Ezekiel 4:5 MEANING

Ezekiel 4:5
(5) The years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days.--Comp. Numbers 14:34. In regard to the number of the years, see Excursus II. at the end of this book.

(6) The iniquity of the house of Judah forty days.--This forty days is clearly subsequent and additional to the 390 days, making in all a period of 430 days. (On these numbers see Excursus II. at the end of this book.) The great disproportion between the two is in accordance with the difference in the two parts of the nation, and the consequent Divine dealings with them. Judah had remained faithful to its appointed rulers of the house of David, several of whose kings had been eminently devout men; through whatever mixture with idolatry it had yet always retained the worship of Jehovah, and had kept up the Aaronic priesthood, and preserved with more or less respect the law of Moses. It was now entering upon the period of the Babylonish captivity, from which, after seventy years, a remnant was to be again restored to keep up the people of the Messiah. Israel, on the other hand, had set up a succession of dynasties, and not one of all their kings had been a God-fearing man; they had made Baal their national god, and had made priests at their pleasure of the lowest of the people, and in consequence of their sins had been carried into a captivity from which they never returned.


The explanation of the periods of time here mentioned has occasioned great difficulty and difference of opinion among the commentators. The subject may be best approached by first observing what points are clearly determined in the text itself, and then excluding all interpretations which are inconsistent with these.

In the first place, it is expressly stated in each of these verses that these days represent years. No interpretation, therefore, can be admitted which requires them to be literal days. Secondly, it is plain that the period is one of "bearing their iniquity"; not a period in which they are becoming sinful, but one in which they are suffering the punishment of their sin. Thirdly, it is plain from the whole structure of the symbolism that this period is in some way intimately connected with the siege of Jerusalem. Finally, the two periods of 390 and of forty days are distinct. If the symbolism was carried out in act, they must have been consecutive, and it is still the natural inference that they were so, even if it was only in vision. The two periods together, then, constitute 430 days; yet this is not to be emphasised, since no express mention is made of the whole period.

These points of themselves exclude several of the explanations that have from time to time been put forward. Among these must be mentioned, first, one which has perhaps been more generally adopted than any other of its class, the supposition that the 390 years of Israel's punishment are to be reckoned from some point in the reign of Jeroboam to the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. This, however, was far more a period of accumulation of Israel's transgression than of suffering its punishment; neither in this case could the period be fairly considered as extending beyond the end of the kingdom of Israel (which lasted in all but 253 years) unless it was also extended indefinitely. Moreover, expositors who adopt this view are quite unable to give any satisfactory account of Judah's forty years; for the proposal to reckon them from the reformation of Josiah is quite at variance with the character of the period described.

Every attempt to make these periods refer to a future time, stretching on far beyond the date of the prophecy, fails for want of any definite event at the end of either 390, 40, or 430 years.

The periods cannot be understood of events occurring in the course of the siege because, as already said, the numbers are expressly said to stand for years. Moreover, even if they could be taken of literal days, there would be nothing to correspond to them, since from the investment of the city to the flight of Zedekiah was 539 days, and to the destruction of the Temple twenty-eight days more (2 Kings 25:1; 2 Kings 25:3; 2 Kings 25:8).

Of two other explanations, it is only necessary to say a word: that of Theodoret is based upon the Greek version, which, by a curious mistake, has 190 instead of 390 days, and of course falls to the ground when the true number is considered; the ancient Jews and some early Christians interpreted the passage of a period of 430 years, which they conceived was to be fulfilled from the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, in the second year of the Emperor Vespasian, to its expected restoration, which the event has shown to be groundless.

Another ancient interpretation makes of the period of 430 years, the time from the building to the destruction of Solomon's Temple. This is open to the same objections already urged to others, and besides, it makes the total number the prominent thing, while there is no point of division for the 390 and the 40. St. Jerome reckoned the 390 years from the captivity of the northern kingdom to the deliverance of the Jews from danger in the time of Esther, and the 40 years from the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar to the decree of Cyrus for the restoration of the Jews; but his chronology is at fault, and the former part of the explanation takes no notice of the main point of the siege of Jerusalem, while the events in the time of Esther cannot be looked upon as the termination of the punishment of the Israelites.

The later Jews make up the two periods by selecting throughout the period of the Judges and the monarchy the various times in which the sins of Israel and of Judah were especially marked, and adding these together; but this is utterly arbitrary and unsatisfactory.

So much space has been given to these different interpretations in order to show that there is no definite term of years, either before or after the date of the prophecy, which the ingenuity of the commentators has been able to discover, satisfying the conditions of the prophecy itself. We are, therefore, left free to accept the interpretation now generally given by the best modern expositors.

