Matthew Poole's Commentary
Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem:The prophet is directed to represent a mock siege of Jerusalem for a sign to the Jews, Ezekiel 4:1-3; and to lie before it in one posture for a set number of days, in order to denote the time of their sins for which God did visit, Ezekiel 4:4-8. His allotted provisions, with design to prefigure the people’s defilement among the Gentiles, Ezekiel 4:9-15, and the scarcity they should be reduced to by the siege, Ezekiel 4:16,17.
Hitherto the preface, containing the call and commission of the prophet; now he begins. This is the first prophecy, and it is against Jerusalem.
A tile, or brick, or any square tablet on which he might engrave or carve.
Lay it before thee, as carvers use to do, as engravers and painters do.
Portray upon it the city; draw a map of Jerusalem, delineate or describe the city Jerusalem, whence they were come, who now are in Babylon, and probably repented that they had left Judea and Jerusalem, and murmured against them that advised to it: but let them know by this sign that Jerusalem should suffer much more than ever they suffered, that those who remained there sinning against God should bear a long siege, a very grievous famine, and cruel slaughters.
And 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.Draw the figure of a siege about the city; raise a tower and bulwarks which may annoy the besieged, and defend the besiegers, from which may be shot either darts against men, or mighty stones against the walls and towers of the city.
Cast a mount; which made large, high, and strong, and near as they can, might thence by help of galleries get over the walls and enter the city. Lay out the ground also for the army of the Chaldeans to pitch their tents in, and to form their camp.
Rams; the Chaldee paraphrast understands the captains and chief leaders among the soldiers, but it is better understood of those engines wherewith besiegers did batter the walls and towers of a besieged city; an engine of great use in days of old among all warlike nations, invented, say some, in the siege of Troy.
Moreover 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, to signify the hardness and obstinacy of the besiegers; probably a frying-pan, on the plain part of which the the bearing the portrait of Jerusalem lying, the iron edges or brims compassed it round about, as a line drawn round a besieged city, out of which the distressed could not flee, into which no relief could be brought. It plainly noted the cruelty of the Chaldeans and future tortures of the Jews, who were like to be fried or broiled in this iron pan, as Jeremiah 29:22; /APC 2Ma 7:5.
Set it for a wall of iron; that it may resemble a wall of iron; for as impregnable as such a wall should the courage, resolution, and patience of the Chaldeans be attacking it.
Set thy face against it; fix thy displeased countenance against it, in token of my displeasure.
Thou shalt lay siege: if the prophet do represent him that sent him, then it speaks God’s appearing against these wicked ones.
This shall be a sign; all these things are signs and emblems usual with all, most usual with this prophet, who in this hieroglyphic foreshows the state of those that lived at Jerusalem.
Lie 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.Lie thou also; a posture which was to signify the settled resolution of the besiegers, who had taken up their abode till the siege were finished in taking Jerusalem.
Upon thy left side, to note the less worthy part, the ten tribes, or Samaria, which was from Jerusalem toward the left hand, and was head of the ten tribes.
Lay the iniquity; take upon thee in the representation thereof both guilt and punishment; bear both, not to expiate, but to exemplify what they should suffer.
The house of Israel, distinguished from Judah; it is the ten tribes.
According to the number of the days; by that proportion of time thou shalt know and intimate to them how long I have borne patiently with their sins, and how long they shall bear their own punishment.
Thou shalt bear their iniquity; signifying that as the prophet in the sign, so God in very deed, had patiently borne with them.
For 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.This verse explains the former. I have pointed out the number of years wherein apostate Israel sinned against me, and I did bear with them according to the number of days, wherein thou must lie on thy left side. Three hundred and ninety days. See Ezekiel 4:4. There is some difference, though of no great moment, in fixing the periods of beginning and ending these prophetic days. These years some begin at Solomon’s falling to idolatry, in the twenty-seventh year of his reign, and end them in the fifth of Zedekiah’s captivity. Others begin at the fourth year of Rehoboam, and end them in the twenty-first year of the captivity. Others begin them in the first of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, when the kingdom was divided, and then they must end about the seventeenth year of the captivity. The first supputation to me is much the likeliest, and agrees nearest with the year wherein this prophet begins his prophecy. It is not altogether unlikely that the prophet may intimate, though obscurely, the continuance of the siege of Jerusalem, which the Chaldeans began on the tenth day of the tenth month of the ninth year of Zedekiah, and lasted the remaining two months of the ninth year, and the whole tenth year except some five months, wherein the Babylonians retired to fight the Egyptians, beat them, spoiled them, and returned to the siege of Jerusalem, which lasted to the ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah’s eleventh year. So that one whole year, and three weeks, and four days, or thirteen months, at thirty days in each month, taking up three hundred and ninety days, and discounting the five months and odd days in the Egyptian expedition, you come to the continuance of three hundred and ninety days in the threatened siege, and possibly this may be the intent of the prophecy.
