The best exposition of this part of Ezekiel’s prediction of Jerusalem’s desolation is Jeremiah’s lamentation of it, Lam. 4:3, 4; 5:10; where he pathetically describes the terrible famine that was in Jerusalem during the siege and the sad effects of it.
I. The prophet here, to affect the people with the foresight of it, must confine himself for 390 days to coarse fare and short commons, and that ill-dressed, for they should want both food and fuel.
1. His meat, for the quality of it, was to be of the worst bread, made of but little wheat and barley, and the rest of beans, and lentiles, and millet, and fitches, such as we feed horses or fatted hogs with, and this mixed, as mill corn, or as that in the beggar’s bag, that has a dish full of one sort of corn at one house and of another at another house; of such corn as this must the prophet’s bread be made while he underwent the fatigue of lying on his side, and needed something better to support him, Ezek. 4:9. Note, It is our wisdom not to be too fond of dainties and pleasant bread, because we know not what hard meat we may be tied to, nay, and may be glad of, before we die. The meanest sort of food is better than we deserve, and therefore must not be despised nor wasted, nor must those that use it be looked upon with disdain, because we know not what may be our own lot.
2. For the quantity of it, it was to be of the least that a man could be kept alive with, to signify that the besieged should be reduced to short allowance and should hold out till all the bread in the city was spent, Jer. 37:21. The prophet must eat but twenty shekels’ weight of bread a day (Ezek. 4:10), that was about ten ounces; and he must drink but the sixth part of a hin of water, that was half a pint, about eight ounces, Ezek. 4:11. The stint of the Lessian diet is fourteen ounces of meat and sixteen of drink. The prophet in Babylon had bread enough and to spare, and was by the river side, where there was plenty of water; and yet, that he might confirm his own prediction and be a sign to the children of Israel, God obliges him to live thus sparingly, and he submits to it. Note, God’s servants must learn to endure hardness, and to deny themselves the use of lawful delights, when they may thereby serve the glory of God, evidence the sincerity of their faith, and express their sympathy with their brethren in affliction. The body must be kept under and brought into subjection. Nature is content with a little, grace with less, but lust with nothing. It is good to stint ourselves of choice, that we may the better bear it if ever we should come to be stinted by necessity. And in times of public distress and calamity it ill becomes us to make much of ourselves, as those that drank wine in bowls and were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph, Amos 6:4-6.
3. For the dressing of it, he must bake it with a man’s dung (Ezek. 4:12); that must be dried, and serve for fuel to heat his oven with. The thought of it would almost turn one’s stomach; yet the coarse bread, thus baked, he must eat as barley-cakes, as freely as if it were the same bread he had been used to. This nauseous piece of cookery he must exercise publicly in their sight, that they might be the more affected with the calamity approaching, which was signified by it, that in the extremity of the famine they should not only have nothing that was dainty, but nothing that was cleanly, about them; they must take up with what they could get. To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet. This circumstance of the sign, the baking of his bread with man’s dung, the prophet with submission humbly desired might be dispensed with (Ezek. 4:14); it seemed to have in it something of a ceremonial pollution, for there was a law that man’s dung should be covered with earth, that God might see no unclean thing in their camp, Deut. 23:13, 14. And must he go and gather a thing so offensive, and use it in the dressing of his meat in the sight of the people? “Ah! Lord God,” says he, “behold, my soul has not been polluted, and I am afraid lest by this it be polluted.” Note, The pollution of the soul by sin is what good people dread more than any thing; and yet sometimes tender consciences fear it without cause, and perplex themselves with scruples about lawful things, as the prophet here, who had not yet learned that it is not that which goes into the mouth that defiles the man, Matt. 15:11. But observe he does not plead, “Lord, from my youth I have been brought up delicately and have never been used to any thing but what was clean and nice” (and there were those who were so brought up, who in the siege of Jerusalem did embrace dunghills, Lam. 4:5), but that he had been brought up conscientiously, and had never eaten any thing that was forbidden by the law, that died of itself or was torn in pieces; and therefore, “Lord, do not put this upon me now.” Thus Peter pleaded (Acts 10:14), Lord, I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. Note, it will be comfortable to us, when we are reduced to hardships, if our hearts can witness for us that we have always been careful to abstain from sin, even from little sins, and the appearances of evil. Whatever God commands us, we may be sure, is good; but, if we be put upon any thing that we apprehend to be evil, we should argue against it, from this consideration, that hitherto we have preserved our purity—and shall we lose it now? Now, because Ezekiel with a manifest tenderness of conscience made this scruple, God dispensed with him in this matter. Note, Those who have power in their hands should not be rigorous in pressing their commands upon those that are dissatisfied concerning them, yea, though their dissatisfactions be groundless or arising from education and long usage, but should recede from them rather than grieve or offend the weak, or put a stumbling-block before them, in conformity to the example of God’s condescension to Ezekiel, though we are sure his authority is incontestable and all his commands are wise and good. God allowed Ezekiel to use cow’s dung instead of man’s dung, Ezek. 4:15. This is a tacit reflection upon man, as intimating that he being polluted with sin his filthiness is more nauseous and odious than that of any other creature. How much more abominable and filthy is man! Job 15:16.
