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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- Ezekiel

by Editor - Joseph Exell



The Author of the Book

Ezekiel’s name, God will strengthen, like the names of so many others of the saints of old, was singularly appropriate to his life and work. He speaks of himself (Ezekiel 1:3) as a “priest, the son of Buzi.” Of Buzi trothing whatever is known; but the fact that Ezekiel himself was of the Aaronic family is a most important one in the interpretation of his writings; for he was evidently “every inch a churchman,” and his strong ecclesiastical character pervades and gives tone to his prophecies. Whether he actually entered upon the exercise of priestly functions at Jerusalem cannot be known without a previous determination of the uncertain question of the age at which he was carried into captivity; but he was certainly well-instructed in what seemed likely to be his future duties. These facts, taken in connection with the disordered condition of the country, and the tendency to concentrate the priests in and around the holy city, make it probable that he lived in Jerusalem or its immediate vicinity. The prophet was carried captive to Babylon with the King Jehoiachin (Ezekiel 1:2; cp. with Ezekiel 33:21) in the eighth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (B.C. 596), ten thousand of the more important part of the people being transplanted to Babylonia at the same time (2 Kings 24:14), eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. According to Josephus (Ant. 10.6, 3), he was then a young man. However this may be, it is certain that he entered on his prophetic activity “by the river Chebar” (Ezekiel 1:3), where the mass of the captives had been planted. Recent authorities generally identify it with the Nahr Malcha, or royal canal of Nebuchadnezzar, on the excavation of which it is supposed that the Jewish captives were employed for a time. These were doubtless “the rivers of Babylon” by whose side the Jewish exiles wept when they “remembered Zion” (Psalms 137:1). Here Ezekiel lived in his own house (Ezekiel 8:1), to which the elders of Judah resorted to receive his counsels. He was married, and when his wife died suddenly, he was forbidden to mourn for her (Ezekiel 24:16-17). This occurred near the close of the ninth year of his captivity (Ezekiel 24:1), and left the exiled prophet to bear in solitude the great trials of his prophetic life. There is no record of the time of the close of his prophetic activity or of his life, and the few traditions that remain about him are of little value. (F. Gardiner, D. D.)

Authorship of the Book of Ezekiel

The authorship of the book has not been seriously assailed, although the Talmud asserts that it was written by the Great Synagogue, of which Ezekiel was not a member; and Zunz dated it about 400 B.C. Keil and Kuenen make Ezekiel both its author and editor; Ewald detects obvious traces of later elaboration, and suggests that the collection and combination of the various prophecies into a book may not have been the prophet’s own doing. Graf believed Ezekiel also the author of part of Leviticus (chaps. 18-23, 25, 26), and has been followed by many supporters (Chamberss Encyclopaedia.)

Literary Style of the Book

The style of the book exhibits a falling off from the idiomatic purity of earlier writers, like Amos or Isaiah. The influence of Aramaic is more perceptible than in any previous prophet; the construction is loose, and, as a rule, prosaic; the constant recurrence of mannerisms and set phrases is at times monotonous, although the lack of variety is often compensated by a large rhythmic movement of the thought, running like a ground swell through some of the longer orations. It is, on the whole, the careful style of a literary man, rather than that of a public speaker in living touch with his audience. With obscurity it cannot fairly be charged, for the serious difficulties which the book presents are mostly due to the imperfect condition of the text. Of the higher qualities of Ezekiel’s genius, the most striking is a powerful and grandiose imagination, which reveals itself in a variety of directions--now revelling in weird mythological conceptions, and at other times clothing itself in artificial realism. That there was a vein of true poetry in his nature is proved by his effective use of the Kinah or dirge, as well as by the many fine images which ocour throughout the book. His first conceptions, indeed, are almost invariably beautiful and true, although to our minds their aesthetic effect is frequently lost through over-elaboration. Ezekiel is perhaps not more deficient in plastic power than Hebrew writers generally; but in his case the defect is more apparent from his love of detail, and his anxiety to exhaust the didactic significance of every conception before he can persuade himself to let it go. On the other hand, the prophet’s talent for lucid and methodical exposition appears to advantage when he comes to deal with practical and technical matters, as in the description of the sanctuary (chap. 40 ff.). A certain architectural faculty is, in truth, a marked characteristic of his intellect, being visible alike in his plan of the temple buildings, in his sketch of the theocratic institutions, and in the orderly arrangement and division of the book. (John Skinner, D. D.)

