1 Samuel 25; 1 Corinthians 6; Ezekiel 4; Psalms 40-41
IF WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND THE reasons why Ezekiel is called to the powerful parabolic actions we find in Ezekiel 4, we must put ourselves in the place of the exiles. Like the people back home in Jerusalem and Judah, many of them could not imagine that the city and temple of the Great King could ever be destroyed. God simply would not allow it to happen. In general terms the exiles in Babylon respond to Ezekiel the same way that the Jews in Jerusalem respond to Jeremiah: they don’t believe him. In fact, the exiles doubtless have added incentive to maintain their false hopes. As long as Jerusalem stands, they can nurture the hope that God will rescue them and bring them back home. If Jerusalem falls, there will be no “home” to which to return. One can imagine how desperately negative and even impossible Ezekiel’s warnings sound to them.
But Ezekiel does not flinch.
(1) He begins by drawing a picture of Jerusalem on a large clay tablet—perhaps the profile or some other easily recognized perspective, so that onlookers can instantly see what he is doing. Around the city he erects siege works and the like, as if he were playing war games with homemade toys. Everyone perceives that this means Jerusalem will be besieged. Then he holds an iron pan over the model. As God’s prophet he stands in for God, and holds the pan in such a way as to threaten to crash it down on the city and destroy it—picturing the fact that it is God himself who is threatening the city.
(2) In the next section (Ezek. 4:4-8), Ezekiel spends some time each day lying on his left side. (He is not there all the time, of course, as the succeeding verses show he has other actions to perform.) If his head is toward the model of Jerusalem he has made, and his body lies on an east-west axis, then when he lies on his left he is facing north, toward Israel, the ten tribes that have already gone into captivity under the Assyrians. For 390 days (more than a year!) he does this, every day. Then one day the onlookers show up and find him on his right side—facing the south and thus threatening Judah with judgment and disaster.
(3) Inside a besieged city in the ancient world, as supplies dwindled people were forced to make bread out of dried beans and lentils mixed with the tiny bit of flour that was left. They would eat their impossibly small portions (about eight ounces of “bread”) and sip their tiny quota of water, and waste away. They would cook their food on cow patties (as in the slums of India), because there was no more wood. All this, Ezekiel predicts, “because of their sin” (Ezek. 4:17).