The Second Drama
The second part of God’s message was another drama, or play. This time, Ezekiel was to lie on his left side and place the iniquity of Israel on himself. He had to lie on his left side for 390 days. This was to equal 390 years of their iniquity. Then he had to lie on his right side for 40 days to bear the 40 years of Judah’s iniquity.
What was God’s message? There is a fair amount of debate about it. But, since he distinguishes Israel from Judah in the passage, I think by Israel he means the 10 northern tribes who were destroyed by Assyria. If you count from the rebellion of Rehoboam, after Solomon’s death when the kingdom was split and Rehoboam made the golden calves, you can count roughly 390 years to the destruction of Jerusalem. So, God put up with, or bore, the iniquity of the 10 tribes, of Israel, for 390 years.
After that, Ezekiel was to lay on his right side for 40 days, to symbolize 40 years of iniquity for Judah. God often uses the number 40. This is more convoluted, but if you start with the point where Manassah became evil and count forward, but remove the reign of Josiah the godly king, you have 40 years to the destruction of Jerusalem. (As I noted, there are different interpretations and there are variations of this interpretation which you can study in commentaries if you wish. Some people also add the numbers and point out that they equal 430 years, the amount of time Israel spent in Egypt. But, neither God nor Ezekiel add the numbers or refer to the total in the text.)
The point of all this is that God put up with evil and rebellion from Israel and Judah for all this time, and now the punishment of it is all coming to bear in the impending destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonia.
It reminds me of Jesus’ words to the Jews that all the blood of the prophets from Abel to Zechariah would come upon them. (Matthew 23:35-38)
The third part of God’s message was portrayed by Ezekiel’s food. He was to make bread according to God’s recipe. (9) He had to weigh the food and eat only the weight of 20 shekels per day. He had to measure out a specific amount of water he could drink. In other words, his food and water were rationed. These were small amounts, not really sufficient for good health. The reason the bread is made of several ingredients was not to give a healthy recipe, but to show that shortages in food were such that there was not enough of one thing, such as wheat, to make the bread. The people of Jerusalem would suffer hunger during the siege.
God also told Ezekiel how to bake his bread. It was to be cooked over a fire of human dung. This wold make it unclean. This was to show that the Jews would live among Gentiles and be defiled by it. God had mercy on Ezekiel here, for Ezekiel did not want to defile himself by doing this. God allowed him to use cow dung instead. (14)
But the message was the same. After suffering hunger during the siege, the survivors would eat their food in an unclean land. They would go into exile in a foreign country.