By the wedding ring of faith [Christ] shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride’s.
— Martin Luther (The Freedom of a Christian)
Ezekiel must be the patron saint of model makers everywhere. If you have ever met a model train aficionado, you will understand the amount of detail they can put into a miniature countryside. In Ezekiel 4:1-3, God told Ezekiel exactly how to design his miniature city:
- Build a model of Jerusalem on a brick
- Put siege-works against it
- Build a siege wall against it
- Build a ramp against it
- Set up camps around it
- Place battering rams all around it
- Take an iron plate and place it like an iron wall between you and the city
- Stare at the iron wall
This was an odd request, to be sure. What would you think if someone told you they were called by God to build a model? God’s demands on Ezekiel only get stronger, though.
Next, Ezekiel is told to lie on his left side for 390 days to bear the punishment of Israel (the Northern kingdom). Once that is done, he is to lie on his right side for 40 days to bear the punishment for the house of Judah (the Southern kingdom). These days represent the years of punishment these two kingdoms have stored up for themselves.
It gets tougher: Ezekiel is told to carefully ration food staples and water. He is only allowed 8 ounces of food, and 2/3 of a quart of water per day. Oh yeah, to top it all off, he is told to cook his food on human dung—presumably his own. Yummy.
Cooking over dung has been done before in that culture. In fact, let me fill you in on the recipe. Begin with a big gob of fresh stuff and mix it with hay stubble. Once it dries you have a solid chuck of odorous fuel for cooking. The difficult part of this command was the specification of human dung. This was a detestable practice. Thankfully, God decided to cut Ezekiel loose from this specific command, allowing him to use cow dung instead.
. . .
Now that we have the (disgusting) details of Ezekiel’s prophetic task, we need to ask a very important question: “What was the point?” This is not some ancient Israelite version of Fear Factor—God had a purpose behind this strange command.
Ezekiel did this to act out God’s judgment on Jerusalem. The city would be besieged by enemies. Sieges were nasty ways of fighting a war. The point of a siege was to prevent all supplies from entering a city, thereby starving the residents out. Ezekiel’s dung-fuel delicacies echo exactly what the people in Jerusalem would be doing: measuring their food and cooking it over their own feces.
Whenever the leaders of the Israelites in the refugee camp would come to see their former priest, they would be painfully aware of the consequences of their own sin.
. . .
Believe it or not, there is an element of hope in this prophetic picture (unbeknownst to Ezekiel). Ezekiel, as the priest of his people, was to lie on his side and participate in the judgment that was being inflicted by God.
In this sense, Ezekiel is a type of Christ. Jesus entered his creation through his incarnation. Although he was completely innocent, he willingly participated in the judgment that God inflicted on his sinful people. The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus our ultimate High Priest. Ezekiel was half-starved in order to join in the punishment of his people. Jesus was murdered to join in the punishment of his people.
When I first read Ezekiel 4, I thought that God was being terribly unfair. How could he possibly punish the only obedient Israelite for things he was not a part of? Then I caught a glimpse of the magnitude of injustice that Christ suffered for me.
. . .
Dear Jesus, thank you for willingly participating in my punishment. You did not have to, yet you did. Let your selfless love be the light that inspires all my earthly occasions of love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.