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Ezekiel 4:4-8

4. Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity.

4. Et tu cuba super latus tuum sinistrum, et pone iniquitatem domus Israel super illud; pro numero dierum quibus eubabis super illud, portabis iniquitatem ipsorum

5. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.

5. Et (pro nam) ego dedi tibi 8787     Or, “I have appointed thee.” — Calvin. annos iniquitatis ipsorum ad numerum dierum, trecenti et nonaginta dies, 8888     “They shall be” is understood.Calvin. et portabis iniquitatem domus Israel.

6. And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.

6. Et cum finieris eos dies, tune eubabis super latus tuum dextrum secundo: et portabis iniquitatem domus Iehudah quadraginta diebus, diem pro anno, diem pro anno constitui tibi. 8989     “I shall now go on with the whole context.” — Calvin

7. Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it.

7. Et ad obsidionem Ierusalem diriges 9090     Or, “station,” for כןken, signifies either.Calvin. faciem: et brachium tuum nudatum (erit), et prophetabis contra eam.

8. And, behold, I will lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another, till thou hast ended the days of thy siege.

8. Et ecce posui super to funes, et non vertes to a latere tuo ad latus tuum, usque dum compleveris dies obsidionum tuarum.


We must first consider the scope of this prophecy, and we shall then discuss more conveniently its separate parts. It is not doubtful that God wished to oppose the pride of the people, for they thought themselves punished more severely than they deserved. And this is customary with hypocrites, because while they dare not acquit themselves altogether, they yet murmur as if God afflicted them too severely, then they willingly offer something in compensation that they may free themselves from punishment. For although they confess themselves guilty, yet they do not cease to turn aside, and think if God descends to equity with them, that either they will escape, or at least be less miserable. Such was the disposition of the ancient people, as is well known. We now only need to repeat what we have said before: that the Jews were more obstinate because God had spared them. Nor did they think this only temporary, but they exulted with great freedom, as if they had settled all their business with God. Meanwhile the exiles were constantly complaining, first, that God had treated them so severely, and yet had in clemency pardoned the Jews: then they thought that they had been deceived, and that if they had prudently attended to their own affairs they could have escaped the miseries by which they were oppressed. Now, therefore, Ezekiel is ordered to come forward into the midst of them, and shortly to show that no other result is possible but that the whole people should receive the reward of their wickedness. But because simple teaching was not sufficient to stir them up, a vision is added, and to this end the Prophet is ordered to lie on one side for three hundred and ninety days, and on the other side forty days. Now the interpretation is added, that days are taken for so many years But the meaning is, that the people through three hundred and ninety years carried on war with God, because they had never ceased from sin. Hence the Prophet is ordered to take upon him the iniquity of so many years: but God appointed him days for years, then forty years are added which belong to the people of Judah.