And 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.When thou hast almost accomplished, or when about to accomplish them, i.e. forty days, before the three hundred and ninety do expire, at the end of three hundred and fifty days turn thou to thy right side, and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah; and that this is the true account appears from this verse, compared with Ezekiel 1:1,2 8:1, say some, and those very learned men. Others will have the forty days distinct from the three hundred and ninety, and reckon them by themselves, and so the better and grammatical construction in the Hebrew seems to carry it, for it speaks in the perfect tense, and lying. a second time. But be these numbers distinct or but one, is no great concern; either way they do plainly speak God’s wonderful patience with Israel and Judah, and point out the time of the miseries of both for their sinfulness.
Again, Heb. a second time. Thou shalt bear the iniquity: see Ezekiel 4:4.
Of the house of Judah; of the two tribes, say some; of the royal family, say others, and countenance it with Isaiah 22:21; and then Israel distinguished is the whole body of the two tribes, and the remnant of the ten tribes that escaped, and embodied with the two tribes; as some did at the first division, others afterward in Asa’s, Jehoshaphat’s, Hezekiah’s, and Josiah’s time, leave their places and came to Jerusalem.
Forty days; it is plain they are so many years, but not so plain where to begin them, whether from Manasseh, or more probably from Josiah’s renewing covenant, until the destruction of the temple, which is forty years; during which time God deferred to punish, expecting whether they would keep covenant and walk with God, or retain their idolatries and wicked ways, which latter they did for thirteen years of Josiah’s reign, for eleven of Jehoiakim, and eleven of Zedekiah’s reign, and five of his captivity, which amount to just forty years; and they are mentioned, say some, apart from the three hundred and ninety, because they were more wickedly abused to promote sin.
Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it.Therefore, Heb. And, while thou liest on thy side, thou shalt fix thy countenance on the portrait of besieged Jerusalem, with angry and menacing looks.
Jerusalem; not which was in the land of Judah, but that described in the tile, the emblem of the other.
Thine arm, thy right arm, the stronger and more ready to act, shall be uncovered, naked and stretched out, as being ready to strike and slay.
Thou shalt prophesy against it: this very emblem doth threaten, which is a visional prediction, and no doubt Ezekiel unfolded these riddles on just occasions, and this was a prophesying to them, sometimes by signs, and sometimes by words.
And, 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.Whoever were the persons that laid bonds on Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 3:25, here it is plain that the Lord doth it. If the prophet represent the besieged citizens who must be captives in bonds, then it is likely these bonds were visible and material, that they might be a teaching sign and admonition, that as they saw the prophet in them, so certainly he should see that come to pass which was signified by them. If he represent the Chaldeans, as those who were by Divine power as fast bound to this siege, till the city be taken, as he was tied to the place whence he could not stir a foot, then invisible bonds, which none feel or see but the prophet, may suffice these, assuring him that those could move no more from the siege than he from that side he lay on. And though the Egyptian army make some diversion, yet it is very like the siege was not quite raised, but they kept the city blocked up, whilst the gross of the army drew off to fight Pharaoh’s army, according to that Jeremiah 37:9, the Chaldeans shall not depart.
Thy siege, Heb. plural, sieges, either because it was like two sieges by that little interruption of three or four months, or else because of the length and soreness thereof.
Take 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.Provide thee corn enough; for a grievous famine will accompany the siege. And whereas all sorts of grain are to be provided, it assures us all would be little enough; wheat and barley would not outlast the siege, coarser and meaner must be provided, though less fit for bread. Mix the worst with the best to lengthen out the best, that the mixture may render them useful in such necessity.
