Holman Bible Dictionary
Ezekiel's call came in 593 B.C., the “thirtieth year” (Ezekiel 1:1 ), probably Ezekiel's age (though it has been interpreted as 30 years since the discovery of the law book in 622,30 years since Jehoiachin's imprisonment, or a system of Babylonian chronology).
Scholars have long debated whether Ezekiel was in Babylon or Jerusalem during his ministry. The book bearing his name points unmistakably to a Babylonian locale (Ezekiel 1:1-3 ; Ezekiel 3:15 ; Ezekiel 8:1-3 ; Ezekiel 33:21 ). However, it has been argued that since most of the messages were addressed to the people of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16:2 ; Ezekiel 21:2 ; Ezekiel 22:2 ), it would have been meaningless to deliver them to the exiles. Also, some believe his intimate knowledge of events in Jerusalem (for example, his description of worship practices in the Temple, Ezekiel 8:1-18 ; Pelatiah's death, Ezekiel 11:13 ) would require that he was in Jerusalem. To resolve the difficulties, some have suggested that he was in Babylon part of the time and in Jerusalem at other times.
All objections to the Babylonian locale can be answered satisfactorily, however. Prophets frequently delivered messages for audiences not present (for example, the messages against foreign nations as in Ezekiel 25-32 ). Furthermore, the genuine visionary experience (through which Ezekiel claimed to receive his knowledge) cannot be dismissed arbitrarily. Of course, visitors from Jerusalem could have kept him informed about events at home and carried his messages back when they returned. Therefore, there is no need to reject Babylon as the location of Ezekiel's entire ministry.
Ezekiel was married, but little else is known about his family life. His wife died suddenly during the siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 24:18 ). Ezekiel continued to preach until at least 571 B.C. (Ezekiel 29:17 ). His ministry can be divided into two phases: (1) 593-587, characterized by warnings of coming judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, and (2) 587-571, a period characterized by messages of encouragement and hope for the future.
It is not known when Ezekiel died or the manner of his death. An ancient Jewish tradition says he was put to death by his own people because of his preaching. A tomb in Kifl, south of ancient Babylon, is claimed to be that of Ezekiel. His influence on later Judaism cannot be overemphasized. Some have insisted that he was “the father of Judaism” rather than Ezra.
Much has been written about Ezekiel's personality. He has been labeled neurotic, paranoid, psychotic, or schizophrenic because of his unusual behavior (for example, lying on one side for 390 days and on the other for 40 days, Ezekiel 4:4-6 ; shaving off his hair, Ezekiel 5:1-4 ; and his many visions). A better explanation for his strange behavior is that anyone who conscientiously obeys God will be considered “strange” by some people. Nothing God asked Ezekiel to do seemed too difficult. Only once was he reluctant to obey a command that would have made him ceremonially unclean (Ezekiel 4:14 ). His objection reflected his priestly training.
Historical Background Ezekiel lived in a time of international crisis and conflict. Assyria had become the undisputed world power in the Ancient Near East during the reign of Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 B.C.). Her smaller neighbors, including Israel and Judah, survived by paying her tribute. However, in 724Israel tried to throw off Assyria's yoke. After a three-year siege of Samaria by the Assyrians, Israel capitulated and ceased to exist as a nation. Many of her inhabitants were deported, and other subjugated peoples were moved into the area (2 Kings 17:20-24 ). With the death of the last of Assyria's able rulers, Ashurbanipal, in 627, the once great empire began to disintegrate. Babylonia under Nabopolassar took advantage of Assyria's weakness and asserted her independence in 626. In 612, Nineveh surrendered to the Babylonians, marking the demise of the once great Assyrian power, although pockets of resistance held out for several years.
In 605, a showdown between Egypt and Babylonia at Carchemish established Babylonia as the dominant world power. Judah was able to maintain her independence by transferring her allegiance to Babylonia. During the last century of her existence, Judah was governed by a succession of wicked kings, with one exception. Josiah (640-609 B.C.) was deeply committed to God and instituted sweeping religious reforms during his reign (2 Kings 23:1-25 ). His son Jehoahaz was deposed by the Egyptians after a three-months' rule and was succeeded by another son, Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.), who rebelled against his Babylonian overlords. Nebuchadnezzar led an army to quell the insurrection. During the crisis that followed, Jehoiakim died or perhaps was killed by those in his own court. His son Jehoiachin (598-597 B.C.) was taken as prisoner to Babylon after a three-months' rule, along with Ezekiel and others. The last of Judah's kings, Zedekiah (597-587 B.C.), did not heed the warnings of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. He also rebelled, and Nebuchadnezzar led an army that besieged Jerusalem for eighteen months before the city fell.