This place is variously twisted by interpreters. I will not refer to all their comments, for they have fatigued themselves in vain by inventing arguments which vanish of their own accord: I will not spend the time in refuting them, but will only endeavor to elicit the genuine sense. Some extend the name of Israel to the whole body of the people, but this must be rejected; for they begin the three hundred and ninety years from the first revolt, of which mention is made in the Book of Judges, (Judges 2:2,) and they gather together those years during which the Israelites often fell into impiety: hence they reckon the three hundred and ninety years, and subtract those periods in which religion and the pure worship of God flourished, as under Gideon, under Samson for some time, and under David and Solomon. They subtract then those years in which piety flourished among the people, and the remainder reaches about three hundred and ninety years. But it would be absurd to include the tribe of Judah under the name of Israel, when a comparison between each kingdom is made. We know, indeed, that all the posterity of Abraham were so named by their father Jacob, when, therefore, the name of Israel is put, the twelve or thirteen tribes are comprehended without exception; but when there is comparison, Israel signifies only the ten tribes, or that adulterous kingdom which set up Jeroboam as king after the death of Solomon. (1 Kings 12:20.) Since, then, both Israel and Judah are treated of here, it is by no means suitable that the prophecy should speak of the whole people, and mix the tribe of Judah with the rest. Then the event itself dispels many clouds and takes away all room for controversy: for if we number the years from the revolt in Rehoboam’s time, we shall find three hundred and ninety years till the siege of Jerusalem. What then can be easier, and what room is there for conjectures? I wonder that Jerome, since he relates nothing but mere trifles, yet boasts of some wonderful wisdom; for he says, he did not do it for the sake of boasting, and truly he has little cause for it; for if any one will read his Commentary, he will find nothing but what is puerile. (1 Kings 12:28.) But, as I have already said, since the name of Israel everywhere signifies the ten tribes, this interpretation is best here: namely, that the obstinacy of the ten tribes was continued through three hundred and ninety years. For, as is sufficiently, known, Jeroboam erected two altars, that he might turn away the people from the worship of God: for he thought himself not sufficiently established in his kingdom, so as to retain the obedience of the people, unless he turned them away from the house of David. Therefore he used that artifice — thus the worship of God was corrupted among the Israelites. Now by idolatry the Prophet here points out the other sins of the people; for from this fountain flowed all other iniquities. After they had once cut themselves off from God, they became forgetful of the whole law. The Prophet therefore includes all their corruptions under this one expression, since by the edict of their king this people had shaken off the yoke of God, for which Hosea reproaches them. (Hosea 5:11.) We now understand the three hundred and ninety years of Israel’s iniquity, because the people then rejected the law, and followed foreign superstitions, which Jeroboam fabricated with no other intention than That; of strengthening the power of his kingdom, just as earthly kings are influenced by no other desire, although they pretend, and even magnificently boast, that they seek God’s glory with the utmost devotion, yet their religion is only a delusion; provided only that they retain the people in obedience and duty, any kind of worship, and any mode of worshipping God, is the same to them. Such, therefore, was the cunning of Jeroboam: but his posterity greatly deteriorated, so that the worship of God could never be restored among the Israelites. Circumcision, indeed, remained, in which they imitated what Moses had commanded in the law, but at the same time they had two altars, and those profane ones, instead of one only. At length they did not hesitate openly to adopt the idolatries of the Gentiles: hence they so mixed up God with their inventions, that what even they valued under the pretense of piety, was an abomination to him. This is the reason why God says that the iniquity of the people of Israel has endured for three hundred and ninety years

The difficulty in the second clause is greater, because the computation does not agree exactly. After the death of Josiah we shall only find twenty-two years to the destruction of the city. But we know that this king, of his eminent piety, took care that God should be sincerely worshipped; for he purged the whole land of all its defilements. Where, then, will be those forty years? Hence it is necessary to take a part of the reign of Manasseh, because then Jerusalem not only revolted from the teaching of the law, but that tyrant cruelly raged against all the Prophets, and the city was defiled by innocent blood. Hence it will be necessary to omit the reign of Josiah, then a part of the reign of Manasseh must be cut off, because he did not immediately relapse into idolatry; but after he grew up, then the worship of God and the examples of his fathers being despised, he turned aside to strange and fictitious worship, though he did not persist in his impiety to the end of his life. Eighteen years, then, must be taken and joined to the two-and-twenty, that the number which the Prophet uses may be made up, unless, perhaps, any one would rather take a part of the reign of Josiah. (2 Kings 22) For although that pious king did his utmost to uphold the worship of God, yet we know that the people of very wickedness strove with the goodness of God. For when the law was found no amendment followed, for the memory of all its doctrine had grown obsolete; but when it was placed before the people they ought to have become new. But so far from those who had been previously alienated from God becoming wise again, they betrayed their obstinacy more and more. Since then, the impiety of the people had been detected, it is not surprising that the people of Judah is said to have sinned for forty years. Certainly this latter explanation pleases me most, because the Prophet refers to continuous years, which followed the captivity of the ten tribes; although I do not reject the other interpretation, because it reckons those years during which Manasseh exercised his tyranny against God’s servants, and endeavored as much as he could to abolish his pure worship, and to pollute it with the filth of all the nations. Now, therefore, we understand the forty years of the iniquity of the tribe of Judah.