II. Now this sign is particularly explained here; it signified,
1. That those who remained in Jerusalem should be brought to extreme misery for want of necessary food. All supplies being cut off by the besiegers, the city would soon find the want of the country, for the king himself is served of the field; and thus the staff of bread would be broken in Jerusalem, Ezek. 4:16. God would not only take away from the bread its power to nourish, so that they should eat and not be satisfied (Lev. 26:26), but would take away the bread itself (Isa. 3:1), so that what little remained should be eaten by weight, so much a day, so much a head, that they might have an equal share and might make it last as long as possible. But to what purpose, when they could not make it last always, and the besieged must be tired out before the besiegers? They should eat and drink with care, to make it go as far as might be, and with astonishment, when they saw it almost spent and knew not which way to look for a recruit. They should be astonished one with another; whereas it is ordinarily some alleviation of a calamity to have others share with us in it (Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris), and some ease to the spirit to complain of the burden, it should be an aggravation of the misery that it was universal, and their complaining to one another should but make them all the more uneasy and increase the astonishment. And the event shall be as bad as their fears; they cannot make it worse than it is, for they shall consume away for their iniquity; multitudes of them shall die of famine, a lingering death, worse than that by the sword (Lam. 4:9); they shall dies so as to feel themselves die. And it is sin that brings all this misery upon them: They shall consume away in their iniquity (so it may be read); they shall continue hardened and impenitent, and shall die in their sins, which is more miserable than to die on a dunghill. Now, (1.) Let us see here what woeful work sin makes with a people, and acknowledge the righteousness of God herein. Time was when Jerusalem was filled with the finest of the wheat (Ps. 147:14); but now it would be glad of the coarsest, and cannot have it. Fulness of bread, as it was one of Jerusalem’s mercies, so it had become one of her sins, Ezek. 16:49. The plenty was abused to luxury and excess, which were therefore thus justly punished with famine. It is a righteous thing with God to deprive us of those enjoyments which we have made the food and fuel of our lusts. (2.) Let us see what reason we have to bless God for plenty, not only for the fruits of the earth, but for the freedom of commerce, that the husbandman can have money for his bread and the tradesman bread for his money, that there is abundance not only in the field, but in the market, that those who live in cities and great towns, though they sow not, neither do they reap, are yet fed from day to day with food convenient.
2. It signified that those who were carried into captivity should be forced to eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles (Ezek. 4:13), to eat meat made up by Gentile hands otherwise than according to the law of the Jewish church, which they were always taught to call defiled, and which they would have as great an aversion to as a man would have to bread prepared with dung, that is (as perhaps it may be understood) kneaded and moulded with dung. Daniel and his fellows confined themselves to pulse and water, rather than they would eat the portion of the king’s meat assigned them, because they apprehended it would defile them, Dan. 1:8. Or they should be forced to eat putrid meat, such as their oppressors would allow them in their slavery, and such as formerly they would have scorned to touch. Because they served not God with cheerfulness in the abundance of all things, Go 4d6 d will make them serve their enemies in the want of all things.