Difficulties with Understanding the Book The messages of Ezekiel are not easy to understand because of their frequent use of symbolic imagery. The modern reader is not alone in struggling to understand Ezekiel. There is evidence of opposition to the book for liturgical purposes and public reading that continued into the first century A.D., although it had been recognized as part of the canon for several centuries. At one time those under age 30 were not allowed to read the first chapter and 2 Kings 40-48 . Rabbi ben Hezekiah burned 300 jars of “midnight oil” in an attempt to harmonize the text. He concluded that he had solved all its problems. It was popularly believed that all the difficulties of the book would finally be resolved when Elijah returned.
History of Ezekiel Studies For centuries few questions were raised about the authenticity of Ezekiel's messages. At the end of the nineteenth century critics who questioned the unity of most other Old Testament books were still reluctant to question the unity of Ezekiel.
The most radical challenge to traditional authorship was first expressed by Gustav Holscher in 1924. He concluded that only 170 of the 1,273 verses of the book were authentic. In 1930, C. C. Torrey denied the entire book to the sixth-century prophet, arguing that it was composed in 230 B.C. For the next two decades other scholars joined in dissecting the book. However, beginning in the 1950s, the negative assessment of the book was reversed so that today most scholars acknowledge its unity.
Influence of Ezekiel on the New Testament Allusions to Ezekiel in the New Testament are found most prominently in the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. Jesus' presentation of Himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10:1 surely was intended as a contrast to the wicked shepherd in Ezekiel 34:1 . His comparison of Himself to the vine in John 15:1 may have had in mind the parable of the vine of Ezekiel 15:1 .
Allusions to Ezekiel are found more frequently in the Book of Revelation than any other New Testament book. The living creatures of Ezekiel 1:1 reappear in Revelation 4:6-9 . The throne of God (Ezekiel 1:26-28 ) is described similarly in Revelation 4:2-3 . “Gog, the land of Magog” (Ezekiel 38:2 ) becomes “Gog and Magog” in Revelation 20:8 . The Temple vision of Ezekiel 40-48 has several parallels in Revelation 21-22 , with its focus on the Holy City Jerusalem and the river flowing from the throne of God.
Jesus' frequent reference to Himself as the Son of man is generally considered to have its origin in Daniel 7:13 , but he may have appropriated it from the 93 times God addressed Ezekiel as “son of man.”
Stylistic Characteristics of Ezekiel The Book of Ezekiel has been described by scholars as an artistic masterpiece. It contains a number of distinctive stylistic characteristics. Less than 10 percent of the messages are in a poetic format as compared to the frequent use of poetry in Isaiah and Jeremiah. A number of phrases are repeated frequently “Son of man,” 93 times; “they/you will know that I am the Lord,” 66 times; “the word of the Lord came to me,” 49 times). The entire book is written in the first person with the exception of Ezekiel 1:2-3 .
Few other books in the Old Testament contain such a rich blend of symbolic actions, visions, figurative speech, and allegories to communicate God's messages. There are at least 11 symbolic acts performed by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:26-27 ; Ezekiel 4:1-3 ,Ezekiel 4:1-3,4:4-8 ,Ezekiel 4:4-8,4:9-17 ; Ezekiel 5:1-4 ; Ezekiel 12:1-16 ,Ezekiel 12:1-16,12:17-20 ; Ezekiel 21:6 ,Ezekiel 21:6,21:18-23 ; Ezekiel 24:15-24 ; Ezekiel 37:15-23 ). Visions form the content of 17 of the 48 chapters (1-3; 8-11; Ezekiel 37:1-14 ; Ezekiel 40-48 ). The imaginative use of figurative language was characteristic of Ezekiel (the watchman, Ezekiel 3:17-21 ; Ezekiel 33:1-9 ; a refining furnace, Ezekiel 22:17-22 ; Tyre as a merchant ship, Ezekiel 27:1-36 ; Pharaoh as a crocodile, Ezekiel 29:2-5 ). Ezekiel proclaimed many messages by means of allegory (Ezekiel 15:1-8 ; Ezekiel 16:1-63 ; Ezekiel 17:1-24 ; Ezekiel 23:1-49 ; Ezekiel 24:3-14 ).
