This week, I’m writing to uncover a little-known story of one of the earliest, dedicated wargamers—the prophet Ezekiel. Few Biblical passages have tickled my fancy more than Ezekiel 4, in which God calls Ezekiel to do elaborate mini/roleplay gaming:
Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it.
The gaming mat with an appropriate map drawn. Probably not in magic marker, but clay takes a good imprint.
Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it.
This sounds like an excellent and elaborate little setup. As it would have been sometime before 570 BCE, he couldn’t have just ordered from Warhammer. So, like a “good” minis gamer, he’d have made these himself, perhaps out of more clay and some wood.
Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the people of Israel.
Ok, I like this use of everyday objects. I’m…not sure why the iron pan when the city’s already besieged, but sure.
“Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel.
“After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.
This is when Ezekiel really gets into the roleplay. You think your local LARPers are dedicated? This guy’s spending over a year acting as either God, an enemy army, or just yelling against this elaborate setup that he’s built.
But wait, there’s more…very specific food, because every gamer needs, um, snacks?
“Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day [~8oz] and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water [~0.6 liter] and drink it at set times.Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” The Lord said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”
The first gamer diet, perhaps? Healthy, sustaining…not very much, though, but then he’s mostly just lying around. And then it gets weird.
Then I said, “Not so, Sovereign Lord! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No impure meat has ever entered my mouth.”
“Very well,” he said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.”
Is there a lesson we gamers can draw from this story? Well…if someone calls your gaming ungodly, give this passage a shot. Gaming is a lot older than most people realize–complete with minifigs and role-play. And don’t cook your food over human dung. I mean seriously. Ew.