the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
Dr. Constable's Expository Notes Constable's Expository Notes
by Thomas Constable
TITLE AND WRITER
The title of this book comes from its writer, Ezekiel, the son of Buzi (Eze_1:3). "Ezekiel" means "God strengthens (or hardens)" or "God will strengthen (harden)" or "May God strengthen (harden)." The name "Hezekiah" is similar, meaning "May Yahweh strengthen."
"It expresses the prayerful wish of his parents that God would care for the newborn child by endowing him with strength, so that he could face life’s vicissitudes with confidence." [Note: Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel 1-19, p. 23. See also J. D. Fowler, The Theophoric Divine Names in Hebrew, pp. 98, 100.]
The Lord strengthened Ezekiel in the face of cynicism and rejection by his fellow Jews. His name appears in only two verses (Eze_1:3; Eze_24:24). His hometown is unknown, and no other biblical writer referred to him.
Ezekiel was a Judean priest of Yahweh as well as His prophet, as were Jeremiah (Jer_1:1), Zechariah (Zec_1:1), and John the Baptist (Luk_1:5). Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Zechariah were the only writing prophets who were also priests, and they all ministered during or after the Babylonian exile. Like Jeremiah, there is no evidence that Ezekiel ever served as a priest in the Jerusalem temple. Ezekiel’s priestly background may account in part for the interest in priestly things that his book reflects: the actions of the priests in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem temple, the glory of the Lord, and the future temple yet to be built. It probably also explains Ezekiel’s familiarity with things connected with priestly ministry, such as cherubim. His wife died during the course of his ministry (Eze_24:2; Eze_24:15-18), but there is no mention in the book that they had children. There are no records of Ezekiel’s life outside this book, so we have no information about when, where, or how he died. [Note: For a sketch of Ezekiel the man, see Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, pp. 358-60.]
". . . he combined in a unique way the priest’s sense of the holiness of God, the prophet’s sense of the message that had been entrusted to him, and the pastor’s sense of responsibility for his people." [Note: John B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 29.]
Until the second quarter of the twentieth century almost all biblical scholars viewed the entire book as the product of Ezekiel. In 1930, C. C. Torrey advanced the view that a fictitious pseudo-author wrote the book around 230 B.C. [Note: C. C. Torrey, Pseudo-Ezekiel and the Original Prophecy, p. 99.] This view drew a few supporters, but by 1962 almost all scholars had abandoned it. [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Ezekiel, Book of," by H. L. Ellison. For arguments defending Ezekiel’s authorship, see R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 823-32; Gleason L. Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 368-76; Ralph H. Alexander, "Ezekiel," in Isaiah-Ezekiel, vol. 6 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 739-40; L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel, pp. 31-32; and Taylor, pp. 14-17.] Today most commentators view Ezekiel as the source of the prophecies in this book. [Note: See Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 358-62, for discussion of the history of criticism.]
The book records the date of the beginning of Ezekiel’s ministry as 593 B.C. (Eze_1:2-3). The last dated prophecy came to the prophet in 571 B.C. (Eze_29:17). He began ministering when he was 30 years old (Eze_1:1), and he gave his last prophecy when he was about 52. Ezekiel’s whole ministry transpired during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (605-562 B.C.).
"One of the most complete chronological systems in any book of the Old Testament is found in this prophecy, demonstrating that Ezekiel’s ministry covered at least the span of 593 to 571 B.C." [Note: Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel, p. 5.]
Since Ezekiel began ministering in 593 B.C., when he was 30 years old, he would have been born about 623 B.C and would have grown up in Judah during King Josiah’s reforms (622-609 B.C.). The date of Jeremiah’s birth was about 643 B.C., 20 years before Ezekiel’s. Jeremiah began ministering in Judah about 627 B.C., so Ezekiel would have been familiar with him and his preaching. [Note: See the historical background section in the Introduction to my notes on Jeremiah for further information about this period.] There are some indications in this book that he was, though Ezekiel never referred to Jeremiah.
