Have you ever heard of a prophetic play date? Imagine God telling you, “Go into your attic or your kids’ room, get out their Legos, build a mini-model of your town or city, and then build fighter jets from a foreign country dropping bombs all over it. This will be a sign to the people of your community.” Doesn’t sound like God does it? Doesn’t sound like prophetic ministry either. So keep reading, because this week in our five-part series studying Ezekiel chapters 4 and 5, we’ll learn about one of the most bizarre stories in the Bible.
For a month now we have been studying the life of the prophet Ezekiel. So far God has commissioned Ezekiel to be a prophet to his fellow 10,000 Jewish exiles living in Babylon. God told Ezekiel that the content of his message will be one of declaring the truth to the exiles, that they are rebellious, obstinate and stubborn. Last week, we heard the first prophetic message that God gave Ezekiel, and it was a message for Ezekiel. God said Ezekiel was going to be like a watchman for the exiles, that he would tell them only what God would tell him to say. Now turn to Ezekiel 4, where God has a message, through Ezekiel, to the 10,000 Jews in exile in Babylon. Start by reading Ezekiel 4:1-3.
This is just the beginning of the prophetic play date, as we will learn that Ezekiel’s task is more like a skit that has multiple acts. So let’s take a deeper look at this first part of play date/skit.
For starters, I want us to think about where Ezekiel might have performed this skit. The text doesn’t tell us. If we assume that there is no gap between the end of chapter three and the beginning of chapter four, then it would seem like Ezekiel is still in his house, in which case he might be tied up unable to move, and with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, he is unable to speak.
It seems to me unlikely that Ezekiel is still shut up in his house, though, given the details we will hear about in the rest of the passage. We just read about a prophetic play date/skit that was intended for people see, so I suspect Ezekiel is acting it out in front of his house.
There is another important question. The skit begins with God asking Ezekiel to play with toys. Why does God want Ezekiel to draw the city of Jerusalem, then build a mini-model of Jerusalem being attacked? At the end of verse 3, God says, this play act is a sign to the house of Israel. A sign of what? Hold on to that question, too, as God will answer it. For now, let’s see how this odd prophetic drama develops. Continue reading verses 4-8, which is the second part of the skit.
Woah! Ezekiel is to lie on his side for 390 days and then 40 more days? That’s 430 days, just over fourteen months! Ezekiel is going to be laying on his side for fourteen months??? Could you imagine this? It’s almost unthinkable. It seems to me that it is a weird idea from God. More importantly, what does it mean?
In verse 4, God says that Ezekiel’s act of laying on his side symbolically represents the sin of the house of Israel. Ezekiel is not atoning for their sin, or paying for their sin. Instead, the play act itself is the prophetic message, telling the truth about Israel’s sin.
When he mentions the 390 days for the sin of Israel, God is specifically referring to the nation of Israel. After the land had a civil war and split in two, ten of the twelve tribes of Israel located in the north were called the nation of Israel, and the other two tribes in the south were called the nation of Judah. When you read about the Northern Kingdom, Israel, in the books of 1 and 2 Kings, you read a sad, sad story. Northern king after king after king was wicked, as this once powerful nation gradually slid away from God. God says in verse 5 that the 390 days that Ezekiel is to lay on his left side represent one day for each year the northern Kingdom of Israel was in rebellion against God.
At the end of the 390 days, he is then to roll over to his right side, where he will do the same for another 40 days, this time one day for each year of wickedness for the Southern Kingdom of Judah. That means that the southern kingdom of Judah was not as wicked as the Northern Kingdom, which is exactly what we read in the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. The Southern Kingdom had many righteous kings. But eventually, particularly during the reign of Manasseh, Judah was sinful too, which is what led God to allow Babylon to attack and subdue Judah’s capital city, Jerusalem, and to exile the 10,000 Jews to Babylon, of which Ezekiel was a part.
So think about what God is asking Ezekiel to do. Lie on his side every day for 14 months! Now add the detail from verses 7-8, and we learn that Ezekiel’s model of the siege of Jerusalem is there the whole time, and Ezekiel will also be tied up with ropes so he cannot turn.
It’s like God has given Ezekiel a Broadway show which has a run for 14 months. Every single day he will be acting out this play. It seems to me it would get old midway through the first day. Wouldn’t his side hurt? Yes it would! Remember that Ezekiel is 30 years old at this point. Is that how you would want to spend your days as a 30 year old? How is the job of a prophet sounding right about now?
Now let’s bring up the question we talked about before: where is this drama taking place? Ezekiel is likely in acting the drama out in front of his house where people could see him every day. But if he was out in the open, think about the weather issues he would face. It could get cold. Hot. Rainy. Dry. Would he get sun-burnt? I suspect those 14 months were rough. If God asked me to perform this prophetic play act, I think I would get very tired of it after three or four hours.
Also think about how those people would react to him. The first few days, he would likely be a curiosity. “What are you doing, Ezekiel? Why are you lying on your side, tied up, playing with toys?” Was Ezekiel allowed to answer their questions? Did he speak out, condemning Jerusalem’s sin? Remember that Jerusalem was where they were all from! In other words, through this play act, he was telling his own people that they were sinners. Did they get the message?
I doubt it. As the days and weeks went on, it seems to me that Ezekiel laying there playing with toys would become like wallpaper. He would fade into the background, or even more likely, he would probably be considered a weirdo, maybe even someone who is not all there mentally. I can imagine mothers nervously scolding their children, “Stop staring at him! He’s crazy. Let’s keep walking.” So not only would this play act take a physical toll on Ezekiel, but it would also be relationally humiliating.
Except, that’s not the end of this story. Not even close. The drama only gets weirder.
Check back to the next post to learn more!