Bible Study: Ezekiel 4 – Punishment for Idolatry

The book of Ezekiel is one of the major prophets in the Old Testament. It was authored by Ezekiel who was set as a watchman to the house of Israel.

Ezek 3:17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me:

The fourth chapter of Ezekiel is about prophecy for the siege of Jerusalem and detailed explanation of His punishment.

The Sign

Ezek 4:1-3 “You also, son of man, take a clay tablet and lay it before you, and portray on it a city, Jerusalem. Lay siege against it, build a siege wall against it, and heap up a mound against it; set camps against it also, and place battering rams against it all around. Moreover take for yourself an iron plate, and set it as an iron wall between you and the city. Set your face against it, and it shall be besieged, and you shall lay siege against it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel.

God is prophesying through Ezekiel how the siege of Jerusalem will happen in detailed explanation.
  • Take a clay tablet
  • Lay it before you
  • Portray on it a city, Jerusalem
  • Lay siege against it
  • Build a siege wall against it
  • Heap up a mound against it
  • Set camps against it
  • Place battering rams against it all around. 
  • Take for yourself an iron plate
  • Set it as an iron wall between you and the city. 
  • Set your face against it
  • It shall be besieged
  • You shall lay siege against it

The message of this sign is that, Jerusalem’s siege was because of it’s idolatry.

Bear the Iniquity

Note: The blue is from Septuagint.

House of Israel House of Judah
Left side

Ezek 4:4a “Lie also on your left side, ..

Right side

Ezek 4:6 “And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year.
390 days
(390 years of iniquity)

Ezek 4:4 “Lie also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. According to the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their iniquity. For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days; so you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.
150 days
(150 years of iniquity)


Ezek 4:4 And thou shalt lie upon thy left side, and lay the iniquities of the house of Israel upon it, according to the number of the hundred and fifty days during which thou shalt lie upon it: and thou shalt bear their iniquities (LXX).

40 days
(40 years of iniquity)

Ezek 4:6-8 “And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year. Therefore you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem; your arm shall be uncovered, and you shall prophesy against it And surely I will restrain you so that you cannot turn from one side to another till you have ended the days of your siege.

Wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt (390 ?)

Ezek 4:9 “Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread of them for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days (390), you shall eat it.

Wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt (150 + 40 = 190 ?)

Ezek 4:9 Take thou also to thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and bread-corn; and thou shalt cast them into one earthen vessel, and shalt make them into loaves for thyself; and thou shalt eat them a hundred and ninety days (190), according to the number of the days during which thou sleepest on thy side (LXX).

Twenty shekels of food a day

Ezek 4:10 “And your food which you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from time to time you shall eat it.

One-sixth of a hin of water a day
Ezek 4:11 “You shall also drink water by measure, one-sixth of a hin; from time to time you shall drink.
Cook as barley cakes with human cow dung

Ezek 4:12-15 “And you shall eat it as barley cakes; and bake it using fuel of human waste in their sight.” Then the LORD said, “So shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, where I will drive them.” So I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Indeed I have never defiled myself from my youth till now; I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has abominable flesh ever come into my mouth.” Then He said to me, “See, I am giving you cow dung instead of human waste, and you shall prepare your bread over it.”

No bread supply in Jerusalem

Ezek 4:16-17 Moreover He said to me, “Son of man, surely I will cut off the supply of bread in Jerusalem; they shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and shall drink water by measure and with dread, that they may lack bread and water, and be dismayed with one another, and waste away because of their iniquity.

Masoretic text mentions 390 as punishment for the house of Israel and 40 house of Judah but proceeds 390 as punishment for Jerusalem which is in Judah. However, LXX mentions 150 for the house of Israel and 40 for house of Judah and the rest of the punishment is for both houses for 190 days. What do these years of iniquity mean? Without understanding what these iniquity means, it is not possible to understand why God is punishing Jerusalem.

40 Years of Iniquity by Judah

It is important to understand that Ezekiel was living during a time period when the house of Israel was already punished and scattered but the house of Judah is yet to receive its punishment. To be more accurate based on Ezekiel chapter 1, the year could be 593 BC or a few years after. Also, the siege mentioned here is for Jerusalem and the house of Israel was already scattered. In this context, what could this numbers mean?

2Kgs 21:11-16 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations (he has acted more wickedly than all the Amorites who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols), therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab; I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. So I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become victims of plunder to all their enemies, because they have done evil in My sight, and have provoked Me to anger since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day. Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin by which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the LORD.

God is clearly mentioning that He will bring calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah and wipe Jerusalem  because of the sins of Manasseh. But what great sin he did that differs from others?

2Kgs 21:4-8 He also built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem I will put My name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. Also he made his son pass through the fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger. He even set a carved image of Asherah that he had made, in the house of which the LORD had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever; and I will not make the feet of Israel wander anymore from the land which I gave their fathers–only if they are careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that My servant Moses commanded them.”

Manasseh didn’t just involve himself in idolatry but converted or transformed the Temple of the LORD itself into a temple full of idols. This is reiterated by prophet Jeremiah

Jer 15:4 “I will hand them over to trouble, to all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem.

Manasseh reigned from 410 to 465 years with reference to king Saul becoming king as per the timeline. This means, Manasseh reigned for 55 years. 

2Kgs 21:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah.

We must also consider the fact that Manasseh was only 12 years old when he became king and reigned for 55 years. 

2Kgs 22:3 Now it came to pass, in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan the scribe, the son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the house of the LORD, saying: ….  2Kgs 23:4-12 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, the priests of the second order, and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the articles that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. Then he removed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the places all around Jerusalem, and those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, to the moon, to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven. And he brought out the wooden image from the house of the LORD, to the Brook Kidron outside Jerusalem, burned it at the Brook Kidron and ground it to ashes, and threw its ashes on the graves of the common people. Then he tore down the ritual booths of the perverted persons that were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the wooden image. And he brought all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba; also he broke down the high places at the gates which were at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were to the left of the city gate. Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brethren. And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech. Then he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathan-Melech, the officer who was in the court; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. The altars that were on the roof, the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, the king broke down and pulverized there, and threw their dust into the Brook Kidron.

We also find that king Josiah restoring and purifying the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem in his 18th year of his reign. Hence, 40 years of iniquity was when Manasseh polluted the temple of the LORD until it was restored by king Josiah.
If we dive deeper to find when Manasseh polluted the temple of the LORD, we can just subtract 40 from when Josiah restored the temple of the LORD. Josiah became king 467 years since the beginning of kings and adding 17 years (18th year) which is 484 and then subtracting 40 gives 444 years since the beginning of kings which is 34th year of his reign (based on LXX which I find more accurate) or 30th year of his reign (based on Masoretic text)
Hence, the 40 years for Judah are for idolatry in the temple of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.

390 Years of Iniquity

Having seen what the 40 years represents for house of Judah, we can also see in the 18th year of king Josiah, 484 years since the beginning of kings, Josiah destroyed the alters of Bethel.

2Kgs 23:15-20 Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he broke down; and he burned the high place and crushed it to powder, and burned the wooden image. As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar, and defiled it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words. Then he said, “What gravestone is this that I see?” So the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.” And he said, “Let him alone; let no one move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria. Now Josiah also took away all the shrines of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the LORD to anger; and he did to them according to all the deeds he had done in Bethel. He executed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them; and he returned to Jerusalem.

Josiah not only destroyed idolatry from Bethel but also what Solomon did.

2Kgs 23:13-14 Then the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, which were on the south of the Mount of Corruption, which Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the wooden images, and filled their places with the bones of men.

As we saw, Josiah destroyed idolatry in Jerusalem 484 (since the kings ruled). Subtracting 390 years gives 20th year of king Solomon’s reign (or 16th year as per Masoretic text) .
Hence, the 390 years are for idolatry in the temple of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.

Punishment on Food

Having found that God was punishing the children of Israel for idolatry, He imposed Ezekiel on strict restrictions as a sign against Jerusalem.

  • Put wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt together
  • Make it as a bread
  • Cook it with human cow dung
  • Eat twenty shekels a day
  • Drink one-sixth of a hin of water a day
What do these mean? It can be found in the last 2 verses of the chapter.

Ezek 4:16-17 Moreover He said to me, “Son of man, surely I will cut off the supply of bread in Jerusalem; they shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and shall drink water by measure and with dread, that they may lack bread and water, and be dismayed with one another, and waste away because of their iniquity.

Sign / Symbol What does it mean?
Barley cake cooked using human cow dung made with wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt put together Supply of Jerusalem cut off. Eating defiled bread.
Eat twenty shekels a day Eat bread by weight and with anxiety
Drink one-sixth of a hin of water a day Drink water by measure 

Conclusion

We can see how much God hates idolatry. Let us therefore, be warned regarding idols in our life today.

Col 3:5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 

1Sam 15:23 For sin is as divination; idols bring on pain and grief. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord also shall reject thee from being king over Israel (LXX).

1Sam 15:23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.”

In the old testament, we find stubbornness from not obeying God’s commandments is idolatry as in Masoretic text (differs in Septuagint). Catholics who claim themselves to be Christians practice idolatry and are still in clutches of Satan.

But for modern Protestant Christians, covetousness or being greedy are idolatry as Paul said.  Are you practicing idolatry by being greedy?