Meditations from Ezekiel: 10. Prophetic Action
Ezek 4:1 Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it.
Ezekiel’s Circumstances: I don’t know about you but sometimes I have the picture of an Old Testament prophet as someone who stood on a hillside, say, and shouted out to the world God’s word. As far as Ezekiel is concerned you can’t get further from that picture. So far in all that we have read in the first three chapters, he hasn’t actually had a word to convey to the people. Now we read God’s first instructions to him to convey His heart and His intentions to the exiles around him. We read previously that he has a house. Possibly he shares it with others, possibly even a wife, we can’t be certain at this point. Certainly we know that some 6 or 7 years later he had a wife and she died on the same day that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (see ch.25, esp. 24:18). Whether she came with him from Israel or he met her in Babylon and they married there, we don’t know.
His house: We mention his house because that was where he had been told to go (3:24), where he would remain silent until the Lord spoke a word to him. It could be just inside the house or in a small square or courtyard perhaps, immediately outside the front door, both places where he could be easily visible.. Now it is probable that in exile the Jews would be in and out of each others houses comforting and helping one another in this new life. They would know about Ezekiel and would see what he was doing and would no doubt gossip about him for his actions are about to become strange.
Modelling Prophecy: God’s word comes to him in his house: “Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, 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.” (1,2) He is to take a large common building block, the sort often used in Babylon, and on it engrave details of Jerusalem so that it was obvious to all those who had come from there what it was. Somehow, either by further models or in the sand, he was to portray the city being besieged by an invading army. Having done that, he was then told, “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 house of Israel.” (v.3) This pan would probably be a griddle pan used as a hotplate for baking bread. The point was that it was to appear as a dividing wall between him and the besieged city. The simplest interpretation of that is that there would be a wall between the city and God representing the unchangeable nature of His intents for the city.
Static Action Prophecy: Now comes the difficult part for Ezekiel; he is to act out something: “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house 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 house of Israel.” (v.4,5) No doubt he could get up to feed, go to the toilet etc. but for the rest of the time he was to lie down, clearly visible to the other exiles and carry on doing this for over a year!
The reason for the number 390 is unclear. Israel had existed as the northern kingdom for approx 208 years and Judah for approx 343 years, from the end of Solomon’s reign to the destruction of first Samaria and then Jerusalem. If we add on years of exile until return and re-establishing of relationship with the Lord, we may have that sort of figure. He is to do the same thing for the house of Judah: “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year.” (v.6) Again the reason for the period of 40 years is unclear. More than this he is to, “Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her.” (v.7) In this strange way he is to convey for some 14 months this picture of the Lord’s intentions against Jerusalem. Day after day, week after week, and month after month, so this would carry on and so more and more gossip would go around the exiles of what this crazy man was doing while everyone else got on with their lives in this new land.
God’s Enabling: To enable him to do this the Lord explains, “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.” (v.8) There again is this reference to being tied up and this time it is quite clear that it will be a work of God. Now if it means he was literally paralyzed and could not move from that spot for that period, it creates an even more horrific picture for he would need to rely entirely on others to feed him and generally care for him. This would make him an even greater subject of gossip. Whether it was literal paralysis or enabling him to lie there for most of the day, it is a feat of endurance and one which will cause the tongues of the exiles to chatter. One way or another this picture of this crazy prophet prophesying against a besieged Jerusalem would go forth. No, not the picture of a prophet on a hillside!
And Us? There is little here that we can identify with. We can admire Ezekiel for his patient endurance to declare the will of God and maybe be challenged whether we have the steadfastness that he displayed, in persevering with our faith when times are difficult. And maybe we can be thankful that we are not a prophet with such a calling!!!! Nevertheless we do have a calling to be steadfast while all around us turn away from the Lord, and so in that sense we may not be so far away from this lonely exile. Finally, we should remember that the Lord enabled Ezekiel to do this, and He will enable us likewise.