Bible Reference: Ezekiel chapter 45
Heart of the Story: Ezekiel offered a parable of the famine that would come on Jerusalem
Back Story: Ezekiel was both a prophet and priest. He was taken to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar took Judah’s King, Jehoiachin, and 10,000 captive from Jerusalem to Babylon (597 BC). At that time, Nebuchadnezzar established Zedekiah as puppet king over Judah. After ruling for about five of six years, King Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. He ceased paying tribute and turned to Egypt for military assistance to throw off Babylonian rule. Subsequently, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. After about 18 months, the wall around Jerusalem was breached.
When Nebuchadnezzar and his army started for Judah, Jerusalem was flooded with refugees fleeing the countryside. The influx was so great that private homes, inns, and the temple courtyard were crammed with people. The poor set up tents in the streets or lay down wherever they found an empty space at night. People and noise were everywhere; smoke billowed from cooking fires. Although the situation was dire, it got worse after the Babylonians arrived. No additional food supplies entered Jerusalem. Human and animal refuse couldn’t be removed. Filth and stench were everywhere.
In Babylon beside Chebar River, God instructed Ezekiel to act out the siege of Jerusalem. The first action parable used a clay tablet to depict the Babylonians besieging Jerusalem. The second had Ezekiel lying on his left followed by lying on his right side. The third parable encompassed grains and legumes to make bread and to bake the bread.
Parable of Famine Bread: Some scholars advocated that Ezekiel 4:9-16 were two separate parables rather than one. I am describing them as one parable because they encompassed preparing and eating bread.
Here’s is God’s direction to Ezekiel: “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.”
Verse 9 describes substances that Jerusalemites will use to make bread during the siege of Jerusalem. Normally, bread was made from one type of flour, i.e., wheat, barley, millet or spelt. Legume flour was not common made into bread, however, when individuals lived in extreme poverty, beans in particular and occasionally lentils could be made into flour and used to prepare bread. Mixing flour from several sources demonstrated the extreme scarcity of flour that would occur during the siege. Scholars disagree whether the mixing of different flour sources in one vessel was a defilement (Deuteronomy 22:9), but all agree that dietary laws were compromised for the Jerusalemites.
“Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” The LORD said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”
Then Ezekiel responded to God: “Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth.”
“Very well,” God said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement.”
These three verses identified how Ezekiel was to bake the multi-flour bread. During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, inhabitants would have to bake their bread over human excrement; therefore, God told Ezekiel to do the same. When Ezekiel objected God allowed him to bake his bread over cow manure. Jerusalemites didn’t have the luxury of using animal dung for baking. Near the end Jerusalem siege, no animals were alive in the city. All had been slaughtered and eaten. Human excrement was the primary source of cooking fuel.
Then, God said to Ezekiel “Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair,” Ezekiel 4:9-16, NIV Online
Interpretation of Parable of Famine Bread: God interpreted the action parable for Ezekiel and for us. The interpretation was that God would cut off the food supply for Jerusalem. Once the Babylonians arrived no food or refuse passed in and out of the city walls. Many people inside Jerusalem starved to death or died from disease. Often the dead could not be buried and remained where they died. Mothers killed and ate their children. Ezekiel’s action shouldn’t be interpreted as sympathetic magic where something done to a model or person has a similar act in reality. True, Ezekiel’s famine bread foreshadowed the starvation behavior of the Jerusalemites; but God, not Ezekiel, caused both the prophet’s actions and of people living in Jerusalem during the siege.
In a larger context, the siege of Jerusalem was a prophecy about judgment. The people of Judah sinned so long and to such a degree that God removed his protect around Jerusalem. When Ezekiel acted out the parables of the siege of Jerusalem, God still dwelled in Jerusalem temple. Before the Babylonian siege, Ezekiel recorded that God’s presence left both the temple and Jerusalem (Ezekiel chapters 10 and 11 NIV).
The Broad Bean
The Book of Ezekiel is one of the most detailed and well-known references to grains in the Bible; but, we also learn, or relearn, that Israelites dried and crushed legumes (bean and lentils) into bread flour. For a plant in the parable of the famine bread, I have chosen to describe the bean. The bean was the Vicia faba, also known Vicia vulgaris, the broad bean, and the faba bean. Beans were one of the oldest cultivated plants, at least 6000 years. Their origin is North Africa or the Middle East. The bean grows in all types of soil as long as the soil is well-drained. Although not drought-resistant, beans are hearty enough to live through mild frosts. In the Middle East, beans remain one of the most important winter crops. Broad beans can grow in semi-shade as well as strong sunlight, but they do not tolerate maritime exposure.
Looking Outward and Deeper
The Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem in 588 BC. About 18 months later the Jerusalem walls were breached. Nebuchadnezzar had no more patience with the rebellious Jews or his puppet king, Zedekiah. He had Zedekiah killed and the Jerusalem temple and major buildings destroyed. The wall around Jerusalem walls razed. Jews not killed by famine and plague were killed by the Babylonian soldiers. Only the poorest Jews were allowed to remain in Judah.
Reflection: God said “The day is coming, when I will send a famine throughout the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11, NIV). Do you believe this promise from God will occur in the USA?
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Copyright August 23, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth