1, 2. (a) What puzzling behavior did Ezekiel engage in? (See opening picture.) (b) What did his actions foretell?
THE news about the prophet Ezekiel’s strange behavior spreads rapidly among the exiled Jews living in the land of Babylon. For a week, he had been sitting dazed and speechless among the exiles, but then, he suddenly got up and shut himself in his house. Now, with his perplexed neighbors looking on, the prophet reappears, picks up a brick, puts it in front of him, and etches it with a drawing. Then, without uttering a word, Ezekiel begins to build a miniature wall.—Ezek. 3:10, 11, 15, 24-26; 4:1, 2.
2 The spectators, no doubt growing in number, must have wondered, ‘What does all of this mean?’ Only later would those Jewish exiles fully grasp that the prophet Ezekiel’s puzzling behavior foretold the coming of a dreadful event that would express Jehovah God’s righteous indignation. What was that event? How did it affect the ancient nation of Israel? What significance does it have for pure worshippers today?
“Take a Brick . . . Take Wheat . . . Take a Sharp Sword”
3, 4. (a) What three aspects of God’s judgment did Ezekiel portray? (b) How did Ezekiel act out the siege of Jerusalem?
3 In about 613 B.C.E., Jehovah instructed Ezekiel to demonstrate by signs three aspects of God’s coming judgment against Jerusalem. They were: the siege of the city, the suffering of its inhabitants, and the destruction of the city and its people.* Let us consider these three aspects in more detail.
4 The siege of Jerusalem. Jehovah told Ezekiel: “Take a brick and put it in front of you. . . . Lay siege to it.” (Read Ezekiel 4:1-3.) The brick represented the city of Jerusalem, while Ezekiel himself portrayed the Babylonian army as used by Jehovah. Ezekiel was also instructed to build a miniature wall and a siege rampart and to make battering rams. He was then to place these around the brick. They represented the instruments of war that Jerusalem’s enemies would use when surrounding the city and attacking it. To indicate the ironlike strength of the enemy soldiers, Ezekiel was to put “an iron griddle,” or plate, between himself and the city. He then set his “face against” the city. Those confrontational actions served as “a sign to the house of Israel” that the unthinkable was about to happen. Jehovah would use an enemy army to lay siege to Jerusalem, the chief city of God’s people, the location of God’s temple!
5. Describe how Ezekiel portrayed what would happen to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
5 The suffering of Jerusalem’s inhabitants. Jehovah ordered Ezekiel: “Take wheat, barley, broad beans, lentils, millet, and spelt [a type of wheat] . . . and make them into bread,” and “weigh out and eat 20 shekels of food per day.” Jehovah then explained: “I am cutting off the food supply.” (Ezek. 4:9-16) In this scene, Ezekiel no longer represented the Babylonian army; rather, he took on the role of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The prophet’s actions foretold that the coming siege would cause the food supplies in the city to dwindle. At that time, bread would be made from an odd mixture of ingredients, which indicated that the people would have to eat whatever they found. How severe would the starvation become? As if directly addressing the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Ezekiel said: “Fathers among you will eat their sons, and sons will eat their fathers.” In the end, many would suffer because of “the deadly arrows of famine,” and the people would “waste away.”—Ezek. 4:17; 5:10, 16.
6. (a) What two roles did Ezekiel act out at the same time? (b) What is indicated by God’s command to “weigh and divide the hair”?
6 The destruction of Jerusalem and its people. In this part of the prophetic enactment, Ezekiel acted out two roles at the same time. First, Ezekiel acted out what Jehovah would do. Jehovah told him: “Take a sharp sword for yourself to use as a barber’s razor.” (Read Ezekiel 5:1, 2.) Ezekiel’s hand that wielded the sword portrayed the hand of Jehovah—his judgment—as expressed through Babylon’s army. Second, Ezekiel acted out what the Jews would go through. Jehovah said to him: “Shave your head and your beard.” The shaving of Ezekiel’s head represented how the Jews would be attacked and wiped out. Furthermore, the command to “take scales to weigh and divide the hair into portions” implied that Jehovah’s judgment against Jerusalem would be carried out, not haphazardly, but deliberately and thoroughly.
7. Why did Jehovah tell Ezekiel to divide the hair in three portions and to treat each portion differently?
7 Why did Jehovah tell Ezekiel to divide his shaved-off hair into three portions and to treat each portion differently? (Read Ezekiel 5:7-12.) Ezekiel burned one portion of hair “inside the city” to demonstrate to onlookers that some inhabitants of Jerusalem would die in the city. Ezekiel struck a portion of hair with the sword “all around the city” to indicate that other inhabitants would be killed outside the city. He scattered the last portion of hair to the wind to illustrate that still other inhabitants would be scattered among the nations, but “a sword” would “chase after them.” Thus, wherever those survivors might end up living, they would find no peace.
8. (a) What hint of hope did Ezekiel’s enactment contain? (b) How did the prophetic statement about the “few strands” come true?
