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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
In Ezekiel 4-5, the coming siege of Jerusalem and the dispersion of its inhabitants is foretold under divers symbols. If the 5th year of Jehoiachins captivity be taken (as is most probable) for the year in which Ezekiel received this communication, it was a time at which such an event would, according to human calculation, have appeared improbable. It could scarcely have been expected that Zedekiah - the creature of the king of Babylon and ruling by his authority in the place of Jehoiachin - would have been so infatuated as to provoke the anger of the powerful Nebuchadnezzar. It is indeed to infatuation that the sacred historian ascribes the Acts 2 Kings Acts 24:20.
1Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem:
A tile - Rather, a brick. Sun-dried or kiln-burned bricks were from very early times used for building walls throughout the plain of Mesopotamia. The bricks of Nineveh and Babylon are sometimes stamped with what appears to be the device of the king in whose reign they were made, and often covered with a kind of enamel on which various scenes are portrayed. Among the subjects depicted on such bricks discovered at Nimroud are castles and forts.
2And 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.
Lay siege against it - The prophet is represented as doing that which he portrays. The leading features of a siege are depicted. See the Jeremiah 6:6 note.
The camp - Encampments. The word denotes various hosts in various positions around the city.
Fort - It was customary in sieges to construct towers of vast height, sometimes of 20 stories, which were wheeled up to the walls to enable the besiegers to reach the battlements with their arrows; in the lower part of such a tower there was commonly a battering-ram. These towers are frequently represented in the Assyrian monuments.
Battering rams - Better than the translation in the margin. Assyrian monuments prove that these engines of war are of great antiquity. These engines seem to have been beams suspended by chains generally in moveable towers, and to have been applied against the walls in the way familiar to us from Greek and Roman history. The name "ram" was probably given to describe their mode of operation; no Assyrian monument yet discovered exhibits the ram's head of later times.
3Moreover 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.
An iron pan - Another figure in the coming siege. On Assyrian sculptures from Nimroud and Kouyunjik there are sieges of cities with "forts, mounts, and rams;" and together with these we see a kind of shield set up on the ground, behind which archers are shooting. Such a shield would be represented by the "flat plate" (margin). Ezekiel was directed to take such a plate (part of his household furniture) and place it between him and the representation of the city.
A sign to the house of Israel - This "sign" was not necessarily acted before the people, but may simply have been described to them as a vivid representation of the event which it foretold. "Israel" stands here for the kingdom of Judah (compare Ezekiel 3:7, Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 5:4; Ezekiel 8:6). After the captivity of the ten tribes the kingdom of Judah represented the whole nation. Hence, prophets writing after this event constantly address their countrymen as the house of Israel without distinction of tribes.
4Lie 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.
The siege being thus represented, the condition and suffering of the inhabitants is exhibited by the condition of one, who, bound as a prisoner or oppressed by sickness, cannot turn from his right side to his left. The prophet was in such a state.
Bear their iniquity - The prophet was, in a figure, to bear their iniquities for a fixed period, in order to show that, after the period thus foretold, the burden of their sins should be taken off, and the people be forgiven. Compare Leviticus 16:21-22.
5For 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.
According to the number of the days - Or, "to be to thee as a number of days (even as)" etc. Compare the margin reference. Some conceive that these "days" were the years during which Israel and Judah sinned, and date in the case of Israel from Jeroboam's rebellion to the time at which Ezekiel wrote (circa 390 years); and in the case of Judah from Josiah's reformation. But it seems more in accordance with the other "signs," to suppose that they represent not that which had been, but that which shall be. The whole number of years is 430 Ezekiel 4:5-6, the number assigned of old for the affliction of the descendants of Abraham Genesis 15:13; Exodus 12:40. The "forty years" apportioned to Judah Ezekiel 4:6, bring to mind the 40 years passed in the wilderness; and these were years not only of punishment, but also of discipline and preparatory to restoration, so Ezekiel would intimate the difference between the punishments of Israel and of Judah to be this, that the one would be of much longer duration with no definite hope of recovery, but the other would be imposed with the express purpose of the renewal of mercy.
6And 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.
7Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it.
Therefore thou shalt set thy face - Or, "And etc." i. e., direct thy mind to that subject.
Thine arm shall be uncovered - A sign of the execution of vengeance Isaiah 52:10.
8And, 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.
I will lay bands upon thee - Contrast margin reference. The Lord will put constraint upon him, to cause him to exercise his office. In the retirement of his house, figuratively bound and under constraint, he shall not cease to proclaim the doom of the city.
The days of thy siege - Those during which he should thus foretell the approaching calamity.
9Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentiles, 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.
Two things are prefigured in the remainder of this chapter,
(1) the hardships of exile,
(2) the straitness of a siege.
To the people of Israel, separated from the rest of the nations as holy, it was a leading feature in the calamities of their exile that they must be mixed up with other nations, and eat of their food, which to the Jews was a defilement (compare Ezekiel 4:13; Amos 7:17; Daniel 1:8.)
Fitches - A species of wheat with shorn ears.
In one vessel - To mix all these varied seeds was an indication that the people were no longer in their own land, where precautions against such mixing of seeds were prescribed.
Three hundred and ninety days - The days of Israel's punishment; because here is a figure of the exile which concerns all the tribes, not of the siege which concerns Judah alone.
10And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it.
meat - A general term for food, which in this case consists of grain. Instead of measuring, it was necessary in extreme scarcity to weigh it Leviticus 26:26; Revelation 6:6.
Twenty shekels a day - The shekel contained about 220 grains, so that 20 shekels would be about 56 of a pound.
From time to time - Thou shalt receive and eat it at the appointed interval of a day.
11Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink.
Water by measure - This probably corresponds to the water of affliction 1 Kings 22:27; Isaiah 30:20. The measure of the hin is variously estimated by Jewish writers. The sixth part of a hin will be according to one estimate about 610ths, according to another 910ths of a pint. The lesser estimate is more suitable here.
12And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.
In eastern countries where fuel is scarce the want is supplied by dried cow-dung laid up for the winter. Barley cakes were (and are) baked under hot ashes without an oven. The dung here is to be burned to ashes, and the ashes so employed.
13And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them.
The ceremonial ordinances in relation to food were intended to keep the nation free from idolatrous usages; everywhere among the pagan idol feasts formed a leading part in their religious services, and idol meats were partaken of in common life. Dispersion among the Gentiles must have exposed the Jews to much which they regarded as common and unclean. In Ezekiel's case there was a mitigation Ezekiel 4:15 of the defilement, but still legal defilement remained, and the chosen people in exile were subjected to it as to a degradation.
14Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up 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.
Abominable flesh - Flesh that had become corrupt and foul by overkeeping. Compare Leviticus 19:7.
15Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.
16Moreover 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:
The staff of bread - Bread is so called because it is that on which the support of life mainly depends.
With astonishment - With dismay and anxiety at the calamities which are befalling them.
17That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.