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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Eze´kiel (God-strengthened), one of the greater prophets, whose writings, both in the Hebrew and Alexandrian canons, are placed next to those of Jeremiah. He was the son of Busi the priest (), and, according to tradition, was a native of Sarera. Of his early history we have no authentic information. We first find him in the country of Mesopotamia, 'by the river Chebar' (), now Khabûr, a stream of considerable length flowing into the Euphrates near Circesium, Kirkesia. On this river Nebuchadnezzar founded a Jewish colony from the captives whom he brought from Jerusalem when he besieged it in the eighth year of King Jehoiachim (). This colony (or at least a part of it) was settled at a place called Tel-Abib, and it seems to have been here that the prophet fixed his residence. He received his commission as a prophet in the fifth year of his captivity (B.C. 594). Ezekiel is remarkably silent respecting his personal history; the only event which he records (and that merely in its connection with his prophetic office) is the death of his wife in the ninth year of the captivity (). He continued to exercise the prophetic office during a period of at least twenty-two years, that is, to the 27th year of the captivity (); and it appears probable that he remained with the captives by the river Chebar during the whole of his life. That he exercised a very commanding influence over the people is manifest from the numerous intimations we have of the elders coming to inquire of him what message God had sent through him (; ; ; , etc.). Carpzov relates several traditions respecting his death and sepulcher. It is said that he was killed at Babylon by the chief of the people, on account of his having reproved him for idolatry; that he was buried in the field of Maur in the tomb of Shem and Arphaxad, and that his sepulcher was still in existence. Such traditions are obviously of very little value.

Ezekiel was contemporary with Jeremiah and Daniel. The former had sustained the prophetic office during a period of thirty-four years before Ezekiel's first predictions, and continued to prophesy for six or seven years after. It appears probable that the call of Ezekiel to the prophetic office was connected with the communication of Jeremiah's predictions to Babylon (), which took place the year preceding the first revelation to Ezekiel. The greater part of Daniel's predictions are of a later date than those of Ezekiel; but it appears that his piety and wisdom had become proverbial even in the early part of Ezekiel's ministry (; ; ).

Most critics have remarked the vigor and surprising energy which are manifest in the character of Ezekiel. The whole of his writings show how admirably he was fitted, as well by natural disposition as by spiritual endowment, to oppose the 'rebellious house,' the 'people of stubborn front and hard heart,' to whom he was sent. The figurative representations which abound throughout his writings, whether drawn out into lengthened allegory, or expressing matters of fact by means of symbols, or clothing truths in the garb of enigma, all testify by their definiteness the vigor of his conceptions. Things seen in vision are described with all the minuteness of detail and sharpness of outline which belong to real existences. But this characteristic is shown most remarkably in the entire subordination of his whole life to the great work to which he was called. We never meet with him as an ordinary man; he always acts and thinks and feels as a prophet. This energy of mind developed in the one direction of the prophetic office is strikingly displayed in the account he gives of the death of his wife (). It is the only memorable event of his personal history which he records, and it is mentioned merely in reference to his soul-absorbing work. There is something inexpressibly touching as well as characteristic in this brief narrative—the 'desire of his eyes' taken away with a stroke—the command not to mourn, and the simple statement, 'so I spake unto the people in the morning, and at even my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded.' That he possessed the common sympathies and affections of humanity is manifest from the beautiful touch of tenderness with which the narrative is introduced. We may even judge that a mind so earnest as his would be more than usually alive to the feelings of affection when once they had obtained a place in his heart. He then, who could thus completely subordinate the strongest interests of his individual life to the great work of his prophetic office, may well command our admiration, and be looked upon as (to use Havernick's expression) 'a truly gigantic phenomenon.' It is interesting to contrast Ezekiel in this respect with his contemporary Jeremiah, whose personal history is continually presented to us in the course of his writings; and the contrast serves to show that the peculiarity we are noticing in Ezekiel belongs to his individual character, and was not necessarily connected with the gift of prophecy.

That Ezekiel was a poet of no mean order is acknowledged by almost all critics. Michaelis remarks that Ezekiel lived at a period when the Hebrew language was declining in purity, when the silver age was succeeding to the golden one. It is, indeed, to the matter rather than the language of Ezekiel that we are to look for evidence of poetic genius.

The genuineness of the writings of Ezekiel has been the subject of very little dispute. Its canonicity in general is satisfactorily established by Jewish and Christian authorities. There is, indeed, no explicit reference to it, or quotation from it, in the New Testament. Eichhorn (Einleit p. 218) mentions the following passages as having apparently a reference to this book: ; comp. ; ; ; comp. ; ; comp. ; but none of these are quotations. The closing visions of Ezekiel are clearly referred to, though not quoted, in the last chapters of the Apocalypse.

The central point of Ezekiel's predictions is the destruction of Jerusalem. Previously to this catastrophe his chief object is to call to repentance those who were living in careless security; to warn them against indulging in blind confidence, that by the help of the Egyptians (; comp. ) the Babylonian yoke would be shaken off; and to assure them that the destruction of their city and temple was inevitable and fast approaching. After this event his principal care is to console the captives by promises of future deliverance and return to their own land, and to encourage them by assurances of future blessings. His predictions against foreign nations stand between these two great divisions, and were for the most part uttered during the interval of suspense between the divine intimation that Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem (), and the arrival of the news that he had taken it (). The predictions are evidently arranged on a plan corresponding with these the chief subjects of them, and the time of their utterance is so frequently noted that there is little difficulty in ascertaining their chronological order. This order is followed throughout, except in the middle portion relating to foreign nations, where it is in some instances departed from to secure greater unity of subject (e.g. ).

The whole book is divided by Havernick into nine sections, as follows:—

1. Ezekiel's call to the prophetic office ( to ).

2. Series of symbolical representations and particular predictions foretelling the approaching destruction of Judah and Jerusalem ( to ).

3. Series of visions presented to the prophet a year and two months later than the former, in which he is shown the temple polluted by the worship of Adonis—the consequent judgment on the inhabitants of Jerusalem and on the priests—and closing with promises of happier times and a purer worship ( to ).

4. A series of reproofs and warnings directed especially against the particular errors and prejudices then prevalent amongst his contemporaries ( to ).

5. Another series of warnings delivered about a year later, announcing the coming judgments to be yet nearer ( to ).

6. Predictions uttered two years and five months later, when Jerusalem was besieged, announcing to the captives that very day as the commencement of the siege (comp. ), and assuring them of its complete overthrow (Ezekiel 24).

7. Predictions against foreign nations ( to ).

8. After the destruction of Jerusalem a prophetic representation of the triumph of Israel and of the kingdom of God on earth ( to ).

9. Symbolic representation of Messianic times, and of the establishment and prosperity of the kingdom of God ( to ).





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Ezekiel'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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