A Commentary on Ezekiel Chapter 4


The book of Ezekiel contains some of the most vivid and striking prophecies in all of Scripture. Ezekiel ministered to the Jewish exiles in Babylon in the years leading up to and following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC. In chapter 4, Ezekiel acts out two dramatic object lessons to illustrate God’s coming judgment on Jerusalem for their idolatry and rebellion against Him.

This vivid acted parable serves to underscore the certainty and severity of God’s impending judgment. The people’s sin and rebellion have reached such magnitude that God’s patience has run out. Their punishment will match the intensity of their idolatry and wickedness.

Key Takeaways from Ezekiel Chapter 4

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  • Ezekiel acts out the siege of Jerusalem to illustrate how God will use Babylon to punish His rebellious people
  • The bricks represent the siege ramps that will surround the city during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege
  • Lying on his side for over a year depicts the extended siege Jerusalem will endure
  • The meager food and water ration illustrate the famine conditions during the siege
  • Shaving his hair and burning it teaches that Jerusalem will be completely destroyed by fire
  • Ezekiel lying on his side facing the brick illustrates God turning His back on Jerusalem
  • These dramatic object lessons underscore the certainty and severity of God’s coming judgment
A Commentary on Ezekiel Chapter 4

Exposition of Ezekiel Chapter 4

Acting Out the Siege of Jerusalem (v. 1-3)

“And you, 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.” (Ezekiel 4:1-3 NKJV)

God instructs Ezekiel to perform an acted parable, a dramatic object lesson to illustrate His coming judgment on Jerusalem. He is to take a brick and draw a map of Jerusalem on it, then recreate a siege scene by building a miniature siege ramp against the brick. This brick represents Jerusalem, and the siege ramps predict how Nebuchadnezzar will surround the city with siege works to conquer it.

Ezekiel lays miniature siege works against the brick to vividly depict how the Babylonians will soon besiege Jerusalem. This dramatic acted parable underscores the certainty of Jerusalem’s coming downfall. Ezekiel also sets up an iron plate between himself and the brick, signifying God turning His back on the city to allow its destruction. The plate also provides protection, showing Ezekiel is merely acting this out and will not personally experience the siege.

This dramatization teaches that Jerusalem’s punishment will match the intensity of their idolatry and wickedness. God has run out of patience with their sin, and His judgment is imminent and inescapable. The people viewed Jerusalem as an impregnable city, but this illustration shatters that illusion. Just as Ezekiel destroys the brick city, so too will Babylon decimate Jerusalem for its unfaithfulness to God.

Lying on His Side for 390 Days (v. 4-8)

“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. 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.” (Ezekiel 4:4-6 NKJV)

After constructing the siege works, God tells Ezekiel to lie on his left side for 390 days, representing the 390 years of punishment coming on Israel for their idolatry. A day equals a year, so this signifies an extensive, prolonged siege. Lying down illustrates being conquered and subdued by enemies. The left side position indicates God has turned His back on the northern kingdom in judgment.

Ezekiel bears their punishment by lying down, showing how the coming Babylonian invasion will discipline Israel for centuries of sin, limiting their freedom and autonomy. The long duration depicts an unrelenting siege. God’s patience has elapsed, and Israel’s sins have amassed an insurmountable punishment.

Next, Ezekiel flips to his right side for 40 days, predicting Judah’s punishment for their sins. The shorter sentence illustrates Judah’s evil has not extended as long as Israel’s. But both kingdoms will drink the cup of God’s wrath for their idolatry, injustice, and covenant unfaithfulness. Their coming punishment will match the severity of their sins against a holy God.

The Defiled Bread and Rationed Water (v. 9-17)

“And you, take 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, you shall eat it. Your food which you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from time to time you shall eat it. You shall also drink water by measure, one-sixth of a hin; from time to time you shall drink.” (Ezekiel 4:9-11 NKJV)

To further dramatize the hardship coming on Jerusalem, God restricts Ezekiel’s diet to portray the famine conditions during the siege. The bread, made from various grains and beans, is meant to be cooked over human excrement. God graciously allows cow manure instead, but this still renders the bread ceremonially unclean. This defiled bread represents the famine that will drive people to eat ritually impure food to survive.

