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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Ezekiel

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EZEKIEL (= ‘Jahweh strengthens’).

I. The Man. Ezekiel was the son of Buzi, a priest of the family of Zadok, and was carried into exile with Jehoiachin, b.c. 597 (2 Kings 24:8 ff.). Josephus ( Ant . X. vi. 3) states that he was a boy at the time; but this is doubtful, for in the fifth year from then he was old enough to be called to the prophetic office ( Ezekiel 1:2 ), and could speak of his youth as long past ( Ezekiel 4:14 ): in the ninth year his wife dies ( Ezekiel 24:16 ); his acquaintance with the Temple is best explained by supposing that he had officiated there, and the predictions in ch. 38f. read as though he remembered the inroad of b.c. 626. He and his fellow-exiles formed an organized community, presided over by elders, at Tel-Abib, on the banks of the canal Chebar ( Ezekiel 3:15 ). Ezekiel lived in a house of his own ( Ezekiel 3:24 ), and, for at least 22 years ( Ezekiel 1:2 , Ezekiel 29:17 ), endeavoured to serve his people. His call was prefaced by an impressive vision of the Divine glory, and the expression, ‘the hand of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] was upon me’ ( Ezekiel 1:3 , Ezekiel 8:1 , Ezekiel 37:1 , Ezekiel 40:1 ), indicates that the revelations which he received came to him in a state of trance or ecstasy; cf. also Ezekiel 3:15 ; Ezekiel 3:25 with Ezekiel 24:27 . His message met at first with contemptuous rejection ( Ezekiel 3:7 ), and the standing title, ‘a rebellious house,’ shows that he never achieved the result which he desired. Yet there was something in his speech which pleased the ears of the captives, and brought them to his house for counsel ( Ezekiel 8:1 , Ezekiel 14:1 , Ezekiel 20:1 , Ezekiel 33:30-33 ). No doubt his character also commanded attention. His moral courage was impressive ( Ezekiel 3:8 ); he ever acted as ‘a man under authority,’ accepting an unpleasant commission and adhering to it in spite of speedy ( Ezekiel 3:14 ) and constant suffering ( Ezekiel 3:18 ff., Ezekiel 33:7 ); even when he sighs it is at God’s bidding ( Ezekiel 21:6-7 ), and when his beloved wife dies he restrains his tears and resumes his teaching ( Ezekiel 24:15-18 ). Part of his message was given in writing, but the spoken word is in evidence too ( Ezekiel 3:10 , Ezekiel 11:25 , Ezekiel 20:3 , Ezekiel 24:18 , Ezekiel 33:30-33 ). It has been said that he was ‘pastor rather than prophet,’ and this would not be far from the truth if it ran, ‘pastor as well as prophet,’ for he both watched over individual souls and claimed the ear of the people. Again, he has been called ‘a priest in prophet’s garb,’ for the thoughts and principles of the priesthood controlled his conduct ( Ezekiel 4:14 ), come out amidst the vigorous ethical teaching of chapter 33, and give its distinctive colouring to the programme unfolded at the close of the book. We know nothing of his later life. Clem. Alex. [Note: lex. Alexandrian.] refers to the legend that he met Pythagoras and gave him instruction. Pseudo-Epiphanius and others assert that he was martyred by a Hebrew whom he had rebuked for idolatry. His reputed grave, a few days’ journey from Baghdad, was a pilgrimage resort of the mediæval Jews.

II. The Book

1 . Division and Contents . Two halves are sharply differentiated from each other in matter and tone. The change synchronized with the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem ( Ezekiel 24:1-2 ). Chs. 1 24 contain denunciations of sin and predictions of judgment; 25 48 are occupied with the hopes of the future. In the first division we distinguish: 1. The Introduction ( Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 3:21 ). 2. The first series of prophecies in act and word ( Ezekiel 3:22-27 ). 3. The abominations practised in Jerusalem ( Ezekiel 3:8-11 ). 4. Sins, reasonings, stern threats ( Ezekiel 3:12-19 ). 5. The same subject, and the beginning of the end ( Ezekiel 3:20-24 ). In the second division: 1. The removal of hostile neighbours ( Ezekiel 3:25-27 ). 2. The moral requirements now to be met; the destruction of the last enemy (Eze 3:33 39). 3. A sketch of the community of the future (Eze 3:40 48). In both parts th ere is a scrupulous exactness of dating, unexampled in any earlier prophet ( Ezekiel 1:1-2 , Ezekiel 8:1 , Ezekiel 20:1 , Ezekiel 24:1 , Ezekiel 26:1 , Ezekiel 29:1 ; Ezekiel 29:17 , Ezekiel 30:20 , Ezekiel 31:1 , Ezekiel 32:1 ; Ezekiel 32:17 , Ezekiel 33:21 , Ezekiel 40:1 ).