The Style of Ezekiel

The visions of Ezekiel are more elaborate and complex than those of the earlier prophets. Compare, for example, in the opening consecration vision of Ezekiel, the appearance of the wheels and living creatures (occupying twenty-five verses in the first chapter) with the more simple and sublime imagery of Isaiah’s consecration vision (Isaiah 6:1-13). There is a strongly marked preference by Ezekiel for symbol and parable in his prophetic teaching, but in comparison with Isaiah and Jeremiah, the representations are far more overladen with detail, and though there is a certain majestic stateliness of effect, the total impression falls short of that which is produced by the earlier prophets. Ezekiel possessed a very keen sense of minute detail, and he evidently possessed a retentive memory and a mind richly stored with varied and special information. Of this characteristic a remarkable example is presented in his oracles on Tyre, especially chap. 27, with its long and elaborate enumeration of the nationalities and articles of commerce in which they traded with the great Phoenician emporium. Ezekiel was essentially a literary prophet. To a far larger extent than in any of his predecessors do we find in him the reflections of ideas already presented in older literature. His obligations to his elder contemporary, Jeremiah, are numerous and remarkable (cp. Jeremiah 1:17 with Ezekiel 2:6, and Jeremiah 1:8; Jeremiah 1:17; Jeremiah 15:20 with Ezekiel 3:8 ff., and Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 32:39 with Ezekiel 11:19-20). But he was evidently an attentive student of earlier oracles. Chap. 16, the highly wrought parable of the faithless Jerusalem, is evidently based on the leading conception of Hosea’s oracles, the infidelity of Israel to her Lord Jehovah, shown in foreign alliances and the adoption of the cult of neighbouring peoples. Isaiah had already applied the same image to Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:21). That Ezekiel consciously borrowed from earlier oracles, and was a student of patriarchal histories, is clear from Ezekiel 38:17; Ezekiel 39:8; Ezekiel 14:14. Moreover, Ezekiel reproduces the tradition inaugurated by Amos and developed by Isaiah, of delivering “utterances” (called in the A.V. “burdens”) against foreign nations. The foreign policy of Ezekiel, it may be observed, closely follows the lines already marked out by Isaiah and Jeremiah, namely, avoidance of Egypt as an ally. After the overthrow of Assyria, Babylonia became the dominant power of Western Asia, and Ezekiel followed Jeremiah in advocating friendship with Nebuchadnezzar. It is quite evident that, during the lifetime of Ezekiel, there were no signs of the decay which soon overtook Babylonia after that monarch’s death. (O. C. Whitehouse, D. D.)

The Contents of the Book

The book seems to be arranged chronologically, and naturally falls into two divisions of twenty-four chapters each, corresponding to the two great periods of the prophet’s life. He saw the national catastrophe and survived it, and his book is occupied with two great subjects--

The ruin of the city and state (1-24).

Prophecies of future restoration and glory (25-48). The treatment throughout is highly symbolical; and chaps. 40-48, are quite unique in Old Testament literature.

1. The first division (chaps. 1-24) consists of the following parts:--

(1) In the first year of his ministry (chaps. 1-7): the prophet’s call and mission to the exiles (1-3:21); and symbolical prophecies of the overthrow of the city (3:22, 7:27).

(2) In the following year (chaps. 8-11): more precise prophecies against the city, because of its idolatries; and the symbolical departure of the Lord from the temple (9-11).

(3) Later, but not dated (chaps. 12-19): reasons for the destruction of the state--unbelief and giving heed to false prophets (chaps. 12-14); certainty of the event, however painful (chaps. 15-17); yet a new order of things shall follow (chap. 18).

(4) Two years from the prophet’s call (chaps. 20-23): the necessity of the doom, in that Jehovah’s name has been profaned (chap. 20), and the iniquity of Israel is now full (chaps. 21-23).

