Have you ever seen Coke bottles with yellow caps? Know what that means? The yellow caps indicate that the Coke has been made using a slightly different recipe. All Coke is Kosher, but yellow cap Coke is even more Kosher. Kosher? Jews have special dietary laws, called Kosher laws. Food qualified as Kosher is approved for Jews to eat. We studied this in the Deuteronomy series a few years ago. Deuteronomy chapter 14, specifically, includes a list of clean food and unclean food. You can read about it here. Jews to this day continue to practice Kosher Law, and regular red cap Coke is always Kosher. But during one season of the year, some Jews can’t drink red cap Coke. That season is Passover. During Passover, some Jews have additional Kosher rules, so Coca-Cola uses a different recipe for Passover Coke to make it accessible to Jews. Learn more about it here. Yellow cap Coke helps us understand the shocking request God has for Ezekiel, as we continue studying Ezekiel 4 this week.
In the previous post, we learned that God instructed his prophet Ezekiel to act out a very odd drama. First, Ezekiel was to draw a picture of the city of Jerusalem, and then he was to build a model of enemy siege works around the city. After building the model, he was to lay on his side for 430 straight days, right next to the model. He was probably acting this out in front of his house for all his neighbors and passersby to see.
During those 430 days Ezekiel has to eat and go to the bathroom, right? God has it covered. Read Ezekiel 4, verses 9-13, for the third part of this prophetic skit.
Ezekiel will measure out food and water ahead of time, following God’s specific recipe, and that is what he will eat and drink when he is laying on his side. Though he was tied up with ropes, laying on his side, God clearly allows him some freedom to move around enough to physically sustain himself. Scholars have examined the caloric content of the meals God instructs Ezekiel to eat, and they believe it is starvation-level. As we’ll see, God has a reason for this, but imagine being Ezekiel. He is being asked to lay on his side for 430 days! Worse, at least in my way of thinking, for those fourteen months, his food allowance is barely enough to survive. God is asking Ezekiel to give his life to this prophetic skit.
How he is to cook is maybe the weirdest part of all this. God instructs Ezekiel to set his own poop on fire, and use it for fuel. Why? This a sign, God says in verse 13, that the people of Israel are going to be punished by God when an enemy army lays siege to Jerusalem, which will result in the Jews eating defiled food and starving.
What we read in Deuteronomy 14 is that, for Jews, food could become defiled, no longer Kosher, in various ways, and I’m guessing it is not surprising to you to hear Ezekiel suggest to God that food cooked over human excrement is one way to defile it. Gross, right? That’s why I think we’ll all get what Ezekiel says in response to God. Read verse 14.
Right on, Ezekiel! I wouldn’t want to eat food cooked over burning poop either. Then I thought, “Hold on a minute. Ezekiel, are you telling me that the poop cooker has you all upset, but you’re okay with lying on your side for 430 days, barely eating enough food?” Interesting, isn’t it, what gets Ezekiel upset! Then again, maybe you and I would agree with Ezekiel because it feels like God has pushed this prophetic drama one step too far. Maybe Ezekiel is thinking, “Yeah, I’ll lay on my side for 430 days, because I want to fulfill the prophetic duty God has given me. But if it means that every day for 430 days I have to eat food cooked by my own flaming poop, I draw the line.” I get it, Ezekiel. I get it.
Notice, though, that Ezekiel’s rebuttal to God is not just, “Ew, that’s gross.” Or “No way, God, that’s too hard, that might literally kill me.” Instead Ezekiel says he has never eaten any defiled food, which is a way of saying, “God, I have always followed the dietary laws in the Mosiac Law, and I don’t want to break them now.” Maybe Ezekiel just came up with a spiritualized way to get out of this disgusting and daunting aspect of the prophetic drama God is asking him to perform, or maybe he really was genuinely concerned about ritual purity, especially because he was the son of a priest.
Either way, Ezekiel is disagreeing with God, and that is pretty bold, right? When God tells you to do something, you do it. Or do you? Have you ever disagreed with God? I think most of us have, because sometimes we don’t want to do what he wants us to do. Even Jesus disagreed with God. Remember the story of the night before he died? What did Jesus pray? “Lord, I don’t want to do what you want me to do.” He didn’t use those precise words, of course, but that is the gist of what he prayed (I wrote about it further here). Jesus also praying, showing his obedience, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Then he went through with the difficult plan God had for him.
Ezekiel will go through with God’s incredibly difficult plan, but not before questioning God. Do you think God would be mad that Ezekiel says, “Not so, Sovereign Lord” to God’s request about cooking over human excrement? Maybe, especially when we consider that God has been saying to Ezekiel that he is so upset that, “Israel is rebellious.” Will he consider Ezekiel to be rebellious for not wanting to eat food cooked over flaming poop? Maybe. Read verse 15.
God relents! Kinda. He says, “Ok, fine, you can use cow manure instead!” Uhhhh…is that really any better? How appetizing does that option sound? Which do you prefer? Cooking over human excrement or cow manure? Neither?
What I have come to learn from living in and traveling to different countries is that cow manure is a common fuel source for cooking. Even in a major metropolis like Kingston, Jamaica, for example, cows roam the streets of the city, leaving their dung behind. People can collect their manure, shape it into patties, and allow it to dry in the sun. I remember driving through the city streets, observing concrete block walls on which someone had plastered a whole bunch of discs of cow patty right there on a wall so it could dry. The people would use or sell it for cooking fuel. God, then, is providing Ezekiel a viable option that in Ezekiel’s view would be far better than using human poop to cook. But if Ezekiel is on his side, tied up, where is he going to get manure? More than likely, similarly to the way Jamaicans in Kingston get it: Ezekiel could get dried cow patties from roaming cows passing by.
This is a great story, isn’t it? But what is God’s purpose for this weird drama? What God says next really gets to the point of all this. Read verses 16-17.
This long drawn-out skit that Ezekiel will perform day after day for 430 days is a prophecy. Through Ezekiel’s drama, God is saying that he will bring an army to erect siege-works around the walls of Jerusalem, choking out the city’s ability to have food and water, and ultimately condemning the people to waste away, appalled at their deterioration. Why? Because of their sin, their rebellion against him.
Guess what, though? The drama is not yet done. God has more odd instructions for Ezekiel, as we’ll see in the next post.