Understanding the 390-Day and 40-Day Prophecies of Ezekiel 4

by Erik Mundall

Many people puzzle over these twin time prophecies in Ezekiel 4. However, they can be easily explained. The following will demonstrate the time periods for each prophecy, the meaning of the sin, or iniquity, for Israel and for Judah, and the fulfillment of these prophecies.

Many people understand the prophetic day-for-year formula from these prophecies, and yet find it difficult to apply it to the prophecies themselves. The prophecies are generally considered to be that of verses four through six, but as we will see, it actually encompasses the whole of the chapter, and on into the next.

Chapter four of Ezekiel focuses on Jerusalem--the city where God chose to place His name. The temple of worship belonged to Jerusalem. Yet this chapter predicts woeful events that would destroy it. The first several verses portray the siege that would come upon the city. Then verses four through six predict the times of fulfillment based on two distinguishing events: 1) the iniquity of Israel, and 2) the iniquity of Judah. More details follow this regarding the strength of the siege and its impact upon the inhabitants of the city.

Israel's Iniquity:

Three hundred and ninety days, "each day for a year", are appointed for the iniquity of Israel. God asked Ezekiel to demonstrate to the people for 390 days, lying on his left side, to represent the years of their iniquity and the besiegement and destruction of Jerusalem to follow. While Israel certainly sinned during all of those years, there is one defining event which initiates this time period. Here are several texts which present this sin of Israel:

  1. 1 Kings 14:16 And he shall give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin.
  2. 1 Kings 15:30 Because of the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and which he made Israel sin, by his provocation wherewith he provoked the LORD God of Israel to anger.
  3. 2 Kings 10:29, 31 Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan...But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin.
  4. 2 Kings 14:24 And he {Jeroboam, son of Jehoash} did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
  5. 2 Kings 15:18 And he {Menahem} did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.

Clearly, Jeroboam the son of Nebat made Israel sin. What did Jeroboam do? First, he caused the ten tribes to rebel against the authority of the house of David when Rehoboam, Solomon's son, came to reign. Of David's lineage God had promised that he would never fault a man upon the throne as long as there was a king in Israel. In a sense, to rebel against this authority meant rebellion against God. Second, Jeroboam created high places and golden calves as idols for the ten tribes to worship, and he did not want the Israelites to worship in Jerusalem, or in God's temple there, anymore. This signified a more complete rejection of God and of the system of theocracy (God-led nation).

The kings to follow, took up Jeroboam's rebellious lead, and the rest is history. But what of the prophecy? What does it mean?

Notice the 390 days represent 390 years. God himself says this clearly in Ezekiel 4:6. Careful study of the years following Jeroboam's rebellion indicate just 390 years until the last king of Judah is dethroned. At the same time as the kings of Judah are permanently "defrocked," the temple and city of Jerusalem is destroyed. This was accomplished in the 18th year of captivity under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who besieged Jerusalem for 18 months before it succumbed. At this point, the first part of Ezekiel's prophecy is fulfilled.

Some will ask what Judah's kings have to do with the sin of Israel. First, Judah (which included the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin), represented the kingdom of Israel which God had set up. Judah maintained those kings of David's lineage, with the authority of the throne that had been established by God Himself. Judah also encompassed Jerusalem, the city God had chosen to place His name there-meaning the temple. All of Israel, not just Judah, should have worshiped God in that temple. Second, the kings of the ten tribes of Israel, referred to simply as "Israel" in this prophecy, had rebelled against Judah, against the temple, and thus against God. All of those kings, God says, were evil. Although the kings' power was forcibly removed well before the 390 years had been completed, the people of the ten tribes still followed in the Godless practices to which those kings had led them in the centuries prior. They never returned to the temple services as a people throughout the 390 years of their probation.

Judah and Benjamin, which should have done more to bring their brethren back to worship in the temple, had instead also succumbed to pagan practices and some of Judah's kings had led Judah away from God as well. As a result, Judah would suffer the same fate as did Israel.

Judah's Iniquity:

God's mercy endured full 390 years with the iniquity of Israel before the punishment came. But for the iniquity of Judah, only 40 years grace is given! What sin of Judah could have been so much greater than that of Israel as to meet such a swift retribution? How do we even know that Judah's sin exceeded Israel's?

