Why did prophets sometimes use symbolic actions in their prophecies?
Prophets sometimes used symbolic actions in their prophecies to illustrate the Lord’s message to the people in a visual and clear way, without any ambiguity. One of the prophets who used many symbolic actions in the Old Testament is Ezekiel. Let me give some quick examples. For example, in Ezekiel 5:1-4, the Lord commanded Ezekiel to shave his head and beard, to weigh the hair, and to burn part of it in the fire as a sign of the coming destruction and devastation of Jerusalem. In Ezekiel 12:1-7, the Lord commanded Ezekiel to prepare baggage, and to go out in the sight of the people, to walk in front of them while carrying his baggage. This was a sign to tell them to be prepared for the coming exile, to say that, “All of us are going into exile.” In the same chapter, in verse 6, the Lord said to the prophet, “I have made you a sign for the people.” So, through this behavior, he is a clear picture, a sign, and a visual illustration of what the Lord wants to say to the people. Another example is in 24:15-27. Here, the Lord told Ezekiel that he would take away from him the delight of his eyes, his wife. He commanded him not to mourn or weep over his wife! The people were astonished and asked him in verse 19,
Will you not tell us what these things mean for us? (Ezekiel 24:19).
It says twice in the same chapter, in verse 24,
Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign (Ezekiel 24:24).
And verse 27,
You will be a sign to them (Ezekiel 24:27).
So, the symbolic actions that took place in the lives of the prophets were one of the means the Lord used to send his message in the clearest possible way to the people, hoping that the people might repent and return to the Lord.