Contents of the Book There are four major divisions of the book:
1. Messages of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, Ezekiel 1:1-24:27
2. Messages of judgment on other nations, Ezekiel 25:1-32:32
3. Messages of coming restoration of Israel, Ezekiel 33:1-39:29
4. A vision of the restored people of God, Ezekiel 40:1-48:35
God first appeared to Ezekiel in a storm cloud seated on a throne surrounded by cherubim (Ezekiel 1:1-28 ; Ezekiel 10:15 ). He commissioned Ezekiel to go to an “impudent children and stiffhearted” (Ezekiel 2:4 ) and gave him a scroll to eat (Ezekiel 3:1-3 ), symbolizing his complete identification with God's Word.
After Ezekiel returned to the exiles in Tel-Abib, God spoke to him again, addressing him as “watchman” (Ezekiel 3:17 ) as a reminder of his responsibility to His people. God imposed silence on him for the next seven and one half years so that he could not speak unless he had a message from God (Ezekiel 3:26-27 ; Ezekiel 33:21-22 ).
Ezekiel's ministry began with the performance of a series of symbolic acts, all designed to communicate God's warnings of the coming siege of Jerusalem and the scattering of its people (Ezekiel 4:1-5:17 ). Ezekiel 8-11 contain an extended vision that took Ezekiel to Jerusalem where he saw abominable worship practices in the Temple ( Ezekiel 8:1-18 ).
Ezekiel pronounced woes on the false prophets and prophetesses who were leading the people astray (Ezekiel 13:1-23 ). However, he did not exempt each individual from his or her responsibility before God (Ezekiel 18:1-32 ). God told Ezekiel not to weep when his wife died during the siege of Jerusalem to communicate to the people that God's sympathy for His disobedient people was exhausted (Ezekiel 24:16-17 , Ezekiel 24:22-24 ).
Along with all the prophets except Hosea, Ezekiel did not limit his messages to the covenant people. Ezekiel 25-32 contain a series of messages against the surrounding nations. Though seemingly unrelated to the prophet's task of warning his own people, these messages served as solemn warnings that the covenant people could not expect to escape punishment if God would also punish nations which did not acknowledge Him.
After Jerusalem fell, Ezekiel changed the emphasis of his messages. There was no longer need for warning of impending punishment. Instead, the devastated nation needed encouragement that there was hope for the future. Therefore, the rest of the book, beginning with Ezekiel 33:1 , contains mainly messages of hope. The vision of the valley of dry bones dramatically proclaimed the future resurrection of the nation (Ezekiel 37:1-14 ). The prophecies concerning Gog of the land of Magog gave assurance that God would protect His people from their enemies (Ezekiel 38:1-39:29 ).
The closing vision of the restored community announced hope for God's people in the future (Ezekiel 40:1-48:35 ). These chapters are interpreted by some to be a literal description of the Temple to be rebuilt after the Exile, by some as an allegorical picture of the church, by others as a literal temple to be rebuilt as part of the fulfillment of the dispensational premillennial interpretation of Daniel's seventieth week (Daniel 9:2-27 ), and by others as an example of apocalyptic language to describe God's coming kingdom in understandable terms of the destruction of wickedness and the establishment of a sanctified people in whose midst God would dwell.
Major Themes Prominent themes of the book include God's presence (Ezekiel 1:26-28 ; Ezekiel 48:35 ), the sovereign authority of God over all nations (Israel as well as pagan nations), individual responsibility (Ezekiel 18:1-32 ), righteousness (Ezekiel 18:5-9 ), submission to God as the key to blessing (Ezekiel 9:4 ; Ezekiel 16:60-63 ; Ezekiel 18:30-32 ; Ezekiel 36:22-38 ), and hope for the future of the people of God (37–48).
