Jews and Joes

Understanding "Ezekiel 4" and the 390, 40, and 430 Year Periods

There are numerous alternative views and interpretations of Ezekiel 4 and the time periods that Ezekiel was commanded to lay on his left and right sides "to bear the crookedness" of Israel and Judah. The following are the most probable and meaningful interpretations this author has found.

Ezekiel 4:1-7

Text in [brackets] mine. Text in bold red for emphasis.

(1) “And you, son of man, take a clay tablet, and you shall lay it before you, and shall inscribe on it a city, Yerushalayim [Jerusalem],
(2) and shall lay siege against it, and build a siege wall against it, and heap up a mound against it, and set camps against it, and place battering rams against it all around.
(3) “Then take an iron plate, and set it as an iron wall between you and the city. And you shall set your face against it, and it shall be besieged, and you shall lay siege against it. It is a sign to the house of Yisra'el [Israel].
(4) “And lie on your left side, and you shall put the crookedness of the house of Yisra'el on it. As many days as you lie on it, you shall bear their crookedness.
(5) “For I Myself have laid on you the years of their crookedness, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days. And you shall bear the crookedness of the house of Yisra'el.
(6) “And when you have completed them, you shall lie again on your right side and shall bear the crookedness of the house of Yehudah [Judah] forty days, a day for a year. I have laid on you a day for a year.
(7) “Then you shall set your face toward the siege of Yerushalayim, with your arm bared, and you shall prophesy against it.

The 390 Years of Israel's Crookedness

There is little debate that the 390 years in the above passage is very specific to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. יהוה makes this very evident and clear to Ezekiel. Confusion arises when one considers that the Northern Kingdom (10 Tribes), did not exist as the Northern Kingdom for 390 years (their years with a king was much shorter), but instead, their national existence was brought to a complete end at about 722 BC at the hands of the Assyrian Empire. Even so, יהוהsays that the siege of Jerusalem (in Judah) was a "sign" to 10-Israel. Would the descendants of 10-Israel in exile hear about Babylon's war with and deportations of Judah? Of course they would have, but why would Jerusalem specifically be a "sign" of importance to them? Could it be that they knew the Temple in Jerusalem was a place to REPENT and RETURN to יהוה, but it had been removed, leaving them with nothing but a whisper of former things and the start of 7-fold punishment (Leviticus 26:14-46)?

If you count back 390 years from the prophecy of Ezekiel and the destruction of Solomon's Temple (977 BCE - 390 = 587 BCE), you come to the approximate time of Solomon's death and the division of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, where Jeroboam began to rule the north and led 10-Israel into horrible idolatry. The split was a key time where 10-Israel largely stopped going up to the Temple in Jerusalem, but instead began to regard Samaria and other pagan high places in their worship and festivals. Consider the following passages.

  • I Kings 14:16 And he shall give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin.
  • I Kings 15:30 Because of the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and which he made Israel sin, by his provocation wherewith he provoked יהוהElohim of Israel to anger.
  • II 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 יהוהElohim of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin.
  • II Kings 14:24 And he {Jeroboam, son of Jehoash} did that which was evil in the sight of יהוה: he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
  • II Kings 15:18 And he {Menahem} did that which was evil in the sight of יהוה: he departed not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.

The 40 Years of Judah's Crookedness

The 40 year attribution of Judah's sin is less obvious and hotly debated among scholars. The view of this author is largely linked to the reign of Manasseh, which lasted about 45 years (if you do not count the 10 year co-regency with his father Hezekiah). It is believed he repented while captive in Babylon but II Kings 23:26-27 indicates יהוהwas still determined to remove the Kingdom of Judah from the Land, even in spite of King Josiah's reforms after Manasseh.

II Kings 23:26-27
(26) However, יהוהdid not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His wrath burned against Yehudah, because of all the provocations with which Menashsheh had provoked Him.
(27) And יהוהsaid, “Even Yehudah I shall remove from My presence, as I have removed Yisra’el, and I shall reject this city Yerushalayim which I have chosen, and the House of which I said, ‘My Name is there.’ ”

Even though Judah was still punished, the people in general appear to have repented to some degree at this stage and that may be the reason why יהוהallowed them to return from Babylon... and possibly why the 7-fold punishment (Leviticus 26:14-46) was not enacted like it was with 10-Israel. Only

There is also an interesting alternative view where Judah's 40 Years of iniquity are attributed to the reign of King Solomon, where the wives of Solomon introduced idolatry to the people, but that is much less compelling due to mere fact that his reign included both 10-Israel and Judah. The concept does not make sense in comparison to what II Kings 23 and Ezekiel 4 implicate.

The 430 Years

It should be noted that Ezekiel chapter 4 never mentions 430 years. Ezekiel never suggests we should add 390 and 40 to arrive at a 430 year period with any ramification. Our primary connection with 430 years is II Chronicles 36:21-22, where Judah is told they will spend 70 years in Babylon so that the Land will receive its Sabbath Year rests that had accumulated unobserved. Since it takes 430 years to build up 70 rest years (7 Sabbath years + 1 Jubilee year = 8 per 49 year increment), we thus deduce there must be a connection with Ezekiel 4 somehow. And there may well be a connection, however we do not necessarily have to attribute Israel's 390 and Judah's 40 as back to back time periods. It may simply be coincidence that Judah never observed the Sabbath rest years during the 430 years from the start of Solomon's reign to the destruction of the Temple.

Several alternative views are detailed in the paper Ezekiel’s Time on His Side by Mark Haughwout.