The Bible can be so bizarre, or should I say the stories it tells can be. In chapter 4 the Lord directs Ezekiel to symbolize the siege of Jerusalem. Basically what the Lord has Ezekiel do is prophetic performance art, and it paints a very ugly picture. As we know from Jeremiah and Lamentations, the things that happen to the city under the siege are horrifying. Why might we be told this again, and again? The Lord is clearly warning Judah (and Israel before her) that if they don’t repent of their sins, this horrifying stuff is going to happen to them. I’m wondering what the purpose of him doing this is among the exiles who have already been taken out of the city. By being exiled they have been spared the gruesome suffering to come on the countrymen, but the Lord is communicating his warnings for a reason.
Given what we know from human nature, from Scripture, and from what Jesus tells us about how to interpret Scripture (i.e., the OT), I think the reason is to show us that no matter what the Lord does externally (Temple, sufferings, miracles, warnings), his people just can’t help it! Rebellion comes naturally to the human heart! Only something very radical and supernatural can change that. We’ll get a picture of what that is later in Ezekiel when dry bones come back to life, and stone hearts are turned to flesh. Salvation is wholly and completely supernatural, and thus not of us in any way.
But back to performance art. The Lord has Ezekiel lay on the ground on his left side for 390 days, and on his right for an additional forty. Then he’s tied up in ropes so he can’t turn from one side to the other until the siege is finished. He’s told to cook his food over human excrement (yes, you read that right), which he refuses to do because that would make him unclean (he’s a priest, remember, and a faithful one), so the Lord lets him do it over cow manure. All to show the people how they will, “waste away because of their sin.” This sin thing is serious business.
Then he’s told to cut off his hair and beard and scatter it around to communicate different messages of warning, which he does. Then the Lord says he will inflict such punishment:
9 Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. 10 Therefore in your midst parents will eat their children, and children will eat their parents. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds.
Can cannibalism, which we also read about in Lamentations, really be part of God’s punishment for sin? Remember what the Lord did through Jeremiah over and over again? Warned Judah and it’s leaders that Babylon was coming and would destroy them. And what did they do? They called Jeremiah a liar and tried to kill him, and finally when that didn’t work imprisoned him. They didn’t listen! So whose fault is God’s punishment? Theirs! The siege and all of it’s horrors could have been avoided, but their rebellious, sinful, idolatrous hearts thought they knew better. Yet even in the midst of all this prophecy of destruction there is the hope of mercy:
13 “Then my anger will cease and my wrath against them will subside, and I will be avenged. And when I have spent my wrath on them, they will know that I the Lord have spoken in my zeal.
Avenge seems a strange word for God’s motivation to pour out his anger and wrath, but one of its synonyms I think gets at the idea the Lord may be communicating: vindicate. Or prove one’s innocence. God’s judgments are always proved right because they are his. He says something will happen, and it does. He says sin must be punished, and it is. Think about this, though. If God’s wrath against Judah being spent looks this horrific, just imagine (we can’t) the wrath of Almighty God being poured out on Jesus for the sins of the world! “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Wow.