"Both of them seemed to be taking a lone stand for the truth, one in Jerusalem and the other in Babylon: they both insisted that the future of Israel lay with the exiles and not with those left behind in Jerusalem; they both rejected the fatalism of those who quoted the proverb about the fathers eating sour grapes and the children’s teeth being set on edge; they both inveighed against the shepherds of Israel who failed to care for the flock; they both emphasized the principle of individual retribution and the need for individual repentance; they both looked forward to a lengthy exile, followed by a restoration under godly leadership; they both spoke in terms of a new covenant which would be inwardly and personally appropriated; and they both spoke against the false prophets who prophesied peace when there was no peace." [Note: Taylor, p. 35.]
Daniel went into captivity in 605 B.C. and was only a teenager then, so his birth year may have been close to 620 B.C. Ezekiel, then, may have been only a few years older than Daniel. Daniel’s ministry continued for about 70 years until about 536 B.C. (Dan_10:1), much longer, apparently, than Ezekiel’s.
Ezekiel went to Babylon as a captive during Nebuchadnezzar’s second deportation of Jerusalemites in 597 B.C. along with King Jehoiachin, his household, his officials, and many of the leading men of Judah (2Ki_24:12-17). Ten thousand captives went to Babylon then with much confiscated treasure from the temple and the royal palaces. Nebuchadnezzar also took most of the craftsmen and smiths to Babylon, and only the poorest of the people remained in the land. The Babylonian king set Zedekiah up as his puppet in Jerusalem, but Jehoiachin remained the recognized king of Judah in Babylon. [Note: See James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 308.]
Ezekiel ministered "in the midst" of the Jewish exiles who had settled at Tel-abib (or Tel Aviv) beside the Chebar (or Kebar) River (Eze_3:15). One of Ezekiel’s favorite words was betok, "among" or "in the midst." He used it 116 times, more than all the other Old Testament books combined. It reveals the prophet’s perspective of himself as someone living in the midst of a people with a ministry that would impact history for generations to come. The Chebar River was the "grand canal" (Aram. naru kabaru) that began at the Euphrates River north of Babylon, bypassed the city to the east, proceeded through the site of Nippur, and rejoined the Euphrates south of Babylon near Uruk (biblical Erech). This site is where most of the Jewish exiles in Babylonia lived. Jews lived in three principle locations during Ezekiel’s ministry: Egypt, Judah, and Babylon. Ezekiel evidently ministered among the Chebar community entirely; there is no evidence that he ever visited Jerusalem after the Babylonians took him captive.
Life among the Jewish exiles was not a physically difficult existence, certainly not like living in a concentration camp. The exiles enjoyed considerable freedom and even traveled within Babylonia (cf. Eze_33:21; Jeremiah 29). They were able to own their own homes, to pursue their own businesses and personal interests, and to organize their own communities. Babylon was infamous for its luxurious wealth and its excessive idolatry. Life became so comfortable in Babylon that after Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland in 538 B.C. most of them chose to remain where they were. [Note: For further discussion of Babylonian conditions during the exile, see Peter R. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration, pp. 31-38.]
AUDIENCE AND PURPOSE
Ezekiel ministered to the Jews in exile. He probably wrote this book for the benefit of the exiles and the other Jewish communities of his day and beyond his day. In some of his visions (e.g. chs. 8 and 11) the Lord carried the prophet to Jerusalem in his spirit, but his messages were not exclusively for the Jews in Jerusalem.
"Ezekiel ministered to all twelve tribes and his purpose was twofold: (1) to remind them of the sins which had brought judgment and exile upon them; (2) to encourage and strengthen their faith by prophecies of future restoration and glory." [Note: Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel: The Glory of the Lord, p. 13.]
The Jews were in exile because they had proved unfaithful to the Mosaic Covenant that their God had made with them. That covenant had warned the Israelites that if they proved unfaithful they could expect the divine discipline of their sovereign Lord who might even drive them from the land He had given them (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). The covenant also promised restoration to the land eventually. God would not cast His people off permanently no matter how far they departed from Him and His will.
". . . his aim is to convince the people of their utter unworthiness of any consideration from God, in order to shame them into true repentance." [Note: Taylor, p. 42.]
