Part of Ezekiel’s prophetic mission is a theatrical calling. Ezekiel is commissioned by God to create a rendering of Jerusalem on a clay tablet and then lay siege to the clay tablet. This siege includes a siege wall, a mound, camps, and battering rams (4:2). In addition, Ezekiel must “set his face against” the city, and he is to use an iron plate as a symbol of this. Of course his siege is enacted over the course of a year and a half, laying on his side in front of this model of Jerusalem (4:5-6).
During this siege, Ezekiel is given specific instructions regarding his diet. He may only drink water by certain measures (4:11), and a certain amount of bread. And this bread must be prepared over a fire fueled by human feces. After all that God has required, Ezekiel finally objects to these particular instructions insisting that this last dramatic enactment of the folly of Israel goes too far. It would actually require him to defile himself. “Ah, Lord Yahweh, Indeed I have never defiled myself from my youth till now; I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has abominable flesh ever come into my mouth” (4:14). And God relents and allows Ezekiel to cook over a fire fueled by cow dung instead.
Ezekiel’s objection to God runs parallel to Peter’s objection to the invitation to kill and eat on the balcony in Joppa (Acts 10:9-16). Similarly, Peter objects on the grounds that he has never defiled himself before. His specific objection is that he has never eaten anything common or unclean (Acts 10:14). Both stories have to do with the Gentiles. Peter is being prepared to preach the gospel and baptize the gentile Cornelius; Ezekiel is picturing how God will drive his people out of Israel into the lands of the Gentiles and eat defiled bread with them (4:13). Arguably the story of Acts is the record of the Spirit driving Christians out of Jerusalem into Gentile territories in order that the gospel might go out to the ends of the earth. But of course there are important contrasts: one situation is clearly a curse while the other is the beginning of blessing.
A couple other thoughts and a question: This scenario raises questions about morality and the arts. Ezekiel seems to object to God’s instructions here based on the assumption that actually performing the theatrical act will itself constitute defilement even though it serves a higher prophetic purpose. But wound into this situation is the factor that God is the one commanding Ezekiel to do it.
So is Ezekiel right?