In the scriptures, which side, left or right, is more significant? You would agree, I'm sure, that it is the right side. The right arm represents strength, blessing, and greatness. For Israel's sin Ezekiel is commanded to lie on his left side, whereas for Judah's sin he is to lie on his right side. This indicates which sin is greater. The sequence of the two sins in the passage also has relevance. Israel's sin gets the first attention, and Judah's next.

Not only does Judah's sin come after that of Israel; it comes much after...a thousand years to be sure. We need to understand the makeup of the Jewish people during the time of Christ to fully realize the importance of Judah's sin. During the Babylonian captivity (70 years) and the seventy years that followed (the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, and the rebuilding of the temple) the ten tribes were all but lost through intermingling and marriage to the surrounding nations. The tribe of Judah, by God's grace and mercy, was preserved as a remnant of the Jews. In Christ's time, the Jews hated their brethren of the ten tribes because they had not kept themselves pure. Samaritans were included in this group and, though formerly belonging to the nation of Israel, they were no longer permitted to worship in the temple at Jerusalem because of the hatred of the "pure" Jews towards them. Thus it was Judah for whom Christ labored most while on this earth.

The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars. (Jeremiah 17:1)

Whereas Israel had rejected the kings whom God had appointed, Judah rejected the King of kings. Whereas Israel turned away from God to worship idols, Judah turned away from God to worship pride and tradition. Whereas Israel neglected to follow God, Judah murdered Him.

Just 40 years later, one biblical generation, the punishment came. Again Jerusalem was besieged. Again a famine came. Again the walls crumbled. Again the temple ended in destruction and ruins.

And thus is fulfilled the second part of Ezekiel's prophecy.

The parallels between the two parts of this prophecy give the evidence that the interpretation holds true. Israel and Judah both rejected God. The sins are much the same. The fulfillment of the prophecy is the same. In both cases the temple, along with the city of Jerusalem, is destroyed.

Ellen White writes: "Christ came to save Jerusalem with her children; but Pharisaical pride, hypocrisy, jealousy, and malice had prevented Him from accomplishing His purpose. Jesus knew the terrible retribution which would be visited upon the doomed city. He saw Jerusalem encompassed with armies, the besieged inhabitants driven to starvation and death, mothers feeding upon the dead bodies of their own children, and both parents and children snatching the last morsel of food from one another, natural affection being destroyed by the gnawing pangs of hunger. He saw that the stubbornness of the Jews, as evinced in their rejection of His salvation, would also lead them to refuse submission to the invading armies. He beheld Calvary, on which He was to be lifted up, set with crosses as thickly as forest trees. He saw the wretched inhabitants suffering torture on the rack and by crucifixion, the beautiful palaces destroyed, the temple in ruins, and of its massive walls not one stone left upon another, while the city was plowed like a field. Well might the Saviour weep in agony in view of that fearful scene." {DA 577.2}

If the Jews of Ezekiel's time had carefully considered the meaning of his prophecy, don't you suppose they might have known in what year they would lose their precious temple of worship and be fully under the control of the Babylonians? Jeremiah had prophesied these events, but it was Ezekiel's prophecy that predicted the year. If the Jews of Jesus' time had studied well these prophecies, they might have known in what year Jerusalem would again be besieged and their lives endangered in the second destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus himself foretold again the destruction of Jerusalem...what if they had been awake to these prophecies? Are there more prophecies in the Bible which we need to understand for our own day?





Ezekiel 4

Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem: (Ezekiel 4:1)

And lay siege against it, and build a fort against it, and cast a mount against it; set the camp also against it, and set battering rams against it round about. (Ezekiel 4:2)

Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel. (Ezekiel 4:3)

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. (Ezekiel 4:4)

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. (Ezekiel 4:5)

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. (Ezekiel 4:6)

Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it. (Ezekiel 4:7)

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. (Ezekiel 4:8)

Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentiles, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof, according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side, three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof. (Ezekiel 4:9)

And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it. (Ezekiel 4:10)

Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink. (Ezekiel 4:11)

And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight. (Ezekiel 4:12)

And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them. (Ezekiel 4:13)

Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth. (Ezekiel 4:14)

Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith. (Ezekiel 4:15)

Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment: (Ezekiel 4:16)

That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity. (Ezekiel 4:17)

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