Ezekiel reminded the exiles of their covenant unfaithfulness and of the faithfulness, holiness, and glory of Yahweh, their God. The Lord would judge, cleanse, and ultimately bless His people so that they and all people might come to appreciate His uniqueness and greatness. The purpose of the Exile was to turn God’s people away from their sins and back to their Sovereign. The discipline they experienced was an evidence of God’s love. When it was over, a glorious future lay in store for them. A righteous ruler would eventually lead them back to a radically renovated land where they would enjoy peace, prosperity, and renewed worship.
"Ezekiel, as a watchman for Israel, warned her of the judgment that was imminent and stressed the need for individual responsibility as well as national accountability before God. Each Israelite was personally to turn to the Lord. Likewise, the whole nation must ultimately return to him." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 744.]
The first part of Ezekiel’s ministry consisted of predicting the fall of Jerusalem from Babylon (chs. 1-24). When it fell in 586 B.C., he then began predicting God’s judgment on the Gentile nations (chs. 25-32) and the restoration of Israel (chs. 33-48).
"The author’s purpose throughout the entire prophecy was to keep before the exiles the sins of the nation which were the grounds for her punishment, and to sustain and encourage the faithful remnant concerning future restoration and blessing (cf. Eze_14:21-23)." [Note: Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, p. 297.]
There are two major structural peculiarities that set Ezekiel off as distinctive.
First, the book is a collection of prophecies arranged in almost consistent chronological order. No other prophetical book is as consistently chronological as Ezekiel, except Habakkuk and Haggai, and Zechariah comes close. Jonah is also chronological, but it is more a book of history than a collection of prophecies. Furthermore, Ezekiel dated his oracles with unusual precision: usually by year, month, and day of the month. The post-exilic prophets Zechariah (Zec_1:7; Zec_7:1) and Haggai (Hag_1:1; Hag_1:15; Hag_2:1; Hag_2:10; Hag_2:20) also demonstrated this precision, perhaps following Ezekiel’s lead. He may have done this to stress the certainty of the predictions so that when they came to pass there would be no question as to their authenticity. A chart of the prophecies and their dates follows.
|Ezekiel’s Dated Prophecies|
|Groups of Dated Messages||Passages||Ezekiel’s Calendar|
|First||Eze_1:1 to Eze_3:15||4/5/5||July 31, 593|
|Second||Eze_3:16 to Eze_7:27||4/12/5||Aug. 7, 593|
|Third||Eze_8:1 to Eze_19:14||6/5/6||Sept. 17, 592|
|Fourth||Eze_20:1 to Eze_23:49||5/10/7||Aug. 14, 591|
|Fifth||Eze_24:1 to Eze_25:17||10/10/9||Jan. 15, 588|
|Sixth||Eze_26:1 to Eze_28:26||?/1/11||? 1, 587 or 586|
|Seventh||Eze_29:1-16||10/12/10||Jan. 5, 587|
|Eighth||Eze_29:17 to Eze_30:19||1/1/27||Apr. 26, 571|
|Ninth||Eze_30:20-26||1/7/11||Apr. 29, 587|
|Tenth||Eze_31:1-18||3/1/11||June 21, 587|
|Eleventh||Eze_32:1-16||12/1/12||Mar. 3, 585|
|Twelfth||Eze_32:17 to Eze_33:20||?/15/12||? (Mar.) 17, 585|
|Thirteenth||Eze_33:21 to Eze_39:29||10/5/12||Jan. 9, 585|
|Fourteenth||Eze_40:1 to Eze_48:35||1/10/25||Apr. 28 (or Oct. 22), 573|
In the table above, the prophecies are in the order in which they appear in the text. For the most part, this is also the chronological order in which Ezekiel delivered them. [Note: See also the table of chronological notes in Ezekiel in Longman and Dillard, p. 357.] However, you will note that the seventh and eighth groups of messages (beginning with Eze_29:1; Eze_29:17) are not in chronological order. These messages are grouped topically with other prophecies against Egypt in chapters 29-32. Ezekiel’s calendar, in the table, dates from the year of King Jehoiachin’s (and Ezekiel’s) exile (i.e., 598 B.C.; cf. Eze_1:2). Scholars vary somewhat in their understanding of the modern equivalents of these dates. [Note: The recognized authority on these dates is Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C. – A.D. 75.]
