A Symbolic Message

Ezekiel 4-5

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2017

We are studying one of the strangest books in the Bible.  This is a book that looks rarely read in most bibles.  It is rarely studied in the church today.  The chapters we are reading today contain some strange things.  Ezekiel is an interesting man with an interesting ministry.  He was actually a type of Christ.

How could Ezekiel be a type of Christ?  He lived six hundred years before Jesus.  He did not have twelve apostles.  He did not go around casting out demons and raising the dead but he was like Jesus in a number of different ways.

Ezekiel: A Type of Christ

1) Ezekiel began his ministry at the age of thirty.

We know that form the first verse in the book.  Jesus began his ministry around the age of thirty, according to Luke 3:23.

2) Ezekiel was called “son of man.”

That was his name in the Book of Ezekiel.  That is what God called him over ninety times in the book (e.g. 2:1, 3, 6, 8; 3:3, 3, 4, 17, 25; 4:1, 16; 5:1). That is what Jesus called himself.

3) Ezekiel is the sin-bearer for Israel.

Ezekiel symbolically bore the iniquity of Israel.  Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross.

Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, YOU SHALL BEAR THEIR PUNISHMENT. 5 For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall YOU SHALL BEAR THE PUNISHMENT OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL. 6 And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and BEAR THE PUNISHMENT OF THE HOUSE OF JUDAH. (4:4-6 NIV)

4) Ezekiel is the suffering servant.

He is Babylon against his will as an exile.  He cannot talk freely for seven years.  He has to lie on his side for over a year.  That does not sound very comfortable.  His wife dies.  He is not allowed to mourn for her.  Jesus is the suffering servant

5) Ezekiel predicted the Fall of Jerusalem.

Jesus also predicted this.  Jesus said that the Jews “will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).

6) Ezekiel was rejected by his own people.

They hated him.  Jesus was also rejected by his own people.  He came to His own and his own did not receive him (John 1:11).  He was also a prophet without honor, just like Ezekiel.

Let’s review the book so far.  In chapter one, Ezekiel looks up and sees the heavens open.  It is the only time in the OT.  He sees four angels, some strange wheels and God sitting on a blue throne.  He falls face down on the ground.

The one seated on the throne tells him to get up and gives him a commission to be a prophet to Israel, rebellious Israel.  He is not crazy about the idea.  He sits silent for seven days and so God shows up and commissions him again to be a watchman.

At the end of chapter three, he begins his ministry with three problems.  He is stuck in his house.  He is tied up and he can’t talk.  He is the prophet with a disability.  This disability was divinely imposed.  God was the one who shut his mouth.  He only spoke when he received a revelation from God.  God had to put the words in his mouth.

Ezekiel was not able to socialize or engage in small talk. That must have been a little hard on his marriage.  It must have been hard on his wife.  No wonder she died seven years later.  The poor woman probably had a nervous breakdown.  If she asked him any question, he could not answer.  He was completely silent.

People would come to his ask and say, “Where is Ezekiel?  We have not seen him anymore.” His wife says, “He is in the house.  He does not come out anymore.  If you want to see him, you have to go in the house.”  When they go in the house, they find him tied up and silent.  They would have begin to wonder what his wife did to him.

Today, we are going to look at what happened next.  Ezekiel’s ministry enters a new phase in the next two chapters.  These chapters are a little difficult to read, like some other chapters in Ezekiel.  They are depressing.

They deal with some graphic topics (cannibalism, food cooked with cow dung).  They are not the kind of topics that make for a good Sunday morning sermon at your typical feel-good yuppie church. Ezekiel does some strange things in these chapters to get the people’s attention.

He plays war games with toy soldiers.  He cooks in unsanitary conditions.  He eats a starvation diet.  He shaves his head, not with a razor but with a sword.  He lies down on down on one side for over a year.  He ties himself up.  If people did this today, we would think they were mentally imbalanced.

What Ezekiel does in these chapters is not done by preachers today.  We do not see preachers going outside their house and lying down on one side for a whole year.  They did these prophetic acts in bible times.  We see them in the OT and in the NT.  We do not see them as much today.  Most preachers are not prophets.

