Our reading today begins with God calling Ezekiel to perform an act prophecy. He is to build a diorama of the coming siege of Jerusalem (4:1-2). He is to then take an iron griddle and place it between him and his model (v. 3). The word here for “griddle” is used only five times in the Old Testament, and it refers to the cooking surface used by the priests to prepare the grain offering (see Lev 2:5). Ezekiel is then to set his face “toward” (the preposition can be translated a number of ways , including “against”) the griddle that lies between him and the city. God is using Ezekiel to act out the fulfillment of His promise in Leviticus 26. God swore He would set His face against the people if they disobey (Lev 26:17), which is symbolized by the griddle that is empty and lacks the proper offering to God.1
The act prophesy is not done, however. As noted, Ezekiel is setting his face against the model of Jerusalem as a figure of God Himself. Now he must place the iniquity of the people upon himself (v. 4). This is a clear prefiguring of Christ (see Isa 53:12, 1 Pet 2:24). First, Ezekiel bears the punishment of sin for Israel (v. 5), then for Judah (v. 6). To explain the 390 days/years and the 40 days/years individually has led to some very interesting theories. However, if we remember that the rejoining of Israel and Judah points to the restoration of God’s spiritual people, the combined 430 years may be a reference to Israel’s time in Egypt (see Ex. 12:40-41), which would mean that the symbolic bearing of the sin for that time signals the new Exodus. This is a reference to the salvation we have in Christ, which the “bared arm” of Ezekiel also symbolizes (v. 7 – see Isa 30:30-32, 51:9).2
In verse 9, the act prophecy continues. Ezekiel is to bake bread from a mish-mash of ingredients to symbolize the struggle of eating whatever one can find during a siege. This is further symbolized by the scant amount of food Ezekiel can eat per day (v. 10 – 20 shekels is less than a half-pound) and water he can drink per day (v. 11 – about 3/4 of a quart, or three cups). That he was to bake his bread using human dung (v. 12) would make the cakes unclean (v. 13), signifying that Judah were an unclean people. God graciously allows Ezekiel to keep himself clean by using cow dung as fuel (vv. 14-15 – this was not uncommon in the ancient world, including Israel). In verses 16-17, God explain this part of the act prophecy.
Chapter 5 records another act prophecy. Ezekiel is to shave with a sword (5:1)! The ratio of destroyed hair to preserved hair (vv. 2-4) reveals the small number of the true remnant. Note that even some of the hair preserved (those in Babylon) will be destroyed. There is a difference between the physical remnant and the spiritual remnant. God then indicts Judah (and by implication, Israel) for their sin (vv. 5-7). Note in verse 7 that Judah is even worse than the nations (see 3:6-7)! Therefore, God has turned them into enemies (v. 8). Verses 9-10 speak of the horrors of the siege (which Ezekiel’s act prophecy foreshadowed).
In verse 11, God says that the fall of Jerusalem is His forsaking them as a physical people. Verse 12 describes the punishment (as in Ezekiel’s act prophecy and Jeremiah’s predictions – see Jer 15:2). In verse 13, God says that Judah will know He is the Lord through the punishment. But they will realize it too late (vv. 14-17). This is similar to many of Jeremiah’s prophecies (probably happening at the same time in Judah!). This is how it will go for all who are ultimately judged. They will only realize it when it’s too late.
Chapter 6 begins with a prophecy against Israel (again, covering both Israel and Judah). God will judge them for worshiping false gods (6:1-7). Again, verse 7 speaks to how they will realize all too late Who the true God is. But there is hope. Verse 8 speaks of the spiritual remnant. These are those that turn to God in repentance (v. 9). God’s acts are not in vain (v. 10). Verses 11-13 combines the judgment pronounced in chapter 5 with the reason stated in chapter 6.
Chapter 7 continues the pronouncement of judgment. Note that God calls this punishment the end of the physical people (7:2-3, 6). The destruction and the day in verses 5-13 point to the coming of the final siege and victory of Babylon, but it also points to the final judgment of the earth. The “land” of verse 7 can also be translated “earth” (there were not two separate words in Hebrew). Verses 14-27 again speak of the coming judgment in horrifying detail. All they valued they will realize is worthless – but too late. All their pride they will realize was misguided – but too late. They will realize Who is the true God – but too late! Because He has forsaken them (v. 22).
1 Go read Leviticus 26:14-45 and note the detail with which God describes exactly what would happen some 700 years later. The repeated opportunities for repentance, the people eating their children from the famine, the mutual forsaking of YHWH and the physical people, the fact that this is for the land to enjoy its Sabbaths…its amazing!
2 Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Ezekiel is literally told to live lying down for 430 days (not eating or drinking much) – a year and two months plus! What a commitment to God that must take. Then consider that Jesus literally lived fully obedient to God for 39 years!