A second structural characteristic of the book is that it is logically organized as well as chronologically organized. First we read the call and preparation of the prophet (chs. 1-3). Then come prophecies announcing God’s judgment on Judah culminating in the fall of Jerusalem (chs. 4-24). Next we find prophecies against foreign nations that opposed Israel (chs. 25-32). A section of prophecies on the coming restoration of Israel concludes the book (chs. 33-48).
"Apart from these obvious major divisions, this book is one of the easiest in the entire canon to outline, thanks to the clear demarcation of individual oracles. The book consists of fifty literary units, forty-eight of which are introduced either by a date notice or the word-event (also called prophetic word) formula, ’The word of Yahweh came to me saying.’" [Note: Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24, p. 23.]
The exceptions are Eze_19:1-14 and Eze_37:1-14, but other literary signs identify them as distinct units. Ezekiel saw God’s glory departing from the temple in judgment (Eze_9:3; Eze_10:4; Eze_10:18-19; Eze_11:22-25), and then he saw it returning to the temple for blessing (Eze_43:1-5). These major events tie the book together. Ezekiel initially received a commission to deliver messages of judgment (chs. 2-3), but later he received another commission to deliver messages of deliverance (ch. 33). These two commissions identify the two major parts of the book that had particular relevance to Israel.
One stylistic characteristic is Ezekiel’s autobiographical perspective. Almost all of his oracles (except Eze_1:2-3; Eze_24:24) appear in the first person giving the impression that they are memoirs of a true prophet of Yahweh. However, Ezekiel did not share his personal struggles or reactions with the reader as often as Jeremiah did (except Eze_4:14; Eze_9:8; Eze_11:13; Eze_20:49; Eze_24:20; Eze_37:3).
"There are only two voices in Ezekiel’s book, the prophet’s and God’s. Those who consult and oppose Yahweh and Ezekiel never speak. The words of the latter are doubly framed; Ezekiel quotes Yahweh quoting them in refutation." [Note: Jerome Murphy O’Connor, "The Weight of God’s Name: Ezekiel in Context and Canon," The Bible Today 18 (1980):28.]
Two other features mark the oracles in Ezekiel. One is the "halving" of oracles in which the writer first propounded a theme and then pursued a different theme only to end with a coda that links elements from both parts. [Note: See M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20, pp. 25-26.] The second characteristic is the use of an earlier text or tradition, the interpretation of it in the light of current circumstances, and the application of it to new situations. [Note: See M. Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel.]
Another stylistic characteristic is the formulaic expressions Ezekiel used, some of which are unique to him and others shared with other prophets. Ezekiel usually referred to Yahweh as ’adonay yhwh, "the Lord Yahweh" (217 times). This title emphasized Yahweh’s authority as His people’s divine master. The name by which Yahweh addressed the prophet (93 times) is consistently ben ’adam, "son of man;" He never used Ezekiel’s personal name. This title, ben ’adam, appears only in Ezekiel and in Dan_8:17, which Eze_2:1 may have influenced. This title stresses the prophet’s humanity and the distance between God and the human. Ezekiel’s favorite title for the Israelites (in the former Northern Kingdom, in Jerusalem, or in exile) is bet yisra’el, "house (or family) of Israel" (83 times or 57 percent of its 146 uses in the Old Testament). This title expresses the solidarity of the Israelites.
Ezekiel almost always carefully distinguished whether he or Yahweh was speaking in contrast to some other prophets who sometimes leave the reader with a question about the speaker’s identity. Other formulae of expression common in this book are "the word of the Lord came to me saying," "thus has the Lord Yahweh said," and "the declaration of the Lord Yahweh." "Set your face toward" is also common and means to face the person or persons addressed so they get the full impact of what is said. "The hand of the Lord came upon me" reflects God’s control of His prophet as does "the Spirit of Yahweh fell upon me." "I am Yahweh" and "they will know that I am Yahweh" are also distinctive theological formulae.
