EZEKIEL: HEBREW PROPHET
Ezekiel was a prophet-priest of ancient Israel.
Ezekiel’s ministry was conducted in Jerusalem and Babylon in the first three decades of the 6th century BC.
Ezekiel tells the ultimate establishment of a new covenant between God and the people of Israel.
Jerusalem surrendered in 597 BC.
In 587–586 Jerusalem was destroyed after a lengthy siege.
Large numbers from the best elements of the surviving population were forcibly deported to Babylonia.
Before the first surrender of Jerusalem, Ezekiel was a functioning priest probably attached to the Jerusalem Temple staff.
He was among those deported in 597 to Babylonia, where he was located at Tel-abib on the Kebar canal (near Nippur).
It is evident that he was, among his fellow exiles, a person of uncommon stature.
Ezekiel’s religious call came in July 592 B.C. when he had a vision of the “throne-chariot” of God.
Two periods of prophesying, separated by 13 years, represent various emphases in Ezekiel’s message. He prophesied until 585 and then is not heard of again until 572. His latest datable utterance can be dated about 570 BC, 22 years after his first.
His earlier oracles to the Jews in Palestine were pronouncements of God’s judgment on a sinful nation for its apostasy.
Ezekiel said that Judah was guiltier than Israel had been and that Jerusalem would fall to Nebuchadrezzar and its inhabitants would be killed or exiled
According to him, Judah trusted in foreign gods and foreign alliances, and Jerusalem was a city full of injustice. Pagan rites abounded in the courts of the Temple.
After the fall of Jerusalem and his period of silence, Ezekiel addressed himself more pointedly to the exiles and sought to direct their hopes for the RESTORATION of their nation.
His theme changed from the harsh judgment of God to the promise of the future.
Ezekiel prophesied that the exiles from both Judah and Israel would return to Palestine, after their Diaspora.
In a future, new age, a new covenant would be made with the RESTORED HOUSE of ISRAEL, to whom God would give a NEW SPIRIT and a NEW HEART.
The restoration would be an act of divine grace, for the sake of God’s name.
Ezekiel’s prophecies conclude with a vision of a RESTORED TEMPLE in Jerusalem.
The Temple’s form of worship would be re-established in Israel, and each of the ancient tribes would receive appropriate allotments of land.
He eats a scroll on which words of prophecy are written, in order to symbolize his appropriation of the message (3:1–3).
He lies down for an extended time to symbolize Israel’s punishment (4:4ff). He is apparently struck dumb on one occasion for an unspecified length of time (3:26).
As other prophets have done before him, he sees the God-to-People relationship as analogous to that of HUSBAND to UNFAITHFUL WIFE wife.
EZEKIEL understands the collapse of the life of JUDAH as a judgment for INfidelity.
In exile, Hebrews found hope in Prophet Ezekiel’s visions
The prophet’s visions after the fall of Jerusalem led to the creation of a new Jewish identity.
BY JEAN-PIERRE ISBOUTS
A PROPHET DURING the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel’s hopeful visions gave rise to a Jewish identity that extended beyond geographical and political borders.
With the fall of Jerusalem and forceful deportation of citizens from Judah to Babylon, the Hebrew nation was shocked and in a spiritual crisis.
Why had God allowed this catastrophe to happen?
How could Torah observance, including worship at the Temple, be sustained when the Temple lay in ruins?
Would this mark the end of the great story of Israel?
These and other questions were addressed by the prophet Ezekiel, son of a Zadokite priest who ministered to refugees during the exile.
As a “sentinel for the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 3:17), Ezekiel had repeatedly warned of God’s pending penalty for Judah’s transgressions, including its fondness for IDOLatry (Ezekiel 5:7-10).
Now that this punishment had come to pass, Ezekiel’s message turned to one of hope – EVENTUAL RESTORATION.
In his visions, he saw Jerusalem, its Temple, and its kingdom restored to their former glory; his detailed description of the future Temple, provided by an angel serving as a guide, would later be consulted by the actual builders of the Second Temple (Ezekiel 40-42).
The day would come, Ezekiel foretold, when God’s dwelling place would once again be among them, when “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezekiel 37:27).
Ezekiel’s visions convinced his audience that the covenant was not broken, and that in due course, God would shepherd his people back to Israel.
EZEKIEL, PROPHET OF HOPE
After the fall of Jerusalem, Ezekiel brought the promise anew that God would yet gather his sheep.
Ezekiel lived at the close of an age. A little more than a century earlier, around 721 B.C., the Kingdom of Israel had come to its end at the hands of the Assyrians.
Its inhabitants had been carried into captivity and scattered among various countries. And then, in Ezekiel’s time, Babylonians, who had helped overthrow the Assyrians, had conquered Jerusalem.
In 593 B.C., Jeremiah was contending with hostile forces in Jerusalem, Ezekiel was languishing in Babylonia. (He was one of the Jewish captives carried there earlier as surety that the Jews in their homeland would not rebel.)
This was the year that Ezekiel was called by the Lord.
The Kingdom of Judah wasn’t dead yet; it still had its own king, and many of its people still lived in their own land. But, chafing under Babylonian bonds and rejecting prophetic advice, they refused to pay their tribute.
Within a few years, the temple, city walls, and homes of Jerusalem were burned and leveled. More citizens were carried away to Babylon, and those who remained soon fled to Egypt for security.
The Kingdom of Judah was no more.
The PROMISED LAND, north and south, was DE-POPULATED of Israelites, bringing to an end an extremely important era in Israelite history.
