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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel delineates Jerusalem, and lays siege to it, as a type of the manner in which the Chaldean army should surround that city, Ezekiel 4:1-3. The prophet commanded to lie on his left side three hundred and ninety days, and on his right side forty days, with the signification, Ezekiel 4:4-8. The scanty and coarse provision allowed the prophet during his symbolical siege, consisting chiefly of the worst kinds of grain, and likewise ill-prepared, as he had only cow's dung for fuel, tended all to denote the scarcity of provision, fuel, and every necessary of life, which the Jews should experience during the siege of Jerusalem, Ezekiel 4:9-17.
1Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem:
Take thee a tile - A tile, such as we use in covering houses, will give us but a very inadequate notion of those used anciently; and also appear very insufficient for the figures which the prophet was commanded to pourtray on it. A brick is most undoubtedly meant; yet, even the larger dimensions here, as to thickness, will not help us through the difficulty, unless we have recourse to the ancients, who have spoken of the dimensions of the bricks commonly used in building. Palladius, De Re Rustica, lib. 6 c. 12, is very particular on this subject: - Sint vero lateres longitudine pedum duorum, latitudine unius, altitudine quatuor unciarum. "Let the bricks be two feet long, one foot broad, and four inches thick." Edit. Gesner, vol. 3 p. 144. On such a surface as this the whole siege might be easily pourtrayed. There are some brick-bats before me which were brought from the ruins of ancient Babylon, which have been made of clay and straw kneaded together and baked in the sun; one has been more than four inches thick, and on one side it is deeply impressed with characters; others are smaller, well made, and finely impressed on one side with Persepolitan characters. These have been for inside or ornamental work; to such bricks the prophet most probably alludes.
But the tempered clay out of which the bricks were made might be meant here; of this substance he might spread out a sufficient quantity to receive all his figures. The figures were
2. A fort.
3. A mount.
4. The camp of the enemy.
5. Battering rams, and such like engines, round about.
6. A wall round about the city, between it and the besieging army.
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.
Battering rams - כרים carim. This is the earliest account we have of this military engine. It was a long beam with a head of brass, like the head and horns of a ram, whence its name. It was hung by chains or ropes, between two beams, or three legs, so that it could admit of being drawn backward and forward some yards. Several stout men, by means of ropes, pulled it as far back as it could go, and then, suddenly letting it loose, it struck with great force against the wall which it was intended to batter and bring down. This machine was not known in the time of Homer, as in the siege of Troy there is not the slightest mention of such. And the first notice we have of it is here, where we see that it was employed by Nebuchadnezzar in the siege of Jerusalem, A.M. 3416. It was afterwards used by the Carthaginians at the siege of Gades, as Vitruvius notes, lib. 10 c. 19, in which he gives a circumstantial account of the invention, fabrication, use, and improvement of this machine. It was for the want of a machine of this kind, that the ancient sieges lasted so long; they had nothing with which to beat down or undermine the walls.
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.
Take thou unto thee an iron pan - מחבת machabath, a flat plate or slice, as the margin properly renders it: such as are used in some countries to bake bread on, called a griddle or girdle, being suspended above the fire, and kept in a proper degree of heat for the purpose. A plate like this, stuck perpendicularly in the earth, would show the nature of a wall much better than any pan could do. The Chaldeans threw such a wall round Jerusalem, to prevent the besieged from receiving any succours, and from escaping from the city.
This shall be a sign to the house of Israel - This shall be an emblematical representation of what shall actually take place.
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.
Lie thou also upon thy left side - It appears that all that is mentioned here and in the following verses was done, not in idea, but in fact. The prophet lay down on his left side upon a couch to which he was chained, Ezekiel 4:6, for three hundred and ninety days; and afterwards he lay in the same manner, upon his right side, for forty days. And thus was signified the state of the Jews, and the punishment that was coming upon them.
1. The prophet himself represents the Jews.
2. His lying, their state of depression.
3. His being bound, their helplessness and captivity.
4. The days signify years, a day for a year; during which they were to bear their iniquity, or the temporal punishment due to their sins.
5. The three hundred and ninety days, during which he was to lie on his left side, and bear the iniquity of the house of Israel, point out two things: the first, The duration of the siege of Jerusalem. Secondly, The duration of the captivity off the ten tribes, and that of Judah.