"Much of Ezekiel’s language is repetitive. This sometimes makes for tiresome reading, but it helps to highlight his recurrent themes." [Note: Taylor, p. 40.]
Ezekiel contains a combination of several types of literature. These include proverbs, visions, parables, symbolic acts, fables, allegories, quotations, oaths, rhetorical questions, disputation oracles, legal sayings, dreams, dramas, funeral dirges, historical narratives, ritual and priestly regulations, and apocalyptic revelations.
"The concentration of so many bizarre features in one individual is without precedent: his muteness; lying bound and naked; digging holes in the walls of houses; emotional paralysis in the face of his wife’s death; ’spiritual’ travels; images of strange creatures, of eyes, and of creeping things; hearing voices and the sounds of water; withdrawal symptoms, fascination with feces and blood; wild literary imagination; pornographic imagery; unreal if not surreal understanding of Israel’s past; and the list goes on." [Note: Block, p. 10.]
". . . Ezekiel is the great mystic among the inspired writers. Because of the difficulty in interpreting his figurative and visionary prophecies, he is the most neglected of all the prophets." [Note: Feinberg, p. 13.]
"For most Bible readers Ezekiel is almost a closed book. Their knowledge of him extends little further than his mysterious vision of God’s chariot-throne [merkabah], with its wheels within wheels, and the vision of the valley of dry bones. Otherwise his book is as forbidding in its size as the prophet himself is in the complexity of his make-up." [Note: Taylor, p. 13.]
Ezekiel was a most dramatic and forceful communicator of the messages that God gave him. He used more symbolism and allegory than any other Old Testament prophet. [Note: Feinberg, p. 13.] Evidently God directed him to use such colorful methods to get the attention of his hearers, who were very discouraged and disinterested in what God had to say to them. Most of the book is prose, but some of it is poetry.
". . . not a colourful, descriptive prose, but a somber, prophetic prose with a cadence but no discernible metre." [Note: Taylor, p. 28.]
"Visions figure more prominently in Ezekiel than in any other Old Testament prophet except Daniel. They are recounted in detail in chaps. 1-3; 8-11; 37; 40-48. These he received in what must have appeared to be a semiconscious state and then reported to his audience once the vision was over (Eze_11:25)." [Note: Cooper, p. 29. See Douglas Stuart, Ezekiel, pp. 27-28.]
"Dream-visions were common in Mesopotamia in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. [Note: See A. Leo Oppenheim, The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East with a Translation of an Assyrian Dream-Book, pp. 186-225.] This literary form had two major parts: (1) the setting of the vision, declaring the time, recipient, place of reception, and general circumstances; and (2) the description of the vision just as it was seen by the recipient. Ezekiel used this common type of literature in his book and also developed (along with Daniel and Zechariah in the OT) apocalyptic literature in the dream-vision format. This may be defined as ’symbolic visionary prophetic literature, composed during oppressive conditions, consisting of visions whose events are recorded exactly as they were seen by the author and explained through a divine interpreter, and whose theological content is primarily eschatological.’ [Note: Ralph H. Alexander, "Hermeneutics of Old Testament Apocalyptic Literature" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1968), p. 45. See also Cooper, pp. 37-38; and D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic, pp. 89-90, 104-39.] Twice Ezekiel used this genre, which would be well known to the exiles, to encourage them during their time of oppression. Both apocalyptic visions contained messages of restoration and blessing." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 745.]
". . . the biblical books that could qualify as apocalyptic include Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation. Many other passages express apocalyptic eschatology, but these four books alone qualify in content and form as apocalyptic literature." [Note: Elliott E. Johnson, "Apoclayptic Genre in Literary Interpretation," in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, p. 200.]
There is much disagreement among the scholars, however, as to the extent of apocalyptic in Scripture.