As to those interpreters who refer the four hundred and thirty years to the siege of the city, as if God’s vengeance was thus satisfied, I fear it will not hold good; it seems to me not a suitable explanation; it only signifies that it is not surprising if their enemies besiege the city so long, since they did not cease to provoke God for as many years as the siege continued days. The city was besieged a whole year and two or three months. The beginning of the siege continues to the end of the half year, but it was finished in three or four months, when Pharaoh endeavored to free the Jews, who were then his allies and confederates, by bringing up his army. Then Nebuchadnezzar went forth to meet him, and the city was relieved for a short time. Now if we take three hundred and ninety days, we shall find a whole year at first, that is three hundred and sixty-five years, although then there was an intercalary month, and they had not their year defined as we now have; but yet there will be three hundred and sixty-five days, which make a complete year. The two months will make sixty days, so we shall have four hundred and twenty days. Now a month and a half elapsed before the return of Nebuchadnezzar. Then the computation will amount to four hundred and thirty years. But interpreters are satisfied, because the siege of the city endured to a time which answers to that prescribed to Abraham. For God entered into covenant with Abraham four hundred and thirty years before the promulgation of the law. But I do not see why they are so satisfied with this resemblance. Nor is this the meaning of our Prophet. When he speaks of a siege he certainly regards especially the destruction of the city. Therefore I do not think that the days of the siege are here enumerated as a just punishment, but only that years are compared with days, that they may determine how long the siege should be, and that the end was not to be, expected until the whole people perished.

Besides, we see as we go on that the Prophet lay on his side three hundred and ninety days; where there is no mention of forty days, and that part seems to be omitted. Yet this remains fixed, because Israel and Judah had been obstinate in their wickedness; hence the city was besieged until it was utterly taken. Now surely the punishment of Israel cannot be considered as consisting in the overthrow of the holy city; for already the ten tribes had migrated from their country, and did not know what was doing at Jerusalem, except by report. Whatever happened their condition was altogether separate from all the miseries of the people, for they were then quiet in exile. As then the Prophet is ordered to bear the iniquity of Israel for three hundred and ninety days, this ought not to be restricted to the siege. God simply means, since so many years had elapsed during which both Israelites and Jews had not ceased to sin, their final destruction was already at hand. But we know that then the kingdom of Judah was extinguished, and exile was to the ten tribes like death. On this account they had perished; nor did the Prophet bear their iniquity as if they were then paying the penalty of their sins. But we know that this is the customary manner of Scripture, because God reckons sins to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 5:9.) When, therefore, God wished the ten tribes to be dragged into exile, then he punished them for their wickedness three hundred and ninety years. Afterwards he bore with the city of Jerusalem for a certain time, and endured a similar impiety in that tribe, that he should not utterly blot out the memory of the people. But the Jews did not repent, since we also see by Isaiah comparing them with the Israelites, that they became worse. (Isaiah 18:1, 7, 8 [sic].) Micah reproves them for following the statutes of Omri; (Micah 6:16,) whence it is not surprising if the punishment which they endure should answer to the wickedness in which they had involved themselves. We shall see also that the same subject is repeated by our Prophet in Ezekiel 16.

On the whole then, God wished to show the people that they had abused his forbearance too much and too long, since they did not desist from sinning even to the four hundred and thirtieth year. The Israelites indeed began to turn aside from the true worship of God while the Temple still remained pure, but at length the tribe of Judah, by degenerating, became guilty of the same impiety. Now we understand the intention of the Holy Spirit.