6. The prophet lay three hundred and ninety days upon his left side, and forty days upon his right side, in all four hundred and thirty days. Now Jerusalem was besieged the ninth year of the reign of Zedekiah, 2 Kings 25:1, 2 Kings 25:2, and was not taken till the eleventh year of the same prince, 2 Kings 25:2.
But properly speaking, the siege did not continue the whole of that time; it was interrupted; for Nebuchadnezzar was obliged to raise it, and go and meet the Egyptians, who were coming to its succor. This consumed a considerable portion of time. After he had defeated the Egyptians, he returned and recommenced the siege, and did not leave it till the city was taken. We may, therefore, conclude that the four hundred and thirty days only comprise the time in which the city was actually besieged, when the city was encompassed with walls of circumvallation, so that the besieged were reduced to a state of the utmost distress. The siege commenced the tenth day of the tenth month of the ninth year of Zedekiah; and it was taken on the ninth day of the fourth month of the eleventh year of the same king. Thus the siege had lasted, in the whole, eighteen months, or five hundred and ten days. Subtract for the time that Nebuchadnezzar was obliged to interrupt the siege, in order to go against the Egyptians, four months and twenty days, or one hundred and forty days, and there will remain four hundred and thirty days, composed of 390+40 equals 430. See Calmet on this place. See also at the end of this chapter, Ezekiel 4:16 (note).
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.
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.
Forty days - Reckon, says Archbishop Newcome, near fifteen years and six months in the reign of Manasseh, two years in that of Amon, three months in that of Jehoahaz, eleven years in that of Jehoiakim, three months and ten days in that of Jehoiachin, and eleven years in that of Zedekiah; and there arises a period of forty years, during which gross idolatry was practiced in the kingdom of Judah. Forty days may have been employed in spoiling and desolating the city and the temple.
7Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it.
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.
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.
Take thou also unto thee wheat - In times of scarcity, it is customary in all countries to mix several kinds of coarser grain with the finer, to make it last the longer. This mashlin, which the prophet is commanded to take, of wheat, barley, beans, lentiles, millet, and fitches, was intended to show how scarce the necessaries of life should be during the siege.
10And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it.
Twenty shekels a day - The whole of the above grain, being ground, was to be formed into one mass, out of which he was to make three hundred and ninety loaves; one loaf for each day; and this loaf was to be of twenty shekels in weight. Now a shekel, being in weight about half an ounce, this would be ten ounces of bread for each day; and with this water to the amount of one sixth part of a hin, which is about a pint and a half of our measure. All this shows that so reduced should provisions be during the siege, that they should be obliged to eat the meanest sort of aliment, and that by weight, and their water by measure; each man's allowance being scarcely a pint and a half, and ten ounces, a little more than half a pound of bread, for each day's support.
11Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink.
12And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.
Thou shalt bake it with dung - Dried ox and cow dung is a common fuel in the east; and with this, for want of wood and coals, they are obliged to prepare their food. Indeed, dried excrement of every kind is gathered. Here, the prophet is to prepare his bread with dry human excrement. And when we know that this did not come in contact with the bread, and was only used to warm the plate, (see Ezekiel 4:3), on which the bread was laid over the fire, it removes all the horror and much of the disgust. This was required to show the extreme degree of wretchedness to which they should be exposed; for, not being able to leave the city to collect the dried excrements of beasts, the inhabitants during the siege would be obliged, literally, to use dried human ordure for fuel. The very circumstances show that this was the plain fact of the case. However, we find that the prophet was relieved from using this kind of fuel, for cow's dung was substituted at his request. See Ezekiel 4:15.
13And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them.
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.
My soul hath not been polluted - There is a remarkable similarity between this expostulation of the prophet and that of St. Peter, Acts 10:14.
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:
I will break the staff of bread - They shall be besieged till all the bread is consumed, till the famine becomes absolute; see 2 Kings 25:3 : "And on the ninth of the fourth month, the famine prevailed in the city; and There Was No Bread for the people of the land." All this was accurately foretold, and as accurately fulfilled.
Abp. Newcome on 2 Kings 25:6 observes: "This number of years will take us back, with sufficient exactness, from the year in which Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar to the first year of Jeroboam's reign, when national idolatry began in Israel. The period of days seems to predict the duration of the siege by the Babylonians, 2 Kings 25:9, deducting from the year five months and twenty-nine days, mentioned 2 Kings 25:1-4, the time during which the Chaldeans were on their expedition against the Egyptians; see Jeremiah 37:6." This amounts nearly to the same as that mentioned above.
17That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.