The Word Made Fresh
1“As for you, son of man, take a brick and set it down before you. Put a drawing of the city of Jerusalem on it, 2and lay siegeworks against it. Build a wall against it and throw up a ramp. Strike camps around it and set up battering rams all around it. 3Then take an iron plate and set it up as a wall between you and the city. Sit facing it, and let it be in a state of siege. Press the attack against it. This is a sign for the people of Israel.
4“Now, lie on your left side. Place the guilt of the house of Israel on the city and bear their punishment as long as you lie on your side. 5I will place their guilt on you for three hundred ninety days – you will bear the punishment of the people of Israel one day for each year of their guilt. 6Then turn and lie on your right side for forty days, one day for each year to bear the guilt of the house of Judah. 7Stretch out your arm and face the siege of Jerusalem and prophesy against it. 8I have tied you with ropes to prevent you from turning from one side to the other until you have completed the number of days of your siege.
9“Gather some wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt into a bowl and use it to make your bread. Eat it during the three hundred ninety days you lie on your left side. 10At the same time each day weigh out about a pound for your food that day. 11Ration your water and drink two-thirds of a gallon each day. 12Bake your bread on human dung while the people watch. 13The LORD says this is how the Israelites will eat their foul bread among the nations where I am scattering them.”
14I said, “LORD, God, I have never been unclean! Since I was a child to this day, I have never eaten anything that was found dead or was mauled by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever been in my mouth!”
15The LORD said to me, “I will allow you to use cow dung instead of human dung, then. You can bake your bread over that.”
16Then the LORD said, “Son of man, I am going to cut off the food supply to Jerusalem. In anxiety and dismay, they will have to ration their food and measure the water they drink. When their food and water is nearly gone, they will be horrified, and they will waste away because of their guilt.”
1-3: We are reminded of the sign of the stones that Jeremiah performed in Tahpanhes when he was trying to convince the refugees to return to Judah (Jeremiah 43:8-13). In a similar vein, Ezekiel uses a brick as a model of the city of Jerusalem. He is told to put ramps against it with battering rams, and an iron band around it to symbolize the reality that the exiles are forbidden to return.
4-8: He is to lie on his left side for 390 days to symbolize the number of years for the punishment of Israel (the northern kingdom), then on his right side for 40 days to symbolize the number of years for Judah’s punishment. There are too many difficulties in the text to summarize it accurately; suffice it to say that no one yet has figured out exactly what 390 or 40 are meant to symbolize; no periods in this part of the history of either Israel or Judah lend themselves neatly for those time frames. It could roughly refer to Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem which we know lasted more than a year. As to the difficulty of imagining Ezekiel lying on his side with a brick on top of him for 390 days, remember that this is a vision he is having.
9-17: The voice tells Ezekiel that during his ordeal he is to eat about 8 ounces of bread made from a mixture of grain and beans, and drink about 11 ounces of water each day. This is to symbolize the scarcity of food and water the people in the city will have during the siege and the rationing they will have to endure. All of this so far seems impossible enough but cooking the bread over a fire fueled with human dung is more than Ezekiel can bear. He begs off, and the voice changes the fuel to cow dung instead. However, this point is made: during the siege the people will be forced to resort to ways and means that are humiliating.
Being God’s people in no way eliminates suffering from our lives. Indeed, God needs some of us to be willing to suffer for the rest of us. Thank God for people, like Ezekiel, who are willing to do that.