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We are told in Yechezkel 4:12-15 that God offers alternatives when His orders put His servant in jeopardy of becoming unclean. - To honor Yechezkel‘s devotion to Torah, God grants Yechezkel different orders. This demonstrates that if a prophet or disciple knows God’s new commandments are jeopardizing Torah, the disciple does not have to eat something unclean (Ex: Bread baked with Ha-Adam poop, Blood from a cup, etc.).

Ezekiel 4:12 And as barley cakes you shall eat it, and they shall bake it with Human excrement before their eyes. ( וְעֻגַ֥ת שְׂעֹרִ֖ים תֹּֽאכֲלֶ֑נָּה וְהִ֗יא בְּגֶֽלְלֵי֙ צֵאַ֣ת הָֽאָדָ֔ם תְּעֻגֶּ֖נָּה לְעֵֽינֵיהֶֽם )

Ezekiel 4:14 And I said, "Adonai YHVH, behold my-Soul has not been defiled, neither have I eaten from an animal that died by itself and was torn, from my youth until this day, and no loathsome meat has ever entered my mouth. ( וָֽאֹמַ֗ר אֲהָהּ֙ אֲדֹנָ֣י יֱהֹוִ֔ה הִנֵּ֥ה נַפְשִׁ֖י לֹ֣א מְטֻמָּאָ֑ה וּנְבֵלָ֨ה וּטְרֵפָ֚ה לֹֽא־אָכַ֙לְתִּי֙ מִנְּעוּרַ֣י וְעַד־עַ֔תָּה וְלֹֽא־בָ֥א בְפִ֖י בְּשַׂ֥ר פִּגּֽוּל )

Ezekiel 4:15 And-He said to-me, “See! I have given you [cattle dung] instead of human excrement, and you shall prepare your bread upon it.” ( וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלַ֔י רְאֵ֗ה נָתַ֤תִּֽי לְךָ֙ אֶת־צפועי [צְפִיעֵ֣י] הַבָּקָ֔ר תַּ֖חַת גֶּלְלֵ֣י הָֽאָדָ֑ם וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ אֶֽת־לַחְמְךָ֖ עֲלֵיהֶֽם )

In Ezekiel 4:12-15, why does the prophet Yechezkel get to request alternatives from God?

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  • (+1) This is an insightful question. I like that it's short and to the point, but there's an undeclared assumption here that requesting alternatives is unusual. Without adding too much, it may be beneficial to maybe provide a handful of verses/examples demonstrating why you would think requesting alternatives is unusual. – Steve Taylor Oct 30 '20 at 11:12
  • Extremely good question!! – Dottard Oct 30 '20 at 21:18
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It is also important to note that the prophets are allowed to respond to G-d's requests such as when ירמיהו responds "הִנֵּ֥ה לֹא־יָדַ֖עְתִּי דַּבֵּ֑ר כִּי־נַ֖עַר אָנֹֽכִי׃" "Ah, my Master G-d, I do not know how to speak for I am just a small boy." (Jeremiah 1:6). Sometimes G-d listens to the prophets request, and sometimes He ignores. יחזקאל does a similar thing when he says "אֲהָהּ֙ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֔ה כָּלָה֙ אַתָּ֣ה עֹשֶׂ֔ה אֵ֖ת שְׁאֵרִ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃" "Ah, my Master G-d, You are killing the remnant of Israel." (Ezekiel 11:13). משה does the same thing when he says "מִ֣י אָנֹ֔כִי כִּ֥י אֵלֵ֖ךְ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְכִ֥י אוֹצִ֛יא אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃" "Who am I that I can go to Pharaoh and bring Israel out of Egypt." (Exodus 3:11).

The big question here is not why יחזקאל gets to request alternatives, but why G-d accepts his request for an alternative. First, one may ask what is the purpose of this commandment. יחזקאל is specifically told to do this to demonstrate to the nation what they will have to do. So G-d initially tells יחזקאל to use human excrement because that is what the nation will have to use. It is important to note that יחזקאל is a כהן which gives him the extra commandment to remain ritually pure. Most Israelites are commanded to eat kosher food, but not necessarily to remain fully ritually pure. Thus יחזקאל would have more of an issue with eating the excrement than other Israelites. An example of יחזקאל specifically avoiding becoming ritually impure is in the dry-bones vision which uses the words סביב סביב. It reads "וְהֶעֱבִירַ֥נִי עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם סָבִ֣יב ׀ סָבִ֑יב וְהִנֵּ֨ה רַבּ֤וֹת מְאֹד֙ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י הַבִּקְעָ֔ה וְהִנֵּ֖ה יְבֵשׁ֥וֹת מְאֹֽד׃" "And he led me around them [the bones]. There were many inside the valley and they were very dry." (Ezekiel 37:2). Here the prophet avoids going inside the valley to avoid becoming ritually impure. Thus, his concern is most likely that he will become ritually impure by eating human excrement. He shows that he is zealous towards obeying the law here by trying to avoid things that could be considered ritually impure, so G-d lets him avoid eating the human excrement because it is out of concern of His commandments.

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God's initial instruction was repugnant to Ezekiel. I suspect it was given to show how desperate the predicted siege would become that, despite the explicit declarations of the Torah (Lev 5:3, 7:21), people would be forced to resort to such extremes.

Note the comments of Ellicott -

(12) As barley cakes.—These were commonly cooked in the hot ashes, hence the especial defilement caused by the fuel required to be used. Against this the prophet pleads, not merely as revolting in itself, but as ceremonially polluting (Ezekiel 4:14; see Leviticus 5:3; Leviticus 7:21), and a mitigation of the requirement is granted to him (Ezekiel 4:15).

I also suspect that God asked Ezekiel to do this as a demonstration of his loyalty and piety, thus revealing him to be holy prophet, not just a demented "crack-pot" uttering nonsense. That is, the LORD used Ezekiel's piety to add credibility to the message of doom for Jerusalem.

In commenting on V14, the Pulpit commentary observes:

His plea, which reminds us at once of Daniel 1:8 and Acts 10:14, is that he has kept himself free from all ceremonial pollution connected with food. And is he, a priest too, to do this? That be far from him! Anything but that! The kinds of defilement of which he speaks are noted in Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 7:24; Leviticus 11:39, 40; Leviticus 17:15. The "abominable things" may refer either to the unclean meats catalogued in Deuteronomy 14:3-21 (as e.g. in Isaiah 65:4), or as in the controversy of the apostolic age (Acts 15; 1 Corinthians 8:1; Revelation 2:20), to eating any flesh that had been offered in sacrifice to idols. The prophet's passionate appeal is characteristic of the extent to which his character had been influenced by the newly discovered Law of the Lord (2 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 34.), i.e. probably by the Book of Deuteronomy.

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