Discovering Ezekiel

Of the four major prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel – Ezekiel may seem like the most unfamiliar and elusive. In reality, however, it may be one of the most familiar, since a large amount of this book appears in the New Testament (NT) in one form or another. The book itself is the second longest in the prophets only to Jeremiah and third longest in the entire Bible. Who was Ezekiel, when did he write this book, and what was his message?

Background Information

Ezekiel was an Israelite priest, son to a priest named Buzi, who had been carried away with his people into captivity in Babylon, living in a refugee settlement by the Chebar River (Ezek 1:3), with scholars estimating his age at the time of his call to be a prophet at 30 yrs. old (Ezek 1:1). As such, his earliest memories would have been from the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC), who had initiated a revival upon rediscovering the scroll of Scripture (2 Kings 22:4). He would then live through the destruction of the Temple and captivity of his people by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (587-586 BC) (Ezek 29:17).

Ezekiel’s name means “God strengthens” or “God is strong.” He served as a prophet for approx. 20-30 years, doing so not from within Israel but from a refugee settlement in Babylon. Though Babylon had not completed its invasion of Israel and Jerusalem at the start of Ezekiel’s ministry, the empire had brought about ten thousand Jews to the Tel-Abib in 597 BC, including Ezekiel and the final king of Judah, Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:8-14). Ezekiel’s ministry began five years after his captivity (Ezek 1:2).

Though he was married, his wife (whom he seems to have loved affectionately) died four years into his prophetic ministry, nine years into his captivity (Ezek 24:15-18). The Chebar River was actually a canal in the southern region of Babylon, with the actual site of his settlement being called Tel Abib (Ezek 3:15). As a priest (or being from the priestly class), Ezekiel received general respect from other elders and leaders in the Jewish community (Ezek 8:1; 20:1). Though he lived at the same time as Jeremiah and Daniel, he only mentions the latter in his writing (Ezek 14:14, 20; 28:3).

Purpose for the Book

Ezekiel’s ministry divides neatly into two halves. The first half occurred prior to the final destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 BC. During this phase of his ministry, he prophesied of God’s coming judgment towards his rebellious people and other nations. Following this climactic event, Ezekiel’s message turned to one of hope for God’s repentant people.

The central theme of Ezekiel’s message is that though God must destroy the sinful nation of Israel, he would also restore them as his people forever. As part of his message of finding hope in a future restoration, Ezekiel provides key material about the future millennial kingdom and eternal New Creation, ruled by Christ the Messiah (Ezek 40-48).

By providing this message, Ezekiel reveals that God did not judge Israel merely to punish them. He did so so that he could bring them to such repentance that they would genuinely turn to God in humility and faith, once and for all, opening the way for a full and final occupation of the land he had promised them.

Outline and Content

OT scholar, James E. Smith, suggests the following structure of Ezekiel:

  • Oracles Concerning Israel Prior to the Fall of Jerusalem (Ch. 1-24)
  • Oracles Concerning Foreign Nations During the Siege of Jerusalem (Ch. 25-32)
  • Oracles Concerning Israel After the Fall of Jerusalem (Ch. 33-48)

In this arrangement, he points out how the first twenty-four chapters emphasize condemnation and catastrophe for Israel, while the final section emphasizes consolation and comfort for Israel instead.

Much of Ezekiel’s message seems to have drawn from his training and exposure to the priestly worship system in Jerusalem, with many allusions to concepts regarding the Temple, priesthood, sacrificial system, and the glory (shekinah) of God.

Also, more than any other prophetic book, Ezekiel features dramatic illustrations, symbols and visions in his message. Some of his dramatic illustrations include:

  • He “played army” on a large brick upon which he had drawn an outline of Jerusalem. (Ezek 4:1-3)
  • He laid on his left side for 390 days, then on his right side for 40 more days. (Ezek 4:1-8)
  • During this time, he ate cakes composed of a strange mixture of grains and human dung and cooked over human waste. (Ezek 4:9-17)
  • He cut off his hair – burning a third, copping a third, and scattering a third to the wind (Ezek 5:1-4).
  • For an undefined period of time, he packed up his belongings on his back in the morning as though he were moving, then at night he began digging through a wall (Ezek 12:1-7).
  • He trembled and shook as he ate food and drank water. (Ezek12:18).
  • He refused to mourn (God disallowed it) when his beloved wife died. (Ezek 24:16-18)

Other highlights of this book include the following:

  • Ezekiel’s vision of God’s heavenly throne, in which he sees God enthroned in the Temple among the heavenly angels, including fascinated “four faced” creatures with “wheels within wheels.” (Ezek 1:4-28)
  • The first "temple vision", in which he sees God leaving the Temple because of the sinful activity being practiced there. (Ezek 8:1-16)
  • Various graphic, vivid, symbolic depictions of Israel, in which God portrays them as a tree in a forest, a repulsive harlot, a vine among eagles, a cedar branch, a helpless lion cub, and a vine transplanted in the desert. (Ezek 14-19)
  • The “valley of dry bones,” in which he envisioned a valley filled with dry bones receiving restored bodies and new life from God, who would be ruled over by King David. (Ezek 37:1-14)
  • The destruction of Gog and Magog, in which he saw Israel's enemies being destroyed and a new age of peace being established by God. (Ezek 38-39)
  • The final “temple vision,” in which he foresees a final Temple for God’s people in a New Jerusalem, to which God's glory has returned. (Ezek 40-48)

There is so much more to this book than we have time to look at in this brief survey! This book is arguably the most dramatic and gripping book to read in all the Bible. The more familiar with this book that you become, the more you will realize how much of the NT refers to and relies upon it.

Personal Takeaways

From Chapters 1-39, the phrase “you/they shall know that I am Yahweh” appears 63 times. That’s a lot! Nearly twice per chapter. As you may recognize, this section spans the book all the way up to just before the passages on the Millennium and Eternal State.

All that God does in judgment, he does not merely to punish but to purify and restore, and to lay the necessary groundwork for a real and lasting relationship with his people.

Whatever God does or allows in your life, especially those things which are difficult to accept or endure, he does or allows so that you will know him as Yahweh – the sovereign, active, sustaining, saving, revealing, personal God of your life. Will you repent from your sinful ways and turn to him in faith today so that you may enjoy eternity with him in the New Creation?

And if you have placed your trust in God and turned to him completely, will you accept your role as a watchman for those who have not yet known him, as God called Ezekiel to be (Ezek 33:1-11)?

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