"Several features characterize apocalyptic literature: (1) It focuses on the end of the ages. (2) Its method of revelation is dynamic (i.e. through an angelic interpreter; don’t tell anyone but keep the message among the wise that judgment is coming on the wicked). (3) It presents several dualisms [the wicked and the righteous, the present age and the age to come, heaven and the world, etc.]. . . . (4) It is addressed to the oppressed as a means of resolving Israel’s stark political realities with the promise of blessing in the Land. (5) It uses bizarre and/or cosmic images, not the terms of plain history. . . . (6) Its purpose is to bring repentance. In apocalyptic the temporal and spatial categories of blessing in the new age are expressed in more cosmic dimension." [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 550.]
"Whether one is preaching, teaching, writing, or counseling, getting a message across effectively involves communication in a way that will allow people to form mental images. Unless what we say is clear and vivid enough that people can somehow ’see’ what we’re saying, they are not as likely to remember it long enough for it to do any good." [Note: Stuart, pp. 27-28.]
Several theological concepts receive considerable attention in Ezekiel. Alexander identified five central ones: the nature of God, the purpose and nature of God’s judgment, individual responsibility, the ethical, religious, and moral history of Israel, and the nature of Israel’s restoration and future worship. [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," pp. 745-46.] Cooper mentioned six significant theological themes: the holiness and transcendence of God, the sinfulness of humanity, the inevitability of judgment, individual responsibility, hope of restoration, and God’s redemptive purpose. [Note: Cooper, pp. 40-44.] Stuart listed seven major themes: the reliability of God’s word, the glory of God, individual responsibility, Israel’s long history of sin, the power of national leadership for good or bad, God’s holiness and our responsibility for obedience, and God’s transcendence. [Note: Stuart, pp. 19-20.]
God’s glory is the theme that runs throughout this book, from the prophet’s call when that glory first impressed him, to the demonstration of that glory in the eschatological future. References to God’s glory keep popping up throughout the book (Eze_1:28; Eze_3:12; Eze_3:23; Eze_8:4; Eze_9:3; Eze_10:4; Eze_10:18-19; Eze_11:22-23; Eze_39:11; Eze_39:21; Eze_43:2-5; Eze_44:4). God’s glory is an aspect of His character, and His glorious character determines His conduct throughout history and this revelation. Without an appreciation of the glory of God’s character the Israelites could not make sense of His dealings with them. Fifteen times God said He acted to keep His name glorious (Eze_20:9; Eze_20:14; Eze_20:22; Eze_20:39; Eze_20:44; Eze_36:20-23; Eze_39:7; Eze_39:25; Eze_43:7-8). Over 60 times the Lord said He had acted so the people would know that He was Yahweh. [Note: Charles H. Dyer, "Ezekiel," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1226.]
". . . the phrase ’you will know that I am the Lord’ or ’they will know that I am the Lord’ or the like may well be the central theological theme of the book." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "A Theology of Ezekiel and Daniel," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 367.]
Ezekiel presented God as the God of Israel. By comparison, Isaiah pictured Him as the God of the entire world. Ezekiel had a great appreciation of the holiness (otherness) of God, as did Isaiah, but He did not use the title "Holy One of Israel" that is so common in Isaiah.
"The vision of the Lord riding upon His chariot-throne (1-3) typified this sense of otherness and majesty. It was unutterably splendid, mysteriously intricate, superhuman and supernatural, infinitely mobile but never earth-bound, all-seeing and all-knowing. This is how God revealed Himself to Ezekiel, not by propositions regarding His character but in personal encounter." [Note: Taylor, p. 41.]
"The vision Ezekiel had at the time of his call never left him but influenced his thought continually." [Note: Feinberg, p. 13.]
Ezekiel stressed God’s relationship to His covenants with Israel, which Ezekiel viewed positively. Yahweh, for Ezekiel, was a God who acts. The Spirit of God features more prominently in Ezekiel than in any other prophetic book. The prophet also emphasized the fact that God’s will for Israel was blessing more than punishment.
Ezekiel viewed Israel as the people of God. He paid little attention to Israel’s pre-Egyptian history. He divided Israel’s history into seven eras, each of which is characterized by Yahweh’s gracious acts on Israel’s behalf and Israel’s rejection of her covenant (ch. 20). God’s relationship with Israel was pure grace from beginning to end. Yahweh sovereignly chose and redeemed Israel. Israel therefore needed to respond to such grace with devotion and obedience to her Lord. The wellbeing of the Israelites reflected on God’s reputation in the world.
