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The Symbolical Siege

Ezekiel 4
Ezekiel having prepared his representation of Jerusalem,
proceeded to conduct the operations of a siege against it, after
the process which we have already described sufficiently to
render further illustration needless. Having finished his fort, his
mount, and set his battering rams, the prophet proceeds to lay
close siege to the city, with an iron baking-pan between him and
it. This pan must be taken as a symbol of the Divine wrathlike
the seething-pot in Jer_1:13; and it seems to stand for an iron or
metallic wall, set up against the too late prayers and complaints of
a people given over to destruction. Before this symbolic wall the
prophet impersonates another set of symbols, in which he
represents the condition of the besieged: thus undergoing a
double representative actiona thing not unusual in Scripture. In
doing this he is enjoined to lie first upon his left side for 390 days,
bearing the iniquity of the house of Israel; and then to turn and lie
upon his right side 40 days, bearing the iniquity of the house of
Judah. As this lying upon the right side is connected with the
immediate action, whereas the lying on the left side represents, in
part at least, that which had already passed, it seems designed to
bear a peculiar significance, and to denote the severer calamity of
the two. This significance lying on the right side still retains in the
East, although it is, we think, contended by our medical
authorities that men in general lie naturally on the right side, and
that it is most wholesome for them to do so. We believe that Mr.
Roberts first called attention to this peculiar notion of the East, in
his Oriental Illustrationsin which, however, it is to be
understood, that his East is India. He reports that, when a person
is sick, he will not lie upon his right side, because that would be a
bad omen; and should he, in his agony, or when asleep, turn on
that side, his attendants hasten to place him again on the left
side. After people have taken their food they generally sleep a
little, and then they are careful to lie on the left side, under the
impression that their food digests better. It is impossible to say
what is the origin of this practice, says our author: it may have
arisen from the circumstance, that the right side is of the
masculine gender, and the left feminine. Hence, although men lie
on the right side, women are expected to lie on the left.
Thus lying, the prophet has to represent the famishing condition
to which the besieged shall be reduced, by the nature and
quantity of his food, and by the mode in which he prepares it.
He is directed to take different kinds of substances capable of
being made into bread, from the best to the worstfrom wheat to
lentils and beansand to mix them together for his bread, as if to
show that the people should be reduced to the mere sweepings of
their stores, and get so little even of this, that they should be
constrained to mix them together to form a loaf of bread. This is
further shown by the careful weighing out every day of the small
quantity of this food he may take and measuring out the water he
may drink.
Further, to indicate the scarcity of fuel in a besieged town; when
supplies from the country can be no longer brought in, the prophet
was directed to bake his food by the heat of the most offensive
kind of fuel. Against this his soul revolted, and he allowed himself
to remonstrate; and that the burden of his representative
commission might not be too onerous to him, he was graciously
permitted to use the dried dung of animals to dress his food. This,
however, so far impaired the completeness of the representation;
because it implied that animals were present in the city, though of
necessity they soon die when their provender ceases, or the
people kill them for their own sustenance.
Ezekiel made no objection to the kind of fuel allowed him. He
was, in fact, used to it; for the dried dung of beasts is used for fuel
throughout the East wherever wood is scarce, from Mongolia
Note: See Hucs Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China, passim. to
Palestine. Its use, indeed, extends into Europe, and subsists even
in England. It is not unusual in Devonshire for poor women to go
out to the lanes in the evenings, collecting into baskets the cow-
dung that they can find, so completely dried by the sun and air is
to be quite inoffensive to the smell or touch. In the villages of the
same county, where there is no access to ovens, but where wood
for fuel is not scarce, this cow-dung is actually preferred for
baking bread, on account of the length of time during which, when
once ignited; it retains a strong, equable, and concentrated heat.
Large loaves are baked in this way. The hearth being heated by a
fire of the same substance, and the dough being then placed
upon the swept hearth, or upon an iron plate supported upon a
tripod, or upon bricks, an iron crock is turned over it, and over
this is heaped the burning fuel, and fresh additions of the same
being made, the whole is left undisturbed until the bread is baked,
which it is in a most perfect manner, notwithstanding the large
size of the loaves.
In regard to the use of this fuel in Western Asia, we may be
permitted to repeat what we said in another work. In some
regions of Western Asia, where wood is scarce, it forms the
common fuel; and as the supply is often inadequate to the
occasions of the people, great anxiety is exhibited in collecting a
sufficient quantity, and in regulating the consumption. In winter we
have seen it used in the best rooms of some of the most
respectable houses in northern Persia; and while travelling
through the same country, and parts of Media and Armenia, when
we formed our camp, or rested during the midday heat, near the
villages, all the children who were old enough would come out
with baskets and other receptacles, waiting long and patiently to
receive all the animal dung that occurred, to secure which there
was often much contention and violence among the too numerous
claimants for its possession. Cow-dung is in all cases preferred,
but that of all other animals is considered valuable. When
collected, it is made into cakes or turves, which are laid out to dry
in the sun, and in some places are stuck up against the sunny
side of the houses, giving them a curious and somewhat unsightly
appearance. When it is quite dry it falls off, and is then stowed
away in heaps for winter use. Note: Pictorial Bible on this text.
The following, from the same, describes the mode of bakingIn
the East they either heat with it a portable oven of earthenware, or
an iron plate supported on a tripod of stones, and beneath which
is the fire, or else lay their cakes upon the fire of dung. But a very
common resource, in the want of a plate or an oven, is to form the
dough into balls, which are placed either among live coals or into
a fire of dried dung; and covered over with the same, till
penetrated by the heat. The ashes are then removed, and the
bread eaten hot, with much enjoyment, by the natives; but it
sometimes contracts it flavor and appearance which is not
pleasant to Europeans. It is further suggested that the prophet
intended to provide such cakes or balls, baked in immediate
contact with the fire; and that this made him the more abhor the
sort of fuel which was first proposed to him. We may add, that
these heaps are sometimes piled up on the flat roofs of the low
cottages, in the form of truncated cones, imparting to the village a
most curious appearance at some distance, and, when first
witnessed, awakening many strange conjectures as to the nature
of these constructions, ending in some amusement when the fact
is ascertained.
In India, the peculiar notions of the people respecting the sanctity
of the cow, do not prevent them from using its dung in the same
way, where wood is scarce. Indeed, Mr. Roberts says, that those
who are accustomed to have their food prepared in this way
prefer it to any other, and tell you it is sweeter and more holy, as
the fuel comes from the sacred animal.