Ezekiel 4



1. Three signs:

a. The tile.

b. The 430 days.

c. The unclean food.

This chapter begins Ezekiel’s first six years of singular preaching that Jerusalem must fall. That is what all the signs and preaching are meant to tell us and the people of Jerusalem. Ezekiel does his preaching and prophesying by symbols and his own actions. It was also used in Isaiah 20:1 / Jeremiah 19 / Jeremiah 27-28:16.

Why symbols? The people would ask the reason for the prophet’s actions, it provoked interest.

The same reason why Jesus used parables.

1. Stories have a habit of staying in the mind longer.

2. Parables provoked further interest and enquiry.

Sign of siege

‘Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the people of Israel.’ Ezekiel 4:1-3

The sign of the tile

By means of symbolic and figurative actions, Ezekiel sets forth the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The first sign is simple to understand and interpret. We may be again faced with a dilemma as to whether these events actually occurred, or whether they also were a vision.

It seems to me to be reasonable to accept these as actual events. When the prophet has a vision, he clearly states that fact. We saw this clearly in Ezekiel 1-3. Hence, we take it that these things were happening. That being the case imagine the news spreading of this crank carrying out all these signs before the people, probably just outside his own house.

Point of the sign. Jerusalem will be besieged.

The prophet gets a tile or brick, in Hebrew that, ‘lebena’ meaning, draws on it the city of Jerusalem. He sets it up and makes a model with it. Around it, he sets up siege works, siege walls and camps. He then gets an iron pan and places it between the and himself, and pushes the siege camps etc. toward the tile with the city on it. This indicates the gradual moving towards the city by Babylon, going in for the kill.

The ‘Iron pan’ is:

1. Designed to show the impenetrable wall of the Babylonian army.

2. Designed to show that it will be impossible to escape from the Babylonian army.

There is going to be a successful siege against the city of Jerusalem. Note, there were those who were saying that Nebuchadnezzar would not come, or if he did it would not be successful. Ezekiel 24:1-14 / Ezekiel 21:18-27.

Sign of discomfort, the 430 days

‘Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So, for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel. ‘After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.’ Ezekiel 4:4-8

Point of this sign. There will be a total, national captivity. The prophet is told to lie on his left side for 390 days, and on his right side for 40 days. He will bear the iniquity or punishment of the two nations. He is not being punished for them, but he represents the people.

The prophet is to continue his acting of the siege as outlined in Ezekiel 4:1-3. This is to carry on simultaneously.

Israel 390 days, equals 390 years. Judah 40 days equals 40 years, a day for a year, Ezekiel 4:6. So the days are equal to years. We know that because it tells us to do so. Only one other place is this the case, Numbers 14:34. Therefore, 390 plus 40 years, equals 430 years.

To the Jew, what do 430 years bring to mind? Egyptian captivity. Exodus 12:40-41.

Egyptian captivity was a total one and one in which every member of the family of Israel was involved. Ezekiel is telling the people that the same thing is going to happen again. Their near history is going to be like a repeat of what happened in Egypt. Bondage in Egypt.

Note, Hosea 7:16 / Hosea 8:13, Israel is told they are going to Egypt, captivity. That was the message. Then in Hosea 9:3, Egypt is clearly identified as Assyria. Hosea 11:5 / Hosea 11:11.

The northern kingdom of Israel is told by Hosea that they will be going to Egypt. What does that mean to them? Captivity. In reality, they were taken captive by Assyria.

This message was necessary because some of the people in Jerusalem and even some of those in captivity already did not believe that God would do this. They were relying on the promises of God that they would never leave the land. Ezekiel 11:14-15 / Jeremiah 28:2ff.

Why break down the 430 to 390 for Israel and 40 for Judah? Ezekiel does not say. Taking it that our symbolism of numbers is right, then 40 is also a significant number to the Jews.