Ezekiel not only prophesied in WORDS but in symbolic ACTIONS.  He was not only a street preacher; he was an actor.  Ezekiel had a drama ministry.  He did not just use prophetic words but prophetic actions.  He had a school of the performing arts.  He has all kinds of visual prophecies or action sermons in this book.

Preachers today who use skits and drama are frowned upon in conservative circles.  They are often accused of being too liberal.  They are accused of having an entertainment-driven church.  Some people go to church to be entertained.  Coming to the service is like going to a rock concert.

John Piper was asked about doing this in church and he said, “I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching.”[1] This was not Ezekiel trying to be creative in his message.

God told him to do all of these things. Ezekiel acted it out and told them what it meant. Why did he do this?  One reason may be that statistically we remember far more that we see than what we just hear.  It sticks in our mind.  Most of us forget the Sunday sermon soon after we exit the building.

Roles Ezekiel Plays

1) Ezekiel is an ACTOR.  He is God’s actor.  He does some role playing.  He does crazy things to get people’s attention, like laying on his side for over a year.

2) Ezekiel is an ARTIST.  He draws a map of a city on a clay brick.

3) Ezekiel is an ENGINEER.  He designs a miniature city and builds a siege wall and plants battering rams against it.  He built a model of Jerusalem.  Some of us have built a model car as a child but they come with all the parts.  He had to make all of the parts.

4) Ezekiel is a BARBER.  He cuts his hair.  He shaves his head.

5) Ezekiel is a COOK.  Apparently, he knew how to cook. He does some cooking and baking.  He bakes a barley cake. Some have tried to make Ezekiel Bread today but I am not sure if it tasted the same.  It is made differently.

6) Ezekiel is a SURVIVALIST.  He survives in time of famine off of rationed food and water.  When he does not have fuel for fire, he improvises.  When he does not have flour to make bread, he improvises.

7) Ezekiel is a PROPHET.  He predicts future events that take place in his lifetime.  His prophecies were verifiable.  That was how people knew that he was a true prophet.  His prophecies came true.  They came true five years later.

8) Ezekiel is a WATCHMAN.  He warns the nation of disaster that is looming on the horizon.

Historical Background

What’s are these two chapters about?  If you do not understand bible history, then these chapters make absolutely no sense.  Most Christians do not know biblical history very well.  Let’s review the political situation in Judah at the time that Ezekiel came to Babylon.

When Ezekiel came to Babylon the one on the throne was named JEHOIACHIN.  He was a young man.  He was only eighteen but he was on the throne in Judah when Ezekiel was there (II Kings 24:8). The Bible says that he did evil in the sight of the Lord (II Kings 24:9), just like his father Jehoiakim did (II Kings 23:37).

The Bible says that he only ruled for three months.  His dad ruled for eleven years (II Kings 23:36).  He only lasted three months but he was the last legitimate king of Judah.  Ezekiel dates his book based on his reign (1:1)

In 597 BC, Babylon invaded the country.  Babylon was the most powerful nation in the world at that time and Jehoiachin surrendered (II Kings 24:12), which was wise. He had to give up the throne.  He was sent him off to Babylon, along with his whole family, and thrown him in prison for thirty-seven years but at least he got to live.  Ten thousand people went to Babylon with him, including Ezekiel.

The Babylonians set up a puppet king in Judah (II Kings 24:17).  They put Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah in charge of the country pro-Babylonian. Zedekiah ruled the country for eleven years but did something stupid.  He led an open revolt against Babylon.

He made an alliance with Egypt and tried to rebel against Babylon, so Nebuchadnezzar sent massive troops into the country to crush the revolt in 589 BC but it did not fall immediately because the Jews fought back.

25 And in the NINTH year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem and laid siege to it. And they built siege works all around it. 2 So the city was besieged till the ELEVENTH year of King Zedekiah.  On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. (II Kings 25:1-3 ESV)

Nebuchadnezzar put a siege on the city for about two years (from the winter months of Zedekiah’s ninth year to the summer months of his eleventh year).  Everyone starved.  No one could get in or out.  The food supply was cut off.  It led to famine and starvation.

Finally, the Babylonians broke through the walls and began slaughtering people.  That was what Ezekiel is predicting by these prophetic actions.  None of this had taken place yet.  Jerusalem falls seven years later but there is a two year siege before it falls.  These prophecies begin to be fulfilled in five years.