Ezekiel’s verdict on the national history is of unmixed severity. From their starting-point in Egypt the people had behaved ill (cf. Ezekiel 20:5-13 with Jeremiah 2:2 ). Jerusalem to him almost synonymous with the nation was pagan in origin and character ( Ezekiel 20:16 ). The root of their wickedness was an inveterate love of idolatry ( passim ). Even Ezekiel’s own contemporaries longed to be heathens: their God could hold them back only by extreme violence ( Ezekiel 20:32-38 ). The exiles were somewhat less guilty than their brethren in Jerusalem ( Ezekiel 14:22 f.). But, on the whole, princes, priests, and people were an abandoned race. They loved the worship of the high places, which, according to Ezekiel, had always been idolatrous and illegitimate. They ate flesh with the blood in it, disregarded the Sabbath, polluted the Temple with ceremonial and moral defilements, committed adultery and other sexual abominations, were guilty of murder, oppression, the exaction of usury, harshness to debtors. The list can be paralleled from other Prophetic writings, but the stress is here laid on offences against God. And this is in accordance with the strong light in which Ezekiel always sees the Divine claims. The vision with which the whole opens points to His transcendent majesty. The title, ‘son of man,’ by which the prophet is addressed 116 times, marks the gulf between the creature and his Maker. The most regrettable result of Israel’s calamities is that they seem to suggest impotence on Jahweh’s part to protect His own. The motive which has induced Him to spare them hitherto, and will, hereafter, ensure their restoration, is the desire to vindicate His own glory. In the ideal future the prince’s palace shall be built at a proper distance from Jahweh’s, and not even the prince shall ever pass through the gate which has been hallowed by the returning glory of the Lord. Hence it is natural that the reformation and restoration of Israel are God’s work. He will sprinkle clean water on them, give them a new heart, produce in them humility and self-loathing. He will destroy their foes and bless their land with supernatural fertility. It was He who had sought amongst them in vain for one who might be their Saviour. It was He who in His wrath had caused them to immolate their children in sacrifice. God is all in all. Yet the people have their part to play. Ezekiel protests against the traditional notion that the present generation were suffering for their ancestors’ faults: to acquiesce in that is to deaden the sense of responsibility and destroy the springs of action. Here he joins hands with Jer. ( Jeremiah 31:29 f.), both alike coming to close quarters with the individual conscience. He pushes almost too far the truth that a change of conduct brings a change of fortune ( Ezekiel 33:14-16 ). But there is immense practical value in his insistence on appropriate action, his appeal to the individual, and the tenderness of the appeal ( Ezekiel 18:23 ; Ezekiel 18:31 , Ezekiel 33:11 ). Nowhere is Jahweh’s longing for the deliverance of His people more pathetically expressed. And, notwithstanding their continual wrongdoing, the bond of union is so close that He resents as a personal wrong the spitefulness of their neighbours ( Jeremiah 31:25-32 ; Jeremiah 31:35 ). The heathen, as such, have no future, although individual heathen settlers will share the common privileges ( Ezekiel 47:22 f.).