Return to Numbers 14:34 along with Hebrews 3:7-4:2 we have the significance of 40 days. They were to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, a day for each year. It was a punishment for disobedience and lack of faith. So, Judah is being told that once again they are being punished for disobedience and lack of faith.

We have seen how they did not believe they deserved the punishment, but that God would preserve them in the land, Ezekiel 11:14ff / Ezekiel 33:23ff / Jeremiah 28:2ff. Hence, we suggest that the meaning of the sign and the numbers is entirely symbolic. It is suggested by some that the numbers have a chronological significance, but there is no real satisfactory answer this way.

However, you jumble up the figures there does not seem to be a suitable date reached. Pick any date for a start, 722, 586 B.C. and go forward, nothing makes sense. Even take 539 B.C. and work back, which gives us 969 B.C. there seems to be no significance there. It would seem to take them symbolically would make more sense, it certainly would be a valid point for the Jews of that time.

It has been suggested that Israel has a larger number because of the greater length of her captivity. This may be so. Others that it is larger because of her greater sin, but Judah is said to be in a worse state than Israel ever was. Ezekiel 23:11.

There are some problems thrown up by some commentators, some of which we mention here. The period of time between Ezekiel 1:2-8:1 is 1 year 2 months. There are several possible numbers of dates during this time the maximum being 442.

Allowing for 430 days, plus the 7 days of Ezekiel 3:15 provides a very tight schedule for the prophet. Some suggest that the 390 and 40 days run concurrently. Certainly, it seems the three signs here in Ezekiel 4 were carried out simultaneously.

This leads some to suggest that he did not carry this lying about literally, maybe not, but that at least does not alter the point of the exercise. The LXX adds to some confusion by having the number 190 instead of 390. This is argued both ways by textual critics.

As stated, Ezekiel was to continue the first sign during this one. So, he was not lying on his side from dawn to dusk but was involved in carrying on these and the next one.

The Lord putting cords upon him would perhaps again be best understood along with Ezekiel 3:25. Ezekiel will be restricted by God to this message, and these signs during this time. He will be allowed to do nothing else.

Sign of defiled or unclean food

‘Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.’ The LORD said, ‘In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.’ Then I said, ‘Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No impure meat has ever entered my mouth.’ ‘Very well,’ he said, ‘I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.’ He then said to me: ‘Son of man, I am about to cut off the food supply in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin.’ Ezekiel 4:9-17

The third of the group of three signs concerning the siege and destruction of the city and the captivity of the people.

Point of the sign. The destruction of the temple and the captivity of the people.

Ezekiel is told to get together some food which he will eat all the time he is doing the laying about. He goes on diet, the same every day. He will eat and drink by measure. First, he is told to use human dung to do the cooking, but note the concession by God, he allows him cow’s dung instead.

In understanding the significance of this sign, remember that Ezekiel was a priest, and trained as a priest. He was told to eat unclean food, ceremonially unclean that is. Defilement of the people. Deuteronomy 22:9.

The sacrifice of the first fruits sanctified the produce of the people. Once that had been carried out at the temple in Jerusalem, they were ‘clean’. But the time is coming when they will have to eat unclean food, for the temple will be removed. Hosea 9:3ff where the prophet says the same of Israel. Firstfruits, Leviticus 23:10 / Leviticus 23:17 / Exodus 23:19 / Deuteronomy 26:1-11.

The point is not that they will literally have to cook their food on human or cow’s dung while in captivity, but that what they eat will be ceremonially unclean because the sacrificial system will be removed, for their Temple will be destroyed.

They really did not believe that their city, nor their temple, nor themselves would be removed from the land. God really wanted them to know that it was all going.

There is another point to this sign. The evidence of obvious siege conditions. His food and water are by measure, hardship, and famine, which are siege conditions.


20 shekels, about 8 ounces a day.

1 shekel, 11.4 grams.

1/6th hin, 0.61 litres, or about just over 1 pint.

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