Holy Writer and Time
Ezekiel tells us who he is and where he was living in the opening verses of the book, “Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of the LORD came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was upon him there” (Ezekiel 1:1-3).
Ezekiel was one of the many prominent Jews who were taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after the rebellion of Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin in 597 BC (1:1ff; 33:21; 40:1; 2 Kings 24:10-16; 2 Chronicles 36:9f). This date is the reference point which is continually referred to throughout the book of Ezekiel: “And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, that one who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, ‘The city has been captured!’” (Ezekiel 33:21).
Ezekiel was married (24:18) and lived in his own house near the river Chebar, in Tel-abib (3:15; 8:1). Though his message largely fell on disbelieving ears (3:7; 33:32), Ezekiel must have been a respected man, for we are told that the elders of the Jews often gathered at his home (8:1; 14:1; 20:1).
In the fifth year of his captivity he was called directly by God in a magnificent vision of four beasts and four wheels (1:4-21). Ezekiel prophesied at the same time as Daniel, who was taken to Babylon in 605 BC, and Jeremiah, who remained in Jerusalem during the captivity and witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, eleven years into the captivity of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was thirty years old when he was called to be a prophet, which means that he was taken into captivity at age twenty-five, and was active as a prophet for at least twenty two years.
Generally speaking, the message of Ezekiel is one of judgment and destruction and can be divided into two periods surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Before the destruction of Jerusalem his message was one of judgment against the Jewish nation, as he pointed out that the city of Jerusalem and the temple would not be preserved. He encouraged the people to recognize their sin and turn to the LORD in repentance. Ezekiel proclaimed: “‘Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,’ says the Lord GOD. ‘Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord GOD. ‘Therefore turn and live!’” (Ezekiel 18:30-32).
Because Ezekiel was proclaiming that the city of Jerusalem would soon be destroyed, you can imagine that his message was not a popular one among the Jewish exiles. His hearers were stubborn, unbelieving and even idolatrous, in spite of being so richly blessed in their country of exile. He faced trouble with false prophets (chapter 13), and was called upon to convince the Jews in captivity, not only that Judah would be judged and Jerusalem destroyed, but also of the necessity of this judgment. In order to illustrate Israel’s loss at this destruction the LORD took Ezekiel’s wife. When she died God demanded that the prophet suppress his sorrow while showing the people that this loss was to be for them a picture of the loss of Jerusalem (24:15-27).
In order to prove that Judah’s judgment came by the power of God, Ezekiel also prophesied against seven heathen nations, foretelling the destruction of Ammon (25:1-7), Moab (25:8-11), Edom (25:12ff), Philistia (25:15ff), Tyre (26:1-28:19), Sidon (28:20-26), and Egypt (29:1-32:32). Though Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people of Judah taken captive, her enemies would have little time to gloat. Present judgment for Judah would be followed by future glory so that, “You shall know that I AM the LORD” (Ezekiel 6:7).
Following the destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel’s message changes. After 586 Ezekiel’s purpose was to comfort and encourage the true believers who were grieved over the loss of the temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel comforted them with the message that they would return from exile, and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. But the return of the captives and the rebuilding of the land was not an end in itself, but was part of a greater purpose. The new temple which they would soon build would also be destroyed, but Ezekiel looks ahead to a more glorious temple which would be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone chapters 40-48). Ezekiel looks ahead to the greater deliverance which would be won for them and all mankind by the Messiah: “I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken” (Ezekiel 34:22-24).
Christ in Ezekiel
Ezekiel depicts the Messiah as a tender twig that becomes a stately cedar on a lofty mountain: “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell’” (Ezekiel 17:22-23). Similarly He is called “the Branch” in Isaiah (11:1), Jeremiah (23:5; 33:15), and Zechariah (3:8; 6:12). The Messiah is the King who has the right to rule (37:24-28), and He is the true Shepherd who will deliver and feed His flock (34:11-31).
The authenticity of this book is undisputed, even by liberal critics. Ezekiel refers to himself throughout the book, speaking mostly in the first person, and the style remains the same. The New Testament further establishes the authenticity of Ezekiel in the following passages: John 10:11-15; 1 Peter 2:25 (Ezekiel 34:23); Romans 2:24 (Ezekiel 36:20ff); Revelation 21:3,10,12, 15,16 (Ezekiel 37:27; 40:2ff; 43:16; 48:31-35); Revelation 22:1f (Ezekiel 47:1,12).
I. The Commission of Ezekiel (1:1-3:27)
A. Ezekiel sees the Glory of God (1:1-28)
B. Ezekiel is Commissioned to the Word of God (2:1-3:27)
II. Judgment on Judah (4:1-24:27)
A. Four Signs of Coming Judgment (4:1-5:17)
B. Two Messages of Coming Judgment (6:1-7:27)
C. Four Part Vision of Coming Judgment (8:1-11:25)
D. Signs, Parables, and Messages of Judgment (12:1-24:27)
III. Judgment on Gentiles (25:1-32:32)
A. Ammon (25:1-7)
B. Moab (25:8-11)
C. Edom (25:12ff)
D. Philistia (25:15ff)
E. Tyre (26:1-28:19)
F. Sidon (28:20-26)
G. Egypt (29:1-32:32)
IV. Restoration of God’s People (33:1-48:35)
A. The Return of Israel to the Land (33:1-39:29)
1. Ezekiel as watchman (33:1-33)
2. The LORD as shepherd (34:1-31)
3. Restoration of Israel (36:1-37:28)
B. The Restoration of Israel in the Kingdom (40:1-48:35)
1. The New Temple (40:1-43:27)
2. The New Worship (44:1-46:24)
3. The New Land (47:1-48:35)
Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.