefer the figurative explanation.

H. Did Ezekiel remain on his side 24 hours a day for 390 days and then 40 days?

1. It would not be possible for Ezekiel to carry out all of the instructions in 4:9-5:4 if his hands were permanently tied as 3:25 and 4:8 suggest to some.

2. We are also told that he was to act out the siege and prepare food (verses 7, 9, and 11). How can this be true if he were all tied up? One commentator suggests that "laying bands on him" in verse 8 indicates that God had given him a strict commission to do his job without deviation.

3. But did he remain paralyzed and on his side 24 hours a day? The most likely conclusion is that Ezekiel performed a daily demonstration in front of the people, and then reverted to a more normal lifestyle when there were no spectators around.

I. His bare arm in verse 7 signifies that God was ready for drastic action.

1. (Isaiah 52:10) "The Lord has made bare his holy arm."

2. Watch out when God rolls up his sleeve!

4. The Famine of Jerusalem (4:9-17)

A. For the first 390 days, Ezekiel was limited to a stringent diet.

1. Why just 390 days? Why not the 40 days also?

a) That is a very good question! Unfortunately, I was not able to find a very good answer.

2. Some use this passage to argue that the 390 days and the 40 days ran concurrently. That is for the final 40 days, he may have spent part of his time on his left side and part of his time on his right side.

3. Those who argue against the concurrent view point to Ezekiel 4:6, which seems to indicate that the 40 days did not begin until the 390 days were completed.

B. Two lessons are combined here:

1. Israel and Judah were to live on famine rations.

2. Their diet would be unclean.

C. Commentators differ on whether this symbol denotes famine during the siege, or denotes the defilement that occurred during their exile.

1. The simplest explanation may be that both are denoted. That is, Ezekiel's diet may denote the horrible starvation that occurred during the siege as well as the defilement that occurred under the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles.

2. Most likely, those who watched the daily show also had numerous explanations for what the various actions denoted.

D. [Verse 9-11] Ezekiel's daily diet consisted of 20 shekels (about 8 ounces) of bread made from a mixture of all kinds of grain.

E. The water measurement of 1/6 of a hin would be a little over a pint.

F. Again he may have consisted on this and nothing else for over a year, but as we noted above this may have been just part of the public demonstration, in which case he may have eaten normally at other times.

1. God's goal was not to punish Ezekiel, but to teach the people a lesson. In fact, when Ezekiel complains just a few verses later about the cooking fuel, God lets Ezekiel use something else.

2. But, on the other hand, the people would hardly have paid any attention to Ezekiel if he put on a daily five minute show and then went back inside his house.

G. The "from time to time" in verse 10 of the KJV conveys the wrong impression. The Hebrew refers to a recurring action that took place at the same time each day.

1. I imagine that people gathered each day to watch the show. Can you imagine their reaction when, after 390 days, he suddenly switched sides!

H. [Verse 12-17] So far Ezekiel has accepted each assignment without complaint, but his whole being is revolted at the command to bake his bread over human excrement.

1. He was NOT commanded to eat human excrement as some commentators suggest. God wanted him to use it as fuel.

I. This choice for fuel was intended to depict the defilement that the exiles would experience in a heathen environment.

1. They were not able to ensure that the meat they bought or were given had been killed correctly according to the Levitical requirements, nor were they able to know whether it had first been offered at heathen sacrifices.

2. To maintain ceremonial purity in exile was almost impossible.

3. Ezekiel, however, tells God in verse 14 that he at least had kept himself pure.

J. God changes the fuel to cow's dung, which was a perfectly normal source of fuel in the East and remains so to this day. One commentator says that cow dung was probably not regarded as unclean by the exiles. If that is true, then Ezekiel may have told the people about God’s initial choice to let them know the defilement that was going to occur.

K. God knew what Ezekiel's reaction would be, so he may have made the first command just to stress to Ezekiel how bad the punishment would be.

L. Hosea 9:3-4 (speaking of Assyrian exile) is very similar to this passage.

5. The Fate of the People of Jerusalem (5:1-4)

A. We have seen the siege against Jerusalem, we have seen the duration of the punishment, and we have seen the famine conditions of the siege and the exile.

B. In verse 1-4, we see the fate of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

1. The reason for the punishment is made very clear --- the Jews did not send forth the light of God to the heathen nations around her. God put her in the midst of the nations for that very purpose, but instead his people became a reproach to God and were worse than their neighbors.

2. To whom much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48)

C. The action that Ezekiel is told to perform can be divided into two stages:

1. In verses 1-2, he cuts off his hair, weighs it out in three equal parts, and disposes of each part in a different way.

a) The first third is thrown into a fire built near his model city.

b) The second third is placed on the ground and hacked at with a sword from all directions.

c) The final third is scattered to the wind while Ezekiel runs behind hacking at it with a sword.

2. In verses 3-4, he is told to retrieve a few hairs from the third portion and to perform further actions on those retrieved hairs.

a) One portion is placed in the skirts of his garment.

b) Another portion is thrown into the fire.

3. No doubt, it was this sort of surprise act that kept people coming back to the show each day!

D. The symbolism is clear: a third of the inhabitants would be killed within the city, a third would be killed by the sword fighting around the city, and a third would be scattered among the nations while continuing to face danger from hostile forces.

E. From among that third group would emerge a remnant that would be preserved.

F. Shaving the head was mark of mourning (Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 48:37) or of disgrace (2 Samuel 10:4), and both interpretations may have been intended here.

G. If an Israelite priest shaved his head, he was defiled and no longer holy to the Lord. (Lev. 21:5)

H. The remnant from the third portion is divided into two groups. One group is tucked into the folds of his garments, and the other group is burned.

