In Ezekiel chapter 4 the prophet was instructed to lie on his left side for 390 days, a day for each year of the sin of Israel, and then to lie on his right side for 40 days for the sin of Judah.

What historical period is being referred to here? When did the 390 years begin and end? Also for the 40 year period, when did it begin and end?

  • 390 + 40 = 430; similar numbers repeat throughout scripture.
    – user46876
    Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 12:02
  • @Lucian - sorry Lucian, I don't see the connection between 430 years and the numbers you are referring to. Please can you make it clear for me? Thanks. Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 12:55
  • I just observe that the two periods of lying on the side cannot be consecutive, because they have to fit between the fourth month of the fifth year of the king's exile (ch1 v2) and the sixth month of the sixth year (ch8 v1). They have to be simultaneous for forty days, which just allows for the week of "sitting overwhelmed" (ch3 v9). Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 9:26
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    @StephenDisraeli - This is a really good line of attack.. well done.. but your conclusion, I think, is wrong. Ez 1v2 fell on 13th July 594 bc, and Ez 8v1 fell on 28th Sept 593, 593 was a leap year in the Julian Calendar so there were 443 days between two dates, enough to squeeze in the 430 days. 593 had an extra lunar month (an intercalary month) starting 31st March. This explains why Ez 4v6 says "And when you have accomplished them (390 days) lie ...40 days". All this data is according to Richard Parker & Dubberstein's Babylonian Chronology 626bc to ad75. But thanks for what you did. Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 12:42

3 Answers 3


The two periods are a bit of a mystery because the passage does not tell us when either the 390 years or the 40 years began, and we are not told anywhere else in Scripture either. Ezekiel was instructed to start giving this dramatic lesson to the exiles in the fifth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity. Jehoiachin, and Ezekiel, went into captivity in 598 bc, so the fifth year was 594 bc.

The beginning and end of the 390 years for the northern kingdom of Israel

The 390 years possibly began with the rebellion of the northern tribes under Jeroboam in the reign of Rehoboam. This would be a fitting start for the time of sin by the northern tribes (which after the split from the royal house of Judah were called Israel).

Solomon reigned from 971 to 931 bc. Jeroboam did not lead the northern tribes to rebel from the royal dynasty of David until the third year of the reign of Rehoboam (2 Chron 11:17) in 928 bc.

390 years after 928 bc was 538 bc. Babylon fell to the Persian king Cyrus in the early hours of 13th October 539 bc. And Cyrus made a decree that the people could go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple in his first year. Though Cyrus had ruled Persia since 559 bc the first year of his rule in Scripture is dated from his conquest of Babylon in 539. The Persians used accession year dating, so Cyrus’s first year would then be dated to 538 bc. 928 to 538 bc would be the 390 years relating to Israel.

If this is the correct interpretation then the years would include not only Israel’s years of apostasy against God but also the years of captivity in Babylon which were God’s response, his judgement, to their apostasy. So the 390 years are essentially all the years of separation between God and the northern tribes of Israel as a consequence of their sin.

The 40 years for the southern kingdom of Judah

If finding a suitable 390 year period was difficult for the northern tribes, then finding a suitable 40 year period for Judah is even more difficult. It also implies that the kingdom of Judah is nearly ten times less guilty than the northern tribes, which might not be the intention of the lesson.

Such is the difficulty of finding a suitable 40 year period that it is mostly considered as a period symbolizing God’s judgement prior to restoration. So the first period of forty in scripture was at the Flood: it rained forty days and forty nights (Gen 7:12) in judgment for the sin of the human race, but afterwards there was restoration. And the Israelites were forty years in the wilderness because of their sinful unbelief and rebellion (Numbers 14:33-34), but afterwards they were restored to God’s favour and entered into the Promised Land.

Secondly the 390 years plus 40 years makes a period of 430 years. This was the time the Israelites “suffered” in the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:40), but afterwards they were delivered and restored to favour in the Promised Land.

This interpretation I have taken from Frank W. Hardy at historicism.org which I have so far found the most likely. Frank Hardy is/was, like the eminent Bible chronologist Edwin Thiele, a Seventh Day Adventist. There are a few interpretations on the internet which I consider are plainly wrong because they have the wrong years for major Old Testament events. Frank Hardy uses dates which I believe are both accurate and finally settled.


