Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ezekiel 4:1-17 An exegesis

One of the final courses I'm taking for my bachelor's degree is a course on the Old Testament prophets. Each week we exegete a passage of scripture. Last week's was Ezekiel 4:1-17. Here's what I wrote.

Ezekiel 4:1-17

I. Historical/Cultural Context

Ezekiel alone is situated solely in Babylon,[1] with the prophet and other Jews in exile. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah. No details are available outside of this book. He was from a priestly family, [2] mentioned in “a postexilic list of priests (I Chron. 24:16)[3] and was widowed “in 588 B. C. at the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem (24:15-18).”[4] Due to sin, the Southern Kingdom would be exiled.

II. Analysis of the Passage-Symbolic Acts Against Jerusalem

Ezekiel demonstrates God’s message symbolically. This “enhances[s] … the spoken word, to make possible … [a] more intense kind of identification.”[5] He depicts Jerusalem’s besiegement on a “clay tablet” (Ezek 4:1) or brick, playing the Babylonian part with “the besieging army…as agent of divine judgment.”[6]

Verse three’s “iron pan” literally means a griddle for baking.[7] Elsewhere (Lev 2:5; 6:21; 7:9; 1 Chr 23:29), it concerns the sacrificial system, [8] while Alexander suggests it was a “pan used only by the priests for certain offerings (Lev 2:5; 6:21; 7:9).”[9] It also references God’s call, in Ezekiel 3:8, and possibly symbolizes the divide between God and the Jerusalemites.[10]

Verses 4-8 depict Ezekiel assuming Israel and Judah’s guilt, a priestly action. “The sudden use of the name ‘Israel’ … referenc[ing] …the Northern Kingdom…is unexpected, since the remainder … concentrates on the imminent siege and exile of Judah, the Southern Kingdom.”[11] Blenkinsopp acknowledges one difficulty: Ezekiel is “bound with cords which prevent him turning over, yet he is ordered to lie on both sides in succession”[12] (Ezek 4:8). One understanding is redactors organizing passages together with similar themes “ignor[ing] …discrepancies of chronology and content.”[13] Lying bound demonstrates captivity with days representing years. The chronology is problematic however, if interpreted literally, having numerous variables. Some suggest viewing the numbers symbolically.

In verses 9-17, Ezekiel demonstrates symbolically the coming food and water shortage in Jerusalem. He would survive on two pints of water and one half pound of bread.[14] The 390 days are more literally the time of siege in this passage.[15]

Verses 12-15 concern the Exile as “…the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them” (Ezek 4:13). Alexander finds no “recorded prohibition in the … Torah regarding the use of human excrement for fuel.”[16] Also, “the cleanliness of the camp of Israel…and …the hygienic practices of the Jews… convince us …what God was asking Ezekiel to do … [was] …abhorren[t].”[17] Ezekiel’s continual concern with preserving ritual purity and obedience in exile,[18] was honored as God relents, allowing animal dung for fuel (verse 15). Verses 16-17 refer again to food shortages in Jerusalem during the siege, emphasizing sin as the cause.

III. Synthesis of the Passage

Ezekiel displayed symbolically Jerusalem’s coming siege and subsequent deportation to exile. The symbols were a clay brick inscribed with besieged Jerusalem, the prophet lying bound, and Ezekiel baking bread, allowed one half pound and two pints of water only, symbolizing scarcity of food and drink in siege and exile.

IV. Application

Ezekiel was a messenger and an exile, as were the message’s recipients. Identification with those we minister to is crucial. “Rock & Roll Revival,”[19] speaks to this issue. Ezekiel’s identification with the people’s sins, though innocent, reminds us of Christ’s identification with our sin, though sinless. God called Ezekiel to prophesy utilizing unusual, somewhat outlandish means. Can we be as obedient?

[1] J. Gordon McConville, A Guide to the Prophets, Exploring the Old Testament, Vol. 4 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 83.

[2] Joseph Blenkinsopp, Ezekiel, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, ed. Patrick D. Miller (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 8.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 34.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Bruce Vawter and Leslie J. Hoppe, A New Heart: A Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 41.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 6, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 769.

[10] James L. Mays, ed., HarperCollins Bible Commentary (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 595.

[11] Mays, 595.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Vawter and Hoppe, 41.

[14] Alexander, 770.

[15] Ibid., 43.

[16] Ibid., 44.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Blenkinsopp. 38.

[19] Kelly Fryer, “Rock & Roll Revival, Reclaiming the F Word, 12 March, 2008, n. p. Online: http://reclaimingthefword.typepad.com/reclaiming_the_f_word/ [12 March 2008].


Alexander, Ralph H. Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 6. Ed. Frank E.
Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Ezekiel. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and
Preaching. Ed. Patrick D. Miller, Jr. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

Fryer, Kelly. “Rock & Roll Revival.” Reclaiming the F Word, 12 March 2008: n. p.
http://reclaimingthefword.typepad.com/reclaiming_the_f_word/ [12
October 2008].

Hoppe, Leslie J. and Bruce Vawter. A New Heart: A Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel.
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

Mays, James L., ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. San Francisco:HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

McConville, Gordon. Exploring the Old Testament. Vol 4, A Guide to the Prophets.
, IL
: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

The Bible. Today’s New International Version.

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