The concluding chapters, 40 48, ‘the weightiest in the book,’ are a carefully elaborated sketch of the polity of repatriated Israel Israel, i.e , not as a nation, but as an ecclesiastical organization. In the foreground is the Temple and its services. Its position, surroundings, size, arrangements, are minutely detailed; even the place and number of the tables on which the victims must be slain are settled. The ordinances respecting the priesthood are precise; none but the Zadokites may officiate; priests who had ministered outside Jerusalem are reduced to the menial duties of the sanctuary (cf. Deuteronomy 18:8 ). Adequate provision is made for the maintenance of the legitimate priests. Rules are laid down to ensure their ceremonial purity. The office of high priest is not recognized. And there is no real king. In ch. 37 the ruler, of David’s line, seems to count for something; not so here. True, he is warned against oppressing his subjects ( Ezekiel 45:9 , Ezekiel 46:16-18 ), but he has no political rôle. A domain is set apart to provide him a revenue, and his chief function is to supply the sacrifices for the festivals. The country is divided into equal portions, one for each tribe, all of whom are brought back to the Holy Land. No land is to be permanently alienated from the family to which it was assigned. God’s glory returns to the remodelled and rebuilt sanctuary, and Ezekiel’s prophecy reaches its climax in the concluding words, ‘The name of the city from that day shall be, Jahweh is there.’ It would be difficult to exaggerate the effect which this Utopia has produced. Some details, such as the equal division of the land, the arrangements respecting the position and revenue of the prince, the relation of the tribes to the city, were impracticable. But the limitation of the priesthood to a particular class, the introduction of a much more scrupulous avoidance of ceremonial defilement, the eradication of pagan elements of worship, the exclusion of all rival objects of worship, went a long way towards creating Judaism. And whilst this has been the practical result, the chapters in question, together with Ezekiel’s visions of the chariot and cherubim, have had no little influence in the symbolism and imaginative presentment of Jewish apocalyptic literature and Christian views of the unseen world.

2. Style . Notwithstanding the favourable opinion of Schiller, who wished to learn Heb. in order to read Ezekiel, it is impossible to regard this prophet as one of the greatest masters of style. His prolixity has been adduced as a proof of advanced age. Repetitions abound. Certain words and formulas recur with wearisome frequency: ‘I, Jahweh, have spoken,’ ‘They shall know that I am Jahweh’ (56 times), ‘Time of the iniquity of the end,’ ‘A desolation and an astonishment’; Ezekiel’s favourite word for ‘idols’ is used no fewer than 38 times. The book abounds in imagery, but this suffers from the juxtaposition of incongruous elements ( Ezekiel 17:3-6 , Ezekiel 32:2 ), a mixture of the figurative and the literal ( Ezekiel 31:17 f.), inaptness ( Ezekiel 11:3 , Ezekiel 15:1-5 ): that in chs. 16 and 23 is offensive to Western but probably not to Eastern taste; that of the Introductory Vision was partly suggested by the composite forms seen in the temples and palaces of Babylonia, and is difficult to conceive of as a harmonious whole. But as a rule Ezekiel sees very distinctly the things he is dealing with, and therefore describes them clearly. Nothing could be more forcible than his language concerning the sins that prevailed. The figures of Ezekiel 29:3 f., Ezekiel 34:1-19 , Ezekiel 37:1-14 are very telling. There is genuine lyric force in Ezekiel 27:26-32 , Ezekiel 32:17-32 , and other dirges; there is a charming idyllic picture in Ezekiel 34:25-31 . The abundant use of symbolic actions claims notice. Ezekiel’s ministry opens with a rough drawing on a tile, and no other prophet resorted so often to like methods of instruction.

3. Text, integrity, and canonicity . Ezekiel shares with Samuel the unenviable distinction of having the most corrupt text in the OT. Happily the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , and in a minor degree the Targum and the Pesh., enable us to make many indisputable corrections. Parallel texts, internal probability, and conjecture have also contributed to the necessary reconstruction, but there remain no small number of passages where it is impossible to be certain. The integrity of the book admits of no serious question. Here and there an interpolation may be recognized, as at Ezekiel 24:22 f., Ezekiel 27:9-25 a. One brief section was inserted by the prophet out of its chronological order ( Ezekiel 29:17-20 ). But the work as a whole is Ezekiel’s own arrangement of the memoranda which had accumulated year after year. Although the Rabbis never doubted this, Ezekiel narrowly escaped exclusion from the Canon. Chag ., 13 a , informs us that but for a certain Hananiah it ‘would have been withdrawn from public use, because the prophet’s words contradict those of the Law.’ Mistrust was also aroused by the opening which the Vision of the Chariot afforded for theosophical speculation; no one might discuss it aloud in the presence of a single hearer ( Chag ., 11 b ).

J. Taylor.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ezekiel'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/e/ezekiel.html. 1909.

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