This takes for its starting-point the evident allusion of Ezekiel to Numbers 14:14, "After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year shall ye bear your iniquities;" and the earlier prophecies declaring that the people in punishment for their sins should be brought again into Egypt, which yet should not be Egypt (Deuteronomy 28:68; Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3; Hosea 11:5), but Assyria or Babylonia, as is expressly defined in some of these prophecies. The meaning is plainly that they should endure sufferings corresponding to the Egyptian bondage, but in another locality. Ezekiel himself elsewhere (Ezekiel 20:35) speaks of God's dealings with the captives as a pleading with them "in the wilderness." Now if this be once recognised as the basis of Ezekiel's language--the representation of the future in terms of the historic past, which is so common in all prophecy--there need be no difficulty in the mention of the precise numbers. They become mere catch-words to carry the mind to the period he would indicate. The wanderings in the wilderness were always reckoned at 40 years, and the sojourn in Egypt (see Exodus 12:40) at 430 years. Ezekiel merely follows here his habit of putting everything into vivid and concrete form. Are his people to suffer for their sins as they suffered of old? Judah is to endure the 40 years of wilderness sufferings, and Israel those of the Egyptian bondage; only, if he spoke of the latter as 430 years, it might seem that Israel was to endure the punishment belonging to both Israel and Judah, and therefore he takes from it the period already assigned to Judah, leaving for Israel 390 years. This accounts for his not mentioning the 430 years at all, and could be done the more easily because the actual bondage in Egypt was far less than either number. No precise period whatever is intended by the mention of these numbers, but only a vivid comparison of the future woes to the past. Again, whatever might be their present sufferings, they still had hope, and even indulged in defiance, while Jerusalem and the Temple stood. This hope was vain. The holy city and the Temple itself should be destroyed, and then they would know that the hand of the Lord was heavy upon them indeed for the punishment of their sins. The siege of Jerusalem is, therefore, the prominent feature of the prophecy; and there is foretold, as the consequence of this, the eating of "defiled bread among the Gentiles" (Ezekiel 4:13) as in Egypt of old, together with the various forms of want and suffering set forth in the striking symbolism of this chapter.

Verse 5. - Three hundred and ninety days, etc. The days, as stated in ver. 6, stand for years according to the symbolism (with which Ezekiel was probably acquainted) of Numbers 14:34. How we are to explain the precise number chosen is a problem winch has much exercised the minds of interpreters. I will begin by stating what seems to me the most tenable solution. In doing this I follow Smend and Cornill in taking the LXX. as giving the original reading, and the Hebrew as a later correction, made with a purpose.

(1) Jerome and Origen bear witness to the fact that most copies of the former gave 190 years, some 150 and others, agreeing with the Hebrew, 390. The first of these numbers fits in with the thought that Ezekiel's act was to represent the period of the punishment of the northern kingdom. That punishment starts from the first captivity under Pekah about B.C. 734. Reckoning from that date, the 190 years bring us to about B.C. 544. The punishment of Judah, in like manner, dates from the destruction of Jerusalem in B.C. 586, and the forty years bring us to B.C. 546, a date so near the other, that, in the round numbers which Ezekiel uses, they may be taken as practically coinciding. It was to that date that the prophet, perhaps, unacquainted with Jeremiah's seventy years (Jeremiah 25:12), with a different starting point ( B.C. 600) and terminus ( B.C. 536), looked forward as the starting point of the restoration of Israel. It is obvious that Ezekiel contemplated the contemporaneous restoration of Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 16:53-55; Ezekiel 37:19-22; Ezekiel 47:13), as indeed Isaiah also seems to do (Isaiah 11:13, 14), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:6, 12, 27). The teaching of Ezekiel's acts, then, had two distinct purposes.

(a) It taught the certainty of the punishment. No plots, or rebellions, or alliances with Egypt, could avert the doom of exile from these who should survive the siege of Jerusalem.

(b) It taught the exiles to accept their punishment with patience, but with hope. There was a limit, and that not very far off, which some of them might live to see, and beyond which there lay the hope of a restoration for both Israel and Judah. If that hope was not realized to the extent which Ezekiel's language impiles, the same may be, said of the language of Isaiah 40-66, whether we refer those chapters to Isaiah himself or to the "great unknown" who followed Ezekiel, and may have listened to his teaching.

(2) Still keeping to the idea of the years of punishment, but taking the Hebrew text, the combination of 390 and 40 gives 430, and this, it is urged, was the number assigned in Exodus 12:40 for the years of the sojourning in Egypt. Then the nation had been one, now it is divided. And the punishment of its two divisions is apportioned according to their respective guilt. For Israel, whose sins had been of a deeper dye, there was to be, as it were, another Egyptian bondage (Hosea 8:13 and Hosea 9:3 seem to predict a literal return to Egypt, but Hosea 11:5 shows it to have been figurative only). For Judah there was to be another quasi-wandering in the wilderness for forty years a period of punishment, but also of preparation lot a re-entry into the land of promise (Currey, Gardiner).