Three hundred and ninety days; he mentions only three hundred and ninety; the forty days either concur with them, or else because they refer to the time after the city was taken, whereby such as revived and got some liberty to go abroad found food for themselves; if they escaped the sword of the enemy, and were got into the country, they wanted not bread.
And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it.Thy meat; the mean and coarse bread which thou must eat and be content with.
By weight; not full, as once; not as much as you will, but a small pittance delivered by weight to all; which bespeaks the extreme penury the city should be brought to.
Twenty shekels; some say five ounces, others say ten ounces, the greater of the two scarce enough to maintain life, and yet, it is probable enough, it was but five ounces of bread which was his allowance. A hard case, when the law of the twelve tables allowed a pound of bread to prisoners daily for their diet. But here the prophet hath but half that allowance, if the twenty shekels were shekels of the sanctuary; and he hath but a quarter of that allowance, if they were common shekels by which his allowance was weighed.
From time to time; at set hours this was weighed out, and no more could be had at any other time, whether morning or evening; once in four and twenty hours, or once in twelve hours, still at the appointed hour; and possibly there might be different hours appointed to different persons, and every one must observe his own time.
Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink.Water; not wine or cordial drinks, but cold and thin water, nor a bellyful of this.
The sixth part of an hin; about six ounces of water, and that measured out by others to him that drinks it, scarce enough to keep the man alive. Such proportions of bread and water rather fed death than the man, yet more could not be had when the besiegers were masters of both fields and fountains, and cut off all from the city.
And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.As barley cakes: these were delicacies with them when they could temper and make them right, but now these pitiful things should be to these half-starved bodies as delicates, Or rather, because they were greedy, and could not stay till they were baked. Or, lest any should take it from them. Or, because they never had enough to make a loaf with, they eat them as barley cakes.
With dung; there would be no wood left for such necessary uses, nor yet dung of other creatures, they would be all consumed by the length of the siege too. What loathsome food was this! yet in this straitness of the siege they are brought to it.
In their sight; openly, that any might see it. From this passage some conclude this was actually done, and not only represented in a vision.
And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them.This verse is a key to the former.
Even thus; scanty, mean, ill-dressed, and polluted in the very dressing, loathsome to any but starved bellies.
The children of Israel; not only the house of Judah, but all the rest of the children of Israel; not in the siege only, but this misery should pursue them.
Among the Gentiles; who would be ready enough to upbraid them, and twit them, as breaking the rules of their religion to fill their bellies: thus their sins would bring them to extremest want and shame.
Then 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.Ah Lord God he deprecateth this, and entreats it may not be enjoined him. He proposeth his legal purity, as one argument; in obedience to ceremonial precepts, he had kept himself clean, and now prays that he may not have his obedience tried by enjoining to eat what is abominable.
From my youth up; he took early care of this, and had persevered to this age; therefore prays mitigation, and some change in his diet or dressing of it.
That which dieth of itself; forbidden as polluted, Exodus 22:31 Leviticus 17:15 Ezekiel 44:31.
Torn in pieces; forbidden by the law also, as Exodus 22:31.
Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.So soon as he prayed God answered, and condescends to Ezekiel that he should use what was less abominable than man’s dung; but it was not granted to the Jews, who in the siege at Jerusalem did much worse things, and more detestable, reduced to it by straits, as Ezekiel 5:10 Lamentations 1:11 2:11,12,20.
Moreover 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:Here the Lord confirms his threat of famine by a solemn protestation that he would break the staff of bread; either take their, harvests away, and deny them bread, or withhold his blessing, the strength of bread, that it should not nourish and refresh, as Leviticus 26:26.
In Jerusalem, that sinful city.
By weight: see Ezekiel 4:10.
With care; afraid and doubtful whether or where they shall have any more.
By measure: Ezekiel 4:11.
With astonishment; amazed at the strangeness of their condition, and the wounds and death of many that fell by the enemies’ hand, attempting to fetch a little water; or astonished, their very eyes failing for thirst.
That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.The Lord will take away their provision, that they may die with want, punished for all their sins, and disappointed of all that their false prophets promised them; and under strangest disappointments, be filled with strangest amazements and horrors, at the woeful miseries of one another, and falling dead in each other’s helpless sight.