Judah Judged [Chapters 4-24]
The Model Siege
The captives in Babylon were clinging to the prospects of the captivity being short in duration. The false prophets among the exiles were championing the thought of the impossibility of Jerusalem's demise. While some captives were in Babylon, Zedekiah was ruling in Jerusalem as a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar. The Jewish population at large was assuming Babylonian oppression was going to be thrown off quickly.
Ezekiel was well known for using what we could call "dramatic parables" to demonstrate his prophetic word. Chapter four is dedicated to one of those "dramatic parables."
The Brick Drama (1-8)
Ezekiel was told by Yahweh to take a brick or tablet and etch the city of Jerusalem on it. Ezekiel was to then place siege works against the city he had etched on the brick. These siege works were to include a wall from where, in a real siege, the workers could be protected. He was to add towers from where, in an actual siege, arsenal could be hurled from over the walls and from where the shooters could be protected. Ezekiel's siege model was to include the camps of the siege army. It also included mounds or slow-rising inclines, ramps, by which the actual invading army could eventually assail the city. Ezekiel was also to make miniature battering rams which were used bust open the city gates. All this model made of brick, clay, and sticks (1-2).
The Iron Pan
Ezekiel was then to take an iron baking pan and position it between himself and the model city he had built. He was to set his face toward the iron baking pan and then begin to press the iron pan toward the brick and clay model of the city of Jerusalem. This was all a sign that God Himself was set as a siege against His own city (3).
Left Side Judgment (Israel)
Ezekiel was to then lie on his left side, with his back to the north to indicate he was placing on himself the sins of the northern House of Israel. He was to lie on his side for the number of days equal to the number of years the northern House of Israel had forsaken the worship of Yahweh and had brought punishment on themselves.
The northern kingdom, called Israel, separated from the southern kingdom and was called Judah. They divided right after Solomon's death around 540 B.C. In their separation they discarded the worship of Yahweh at His temple in Jerusalem. When you add 390 years to 540 B.C. you come to the date of 930 B.C. about the time Cyrus comes to power and liberates the remnant to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (4-5).
Right Side Judgment (Judah)
After the 390 days were complete, Ezekiel was told to lie down a second time on his right side, with his back to the south and take on himself the sins of the southern tribe of Judah. He was to lay on his right side another forty days. From the time the last exiles were taken out of the city of Jerusalem until Cyrus, there was a forty-year period. Ezekiel was in what I call a "propho-drama," taking on the punishment of Israel and Judah.
Ezekiel was called upon by Yahweh to bare his arm, a sign of hostility against the city.
Ezekiel was then tied up tightly with ropes so he could not turn from one side to the other, and he was tied up every day until he had completed all the days Yahweh had appointed for him (8).
It is likely that each day Ezekiel, only for a period of time, would lie on his side and have some of his prophetic mentors tie him up. For 430 days, Ezekiel went through this ordeal seeking to prophetically communicate to the Jews the destruction of Jerusalem was imminent and could not be interrupted.
The Affliction of Siege Life (9-17)
Ezekiel's Prophetic Diet (9-12)
Ezekiel's Dietary Restrictions:
Wheat, Barley, Beans, Lentils, Millet, Emmer (or Farro).
He was to mix all these into a single vessel and then made a multi-grain, bean, and lentil bread. He was to only bake ten ounces of the food daily and drink just over a pint of water. Obviously his ability to bake food indicated that he was only tied up for part of the day in front of spectators. He was to cook his meal on dried out human excrement.
The Israelites were instructed by Moses to dig a hole and cover their excrement in places outside their dwellings (Deuteronomy 23:12-13), To leave human dung to dry would have been a defiling act; to use it for cooking would have been doubly repulsive at every level for a Jew.
Yahweh's Explanation (13-17)
Yahweh then explained the sign of Ezekiel's diet. As Israel would be spread among the nations so they would eat their food in ways which would repulse them and they would find religiously defiling (13).
We finally arrive at Ezekiel's first words in his book. Ezekiel explains to Yahweh that he had never eaten unclean not even as a youth. To have not eaten unclean would mean Ezekiel had never eaten foods forbidden by God nor had he been tainted with foods which had been prepared in forbidden ways. To eat his bread cooked over dried human excrement was a cultural stretch for Ezekiel (14).
Yahweh allowed for Ezekiel to substitute cow dung in the place of human excrement for fuel (15).
Yahweh then explains to Ezekiel what the conditions of Jerusalem would be like before the siege would end and the rest of the occupants be taken captive.
The food supplies would be cut off and those imprisoned in the city would need to ration their food and water. They would ration all their food with daily anxiety, fearing it would not hold out to the end. They were to live in dismay at the siege not ending as they had and would so confidently presume (16).
As they watched one another starve, they would begin to be horrified; eventually and slowly they would all rot away from lack of nutrition (17).
