Random Studies in Ezekiel, Part 1

Ask a lot of people about the book of Ezekiel and they will tell you he saw a UFO. Ask most preachers about Ezekiel and they’ll blankly stare at you. It’s just one of those odd books in the Old Testament that gets the short shrift from Bible readers and teachers. There are a ton of reasons for the neglect of Ezekiel. There is the usual reason most people shy away from the prophetic books: history. They know they need to know some history of the ancient Near East, and since most people don’t like history, they never get around to reading the prophets, beyond a chapter here or a verse there. Another reason is that these books are full of strange visions and dreams with statues or creatures with multiple faces. Who can understand crazy things like that? Then there’s Israel or Judah or both. So much of what the prophets wrote don’t have anything to do with us today. Or so we think.

For those and many other reasons, Ezekiel is shunned. But maybe the biggest reason we avoid Ezekiel is that there is verse after verse after verse dealing with God’s judgment, and it all gets so depressing and repetitive after a while, our eyes glaze over. Yet this big book of prophecy is important – important enough for the Holy Spirit to have it included in our Bible. That reason alone makes it imperative for us to at least have a general working knowledge of what the man wrote.

For all the supposed mystery surrounding the book of Ezekiel, the prophet himself gives us a lot of information. For example, we know precisely when he gave his prophecies. Many of them were given between 593 BC and 571 BC, meaning that Ezekiel worked as a prophet for a couple of decades, assuming the “13th year” mentioned in 1:1 refers to Ezekiel’s 13th year as a prophet. Consider these chapter and dates:

Ezekiel 1:2 – 593 BC
Ezekiel 8:1 – 592 BC
Ezekiel 20:1 – 591 BC
Ezekiel 24:1 – 588 BC
Ezekiel 26:1 – 586 BC
Ezekiel 29:1 – 587 BC
Ezekiel 29:17 – 571 BC
Ezekiel 30:20 – 587 BC
Ezekiel 31:1 – 587 BC
Ezekiel 32:1 – 585 BC
Ezekiel 32:17 – 585 BC
Ezekiel 33:21 – 585 BC
Ezekiel 40:1 – 573 BC

That’s more information than most other prophets give us!

And then there’s this: Ezekiel is actually organized! That’s a relief, because usually the prophetic books are notoriously unorganized. Here’s an easy-to-use outline:

Chapters 1 – 24 – Prophecies given before the Fall of Jerusalem
Chapters 25 – 32 – Oracles against foreign powers
Chapters 33 – 39 – There is hope and danger in the future
Chapters 40 – 48 – Vision of the new Temple and Land

And within each of those sections, the prophecies are arranged in order.

The man in history

…the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him. (Ezekiel 1:3 | NIV84)

That single verse tells us a mouthful about the prophet Ezekiel. First, he was a priest, not a prophet, the son of priest, and he was living by the Kebar River in Babylon. The natural question is, Why is Ezekiel there in Babylon? The answer is found in 2 Kings:

At that time the officers of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it, and Nebuchadnezzar himself came up to the city while his officers were besieging it. Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his attendants, his nobles and his officials all surrendered to him. (2 Kings 24:10 – 12 | NIV84)

It was during that particular siege (there were three altogether) that Ezekiel was deported to Babylon. It was during the first siege a few years earlier that Daniel was taken away.

The prophet/priest Ezekiel was a contemporary of both Jeremiah and Daniel, but of course by now Jeremiah was a very old man, nearing the end of his prophetic ministry. He never went into Babylon; he remained in what was left of Judah until he was taken to Egypt. During Ezekiel’s time of ministry to the Jews in Babylon, Jeremiah was ministering to the Jewish remnant now living in Egypt. As for Daniel, he was taken as a boy into the court of Babylon and in time he became a prime minister. God certainly has his people in the unlikeliest places!

So Ezekiel eventually settled among the Jewish exiles that had been relocated by the great canal that came off the Euphrates River, several miles from Babylon proper. It was here that Ezekiel ministered.

It’s very interesting to compare the opening verses of a Psalm that was written during this time to the first verse of Ezekiel:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” (Psalm 137:1 – 3 | NIV84)

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. (Ezekiel 1:1 | NIV)

That’s yet another startling contrast in the Bible, which is a book full of contrasts. The exiles were a depressed and discouraged lot, so much so they hung up their musical instruments, choosing to not worship God, hopeing to avoid the mockery and jeering of the locals. But at the same time, we have Ezekiel, having incredible visions from God. Very often the truly faithful believer will stand alone, separate, at least in experience, from his fellows.

These three prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel each had a ministry to distinct groups of people, but as far as we know, they never met each other. We do know that Daniel was acquainted with the prophecies of Jeremiah, and it is likely that Ezekiel had a passing familiarity with him, but their paths never crossed. Each man was faithfully serving God where God had put him: Jeremiah in a nation in decline, living among a remnant in a pagan land; Daniel in the courts of a pagan nation, never visiting his people in exile yet caring greatly for them; and Ezekiel among exiles in Babylon.

Major themes

Ezekiel wrote a huge book, full of obvious themes and, we might call them, topics. Here is a handful:

• God’s word is absolutely dependable and reliable.

The proud Jew found it impossible to conceive that their nation; that Jerusalem would ever fall to foreign conquest. In the first 24 chapters, Ezekiel preached over and over and over that it would be destroyed.

Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. Therefore in your midst fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds. (Ezekiel 4:8 – 10 | NIV84)

And so the prophet drones on for 24 chapters; incessantly and persistently trying to convince a stiff-necked and rebellious people that the end is near. He had it tough, as most prophets did.

The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. (Ezekiel 2:4 – 7 | NIV84)

But Jerusalem did fall, Ezekiel was vindicated, as was the veracity of the Word of God.

That wasn’t the end of the matter, though. Once in exile, the people were barraged by all manner of false prophets proclaiming that their exile would be brief and that they would be going home any day now. Poor Ezekiel had to break the news to them that generations would pass before they would go home. He was right again, and 70 years later the exiles finally returned to Jerusalem.

To discouraged exiles who saw the prosperity of every nation except their ruined one, this great prophet promised that some day, the Lord would balance the books and godless, heathen, violent nations would get their comeuppance and God’s people would be restored. Once again, much of what Ezekiel prophesied came to pass in his lifetime as many nations fell throughout the 6th century BC.

• The glory of God revealed

Like no other prophet, Ezekiel wrote in sweeping terms about the magnificent glory of God.

Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. The glory of the LORD entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. (Ezekiel 43:1 – 5 | NIV84)

• The responsibility of the individual

There are two exceptional chapters – 18 and 33 – that contain the most thorough teachings on personal responsibility anywhere in the Bible. Anybody who entertains the philosophies of fatalism or determinism needs to study these two chapters.

• Israel’s long history of sin

Throughout the book of Ezekiel is the reality of the fact of the Lord’s judgment upon His people was due to the continued sin and disobedience to the law of God by those people. The loss of the Promised Land, some population, exile and loss of freedom smacked the people upside the head.

What happened to Judah was not random or arbitrary or something God decided to do on a whim. It was brought about by the historic behavior of His people who knew better, yet chose to go their own way repeatedly.

• The influence of national leadership for good or bad

Israel’s past kings, and even the kings of other nations (Tyre and Egypt especially) played a role in Ezekiel’s prophecies and in the fall of Jerusalem. We see the population rising or sinking to the moral and spiritual state of their leaders. This is a fact of the history of all nations, but especially that of Israel and Judah.

From a practical standpoint, greedy, ignorant, impetuous, immature, and amoral leaders made decisions and entered into political agreements with godless nations that ended disastrously. And their lack of spiritual discernment resulted in a rise of idolatry and a decline of Jehovah worship.

Ezekiel offered rebuke and hope that a future king would actually do right by his people.

• God is holy and His people should also be holy

The people were well-aware of their God’s absolute, total holiness. But that knowledge didn’t compel them to live holy lives themselves. Ezekiel’s people failed to make the connection between God’s holiness and their own. Ezekiel made it plain that God cannot ever tolerate disobedience and rebellion because it not only impugns His good Name and character, but it also defiles institutions and godly people.

• God’s transcendence

Ezekiel’s book begins and ends with incredible visons of an awesome God and the unlimited power He yields. God is not limited to Israel; He is bigger than any nation or region or anybody’s interests. God is a universal God who will judge all nations, and restore His people in every way. He will give His people a place to live in forever, and they will enjoy His provision and presence for eternity and they will finally and forever worship Him in spirit and truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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