I pass on to the words. Thou, says he, shalt lie upon thy left side We must remark that this was not in reality completed, because Ezekiel did not lie for three hundred and ninety days upon his side, but only by a vision, that he might afterwards relate to the people what God had made manifest. As to the opinion of those commentators who think the ten tribes are meant by the left side, because Samaria was situated to the left hand, I do not think it applicable. I do not doubt that God wished to prefer the tribe of Judah to the kingdom of Israel; for although the ten tribes excelled in the number, opulence, and strength of men, yet God always made more, of the kingdom of Judah. For here was the seat of David; and the ten tribes were the posterity of Abraham only after the flesh, the promise remained to Jerusalem, and there also the lamp of God shone, as we have said in many places. Hence the right side signifies that dignity with which God wished always to adorn the kingdom of Judah: but the ten tribes are marked by the left side; because, as I have said, they did not enjoy equal glory with the kingdom of Judah, although they are more numerous, more courageous, and more abundant in all good things. It must now be observed that the burden of bearing their iniquity was imposed on the Prophet: not because God transferred to him the iniquity of the people, as some here invent an allegory, and say that the Prophet was a type of Christ, who bore on himself the iniquity of the people. But an expiation is not here described: but we know that God uses his servants for different purposes. So therefore the Prophet on one side is ordered to oppose Jerusalem, as if he were the king of Babylon; hence he sustains the character of king Nebuchadnezzar when he opposes the city of brick, of which we spoke yesterday. Now he sustains other characters, as of the ten tribes and the kingdom of Judah, when he lies upon his left side three hundred and ninety days, and on his right side forty days For this reason also it is said, I have appointed to thee the years of this iniquity, according to then number, of the days, etc; that is, when I order thee to lie on thy right side so many days, I represent to thee years. For it would have been absurd to demand of the Prophet to lie upon one side four centuries, so God accommodates himself in these figures to our standard; and it is contrary to nature that a man should lie for four centuries, and because that is absurd, God changes years into days; and this is the reason why days are said to be substituted for years. Afterwards it is added, when thou shalt have fulfilled those years, then thou shalt afterwards lie upon thy right side, and shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days Here God shows the tribe of Judah, that when it ought to be frightened by the punishment of the kingdom of Israel, it still persisted in its wickedness hence the Jews could not possibly escape the punishment of the Israelites.

It is added, and towards the siege of Jerusalem thou shalt set or establish thy face Either meaning may be received; either directing and ordering, or establishing and strengthening; although the word directing or ordering pleases me better in this place. He had said, indeed, before, thou shalt direct thy face until Jerusalem shall be besieged; but in my opinion God simply here orders his Prophet to be intent on the overthrow of the city. And thine arm shall be made bare; that is, for expedition: for we know that orientals use flowing tunics and long robes, so that they cannot execute any business without putting off their garments. Hence the Prophet is here ordered to make bare his arm, just as if any one should take his coat half off, and throw it over the other side, that he might have one arm free. Such was the dress of the Prophet, but by a vision, as I have said. Afterwards it is added, that thou, shalt prophesy against it Again God repeats what we saw yesterday: for nothing had been colder than that the Prophet should make bare his arm, and direct his face against towards the siege of a painted city. Had the picture been only an empty one, the spectacle might be justly condemned; but God adds the meaning to the figures, that the prophecy may have more force: as if he had said, I see that these signs are not of themselves of much moment, and you may object to me, why do you concern yourself with these trifles? But whatever you do shall be a certain seal of prophecy. Now we see why God joins the word “prophecy.” Then he adds, Behold I will place upon thee ropes, so that thou canst not turn from, side to side, until thou hast completed the days of thy siege God here signifies that his decree concerning the siege of Jerusalem was inviolable: for as he held his servant so bound down, by this the firmness of his decree was designated, because the Jews thought that they could extricate themselves by their deceits. For we know that they always flattered themselves when the Prophets threatened them. Therefore God signifies that the siege of the city was certain until it was taken; because the Prophet should be bound with cords, and should not move himself, nor turn from one side to the other. And hence we understand, from the figure here used, that the Jews should suffer the same punishments as the ten tribes. Just as if God should say that the time determined for the destruction of the kingdom of Israel had come, and that the same end would happen to the Jews; for ill whatever direction they might escape, yet the same execution of God’s judgment would arrive, as if the matter had been already determined. Now it follows:

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