8 However, Ezekiel’s prophetic enactment also contained a hint of hope. Regarding the hair that Ezekiel had shaved off, Jehovah told the prophet: “Take a few strands . . . and wrap them up in the folds of your garment.” (Ezek. 5:3) That command indicated that a few of the Jews who would be scattered among the nations would be preserved. Some of those “few strands” would be among the exiles who were to return to Jerusalem after the 70-year-long captivity in Babylon. (Ezek. 6:8, 9; 11:17) Did that prophetic statement come true? Yes. A number of years after the end of the Babylonian captivity, the prophet Haggai reported that some of the scattered Jews had indeed returned to Jerusalem. They were the “old men who had seen the former house,” that is, Solomon’s temple. (Ezra 3:12; Hag. 2:1-3) Jehovah saw to it that pure worship was preserved, just as he had promised. More details about that restoration will be considered in Chapter 9 of this publication.—Ezek. 11:17-20.
What Does This Prophecy Tell Us About Coming Events?
9, 10. What significant events foretold for our future do Ezekiel’s prophetic enactments bring to mind?
9 The events that Ezekiel acted out bring to mind the significant events that God’s Word foretells for our future. What are some of them? As happened with the ancient city of Jerusalem, Jehovah will use secular forces to do the unthinkable—to attack all false religious organizations on earth. (Rev. 17:16-18) Just as Jerusalem’s destruction was “a unique calamity,” so the “great tribulation” with its war of Armageddon will be an event that “has not occurred” before.—Ezek. 5:9; 7:5; Matt. 24:21.
10 God’s Word indicates that individual supporters of false religion will survive the coming destruction of religious institutions. Fearful, these survivors will join other individuals of all ranks who will be searching for a hiding place. (Zech. 13:4-6; Rev. 6:15-17) Their situation makes us think of what happened to the inhabitants of ancient Jerusalem who survived its destruction and were scattered “to the wind.” As we considered in paragraph 7, although their lives were spared for a time, Jehovah drew “a sword to chase after them.” (Ezek. 5:2) Similarly, any hiding places into which the survivors of the attack on religion may run will not shield them from Jehovah’s sword. At Armageddon, they will be put to death, together with all other goatlike ones.—Ezek. 7:4; Matt. 25:33, 41, 46; Rev. 19:15, 18.
As far as sharing good news is concerned, we will become “mute”
11, 12. (a) How does our understanding of Ezekiel’s prophecy about Jerusalem’s siege affect our view of the ministry today? (b) Our preaching work and message may well undergo what change?
11 How does our understanding of this prophecy affect our view of the ministry and its urgency? It impresses on us that we need to do our utmost today to help people to become servants of Jehovah. Why? The time left to “make disciples of people of all the nations” is limited. (Matt. 28:19, 20; Ezek. 33:14-16) When the attack of “the rod” (the secular forces) against religion begins, we will no longer preach a message of salvation. (Ezek. 7:10) As far as sharing good news is concerned, we will become “mute,” just as Ezekiel became mute, or stopped proclaiming his messages, during part of his ministry. (Ezek. 3:26, 27; 33:21, 22) True, after the destruction of false religion, people will, in a sense, desperately “seek a vision from a prophet,” but no lifesaving instructions will be given to them. (Ezek. 7:26) The time to receive such instruction and to become a disciple of Christ will have passed.
12 However, our work as preachers will not cease. Why not? During the great tribulation, we may well begin proclaiming a message of judgment that will be like a plague of hail. That message will clearly signal that the end of the wicked world is upon mankind.—Rev. 16:21.
“Look, It Is Coming!”
13. Why did Jehovah tell Ezekiel to lie on his left side and then on his right side?
13 Besides foretelling how Jerusalem would be destroyed, Ezekiel also acted out when that would happen. Ezekiel was told by Jehovah to lie on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 40 days. Each day represented a year. (Read Ezekiel 4:4-6; Num. 14:34) That enactment, which Ezekiel must have performed for only a part of each day, pointed to the exact year of Jerusalem’s destruction. The 390 years of Israel’s error evidently began in 997 B.C.E., the year that the 12-tribe kingdom was divided into two parts. (1 Ki. 12:12-20) The 40 years of Judah’s sin likely began in 647 B.C.E., which was the year that Jeremiah was commissioned as a prophet to warn the kingdom of Judah, in clear-cut terms, about its coming destruction. (Jer. 1:1, 2, 17-19; 19:3, 4) Thus, both time periods would end in 607 B.C.E., the exact year in which Jerusalem fell and was destroyed, just as Jehovah had foretold.*
14. (a) How did Ezekiel show his confidence in Jehovah as an exact timekeeper? (b) What would precede Jerusalem’s destruction?
14 At the time that Ezekiel received the prophecy of the 390 days and the 40 days, he may not have discerned the exact year of Jerusalem’s end. Nevertheless, in the years leading up to its destruction, he repeatedly warned the Jews that Jehovah’s judgment was coming. “The end is now upon you,” he proclaimed. (Read Ezekiel 7:3, 5-10.) Ezekiel had no doubt that Jehovah would prove to be an exact timekeeper. (Isa. 46:10) The prophet also foretold what events would precede the destruction of Jerusalem: “There will come disaster upon disaster.” Those events, in turn, would lead up to the breakdown of social, religious, and governmental structures.—Ezek. 7:11-13, 25-27.