1. This burned portion of the remnant probably denotes the debased group that remained near the destroyed city after the final deportation.

2. Recall from Lesson 2 how Ishmael stayed behind and murdered Gedaliah.

3. Ezra tells us that those who remained caused trouble after the exiles finally returned.

4. The portion in the fold of Ezekiel’s garment denotes the faithful remnant that was preserved.

6. The Explanation of the Judgment (5:5-17)

A. These verses explain the symbols we have seen and give a justification for God's harsh actions toward his people.

B. The phrase "This is Jerusalem" reminds me of Matthew 23:37. (O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!)

1. It is both an indictment and a cry of disappointment.

C. Her situation in the center of the nations is accurate both geographically and theologically.

1. From this verse came the idea that Jerusalem was "the navel of the earth," which was popular among the rabbinical writings and was carried over into the early church fathers and medieval cartography.

D. [Verse 6-10] The crime of Jerusalem was that despite all of God's favors, its people had rebelled against the ordinances and statutes of God.

E. Worse than that, the people had exceeded the surrounding nations in wickedness and had not even acted according to the ordinances of the nations that were round about them! Judah did not think the nations around her were wicked enough! Judah imported perversions from other lands.

F. Israel was unique in its monotheism, and God had intended Israel to be a beacon proclaiming the one true God. Instead, Israel rejected its uniqueness and sought instead to be just like the other nations around her.

1. Does this sound familiar? It should. There are those in the church today who are doing the same thing. They reject any claim that the church is unique, and seek instead to be just like the denominations that surround us. God wants his church to be a beacon just like he wanted Israel to be a beacon. I hope we do a better job than Israel did.

G. For all of these crimes, the judgment is clear in verse 8 -- "I, even I, am against you."

1. Judah had made their own gods and had made alliances, but in the process Judah had made an enemy -- God!

H. Unparalled sin demands unparalled judgment (verse 9).

1. Verse 9 must be taken as proverbial rather than literal. Why? Because Jesus later said the same thing in Matthew 24:21 about a different event --- the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

I. The cannibalism that occurred during the siege is described as a judgment by God (verse 10).

1. Compare 2 Kings 6:28-29; Jeremiah 19:9; Lamentations 4:10.

J. This will all be done in the sight of the nations (verse 8) to vindicate God's holiness and make a public example of his disobedient people.

K. [Verse 11] In addition to the disobedience and rebellion, there was the defilement of God's sanctuary with detestable things and abominations.

1. This is the first reference in Ezekiel to the horrible practices that were being carried out in the Temple between the captivity of Jehoiachin and the final destruction of the city. Chapter 8 describes these events in graphic detail.

2. For all of this God says that he will diminish or withdraw.

a) The NKJV says "I will also diminish you" but the word "you" has been added.

b) Hosea 9:12 (Woe to them when I depart from them.)

L. The phrase "as I live" in verse 11 is a very solemn oath. It appears 14 times in Ezekiel, more often than in any other prophetic book.

M. [Verse 12] The key to verse 2 is now given, and we see that the burning with fire denotes death by pestilence and famine during the siege.

N. As Ezekiel foretold, many people died in the city and many others died when Zedekiah attempted to escape from the city.

1. Read 2 Kings 25:1-21; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21; Jeremiah 39:1-18.

O. [Verses 13-17] These verse describe more fully the judgments that were promised in verse 8.

P. Words that are used elsewhere in Scripture to describe God's wrath against the enemies of his people are now used to describe his wrath against his own people.

1. Verse 13 -- "Thus shall my anger be spent, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be avenged; and they shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it in my zeal, when I have spent my fury upon them."

2. Although God does become angry, his anger is a judicial anger. It is always just.

3. His anger is not an emotional outburst. Recall Jesus' anger in seeing the money changers in the temple. (John 2:15 --- "When He had made a whip of cords.")

4. Compare Hebrews 10:31 (It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.)

5. And compare Hebrews 12:29 (Our God is a consuming fire.)

Q. Verse 15 tells us that the object is to make Judah and Jerusalem a warning to the nations that are round about them.

1. This amounts to a reversal of the intention of the covenant, which was originally that Isreal would be a witness to the surrounding nations of God's truth and mercy.

2. But instead of a blessing to the earth, Jerusalem had become a reproach and a taunt, a warning and a horror.

3. God's lesson to the surrounding nations is that if this is how he deals with the sin of his own people, how much more severely will he deal with the sin of the other nations?

4. The fulfillment of these verses is found in Lamentations 2:15-16. ("Is this the city that is called 'The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth.'?" ... "We have swallowed her up!")

R. The punishments in verse 16 are to consist of "deadly arrows of famine."

S. The punishment of famine in verse 16 is supplemented with pestilence, sword, and wild beasts in verse 17.

1. A similar quartet is found in Jeremiah 15:2.

2. It is a mark of desolation when wild animals begin to wander in the empty lands. Compare Isaiah 13:20-22.

T. All of these disasters are to prove to the world that "I, the Lord, have spoken." (Verses 13, 15, 17)

U. The more indifferent men are to God's laws, the louder he has to speak.

V. Verse 13 adds the phrase "in my zeal" or "in my jealousy." The root word in Hebrew means to grow purple in the face.

7. Why did God punish his own people?

A. Hosea tells us the tragic reasons why Israel was punished.

1. Hosea 4:1 (There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land.)

2. Hosea 4:6 (My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.)

3. Hosea 8:12 (I have written for him the great things of my law, but they were considered a strange thing.)

4. Hosea 8:7 (They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.)

5. Hosea 9:12 (Woe to them when I depart from them.)

B. And the solution?

1. Hosea 10:12 (Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till he comes and rains righteousness on you.)

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)