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by John Dummelow
1. History of Ezekiel’s Times. Ezekiel was preeminently a prophet of the Captivity of Judah, but the allusions in his book go back over the last half-century of the existence of the Jewish kindgom.
Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt. The kings of Judah had long been vassals of Assyria, but in the latter half of the 7th cent. b.c. the power of that empire was declining. Soon after 630 b.c. Western Asia was invaded by the Scythians—hordes of northern barbarians who penetrated to the borders of Egypt. Their irruption is not directly mentioned in Scripture, but it made a strong and terrifying impression, of which traces are found in both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and the possibility of its recurrence was long present to men’s minds. About 625 b.c. Babylon, hitherto a tributary of Assyria, became independent under Nabopolassar, and about 607 b.c. Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, fell before Nabopolassar and his allies. The supremacy of the E. was thus transferred to Babylon. When Nineveh fell, Pharaoh-Necho of Egypt made himself temporarily master of Palestine, but in 605 b.c. he was defeated at Carchemish by Nebuchadrezzar, the son of Nabopolassar, who immediately succeeded his father as king of Babylon and ruler of all Western Asia.
The last kings of Judah. The reign of Josiah (639-608 b.c.) was signalised by the discovery of the Book of the Law in the Temple (621 b.c.), and by the great reformation that followed it. Josiah was slain in battle at Megiddo, when attempting to oppose the northward march of Pharaoh-Necho (608 b.c.). The people of Judah placed Shallum (generally known as Jehoahaz), Josiah’s youngest son, on the throne, but their choice did not satisfy Pharaoh-Necho, who deposed Shallum, and carried him captive to Egypt, putting Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah, in his place. Jehoiakim reigned as a vassal of Egypt for four years, but Nebuchadrezzar’s victory at Carchemish made him a subject of Babylon. For three years longer he was loyal to Nebuchadrezzar, but at last he began to intrigue again with Egypt. He died in 597 b.c. before Nebuchadrezzar could punish his unfaithfulness, but the blow fell on his son and successor, Jehoiachin, who was deposed after a reign of three months, and carried captive to Babylon, along with the flower of the nobility and the best of the craftsmen of the land. This was the first captivity (597 b.c.). Nebuchadrezzar, however, spared the kingdom of Judah a little longer, and set Zedekiah, a third son of Josiah, on the throne. But Zedekiah proved a weak ruler, unable to resist the anti-Babylonian party in Judah. He too was led into intrigue with Egypt, and revolt against Babylon. Nebuchadrezzar sent an army against Jerusalem. The siege began on the tenth day of the tenth month of Zedekiah’s ninth year; and after being temporarily raised owing to the approach of an Egyptian army, was resumed, and ended on the ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah’s eleventh year. The king fled, but was captured, had his eyes put out, and was taken to Babylon. A month later Jerusalem was burnt, and the bulk of the people of Judah carried into exile. This was the second captivity (586 b.c.).
After the Second Captivity. Gedaliah, a Jewish noble, was made Babylonian Governor of Palestine, but after three months he was murdered, at the instigation of the king of Ammon, by a noble of the anti-Babylonian faction. The Jewish leaders of Gedaliah’s party fled with their followers into Egypt. It was probably to avenge the murder of Gedaliah that a further deportation of Jews to Babylon took place five years later (Jeremiah 52:30). This was the third captivity (581 b.c.).
Babylon, Tyre, and Egypt. Tyre as well as Judah revolted against Nebuchadrezzar, and was besieged by him for thirteen years from the seventh year of his reign (597-584 b.c.). In his thirty-seventh year (567 b.c.) Nebuchadrezzar was engaged in a campaign against Egypt.
2. Ezekiel’s personal history. Ezekiel (’God strengthens,’ or ’God is strong’), the son of Buzi, was a priest who was carried to Babylon at the first captivity (597 b.c.). This is the point from which the dates in his book are reckoned. Nothing is known of his age at the time of his transportation, or of his previous history. In the fifth year of his captivity (592 b.c.) he was called and consecrated to the work of a prophet by a remarkable vision with which the book opens, and he carried on his ministry at intervals for twenty-two years, the latest date in the book being the twenty-seventh year of the captivity (570 b.c.). Our knowledge of his personal career is very meagre. He lived in a house of his own, among a colony of his fellow exiles, who were settled at a place called Tel-abib. He was married, and his wife died suddenly on the very day when the siege of Jerusalem began.
3. Ezekiel’s Audience. This consisted outwardly of the exiles at Tel-abib, who were an organised community with ’elders’ at their head. They were at first opposed to Ezekiel, and were inclined to believe the false prophets who held out hopes of a speedy return to their own land (Jeremiah 29:8-9). This antagonism prevented him from speaking in public, but the elders visited him from time to time in his house. After the fulfilment of his earlier prophecies in the fall of Jerusalem, the attitude of the exiles to the prophet became more favourable. Though living in Babylonia EzeMel’s chief concern was with the fate of Jerusalem, and he took the deepest interest in all that was happening in Palestine. The prophecies spoken to the elders and other exiles at Tel-abib were really addressed to the whole people of Israel whom they represented. At times EzeMel makes a distinction between the exiles and their brethren in Palestine, and in these cases his verdict is in favour of the former.