I. Introduction: Yahweh's Glory Watches Over the Captives in Babylon (Ezekiel 1:1-28 ).
II. The Glory Brings Divine Judgment on Israel. (Ezekiel 2:1-24:27 )
A. By calling Ezekiel to be a prophet (Ezekiel 2:1-3:27 )
B. By predicting the fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1-5:17 )
C. By condemning Jerusalem's idolatry and sins (Ezekiel 6:1-7:27 )
D. By describing and explaining why the Glory departed from the city (Ezekiel 8:1-11:25 )
E. By showing the futility of the nation's leadership (Ezekiel 12:1-15:8 )
1. The Davidic ruler would be taken into captivity. (Ezekiel 12:1-28 )
2. The false prophets and prophetesses would be swept away by a storm. (Ezekiel 13:1-23 )
3. The idolatrous community leaders had created such a state of alienation from Yahweh that prayer for deliverance would be ineffectual. (Ezekiel 14:1-23 )
4. Like a useless vine the city would be burned up. (Ezekiel 15:1-8 )
F. As a means of providing reconciliation (Ezekiel 16:1-18:32 )
1. In spite of Israel's ingratitude and unfaithfulness, Israel will be restored. (Ezekiel 16:1-63 )
2. In spite of the king's failure, a universal kingdom will flourish. (Ezekiel 17:1-24 )
3. On the basis of individual responsibility, the relationship between God and Israel will be maintained. (Ezekiel 18:1-32 )
G. Resulting in the nation's destruction (Ezekiel 19:1-23:49 )
1. In spite of the hopeless situations of their rulers (Ezekiel 19:1-14 )
2. Because of Israel's constant state of apostasy (Ezekiel 20:1-49 )
3. By means of a sword (Ezekiel 21:1-32 )
4. Because Israel refused to live by God's covenant demands (Ezekiel 22:1-31 )
5. Because of the two sisters' (Oholah and Oholibah) incessant immoralities (Ezekiel 23:1-49 )
H. As seen in two events of unparalleled sadness (Ezekiel 24:1-27 )
1. In the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 24:1-14 )
2. In the death of Ezekiel's wife (Ezekiel 24:15-27 )
III. The Glory Brings Divine Judgment to the Nations. (Ezekiel 25:1-32:32 )
A. Against Ammon because of her joy over Israel's distress (Ezekiel 25:1-7 )
B. Against Moab because of her failure to recognize Israel's revelatory status (Ezekiel 25:8-11 )
C. Against Edom because of her lust for vengeance (Ezekiel 25:12-14 )
D. Against Philistia because of her perpetual hostility (Ezekiel 25:15-17 )
E. Against Tyre because of her greed for self-gain at Israel's expense (Ezekiel 26:1-28:19 )
F. Against Sidon because of her constant threat to Israel's welfare (Ezekiel 28:20-26 )
G. Against Egypt because of her pride and deceit (Ezekiel 29:1-32:32 )
IV. The Glory Brings Restoration to Israel. (Ezekiel 33:1-48:35 )
A. Through Ezekiel's faithful role as a watchman (Ezekiel 33:1-33 )
B. By means of the messianic leader, “my servant David” (Ezekiel 34:1-31 )
C. For the entire land (Ezekiel 35:1-36:38 )
1. By the total destruction of Edom (Ezekiel 35:1-15 )
2. In the deliverance of Israel (Ezekiel 36:1-21 )
3. In the implementation of the new covenant (Ezekiel 36:22-38 )
D. To revive the hopeless state of the people who felt they had perished (Ezekiel 37:1-28 )
E. By defeating the ungodly forces of the nations under Gog of Magog (Ezekiel 38:1-39:29 )
F. Resulting in the pure worship of the restored people (Ezekiel 40:1-48:35 )
1. With the throne of Yahweh's glory replacing the ark (Ezekiel 40:1-43:12 )
2. With the presence of Yahweh's glory providing far-reaching blessings (Ezekiel 44:1-47:12 )
3. With a firm inheritance in the land (Ezekiel 47:13-48:35 )
F. B. Huey, Jr.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Ezekiel'. Holman Bible Dictionary. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/e/ezekiel.html. 1991.