(5) After several years, and when Nebuchadnezzar had begun the siege of Jerusalem (chap. 24): the symbol of the caldron, to signify the siege and dispersion.

2. The second division (chaps. 25-48) consists of the following parts:

(1) Preparatory to the restoration; judgments on the nations round about Israel (chaps. 25-32).

(2) The restoration itself; the conditions of the new kingdom (chap. 33), and descriptions of the ruler (chap. 34), the land (chaps. 35, 36), and the people (chap. 37). The Lord’s defence of His people in the latter day (chaps. 38, 39).

(3) The final glory of the redeemed, as seen in the vision of the temple (chaps. 40-43), its services (chaps. 44-46), and the condition of the land, with its life-giving river issuing from the temple (chap. 47), and the arrangement of the tribes (chap. 48).

3. The symbolism which is characteristic of Ezekiel’s style shows itself--

(1) In highly figurative language, as in the comparison of Tyre to a stately ship (chap. 27), etc.

(2) In symbolical actions, such as are employed also by other prophets (cp. 1 Kings 22:11; Isaiah 21:1-17; Jeremiah 19:10; Jeremiah 28:2; Jeremiah 28:10; Jeremiah 51:59-64). There may be reason to doubt whether all these actions were performed by the prophets in the literal sense of the words. Some of them certainly (see 4, 5) seem to be ideal, and suited to impress rather in the written page than by outward form.

(3) In visions.

With one of the grandest of these the book opens

(1), and chaps, 40-48, are quite apocalyptic, and have strongly influenced the imagery of the book of the Revelation in the New Testament. (James Robertson, D. D.)

The Teaching of Ezekiel

In his teaching Ezekiel shows that he had been influenced by that of Jeremiah; and he carries out into greater detail, and enforces with more emphasis, the great truths which that prophet taught. In particular--

1. He insists upon the responsibility of the individual; combating the prevailing ideas of his time, that the people suffered for the sins of their fathers (Ezekiel 18:2), and that they were under a ban which no repentance could remove (Ezekiel 33:10).

2. Like Jeremiah, he pronounces condemnation on the past history of Israel, and accuses them of idolatry even in Egypt (16, 20:7, 8, 23:3, 8, cp. Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 16:12).

3. Being of priestly family, like Jeremiah, he shows great zeal for the law (20) and clothes his vision of the final glory in forms borrowed from the temple and its service (40-48). Yet no two prophets teach more distinctively the inward spiritual character of religion.

4. Though the new order of things is to be based on individual heart religion, it will be a Messianic kingdom (Ezekiel 17:22-24), with “David” as prince forever (Ezekiel 37:24-25). (James Robertson, D. D.)

Effect of Ezekiel’s Prophecies

From Ezekiel 2:6; Ezekiel 3:7-11, we infer that Ezekiel’s prophetic declarations awakened at first dislike, and even demonstrations of hostility, but indications are not wanting that afterwards they secured for him respectful attention. The exiled elders became his willing listeners and sought his counsel (Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 14:1 ff; Ezekiel 20:1; Ezekiel 24:18; Ezekiel 33:21 ff.). But Ezekiel 33:32 clearly shows that the impression which he made upon his hearers was superficial, and that his addresses attracted them by their beauty of form and their rich imaginative colouring. (O. C. Whitehouse, D. D.)

Ezekiel’s Place in History

Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, belongs to the stormy transition time of the Jewish race. He beheld in his early youth those tragic scenes which the elder prophet heralded with warning voice. Like Jeremiah, he saw his nation’s midnight darkness, and it was his eagle eye which was to pierce the darkness and discern clearly the first streaks of dawn. The new Babylonian empire had succeeded the rapid downfall of the great Northern Assyrian power which, after the brilliant reign of Asurbanipal, had so suddenly collapsed. The succession of Babylonia to the inheritance was the more easy because its language and literature were so nearly the same. Indeed, it possessed a literature, a language, and a civilisation which was far more ancient; in fact, it was the parent out of which Assyria was born. Nebucadrezzar, son of Nabopolassar, was the Babylonian ruler who succeeded to the proud position of the Assyrian monarch (605 B.C.). (O. C. Whitehouse, D. D.)


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