4. The Book of Ezekiel falls into three well-marked divisions. The first (Ezekiel 1-24) predicts the fall of Jerusalem as the necessary consequence of Israel’s sin. The second (Ezekiel 25-32) deals with God’s judgments on the surrounding nations. The third (Ezekiel 33-48) describes the restoration of Israel and the establishment of the perfect kingdom of God. There is no doubt as to the unity and authenticity of the book, though a few passages here and there have been thought to be duplicates of the same prophecy. The Hebrew text, however, has become obscure in some places through the mistakes of transcribers, and the true sense has to be sought either in ancient translations like the LXX, which frequently give a better meaning, or in simple and obvious corrections. The prophecies of EzeMel have a peculiar style and character, due to the prophet’s special mental qualities. The most marked of these qualities was his powerful imagination, which not only displayed itself in strange and weird conceptions, but wrought these out with great minuteness of detail, akin to what we find in Dante. Three forms of prophecy are specially characteristic of EzeMel. We have symbolic actions, in which the truths to be taught are practically illustrated; allegories, which present the subjects in hand under elaborate figures; and visions, in which material emblems stand out spontaneously before the prophet’s mind. It is possible that some of the symbolic actions described were not actually performed. In Ezekiel 24:3 we see that the symbolic action and the allegory cannot be sharply, distinguished. The visions, too, have been supposed by some to be merely allegories thrown into a peculiar literary form, but there is no reason to doubt that they were real experiences, though some of the details may have been worked out more fully when the visions were committed to writing.
5. Ezekiel and Jeremiah were contemporary prophets, though the latter was much the older of the two. Neither prophet mentions the other, but the book of EzeMel contains many traces of Jeremiah’s influence. During the eleven years of ZedeMah’s reign both were engaged, the one in Jerusalem, and the other in Babylonia, in proclaiming practically the same truths—the guilt and coming punishment of Judah, the sin and folly of opposing Babylon and seeking help from Egypt, the certainty of the destruction of Jerusalem. After the captivity both foretold the ultimate restoration of the exiles. Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant is closely paralleled in different parts of EzeMel, but the latter left a larger place for ritual and external law than the former in his conception of the perfect Kingdom of God.
6. Ezekiel’s Leading Doctrines. The glory and holiness of God are very prominent in the book of Ezekiel. He is the God of Israel, and has chosen Israel as His people. His holiness has been outraged by Israel’s sin, and the display of His glory is the great motive of all His dealings with them both in judgment and mercy. What He does is ’for His Name’s sake.’ The sin cannot be unpunished, and yet the choice of Israel cannot be finally revoked. God will restore and purify His people and dwell among them for ever. The result will be the manifestation of His true character to men. ’They shall know that I am the Lord’ is the most frequent phrase in the book.
7. Ezekiel’s Messianic Prophecies. The whole of the last part of the book pictures an ideal Kingdom of God, and an ideal future King. The latter is symbolised by the twig taken from the top of the cedar (Ezekiel 17:22-23), is further hinted at in Ezekiel 21:27, and is clearly represented by the Davidic King of Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24, and the ’prince’ of the concluding chs.
8. Fulfilment of Ezekiel’s Prophecies. Those in the first part were accomplished in a general sense when Jerusalem fell. Those in the last part were partially realised in the return of the Jews from captivity and the rebuilding of the Temple; and in their essence, though not in their literal form, they have been or are being fulfilled in the Church of Jesus Christ. EzeMel conceived of the future Kingdom of God as a national and Jewish one, and allowance must be made for this limitation of his view in dealing with the prophecies of the second part as well as with those of the third.
The future of the foreign nations is foretold with reference to their influence on God’s kingdom, and as the latter did not preserve the national form which Ezekiel contemplated, the literal fulfilment of the prophecies about the former was not to be looked for either. These prophecies embody general truths about the overthrow of the powers of evil rather than precise anticipations of actual history.
9. Ezekiel and the Law. The last nine chapters of Ezekiel have an important bearing on the questions connected with the dates of the different parts of the Pentateuch. The ritual and legal details they contain show that such regulations were the subject of much thought during the exile, and their differences from the Pentateuch show that on particular points the Law was not absolutely fixed from the first, but allowed a certain elasticity in practice. The most important question is that connected with the relationship between the priests and the Levites. In Deuteronomy, which guided Josiah’s reformation, the two classes are regarded as identical, while in the parts of the Pentateuch known as the Priests’ Code they are distinct. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 44:10-16) indicates that up to his time the priesthood had been common to all the tribe of Levi, but that in future it would be confined to the family of Zadok, and that the other Levites would be reduced to the rank of Temple servants. Ezekiel thus marks a transition from the arrangement of Deuteronomy to that of the Priests’ Code, and the inference is that the latter took its present form during or after the exile. With the part of the Priests’ Code, however, known as the Law of Holiness (Leviticus 16-26), the book of Ezekiel has many points of correspondence. This portion of the Pentateuch, therefore, must have been in substance as early as his day.
10. Ezekiel and the New Testament. The language and thought of Ezekiel have had a considerable influence on the writers of the New Testament. His allegory of the Good Shepherd evidently suggested some part of our Lord’s parables of the Lost Sheep and the Good Shepherd. The promise of the new heart of flesh is referred to in 2 Corinthians 3:3. The idea of judgment beginning at the house of God reappears in 1 Peter 4:17. The influence of Ezekiel is specially evident in Revelation, which reproduces the eating of the roll (Revelation 10:9-10), the invasion of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 20:7-9), the measuring of the Temple (Ezekiel 11:1-2), the lifegiving river (Ezekiel 22:1-2), and the four-square city with its twelve gates (Ezekiel 21:12-16). Many of the judgments on ’Babylon’ in Revelation 18 are taken from Ezekiel’s chapters on Tyre.
11. The Permanent Message of Ezekiel. This book has an abiding value to the Christian because of its promise of the new heart, its doctrine of the individual’s relation to God, and its assurance that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires that all should turn to Him and live.
the Second Week of Advent