"Ezekiel, perhaps more than any other prophet, forcefully exposed idolatry as the root problem of the heart. For God’s people, faith had become largely externalized. But the ’unthinkable’ Exile forced the issue when God confronted and conscripted Ezekiel to deliver His message of both bitter judgment and sweet hope." [Note: John N. Day, "Ezekiel and the Heart of Idolatry," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:653 (January-March 2007):33.]
Ezekiel looked beyond the present condition of Israel to the time when she would experience restoration and prosperity in the Promised Land. God would bring His chosen people back in a new Exodus cleansed from their former sins and revitalized with a new heart and His Spirit under a new covenant. "David" would be God’s agent of salvation and a symbol of unity for the nation. Israel would then enjoy unprecedented prosperity and security in her own land. God would establish residence among the Israelites and reorganize their worship.
"Ezekiel provides much of the evidence for the pronounced Jewish tone of the millennium and the sequence of eschatological events recognized especially by dispensationalist premillenarians." [Note: Block, p. 56. See Cooper, pp. 45-52, for discussion of Ezekiel’s concepts of the millennium and the kingdom of God.]
There are few overt references to Messiah in Ezekiel. The major passages are Eze_34:23-24 and Eze_37:22-25. Minor references appear in Eze_17:22 and Eze_29:21.
"Fundamentally the theology of Ezekiel revolves around the bipolar themes of judgment and restoration. . . .
"Restoration will take two forms or will occur in two phases, however. It will come to pass in history under the beneficent policy of Cyrus the Persian, but that is only a type, a foretaste, of complete renewal and reconstitution that must await the eschaton." [Note: Merrill, pp. 386, 387.]
The Hebrew text of Ezekiel has suffered more than most Old Testament books in the process of transmission. This is due to the large number of technical expressions, including dates and measurements, that occur only once in the Hebrew Bible. Unknown and difficult words resulted in many copyist errors. Consequently there are many interpretive difficulties in Ezekiel.
I. Ezekiel’s calling and commission chs. 1-3
A. The vision of God’s glory ch. 1
B. The Lord’s charge to Ezekiel chs. 2-3
II. Oracles of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem for sin chs. 4-24
A. Ezekiel’s initial warnings chs. 4-7
1. Dramatizations of the siege of Jerusalem chs. 4-5
2. The judgment coming on Judah chs. 6-7
B. The vision of the departure of Yahweh’s glory chs. 8-11
1. The idolatry of the house of Israel ch. 8
2. The coming slaughter of the wicked Jerusalemites ch. 9
3. The departure of God’s glory from the temple ch. 10
4. The condemnation of Jerusalem’s leaders ch. 11
C. Yahweh’s reply to the invalid hopes of the Israelites chs. 12-19
3. The condemnation of contemporary false prophets ch. 13
6. The unprofitable vine of Jerusalem ch. 15
7. Jerusalem’s history as a prostitute ch. 16
8. The riddle and parable of the two eagles ch. 17
9. The importance of individual righteousness ch. 18
10. A lament for the kings of Israel ch. 19
D. Israel’s defective leadership chs. 20-23
3. The idolatrous rulers of Judah ch. 22
4. The parable of the two sisters ch. 23
E. The execution of Jerusalem’s judgment ch. 24
III. Oracles against foreign nations chs. 25-32
A. Oracles against Judah’s closest neighbors ch. 25
1. Judgment by Babylonia and other enemies ch. 26
2. A funeral dirge over Tyre ch. 27
E. Judgment on Egypt chs. 29-32
5. Egypt’s fall compared to Assyria’s fall ch. 31
IV. Future blessings for Israel chs. 33-48
2. False and true shepherds ch. 34
6. Future invasion of the Promised Land chs. 38-39
C. Ezekiel’s vision of the return of God’s glory chs. 40-48
5. Topographical aspects of the Millennium chs. 47-48
Close-up of Ancient Near Eastern Towns in Ezekiel’s Times
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