15. What parts of Ezekiel’s prophecy began to be fulfilled from 609 B.C.E. onward?
15 A few years after Ezekiel proclaimed Jerusalem’s fall, the prophecy began to be fulfilled. In 609 B.C.E., Ezekiel learned that the attack against Jerusalem had begun. At that time, the sound of the trumpet summoned the inhabitants to defend their city, but as Ezekiel had foretold, “no one” was “going to the battle.” (Ezek. 7:14) Jerusalem’s inhabitants did not rally to the city’s defense to fight the Babylonian invaders. Some Jews may have thought that Jehovah would come to their rescue. He had done so before when the Assyrians had threatened to take Jerusalem and an angel of Jehovah had destroyed most of their army. (2 Ki. 19:32) But no angelic help arrived this time. Before long, the besieged city resembled a “cooking pot” that was put “on the fire,” and its inhabitants were caught like “pieces of meat” inside the pot. (Ezek. 24:1-10) After an agonizing siege that lasted 18 months, Jerusalem was destroyed.
“Store Up for Yourselves Treasures in Heaven”
16. How may we today demonstrate our confidence in Jehovah as an exact timekeeper?
16 What can we learn from this part of Ezekiel’s prophecy? Does it relate to the message of our ministry and the reaction of those to whom we preach? Jehovah has determined when the approaching destruction of false religion will come about—and again he will prove to be an exact timekeeper. (2 Pet. 3:9, 10; Rev. 7:1-3) We do not know the precise date of that event. Like Ezekiel, though, we continue to carry out Jehovah’s instruction to warn people repeatedly, saying: “The end is now upon you.” Why do we need to repeat that message? For the same reason that Ezekiel needed to do so.* Most people to whom he proclaimed God’s prophecy about Jerusalem’s fall did not believe it. (Ezek. 12:27, 28) But later, some Jewish exiles in Babylon showed a righteous heart condition, and they returned to their homeland. (Isa. 49:8) Similarly, many people today dismiss the idea that this world will come to an end. (2 Pet. 3:3, 4) Even so, until the time for mankind to accept God’s message runs out, we want to help honesthearted individuals to find the road that leads to life.—Matt. 7:13, 14; 2 Cor. 6:2.
17. What conditions and events will we witness during the coming great tribulation?
17 Ezekiel’s prophecy also reminds us that when the coming attack against religious organizations occurs, members of the churches will not be “going to the battle” to defend religion. Instead, as they begin to realize that their cry for help, “Lord, Lord,” is going unanswered, “their hands will hang limp” and they will be “shuddering.” (Ezek. 7:3, 14, 17, 18; Matt. 7:21-23) What else will they do? (Read Ezekiel 7:19-21.) Jehovah says: “They will throw their silver into the streets.” That statement regarding the inhabitants of ancient Jerusalem also vividly illustrates what will take place during the great tribulation. At that time, people will realize that money cannot save them from the coming calamity.
18. What lesson about setting priorities can we draw from Ezekiel’s prophecy?
18 Do you discern a lesson for us in this part of Ezekiel’s prophecy? It is about the need to set the right priorities. Consider this: Only after the inhabitants of Jerusalem understood that the end of their city and their life was upon them and that material goods could not save them, only after that did they drastically change their priorities. They threw their possessions away and began to “seek a vision from a prophet”—but their change came too late. (Ezek. 7:26) In contrast, we are already fully aware that the end of this wicked world is upon us. Therefore, our faith in God’s promises has moved us to set the right priorities in life. As a result, we are busy pursuing spiritual riches, which have lasting value and will never be thrown “into the streets.”—Read Matthew 6:19-21, 24.
19. How do Ezekiel’s prophetic proclamations affect us today?
19 In summary, what are some of the ways that Ezekiel’s prophetic statements about the fall of Jerusalem affect us today? They remind us that the time still available for helping others to become God’s servants is limited. Hence, we carry out the disciple-making work with urgency. We rejoice greatly when honesthearted individuals begin to worship our Father, Jehovah. However, even to those who do not take that step, we continue to give the warning that Ezekiel gave to the people in his day: “The end is now upon you.” (Ezek. 3:19, 21; 7:3) At the same time, we are determined to maintain our trust in Jehovah and to keep his pure worship first and foremost in our life.—Ps. 52:7, 8; Prov. 11:28; Matt. 6:33.
It is reasonable to conclude that Ezekiel acted out all these signs before onlookers. Why? Because regarding some of the enactments, such as baking bread and carrying luggage, Jehovah commanded Ezekiel specifically to do these things “before their eyes.”—Ezek. 4:12; 12:7.
By allowing the destruction of Jerusalem, Jehovah expressed his judgment against not only the two-tribe kingdom of Judah but also the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. (Jer. 11:17; Ezek. 9:9, 10) See Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, p. 462, “Chronology—From 997 B.C.E. to Desolation of Jerusalem.”
Note that in the brief passage found at Ezekiel 7:5-7, Jehovah mentions the words “come” and “coming” six times.