God called Ezekiel to be a watchman to Israel.  He warns them what will happen and tells them why it will happen. Warren Wiersbe said, “Sudden political or military blows from the outside didn’t destroy Judah.  The nation committed suicide as it decayed morally and spiritually from within.”[2]  Israel was not just suffering military defeat.  It was suffering divine judgment for sin.

The God that we see in these chapters is very different from the God of American Christianity, which is a watered down deity.  Preachers all throughout America emphasize God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s compassion, God’s forgiveness and God’s love.  They preach things that are true but they do not give us the whole truth.

They do not give us a balanced picture of God.  That is why we need to read the whole counsel of God, including some of these obscure books and not just our favorite passages.  What do we learn about God in this section?  It is a different God.

The God of this chapter is a God of ANGER (5:13, 15 ESV), a God of FURY (5:13, 15 ESV), a God of JUDGMENT (5:8, 10, 15 ESV) and a God of FURIOUS or STINGING REBUKES (5:15 ESV, NIV).

You will be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and an object of horror to the nations around you when I inflict punishment on you in anger and in wrath and with stinging rebuke. I the Lord have spoken. 16 When I shoot at you with my deadly and destructive arrows of famine, I will shoot to destroy you.

I will bring more and more famine upon you and cut off your supply of food. 17 I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will leave you childless. Plague and bloodshed will sweep through you, and I will bring the sword against you. I the Lord have spoken.” (5:15-17 NIV)

That does not sound very warm and fuzzy. If you read between the lines, however, you can see that He is also a God of GRACE, even in this chapter.  God says that He  set Jerusalem in the center of the nations, with countries all around her (5:5). 

He made a special covenant with the Jews that He made with no one else.  They had special privileges no other nation had.  How did they respond to these blessings?  God says that they rebelled against Him (5:6).

God says that they did not keep his statues.  They committed ABOMINATIONS (5:9).  They put idols right in the Temple (5:11).  They did not even keep the laws of the nations around them (5:7).  God says that Israel was so wicked they lived WORSE than the pagans (5:6).  They were supposed to be a light to the Gentile nations.  Instead, the covenant nation lived worse than the Gentiles.

Some professing Christians seem to live worse than non-Christians.  Some non-Christians live moral lives.  It is pretty bad when a Christian lives worse than an atheist or a warlock. My wife has several different part time jobs.  She works for one Christian company and one non-Christian company.  She is treated better (far better) by the non-Christian company.

God makes an amazing statement. “Behold, I, even I, am against you” (5:8).  It is a terrifying statement.  God was against them. It is one thing to have Babylon against you.  It is another thing to have God against you.  Babylon is not their enemy.  God is.  God did not say that He was against the pagans, the Babylonians.  He was against the Jews.  He was against His own people.

Is God ever against the church?  Most Christians do not think he is.  Read the Book of Revelation.  Jesus wrote letters to seven churches.  Three times Jesus said “I have something against you” (2:4, 14, 20) to three different churches.  Each church should ask that question if Jesus has anything against them but very few churches ever think about that.

The judgment on the Jews was going to be PUBLIC.  And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations (5:8).

The judgment on the Jews was going to be BRUTAL.  Some will die by disease (5:12).  Some will die by the sword (5:16).  They will die violently.  Others will die by starvation as Babylon puts a two year siege on the city.  Young children are begging for food but cannot get any. People were so hungry that they began eating one another.

The judgment on the Jews was going to be MERCILESS.  God said “My eye will not spare, and I will have no pity” (5:11 ESV). When we punish people, sometimes we feel sorry for them. Liberals feel sorry for criminals and identify with them. Instead of feeling sorry for the victims of crime, they feel sorry for the perpetrator. God is not like that. When punish people, He does not show pity.

We read some of these passages and feel sorry for people.  Ezekiel 5:9-10 says, “Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. Therefore in your midst parents will eat their children, and children will eat their parents. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds” (NIV)

We are not under the Law of Moses today but the Jews in the OT were.  It was a conditional covenant. If they obeyed God they were blessed.  If they disobeyed God, they were cursed.  God specifically told them in Deuteronomy 28 what those curses would be.  This was the consequence of disobedience.

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand… They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the Lord your God is giving you. 

Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you.  Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children,  and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities.  (Deuteronomy 28:49, 52-55 ESV)

Ezekiel’s Sign Ministry

Ezekiel’s ministry began a new phase as he dramatized the fall of Jerusalem outside his house, as people would pass by.  We are not told how the people to responded to any of these signs but they could not ignore these signs.  They saw them every time they went by his house.  Eventually, there was a curiosity to see what new thing he was doing that day.

Sign of the Brick

His first sign was to take a large clay brick and draw some things on it.  Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of them in the area.  They wrote their records on these clay bricks.  It was like an ancient drawing board or a scrap of paper.  It was the writing tablet of the time.

“And you, son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem (4:1 ESV).  Ezekiel draws a map or profile of the city on this brick.

And put siege works against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around. 3 And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel. (4:2-3 ESV)

Ezekiel built a model of Jerusalem under siege and makes little camps of soldiers and troops around the city.  He plays toy soldiers.  It predicted the terrible siege that the Babylonians would put on the city long before it happened.

Sign of the Iron Pan

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. (4:3 NIV).

There is an iron pan symbolizes the barrier between God’s face and the people.  The people were separated from God during this time.  They could not reach Him.  He has turned his back on them and will not answer their prayers.

Sign of the Unusual Posture

4 “Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment. 5 For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. 6 And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year. (4:4-6 ESV)

He comes outside his mud hut and lies on his life side for 390 days facing north.  He does this for over a year.  Did he do this all day long?  No. If you say that your pastor preached a year on the Book of Romans, you do not mean that he did it twenty-four seven, three hundred and sixty-five days of the year.

He could not have survived that long in the heat on the diet he was eating.  He had to do other things during this time (cooking, eating), so it could not possibly mean that.  Ezekiel did this, perhaps a couple of hours each day. After 390 days, he switched sides and faced the south the time for 40 more days. We are told that each day represented a year (4:6).

The point is that both the north and the south would face judgment.  The North faced a longer period of judgment.  They had been judged since the Assyrian Captivity in 722 BC. From 931 BC – 539 BC, when the decree of Cyrus took place, is about 390 years (rounded off).  The period for the South is about forty years (586-539 BC rounded off)

Sign of the Food

9 “And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer, and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it. 10 And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from day to day you shall eat it. 11 And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink. 12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” (4:9-12 ESV)

This shows what the famine will be like during this siege.  Food and water will be rationed.  He can only eat twenty shekels daily, which amounts to  eight ounces a day.  Ezekiel can only eat a little food and some of the food he eats will be baked on dung.  Fuel will be scarce to cook the food.

Critics of the Bible read this and say that God must approve of eating a poop sandwich.  This only relates to the fuel, not to the food itself.  It does not involve preparing food with dung but using it in the fuel.  This is not a command.  It is a prediction or prophecy of what will happen because people will be so hungry.

It was also symbolic.  The Lord said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”  (4:13 NIV).  The OT says that waste was to be removed outside the camp (Deuteronomy 23:12-13).

Sign of the Sword

“And you, O son of man, take a sharp sword. Use it as a barber’s razor and pass it over your head and your beard. Then take balances for weighing and divide the hair. 2 A third part you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. And a third part you shall take and strike with the sword all around the city. And a third part you shall scatter to the wind, and I will unsheathe the sword after them.

3 And you shall take from these a small number and bind them in the skirts of your robe. 4 And of these again you shall take some and cast them into the midst of the fire and burn them in the fire. From there a fire will come out into all the house of Israel. (5:1-4 NIV)

Ezekiel shaves his head and beard, not with a knife or razor but with a sharp sword.  He becomes the bald headed prophet.  That is not a big deal to us but it was to Ezekiel.  Priests were not allowed to do this.  Leviticus 21:5 says that priests were not allowed to shave their heads or trim their beards but Ezekiel is now a prophet, not a priest.

He cuts his hand and then he weighs the hair after it is cut.  This tells what will be the fate of the people living in Jerusalem.  The hair is divided into three parts and they symbolize three things (fire, sword and scattering or exile).  One third of it is burned.  One third die by the sword (in battle) and one third is dispersed.

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-are-your-thoughts-on-drama-and-movie-clips-in-church-services

[2] The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, p. 728

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