This didn’t happen because God was unable to protect the Israelites. He could have fought their battles and saved them from being oppressed, but instead, he chose to let them fall and suffer the consequences of their wickedness. (See Ezek. 8; Jer. 16:10–13; 1 Ne. 1:4, 13.)
Ezekiel’s Message of Hope
As the fall of Jerusalem marked an important transition in the life of the Israelites, it also marked an important transition in Ezekiel’s prophecies.
No longer did he call Jews to repentance to avoid being overthrown.
He addressed instead the questions that must have been on their minds now that their nation was no more.
What future did they have now that they had offended God so grievously that he had allowed them to be driven from their land?
Was he still their God? Were they still his chosen people?
And even if he were willing, could he gather people so widely DISPERSED as the Israelites were in Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, and elsewhere throughout the world?
News of the fall of Jerusalem (Ezek. 33:21) is the point at which one may see a transition taking place in Ezekiel’s prophecies.
As this news sank into the exiles’ minds, making the prophesied DISPERSION a reality, Ezekiel was called to cast a beam of light on a future known only to God. His messages were messages of hope.
GOD would NOT ABANDON HIS PEOPLE or his LAND, Ezekiel said.
In days of old, Moses had foretold their dispersion and their subsequent gathering. (See Deut. 30:1–5.)
But in their current situation, the words of Ezekiel offered a strong reaffirmation that the Lord would eventually FULFILL HIS PROMISES in regard to their gathering.
Ezekiel likened the exiled Israelites’ situation to that of SCATTERED SHEEP.
The scattering had taken place because their shepherds had been careless and had exploited the sheep. (See Ezek. 34:1–10.)
But God himself would replace those careless shepherds with his constant care. He, as any good shepherd, would seek out the sheep, bind up their bruises, and bring them home again.
This metaphor of God as a compassionate shepherd provides background for understanding the many references Jesus made to Israel as lost sheep and to himself as the Good Shepherd. (See Matt. 18:12–14; John 10:11–18.)
A kind of national repentance might have saved the Kingdom of Judah, and that is what Ezekiel preached.
“He shall surely live, he shall not die.
“None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him.” (Ezek. 33:14–16.)
The DAY of RESTORATION
But what of a people who have strayed?
The Lord promised them: “I, even I, will both search my sheep, …
“and] deliver them out of all places where they have been SCATTERED in the cloudy and dark day.
“And I will … gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land.”(Ezek. 34:11–13.)
In that FUTURE day, said Ezekiel, when the Lord’s purposes are to be accomplished, Israel will be converted to God by divine power.
He will replace their stony heart with a heart of flesh. Said he: “A new heart also will I give you, …
“And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
“And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezek. 36:26–28, italics added.)
The final sentence—“ye shall be my people, and I will be your God”—expresses the ideal relationship, that of oneness between God and his people as was known in Enoch’s day when “the Lord came and dwelt with his people, and they dwelt in righteousness. …
“And the Lord blessed the land, and they were blessed upon the mountains, and upon the high places, and did flourish.
“And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.
The VALLEY of DRY BONES
In chapter 37 of Ezekiel, [Ezek. 37] other details of the Lord’s latter-day gathering are explained. Using the reality of the resurrection, the Lord shows Israel, whose members are scattered like the bones of a dismembered body, that he will reconstitute them into a living entity, just as he will reconstitute bones of dismembered bodies into living bodies. Thus, in this chapter, resurrection is both a metaphor and a reality.
This reality includes bringing resurrected Israelites into their land – even those who die in places far removed from the promised land.
They, like Abraham, will be resurrected and gathered to their land.
Abraham asked: “Lord God, how wilt thou give me this land for an everlasting inheritance?”
And the Lord answered, “Though thou wast dead, yet am I not able to give it thee?”
Then the Lord showed Abraham the day of the Son of Man, how Christ would die and live again, and how Abraham would also live again. And the scriptures record of Abraham that “his soul found rest.” (JST, Gen. 15:9–12; italics added.)
To Ezekiel’s Israelites, whose two nations were dead, their people scattered abroad – to these people who seemed to have no hope of inheriting the land, the Lord extended the assurance he had given to Abraham: “I will OPEN YOUR GRAVES … and bring you into the LAND of ISRAEL.”(Ezek. 37:12.)
So when Ezekiel talked of gathering, he united TWO “STICKS” – one symbolizing the record of southern kingdom of JUDAH and the other symbolizing the record of JOSEPH.
Ezekiel understood that the most important part of this work would be the GATHERING of ISRAEL BACK to God himself.
The major evidence that this dramatic GATHERING and CONVERSION have occurred will be the presence of God among his people.
He will dwell in their midst: “My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God and they shall be my people.
“And the heathen [Gentiles] shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.” (Ezek. 37:27–28.)
This will happen after the Lord has defeated the forces of GOG allied AGAINST ISREAL.
His great victory will bring home to Israel the awesome reality that he who brought Moses up out of the land of Egypt would also bring the children of Israel into their land in the latter days, helping them surmount every problem they would encounter.
“And I will set my glory among the heathen, and all the heathen SHALL SEE my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid upon them.” (Ezek. 39:21.)
“So the house of Israel shall KNOW that I am the Lord their God from that day and forward.” (Ezek. 39:22.)
Ezekiel was shown in vision how Jerusalem will become the Lord’s city when JESUS resides in the midst of the people there.
In that day, the land will be divided among the tribes of Israel, as specified in chapters 47 and 48 of Ezekiel. [Ezek. 47–48]