For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

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


The tile was a clay tablet upon which Ezekiel was to draw a picture of Jerusalem.


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.”


The picture was to be that of Jerusalem besieged, a fort and mount being a mound of earth with a wooden tower on top from which the attackers could hurl stones and shoot arrows into the city, the camp being that of the enemy, and the battering rams the implements used to batter down the city walls.


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.”


Having drawn upon the clay tablet the picture of Jerusalem besieged, as directed by God, the prophet was then to take an iron plate and set it between himself and the city, thus portraying in symbol the fact that God, represented here by His servant, had abandoned Jerusalem and Judah, and was about to destroy them.


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.”


No details are given as to how Israel’s iniquity was to be laid upon the prophet, many scholars understanding that it was God, not Ezekiel, who placed the iniquity there; and whether a literal symbol was laid on the prophet’s side is also unknown.


The truth being portrayed symbolically in the prophet’s lying on his left side without turning, is that nothing would induce God to turn aside from his purposed destruction of guilty Israel, nor was there any possibility of her escaping His wrath.


Many scholars believe that the prophet lay on his left side for only a few hours each day.


The number of days is given in the next verse.


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.”


No satisfactory explanation has yet been given for the three hundred and ninety years of Israel’s iniquity, there being no identifiable terminal dates for the three hundred and ninety year period.  Nor can it be determined whether the prophet was to lie continuously on his left side for the three hundred and ninety days, though it is generally assumed that such a thing seems virtually impossible in view of his bodily needs and functions.  Nothing, however, is beyond God’s enablement.  Some suggest that he may have lain in such a position during only a set time each day.


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.”


The comments on verses four and five apply here also, except that the application is to Judah rather than Israel.


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.”


“... set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem” means that the prophet was to look intently on the picture he had drawn on the clay tablet; and with his arm uncovered, was to prophesy against the city. 


The uncovered arm has the same significance as does the modern term “roll up your sleeves,” i.e., get to work.  Since he was God’s representative, Ezekiel’s bared arm signified that God was about to begin the work of destroying Jerusalem, the Babylonians, as we know, being His instrument.


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.”


As discussed above, the prophet’s remaining in one position, without turning, signifies God’s unswerving purpose to destroy guilty Israel and Judah; as it does also the impossibility of there being any way of escape.


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.”


Fitches is literally spelt, a very inferior grain, so that in the deteriorating value of the grains listed, there is being declared the fact that in the famine which would result from the siege of Jerusalem, the people would be reduced to eating virtually anything in an effort to keep themselves alive.


4:10.  “And thy meat (food) which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from time to time shalt thou eat it.”


Twenty shekels was eight ounces, and was all that the prophet was to eat each day, “from time to time” being understood to mean either at a set time each day, or at intervals throughout the day.


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


The scarcity of water during the siege is portrayed in his ration of it being the sixth of an hin, i.e., about one-and-a-third pints, to be drunk at the same intervals as the bread was to be eaten throughout each day.


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


The ration of grain was to be made in the shape of a barley cake, baked in full view of the people, over a fire of dried human excrement.


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.”


This verse indicates that the preceding verses describe not only conditions during the siege of Jerusalem, but also the miserable state of their lives as captives in Babylon.  Their dietary laws would be ignored, so that their food would not only be meager but also defiled.


4:14.  “Then said I, Ah Lord God! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth 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.”


Strict obedience to the dietary laws which God Himself had imposed, had preserved Ezekiel from ceremonial defilement, and he was disgusted at the prospect of now incurring defilement by having to eat polluted bread.


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.”


Out of sympathy for His servant’s scruples, God mitigated His command, and allowed Ezekiel to substitute cow dung for human excrement as fuel.


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.”


Any doubt Ezekiel might have had regarding the meaning of the preceding words was dispelled here: Jerusalem was to suffer the horrors of a long siege that would bring famine to the inhabitants before their approaching Babylonian captivity.


“... astonishment” is also translated fearfulness: dismay: distress.


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


“... astonied” is also translated dismayed: in terror; while “consume away” means that many would die in the famine.

Ezekiel 5


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough