This Book of Ezekiel is the third of the Major Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, after Isaiah and Jeremiah. This Book of Ezekiel is probably the most descriptive and colorful of the biblical books, since his visions have such great details with specific dates. Ezekiel’s name means ‘that God will strengthen him.’
This Ezekiel was a Hebrew prophet of the 6th century BCE who supposedly wrote the Book of Ezekiel, often using the first-person singular. He spoke about prophecies regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and the restoration of the land of Israel.
The author of the Book of Ezekiel presented Ezekiel as the priestly son of Buzzi, living in Anathoth, near Jerusalem, during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BCE), born around 622 BCE. In 597 BCE, following a rebellion against Babylon, Ezekiel was among the first large group of Judeans taken into captivity by the Babylonians. He appears to have spent the rest of his life living in exile on the banks of the Chebar River in Babylon, where his wife died when he was 34 years old. The various dates given in this book suggest that Ezekiel was 25 years old when he went into exile, 30 when he received his prophetic call, and 52 at the time of the last vision in 571 BCE. There was no mention of any of his children in this book.
Ezekiel described his calling to be a prophet in great detail. For the next five years, Ezekiel incessantly prophesied and acted out the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. He met with some opposition, just like his Jerusalem contemporary, the prophet Jeremiah. He, like Jeremiah, witnessed the fulfillment of their prophecies when Jerusalem was finally destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE.
Ezekiel was nearly 50 years old when he began to have visions of a new Temple. Thus, he served as a prophet for at least 22 years, from 593-571 BCE. His last-mentioned encounter with God was in 571 BCE.[ However, the date of his death has not been recorded.
Most scholars today accept the basic authenticity of this prophetic book, but also see significant additions by a group of later followers of the original prophet. This book exhibits considerable unity. Although it probably reflects much of the historic Ezekiel, it is the product of a long and complex history. Probably, Ezekiel’s oracles were transformed into a written text by himself and his followers through an ongoing process of re-writing and re-interpretation. Perhaps the best scholar on the prophet Ezekiel in the 20th century was Walther Zimmerli (1907-1983).
Ezekiel was deeply concerned about the establishment of the new temple in Zion that would serve as the center for a new creation with the tribes of Israel all around it. His visions reflected common mythological themes. God appeared in a cloud from the north, since the north was the usual home of gods in ancient mythology. Ezekiel depicted the destruction of Jerusalem as a sacrifice of purification, because of the abominations in the Temple of idol worship. Nevertheless, the prophet announced that a small remnant would remain true to Yahweh in exile. Thus, they would return to this purified city. The image of the valley of dry bones returning to life signified the restoration of the purified Israel.
Previous prophets had used the term Israel to mean the northern kingdom and its tribes. When Ezekiel spoke of Israel he was addressing the deported remnant of Judah, but he also used it in a comprehensive fashion. Yahweh would be their God and they would be his people. Ezekiel has an emerging notion of individual responsibility to God. Each man would be held responsible only for his own sins. This contrasted with the Deuteronomistic writers, who held that the sins of the nation would be held against all, without regard to an individual’s personal guilt. Nonetheless, Ezekiel shared many ideas in common with the Deuteronomists, notably the notion that God worked according to the principle of retributive justice. Yet Ezekiel had a certain ambivalence towards kingship.
As a priest, Ezekiel praised the Zadok priests over the Levites, the lower level temple functionaries, whom he largely blamed for the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile. He was clearly connected with the Holiness Code and its vision of a future dependent on keeping the Laws of God and maintaining ritual purity. Notably, Ezekiel blamed the Babylonian exile not on the people’s failure to keep the Law, but on their worship of gods other than Yahweh, as well as their injustice.
Ezekiel’s imagery provided much of the basis for the Second Temple mystical tradition. This book’s literary influence can be seen in the later apocalyptic writings of Daniel and Zechariah. Ezekiel was referenced more in the Book of Revelation than in any other New Testament writing. Apart from this apocalyptic book, where Ezekiel was a major source, there was very little allusion to this prophet in the other Christian New Testament writings.
The oracles and visions in this book, are structured around three generic prophetic themes. The first theme was the judgment of Israel, against the woes of his own people, Judah and Jerusalem (chapters 1–24). The second theme was the judgment on the various other nations, especially the neighbors of Israel (chapters 25–32). The final theme was the future blessings for Israel, hope and salvation, especially the new temple (chapters 33–48).
Ezekiel let people know about the exact time and place of his visions. His first vision has a great cloud with four living winged creatures who had the four faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle, riding on some kind of chariot. There also was an overhead dome with a human form siting on a throne. He saw the splendor of Yahweh. Yahweh called Ezekiel the son of man. He was not to be afraid of these rebellious Israelite people.
The initial call of Ezekiel to be a prophet had him eat a written scroll. He was to go to the hard-headed house of the exiled Israelites. He heard a rumbling sound, as the Spirit of Yahweh came to him and the people at the River Chebar in Babylon. He was going to be a sentinel or the watchman against the wicked ones. He was going to protect the righteous ones. The hand of Yahweh and the Spirit of Yahweh made Ezekiel speechless.
Ezekiel then built a model of Jerusalem under siege. He demonstrated the events in Israel and Judah by lying on his right and left sides. Ezekiel had a special diet of food and drink, since he did not want to defile himself. He also talked about the lack of food and drink in Jerusalem.
Then Ezekiel shaved his hair and divided it into thirds. The rebellious people in Jerusalem would suffer the great judgment of Yahweh because of their cannibalism. Jerusalem would suffer three separate kinds of disasters, famine, pestilence, and the sword, since the anger and fury of Yahweh was against the city of Jerusalem.
Ezekiel railed against the Israelite mountain high places with their idolatrous altars. They too would suffer the three kinds of deadly punishment. Certainly, there would be people dying at the idol worship sites.
The end of the land of Israel was near. In these end times, there would be no pity. The end of the Israelite preeminence was coming. There would be no more buyers or sellers. However, with the coming battles in Israel, there would be some survivors, but their silver and gold would be useless. The abominable images would cease to exist. There would be an outside occupation of the land to the distress of everybody.
The vision of the glory of God came to Ezekiel about the abominations in Jerusalem. He could see through a hole in the wall that there was an idol worship service among the seventy Jerusalem elders. Yahweh gave a warning. They were weeping for the god Tammuz, a sun worship idolatry scene in the Temple itself. Ezekiel warned against these abominations. The executors would come from the north. There would be a man with a writing case at his side. A new Passover slaughter was going to take place.
Ezekiel also had a vision about burning coals. The cherubim in the Temple were with a man clothed in linen. The living creatures of the River Chebar with their wheels were there as the cherubim moved about. There, Ezekiel saw the glory of Yahweh exit from his house.
Then Ezekiel went on a trip to the east gate of the Temple, where the Spirit of Yahweh spoke to him. Ezekiel was to speak out against killing. However, Yahweh was going to send the sword. They were going to be captured and judged at the border. The Israelites had strayed from Yahweh, but there would be a future return to Israel, where there would be one heart and a new spirit. Just as the glory of Yahweh had left Jerusalem, so it would return.
The Israelites were to go into exile with their baggage. Thus, the actions of Ezekiel packing his luggage was a sign of the captivity and the exile to Babylon. Yahweh was going to scatter these exiles. They would tremble when they ate or drunk anything. This end of this vision meant that there would be no delays in God’s punishment.
Ezekiel was to prophesize against the false wicked senseless prophets with their false visions. They were like a whitewashed wall that Yahweh would destroy. These were the false female prophets and prophetesses of peace. Yahweh was against their activities, so that he was going to bring an end to these false prophetesses.
Certain elders of Israel come to Ezekiel. Yahweh, via Ezekiel, told them about the problem of false idols. They were to repent and turn away from these idols, since they were not to take these idols to heart. A deceived prophet made a whole land sin. There had been three great men, but now a sword would be upon this land with pestilence and scourges. Yet, there would be survivors.
Next Ezekiel explained the allegory of the vine. The wood of the vine could be used as fuel for the fire. Then Ezekiel explained the symbolic history of Jerusalem, especially the difficult day of its birth. Yahweh was compassionate and made a covenant with them. He took care of Jerusalem with gifts of jewelry.
Jerusalem was renowned for its beauty, but she played the whore. She used Yahweh’s gifts to worship other gods. She sacrificed children. Jerusalem became a street prostitute with the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans. In fact, she was a free prostitute, like a paying adulterous wife. Yahweh was going to bring all her lovers into one place, as he made his judgment of Jerusalem. There would be a physical punishment for Jerusalem.
Jerusalem did not remember Yahweh. She was like her mother’s daughter, with sisters like Sodom. She was worse than her sister Samaria. These sisters would be restored, but Jerusalem would become an object of reproach because she had forgotten their eternal covenant with Yahweh.
Next Ezekiel explained the allegory of the eagle. An eagle took a broken twig and planted it. However, another eagle came along and took the twig. This second eagle was Egypt, with the useless Pharaoh who could not help them. The king of Judah broke Yahweh’s oath. However, Yahweh would plant a sprig in Israel, so that he would be the Lord of the trees.
Ezekiel explained the problem of the two sons of the righteous man. One was a good son, but the other was unrighteous. When the father died, who was responsible for their father’s sins? What happened if the wicked son became righteous and the righteous son turned away from Yahweh? How would Yahweh judge this situation? Yahweh believed in repentance, whether anybody thought it was fair or not. Ezekiel also had a series of allegories or parables, including the story about the two young lions and the transplanted vines.
The elders came to visit Ezekiel, but Yahweh told him not to consult with these elders because he was going to judge them. The people were promised a glorious land, but they rebelled. Yahweh then reacted. He gave them various statutes and the Sabbath, but they still rebelled. Only for the sake of his name, did Yahweh have pity on them with his warning in the wilderness. Yahweh was God, yet there was another rebellion. How was Yahweh to react to these rebellious children? Their wicked ancestors had gone after false statutes. They went and sacrificed to the false idols in high places. They defiled his people because they worshiped wood and stone. However, Yahweh would be their king. He was going to gather them and purge the house of Israel of these idol worshippers. They would then gather at his holy mountain around his holiness. They would remember their evil ways. He once again spoke about a fire against the south in allegorical terms.
Ezekiel also had an oracle against Jerusalem. Yahweh had a drawn sword. There would be much moaning and mourning after the chant about the sharpened, glittering, but killing sword. There would be a marker at the fork in the road, so that the king of Babylon would choose the way to go. He would take off their crown with the sword of the Ammonites.
The final punishment would be the judgment of the city, the bad people in Jerusalem with their wicked uncleanness. Yahweh would strike his hands together so that they would scatter. They would become worthless dross metals in the melting furnaces of Jerusalem. This unclean land had wicked princes, priests, and officials. These false wicked prophets with the wicked people of the land had brought the wrath of Yahweh upon them.
Then Ezekiel told the tale of the two daughters, Oholah (Samaria) and Oholibah (Jerusalem). Oholah had Assyrian lovers who conquered her. However, Oholibah was worse than her sister, because she lusted after the Assyrian men, as well as luring Babylonian colorful Chaldeans. Thus, Yahweh turned away from Oholibah. In her youth, she had wasted longings for the Egyptians. Yahweh then gave his warning against Oholibah. The attackers of Jerusalem would be angry lovers. He was going to put an end to Jerusalem’s lewd nakedness in Egypt. She would drink from her sister’s cup of sorrow. Jerusalem would suffer the consequences. Ezekiel would judge both sisters. The adultery of these two sisters was with their idols, and in particular the recent bad activities in Jerusalem. The judgment of adultery was that the whole assembly should stone to death the adulterers.
Ezekiel had the exact day of the Babylonian siege. He also presented the allegory of the boiling rusted pot of meat. There would be open bloodshed. Despite the boiling of the rusted pot, the filthy rust remained. Yahweh was going to do what he said he would.
Finally, Yahweh told Ezekiel how to act after his wife’s death. What is the meaning of Ezekiel’s reaction? This was an indication of the fall of the sanctuary in Jerusalem. Thus, this became the present and future sign of Ezekiel.
After finishing these oracles about Judah and Jerusalem, Yahweh, via Ezekiel took on the neighbors of Israel with oracles against the various countries and nations. First up were the Ammonites, the Moabites, and Edomites, the ancient eastern and southern enemies of Israel. Next up were the Philistines.
Then there was a long diatribe against the coastal trading city of Tyre. Not only would Tyre be destroyed, but its neighboring cities also. The attack of King Nebuchadnezzar, with his powerful Babylonian horses, would plunder the city of Tyre.
The demise of Tyre, the prince of the sea, would bring a lamentation. Poor beautiful Tyre with its great wooden ships! They were the great traders for Egyptian linen. The workers on the ships came from everywhere, like its own mercenary army. Then Ezekiel mentioned all the trading partners of Tyre. There was Tarshish with the trading of human slaves, as well as Rhodes with its horse trading. Finally, there was a long list of other countries including Judah. These other nations and cities were Edom, Damascus, Uzal, Dedan, Arabia, Sheba, as well as many other eastern trading partners. The ships of Tarshish sank with everything on them, as everyone was watching. Thus, the mourning lamentation for Tyre continued among the upset coastland towns.
The prince of Tyre pretended to be a god, although the proud prince of Tyre was a wise trader. Thus, this pretend god of Tyre had to die, but he had a lamentation also. They had precious stones like in the Garden of Eden in Tyre. They had been dismissed from the mountain of God when the iniquities of the prince of Tyre were exposed.
There also was a short diatribe against the city of Sidon, another costal neighbor of Israel to the north. Yahweh warned that there would be another gathering of the house of Israel safely reinstated in Israel.
Ezekiel then had a long series of oracles against Egypt, the so-called dragon in the Nile River, the sea dragon in the wilderness. There would be desolation for Egypt with forty years of problems. However, there would a restoration of a smaller Egypt. As King Nebuchadnezzar did not get much stuff from Tyre, he would get the spoils of Egypt.
However, there would be a future restoration for Israel. The day of Yahweh was coming. The other countries would see the fall of Egypt and her allies. There would be a fire in Egypt and Ethiopia. The king of Babylon would attack Egypt to destroy the various Egyptian city idols, with the capture of the Egyptian cities. Not only would Pharaoh have one broken arm, but both of his arms would be broken. Thus, the king of Babylon would scatter the Egyptians.
How great was the Pharaoh? Ezekiel compared him to a mythical wonderful splendid tall cedar tree in Lebanon. This tree was even comparable to the trees in the Garden of Eden. However, this tall cedar tree would fall and die. Then it would go down into Sheol with all the others in the pit. Ezekiel explained that the allegory of the cedar tree was the mighty Pharaoh.
However, there should be a lamentation over the Pharaoh of Egypt with his cruel capture and death. The skies would darken. They feared captivity and the sword of the king of Babylon. There would be no more livestock in desolate Egypt. The women would chant this lamentation. They would wail over those who went down into the pit because they would have to lie with the uncircumcised in Sheol. Guess who else was in the pit? There was Assyria and Elam, as well as Meshech and Tuba. There were many people in the pit, including Edom, Sidon, and Pharaoh.
During and after the siege of Jerusalem, Ezekiel became a sentinel or watchman for Israel. He was to sound the trumpet, so that people would respond to the trumpet blast. If the sentinel failed to sound the trumpet, it was his fault. Thus, Ezekiel, as the sentinel, was to warn the wicked ones about their transgressions against the house of Israel. They were to turn away from their evil ways and become the righteous ones. Yahweh wanted the conversion of the wicked ones. The just way of Yahweh was his judgment of the righteous and the wicked.
Jerusalem had fallen. The mouth of Ezekiel would speak in the land of Abraham. The response of Yahweh was that Israel would become a land of desolation. Ezekiel would be the new leader for Yahweh, as he would be recognized as a prophet.
Ezekiel spoke against the shepherds of Israel, their leaders. These shepherds did not take care of their sheep, so that they became scattered and distressed sheep. Yahweh was going to rescue his scattered sheep. He was going to return them to the good pastures of Israel. He was going to be the good shepherd, who judged his sheep. Some sheep were ruining their food and drink. Yahweh was going to judge between the fat and the lean sheep. He was going to save his flock with a new shepherd like King David. There would be a covenant of peace. This wonderful blessed land would be safe and secure with Yahweh and his people, Yahweh and his sheep.
Ezekiel was also against Mount Seir that would be ruined. Bloodshed and desolation would come to Mount Seir. Edom was taking over Judah and Israel. Yahweh was going to deal with Edom and make it become a desolate desert.
The mountains of Israel would become desolate. All of Israel should listen to their jealous God. The people of Israel would return home with the restoration of Israel. Israel would no longer be a disgrace. The scattered Israelites had profaned the holy name of Yahweh. They needed to protect his holy name.
There would be a gathering of the cleansed Israelites. They would have a new heart and a new spirit. They would be his people. They would live in abundance with no more famines. Israel should remember its evil past. There would be new towns and new fertile land with new increasing flocks in Israel.
Then Ezekiel had the vision of the valley of the dry bones. The living spirit was going to come to these dry bones. They began to move around with skin and flesh on these bones. The spirit of Yahweh would come to these bones. Ezekiel explained that the dry bones were the house of Israel. Ezekiel explained about the two sticks gathering into one nation as Samaria and Jerusalem would come together. There would be no more idol worship with one Davidic king, living in an eternal covenant of peace.
Yahweh was going to destroy Gog and his army, as well as his allies. They were to get ready, since Gog and his allies were advancing on this unsuspecting land. The evil scheme of Gog was to plan an attack, in order to get the spoils of plunder. Yahweh seemed to encourage Gog to attack. However, when Gog actually attacked Israel, Yahweh was angry. Thus, Yahweh planned a counter attack against Gog that was successful.