The meager 20 shekels of food and sixth of a hin of water per day illustrates the extreme scarcity of provisions during a prolonged siege. When Babylon surrounds the city, food and water will be carefully rationed and run dangerously low as the siege persists for years.

Some argue this meager ration kept Ezekiel from starving, as 20 shekels of food and 2/3 quart of water is barely sufficient for survival. But more likely, this illustrates the semi-starvation conditions that develop during a lengthy siege. The people will anxiously ration every morsel and sip of water, yet still be ravaged by hunger and thirst.

Shaving and Burning His Hair (v. 1-13)

“And you, son of man, take a sharp sword, take it as a barber’s razor, and pass it over your head and your beard; then take scales to weigh and divide the hair. You shall burn with fire one-third in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are finished; then you shall take one-third and strike around it with the sword, and one-third you shall scatter in the wind: I will draw out a sword after them. Then you shall take a small number of them and bind them in the edge of your garment.” (Ezekiel 5:1-3 NKJV)

After acting out the siege, Ezekiel is instructed to shave his head and beard with a sword, portraying the coming complete destruction of Jerusalem. He weighs the hair, burns 1/3 to depict people perishing by fire, cuts 1/3 with the sword representing those killed in battle, and scatters 1/3 to the wind showing those taken into exile. A small portion he wraps in his robe, signifying the remnant who will escape harm.

The burning and cutting of Ezekiel’s hair illustrates how the Babylonians will ruthlessly devastate Jerusalem, killing many and taking most of the rest as captives. The city will be left in smoldering ruins. Yet a small remnant will remain protected. This acted parable vividly conveys the thoroughness and horror of God’s judgment on His people for their chronic idolatry. Their punishment will eradicate the sinful nation, purging it so a faithful remnant can arise.

Turning His Face Against the City (v. 3)

“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.” (Ezekiel 4:3 NKJV)

A key element in this dramatic object lesson is God instructing Ezekiel to turn his face against the brick representing Jerusalem. This illustrates how God has turned His back on the city and will no longer protect them from enemies because of their rebellion. The iron plate serves as a barrier signifying God hardening Himself against them and allowing the coming destruction.

This gesture of judgment hints that Jerusalem’s true enemy is not Babylon’s army, but the Lord Himself. Their sin has provoked God to become their adversary, to unleash foreign armies to discipline His people. This act of judgment pains God, but is necessary to purge their ingrained idolatry and wickedness. Their actions have alienated them from Yahweh and aroused His righteous anger.

A Sign to Israel (v. 3)

“This will be a sign to the house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 4:3 NKJV)

God tells Ezekiel these dramatic actions will serve as a “sign” to Israel warning of the coming siege and exile. The biblical prophets frequently accompanied their messages with vivid object lessons, or “sign-acts,” to reinforce the certainty of their prophecies. Ezekiel’s bizarre behavior commands attention, and the siege acts underscore the inevitability of Jerusalem’s downfall for their sins.

This passage applies to modern readers as well. God hates idolatry and faithlessness among His people today as much as in Ezekiel’s time. If we persist in sin, we cannot presume on God’s patience and mercy forever. There comes a point when His discipline may turn severe to shock us into repentance and return to faithful obedience.


Ezekiel 4 contains a sobering warning against the dangers of complacency in sin. The striking object lessons warn that God’s judgment always matches the severity of people’s sins against Him. When His people persistently violate their covenant obligations, ignoring repeated calls to repentance, a time will come when God ceases to protect and provide for them.

While God’s judgments are perfectly just, they are never pleasant for Him to dispense (Lam. 3:33). He earnestly desires for sinners to repent so they can be forgiven and restored. But He is also absolutely committed to upholding His moral order in the universe. Sin cannot go unpunished forever, or it would cease to be sin.

May this acted parable from Ezekiel shock us out of any complacency toward sin. Let us respond to God’s discipline with humility, repentance, and a renewed commitment to upholding our covenant obligations to Him. As James 4:8-10 exhorts: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded…Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

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