Ezekiel’s drama lesson is emphasising:

  1. The exile is because of so many years of sin, if you had not sinned there would be no exile;

  2. By the time of the start of the Babylonian supremacy, starting 609 bc, the northern tribes had effectively ceased to exist. Many of the Israelites had gone into captivity in the days of the Assyrian Empire in 722 bc and been taken to live in other parts of the Assyrian Empire: and they had been replaced by peoples from other regions (2 Kings 17). But what the drama of Ezekiel is saying is that if there are any descendants of the northern tribes which can prove their descent then they are still the covenant people of God. They still have a claim to the special covenant relationship.

  3. God is saying to his people: These years of exile are preparatory to a wonderful restoration of the covenant relationship with God. It must not be assumed that all is lost, that God has given up on his covenant people.

Assuming the above interpretation is correct then in addition to these lessons we have, by Ezekiel’s drama, evidence that the beginning of the reign of Darius the Mede over Babylon is precisely the same year as the beginning of the reign of Cyrus as King of the whole Empire. The reign of Cyrus did not follow on from a short reign of Darius the Mede: it seems Darius the Mede was appointed as king of the province of Babylon by Cyrus the Great. This is what is suggested by Daniel 9:1 where we read that Darius the Mede “was made king”. The province of Babylon was too significant a region to be ruled by someone merely called a “governor”… the title “king” was the more appropriate title.

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    In any of your study did you come across the suggestion that the prophetic silence of the intertestimental period (which is usually only estimated at ~400 yrs) might be significant? I've seen no finely tuned numbers but there certainly could be 430 years from Malachi to John the Baptist. Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 12:09
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    @MikeBorden Hi, Good thought. I believe Malachi is not the last writing in the OT, it is Nehemiah. Malachi contains no date of when it was written, but it warns against the same sins as found in Nehemiah and Ezra and so is supposed to date about the same time as the events found in those books (Ezra ch 7 - 458 bc, Neh ch 1 - 445 bc, Neh 13v6 - 433 bc). Nehemiah was finally finished about 408 bc (+-2 years) before the death of Darius II (404 bc and after the beginning of the High Priesthood of Jaddua (Neh 12v22). John the Baptist began 28 AD (Luke 3:1)... 408+28-1 (no yr zero) = 435 years. Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 12:45
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    @MikeBorden I believe this timespan from end of OT to start of John's ministry isr what is being referred to in Daniel 9:25 as 62 weeks (i.e. 434 years). Every blessing. Jonathan was still High Priest about 412 bc according to the Elephantine papyri letter B19. The main problem with the years of prophetic silence would be to find a rationale as to why Ezekiel prophecies it. Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 12:47

could it not be that it was an additional confirmation of the time when the messiah would come on the scene? for John's ministry started and then Jesus was baptized around 27/28 AD. it's been my observation that in much of dating history, there are some differences because of when the writers start their dates of kingdoms, just as some of the kings of nations or territories are know by different names, just like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Aziriah are also known as Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.

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It seems logical that Ezekiel is writing of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah as split after the reign of king Solomon. By adding the length of reigns of the Judah kings in I & II Kings, I get 393.5 years. That is very close to the 390 years of “iniquity of the house of Israel” in Ezekiel 4:4-6. It is recorded in scripture that after the split into Israel and Judah, all of the kings of Israel caused Israel to sin and although the nation of Israel ceased to exist as most scholars write in 722 BC when defeated by the Assyrians the “house of Israel” or tribes continued as shown in the reign of Josiah in about 623 BC when some from all the tribes of Judah and Israel celebrated the Passover (2 Chronicles 35:18-19).
So where does the 40 years of “iniquity of the house of Judah” in Ezekiel Chapter 4 come from? There were wicked kings before and after King Manasseh, but he was the most wicked and because of Manasseh it was determined that Jerusalem and Judah would be destroyed (2 Kings 21:11-16). But Manasseh reigned 55 years, why is 40 years used. Manasseh was captured by the army of Assyria and treated terribly, he humbled himself and repented, was forgive and for the rest of his reign he served God. Apparently, it was not too late for individuals to be forgiven but it was too late for the nation to receive forgiveness and obtain earthly blessings (II Kings 23:23-27).
Therefore, I believe the reigns of the kings of Judah listed in I & II Kings are accurate with 390 years being a little more accurate than the summing of the reigns. By counting back from 586 BC when many scholars write that the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, I get the beginning of the reign of each king of Judah.

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