9 “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. 10 Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. 11 Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. 12 Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” 13 The LORD said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”
14 Then I said, “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 impure meat has ever entered my mouth.”
15 “Very well,” he said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.”
Ezekiel settled with others at Tel Aviv on the banks of the river Chebar (not the same place as the modern Israeli city, the name of which was inspired by Ezekiel 3:15). He had a house in Babylon (8:1) and was married, but his wife died suddenly (24:18). His wife’s death became meaningful in terms of the fate of Israel, as did other events of his life, for Ezekiel was a prophet whose actions were almost as important as his words. Here he bakes bread according to a command of the Lord, in order to remind his fellow exiles of the recipe for disaster produced by their idolatry and disloyalty He hopes also to inspire them (and us) with the clarity and hope contained in his vision of a restored, rejuvenated and renewed relationship with God.
The making of bread was generally women’s work, so it is significant that Ezekiel, a male prophet, bakes it, undertaking a task that he would not normally do, even though he evidently knows how. Ezekiel’s public exercise in baking was one of many prophetic acts. Elsewhere, he eats a scroll (3:3), sketches Jerusalem on a brick (4:1), shaves his head (5:1), lies on his left side for 390 days and his right side for 40 (4:4-8), digs through a wall twice (8:8; 12:7) and writes on two sticks (37:15-17).
These actions serve to indicate to his people that they have offended God, and that their exile, during which they will have to eat bread cooked in this unclean manner (using ‘dirty’ fuel), is the righteous judgment of God upon their sinfulness. Nowadays we shy away from suggesting that God judges individuals and communities in this kind of way, but we are sometimes called to endure hardship, humiliation or unpleasant circumstances. We may have the opportunity to avoid this kind of thing if we turn away from what is right, but if we truly want to help those in need—even within our own families, perhaps—it may become our daily bread to have to roll our sleeves up, work hard at unpleasant tasks and get dirty in the service of others and God.
God of mercy and justice, give us grace to amend our ways and listen to your voice wherever it may he heard. Amen