“cow’s dung for man’s dung.” This record in Ezekiel 4:1-17 is one of the places where God has a prophet not only speak a prophecy, but act it out. God had originally told Ezekiel to bake his food over human dung (Ezek. 4:12), but Ezekiel protested, so out of respect for him, God changed what He required (even though then it would sometimes not accurately represent what the people in Jerusalem would have to endure).
The Babylonians were about to attack Jerusalem and lay siege to it, and things were about to get so bad inside the city that people would cook what little food they had using dried human poop for fuel. People would only do that in the most dire of circumstances. God had mercy on Ezekiel and honored his request not to cook on human dung, and instead allowed Ezekiel to use dried cow manure (often referred to as “cow pies” in American slang) for fuel. Cooking over dried animal dung was quite common in the biblical world. Wood was often unavailable or at a premium, and dried cow and camel dung burned slowly and hot enough to cook over, although it smelled terrible (at least to most modern noses).
Cooking over dried animal dung was one of the multitude of biblical customs that did not change in the East over the centuries. In 1889, Gottlieb Shumacher wrote about his experiences in Jordan: “…owing to the great need of fuel during the rainy season…the nomad Bedawin and the villagers tear up every young tree before it has time to grow. …The villagers and Bedawin for their fuel as a rule make use of dried dung. (Across the Jordan, Alexander Watt, Paternoster Square, 1889, p. 5).
When God gave a prophetic word to a prophet, that word was often called a “burden,” and when we see what God required of His servants, we can see that the prophecies God gave could truly be burdensome. [For more on a prophecy being a burden, see commentary on Mal. 1:1].