Sermon One: Why Judgment?
Ezekiel was led to perform another "propho-drama," this time involving shaving his head and beard. After he had shaved his head and face clean, he was to divide the gathered hairs onto a scale and then divide them into three equal parts (1).
After the siege had been completed, meaning after the 430 days of his model "propho-drama," he was to perform this other hair-cutting "propho-drama."
One third of the hair he was to burn in the middle of the city he had drawn on the large brick. One third of the hair Ezekiel was to use the sword and cut into pieces and then scatter it over the model city. The last third he was to throw to the wind, with his sword unsheathed, indicating that those who thought they had escaped the city would yet have the sword following them (2).
Ezekiel was to take from “these"—likely meaning each of the three parts of hair or perhaps just the hair he threw to the wind—and bind them together, sewing them into the skirts of his robe. This was to indicate that there was yet hope—a remnant would be delivered.
Then, oddly, Ezekiel was to, at some point, take some of those hairs and cast them into the fire, for even some of the remnant saved would again reject Yahweh and experience persecution (4). Imagine gathering up hair thrown to the wind—a great picture of God’s finding and saving a remnant.
Yahweh Answers Questions (5-17)
Ezekiel listed out three reasons for the cause of the siege as it related to Israel's responsibility:
1. Yahweh had given Israel land that rested at the center of the nations. They were positioned at the crossroads between Africa, Europe, and Asia. Israel was to be a light to a nation and a people following Yahweh. Instead, Israel was more wicked than the surrounding nations. She outright rejected Yahweh and willingly forfeited any attempt to follow Him (5-6). Refusing to follow Yahweh's moral code of walking humbly with and before Him led to Israel’s experiencing all sorts of judgments from other nations. Those judgments were vindicated by Yahweh, so when Israel's prophets would speak of those judgments, they spoke of them as having come from the direct hand of Yahweh. The very description of judgment was always defined as being from Yahweh's hand. "Behold I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations." Over and over again, God's vindicating the judgment from other nations seemed to Israel as being from His direct hand. In Israel's mind, for Yahweh to allow it was Yahweh’s doing it (7-8).
2. The second reason for God's unleashing Babylon to judge Israel was the abominable practice of idolatry, with all its associated paraphernalia. He was going to allow them to be treated like He had never allowed Israel to be treated before. Their moral depravity had become so sickening that Ezekiel told them they would resort to cannibalism. This alone reveals why God had to deal with Israel so severely—cannibalism or killing one's own is the evidence of a people completely absent of any reflection of humanity, much less Yahweh's nature (9-10).
3. Lastly, they had brought their detestable idols into the temple. They were detestable idols because the worship of them was accompanied by practices which were grossly immoral and abusive. To worship the idols they worshiped was to justify depraved behavior. By depraved behavior, God meant behavior lacking all sympathy and kindness. Ezekiel sought to explain again and again that there would be no pity, no change of Yahweh's mind (11).
Ezekiel reminded Israel of what was going to happen:
A third would die of pestilence and famine.
A third would die at the edge of a sword.
A third would be scattered to the wind and chased by the sword. (12)
Ezekiel then answers the questions of what results would come from the siege and the destruction of Israel and what were God's reasons.
1. Here is the hope of God in the middle of unimaginable difficulty: Yahweh would come to a place of peace. This is what the Hebrew word “satisfy" means. All Yahweh's actions would result in Israel’s, or at least a remnant of Israel’s, returning to peace. It’s important to note that when God expresses anger, He "allows." His hand of judgment shows up, allowing His people to suffer at the hands of others. This allowing is to bring Yahweh and His people back into a relationship of peace (13).
2. Second, Israel was to become an example to the nations as to what could happen if they allowed their moral behavior to spin out of control. Reckless, immoral behavior always leads to ruthless exploitation of the poor and innocent, an activity particularly abhorrent to God. City life can become a life of complete rash and self-centered abandonment to ease and lust at the expense of others. Israel was going to become such a reproach to nations that they were going to look on and, without a doubt, know the God of Israel allowed something which all nations should fear happening to them. Yahweh's treatment of Israel was confirmation that Yahweh, in His own way, was behind the scenes in control of history (14-15).
3. Yahweh's example of dealing with brutish nations would be common and predictable as He would use Israel as an example. First would come war and arrows and second would come famine, as the nation under attack would have food supplies depleted and fields ruined by war. All of this would be followed by poor health conditions and ensuing disease. Eventually, wild beasts would come upon them, either animal or human, and their children would become their prey. This is all the way of war, when it has entered a city or nation to remove it from its perch of ruthless behavior.
Any city or nation that has gotten out of hand in harming or exploiting the poor and unprotected will, at long last, face God's judgment—God's allowing another nation to arise and conquer it by the sword, famine, disease, and then wild beasts.