After the fall of Gog and the destruction of Magog, the holy name of Yahweh was restored on this day of reckoning. The Israelites were to use Gog’s weapons for their fires. They buried Gog and his troops after a seven-month search. Then there was a great feast where everyone ate and drank well. The glory and judgment of Yahweh had come to his people. The restoration of Israel was complete with the returning Israelites.
Ezekiel ended with the Torah of Ezekiel as he took on the role of the new Moses who told them what the new Temple should look like. Ezekiel was brought to a high mountain in Israel, where he met a bronze looking man. He saw a wall around the temple. This bronze man began to measure the eastern vestibule area, the gate, and its surroundings. He also measured the outer court. He did the same for the northern and southern gates with their vestibules also. They then went to the inner court by the south gate. He then measured the inner court on the east and north side. Then they went to the chamber for the burnt offerings. There were eight preparation tables for the burnt offerings in the two inner chambers for the priests.
Next, he measured the inner court with its Ulam vestibule, its Hekal nave, and the Debir holy of holies. There were ninety side chambers and a stairway. The whole thing was on a raised platform foundation. Then they went to the western building in the Temple yard. The inside had wonderful wood paneling with carvings of two-headed cherubim and palm trees. There was a wooden altar with doors to the room.
In the north outer court, they measured the building and the galleries, as well as the passage way of the chambers with the parallel walls. They saw the holy chambers on the south side with the holy garments. Finally, they measured all four sides of the square wall.
This vision of the glory of God stunned Ezekiel, as he heard a voice from the Temple. Yahweh spoke to him in the Temple. Ezekiel was to describe this new Temple to the Israelites and explain the law of the new Temple. He then described the altar base and the altar table. There were to be ordinances about the altar. He explained how the dedication of the altar should take place with a burnt bull sin offering. There were to be seven days of sin offerings.
The closed special eastern outer gate was different from the northern gate entrance. There would be special ordinances for the Temple, because formerly they had not protected the sanctuary. No uncircumcised foreigners would be allowed in the sanctuary. The punishment for the idol loving Levite ministers was that they would now only have menial ministerial tasks.
The Zadok Levitical priests would enter into the holy of holies. They would have the correct linen holy vestments or garments with a unique appearance and life style. These Zadok priests were to be the teachers and the judges. They could not defile themselves with dead people. There would be no inheritance for these priests, since Yahweh was their inheritance. They were to partake of the holy sacrifices.
Ezekiel then had a portion of the land designated as holy with a sanctuary plot of land. There would be a place or portion of this land for the priests, the sanctuary, the Levites, the prince, and all the Israelites. The princes were to exercise justice. There was an insistence on just measurements. The size and kind of the offerings of wheat, barley, and oil was all laid out. The prince had to provide these animal sacrifices.
They had to purify the sanctuary, especially for the feast of Passover, the seven-day offerings, and the seventh month offerings. They were to open the eastern gate on the Sabbath, when the prince made his offerings. Then the people could worship at the eastern gate. The prince had to provides the offerings for the new moon offerings also.
They could use either the north or south gates, but they had to go out the opposite gate that they come in. There was a description of the grain offerings, the free will offerings, and the daily burnt offering of the lamb that the prince had to provide.
The prince could give permanent gifts to his sons, but only temporary gifts to his servants. The prince could give only from his own property, not from that of others. Ezekiel explained the priest’s chambers and the cooking chambers for the offerings.
Next Ezekiel explained about the water flowing from the Temple that led to a river with trees all around it. This was good fresh water that would bring life to all the living creatures in the water.
Finally, Ezekiel explained the new border of Israel on the north, east, south, and west side. There was a new division of Israel to the various tribes. However, the resident aliens were considered citizens of the various Israelite tribes. Thus, the distribution of land to the tribes from the north to the south went to Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, and Judah.
North of Judah was the sanctuary territory, the holy portions for the sanctuary Levitical priests and the descendants of Zadok. There would be city land with open spaces around the Temple, as well as a place for the prince.
Then Ezekiel finished with his tribal distributions to Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, and Gad. Finally, Ezekiel mentioned the southern border of Israel going to the Egyptian border. Having completed the various portions for the tribes of Israel, he explained in detail the three gates on each of the four sides of the city for the Israelite tribes. Three tribes would have north side gates, while three other tribes would have east side gates, south side gates, and west side gates. He concluded this book by naming this city “Yahweh is there.”