(3) A somewhat fanciful variation on the preceding view connects the 390 days with the forty stripes of Deuteronomy 25:3, reduced by Jewish preachers to "forty stripes save one" (2 Corinthians 11:24). Thus thirty-nine were assigned to each of the ten tribes, leaving forty for Judah standing by itself. With this addition

(3) merges into


(4) The traditional Jewish interpretation, on the other hand (Kimchi), sees in the number of the years the measure, not of the punishment, but of the guilt of Israel and Judah respectively. That of the former is measured (as in the margin of the Authorized Version) from the revolt of the ten tribes ( B.C. 975) to the time at which Ezekiel received the commands with which we are now dealing ( B.C. 595). This computation gives, it is true, only 380 years; but the prophet may be thought of as dealing with round numbers, the 390 being, perhaps, chosen for the reason indicated in (3), or as reckoning with a different chronology. The forty years of the guilt of Judah are, on this view, reckoned from Josiah's reformation ( B.C. 624), which would bring us to B.C. 585-4. And the sin of Judah is thought of as consisting specially in its resistance to that reformation and its rapid relapse into an apostasy like that of Ahaz or Manasseh. It can hardly be said that this is a satisfactory explanation.

(5) Yet another view has been suggested, sc. that the siege of Jerusalem lasted, in round numbers, for 430 days - a day for each year of the national guilt as measured in the last hypothesis. Against this there is the fact that, according to the statements in 2 Kings 25:1-3, the siege lasted for much more than the 430 days, sc. for nearly a year and a half. The conclusion to which I am led, after examining the several hypotheses, is, as I have sail, in favour of (1). The text of the Hebrew, as we find it, may have risen out of the tinct that the ten tribes had not returned as a body, and that there was no sign of their return, when Judah returned in B.C. 536, and therefore a larger number was inserted to allow time for a more adequate interval.

4:1-8 The prophet was to represent the siege of Jerusalem by signs. He was to lie on his left side for a number of days, supposed to be equal to the years from the establishment of idolatry. All that the prophet sets before the children of his people, about the destruction of Jerusalem, is to show that sin is the provoking cause of the ruin of that once flourishing city.For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity,.... Or the iniquity which for so many years they have been guilty of; that is, the punishment of it:

according to the number of the days; a day for a year;

three hundred and ninety days; which signify three hundred and ninety years; and so many years there were from the revolt of the ten tribes from Rehoboam, and the setting up the calves at Dan and Bethel, to the destruction of Jerusalem; which may be reckoned thus: the apostasy was in the fourth year of Rehoboam, so that there remained thirteen years of his reign, for he reigned seventeen years; Abijah his successor reigned three years; Asa, forty one; Jehoshaphat, twenty five; Joram, eight; Ahaziah, one; Athaliah, seven; Joash, forty; Amaziah, twenty nine: Uzziah, fifty two; Jotham, sixteen; Ahaz, sixteen; Hezekiah, twenty nine; Manasseh, fifty five; Amos, two; Josiah, thirty one; Jehoahaz, three months; Jehoiakim, eleven years; Jeconiah, three months and ten days; and Zedekiah, eleven years; in all three hundred and ninety years. Though Grotius reckons them from the fall of Solomon to the carrying captive of the ten tribes by Shalmaneser. According to Jerom, both the three hundred and ninety days, and the forty days, were figurative of the captivities of Israel and Judah. The captivity of Israel, or the ten tribes, began under Pekah king of Israel, 1 Kings 15:29; when many places in the kingdom were wasted; from whence, to the fortieth year of Ahasuerus, when the Jews were entirely set at liberty, were three hundred and ninety years (e); and the captivity of Judah began in the first year of Jeconiah, which, to the first of Cyrus, were forty years. The Jewish writers make these years to be the time of the idolatry of these people in their chronicle (f) they say, from hence we learn that Israel provoked the Lord to anger, from the time they entered into the land until they went out of it, three hundred and ninety years. Which, according to Jarchi and Kimchi, are, to be reckoned partly in the times of the judges, and partly in the times of the kings of Israel; in the times of the former, a hundred and eleven years: from Micah, till the ark was carried captive in the days of Eli, forty years; and from the time of Jeroboam to Hoshea, two hundred and forty; which make three hundred and ninety one: but the last of Hoshea is not of the number, since it was in the ninth year of his reign the city of Samaria was taken. So Jarchi. Kimchi's reckoning is different. Abarbinel is of opinion that these years describe the four hundred and thirty years of Israel's bondage in Egypt; though, he says, they may be understood of the time of the division of the kingdom under Rehoboam, from whence, to the destruction of Jerusalem, were three hundred and ninety years; which sense is best, and is what is first given;

so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel; as many days as answer to these years; by the house of Israel is meant not merely the ten tribes, who had been carried captive long before this time, but such of them also as were mixed with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

(e) Vid. Lyra in loc. (f) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 26. p. 73.

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