Date: Sixth Century B.C.
Ezekiel was born near the end of Judah’s existence, perhaps as early as 620 B.C. He was from a priestly family, but was called by God to be a prophet. He was deported to Babylon in 597 and was settled in the village of Tel-Abib on the river Chebar. Five years later, he received a formal call to become a prophet to the exiles and the remaining Jews in Jerusalem, although he never actually went there. Ezekiel’s message was at first rejected, but later, when a messenger from Jerusalem arrived, announcing that the city had fallen, the people began to listen. Ezekiel’s prophecies had come true (33:21). He now gave himself to preaching about the coming restoration, just as earlier he had given himself to preaching about the coming judgment.
Ezekiel was an extraordinary person in at least three respects. First, he had remarkable powers of imagination, seen in his descriptions of the heavenly beings and the coming age. Second, he was possessed of supernatural gifts that allowed him to see events in Jerusalem in detail, even though he was over 1,000 miles away. Third, he was a man of great courage and determination. He was not discouraged by the rejection of his message, but kept preaching the truth. When he was finally vindicated, he did not gloat but kept to the task God had given him.
Ezekiel saw himself as a shepherd, watchman, and defender of God. As a shepherd, his task was to look out for his people, tending them from within. He saw himself as a symbol of the Great Shepherd who was to come, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. As a watchman, he was to warn of the coming judgment. Just as a military guard peers into the dark of night to see the approaching enemy, so Ezekiel peered into the darkness of time and cried out that judgment was coming. As a defender of God, he explained that the nation fell, not because God was weak, but because the people were sinful.
Theological Themes in the Book of Ezekiel
At the heart of Ezekiel’s message is the transcendence of God. The prophet’s opening vision, with all of its strange imagery and figures, emphasizes this. God is so far above his creation that words cannot fully describe him. As a result, strange figures of speech are needed to convey the message that God is exalted above creation. Ezekiel exhausted his powers of description trying to explain who God is. Ezekiel also emphasized the Spirit of God. The other prophets had used the phrase “the word of the Lord” to emphasize the presence and activity of the Lord. Ezekiel said that the Spirit of God was leading him. The purpose of the Spirit’s leading Ezekiel was to give the people a message that would lead them to God. Their problem was that they had lost touch with God; they no longer knew God personally. To know God in this sense is to acknowledge God as sovereign over history and over ourselves. God must be acknowledged as our God.
Ezekiel also brought a message of judgment. Because Judah had sinned against God, God’s judgment must come. Judah had disobeyed God’s laws, profaned his temple, desecrated his Sabbath, listened to false prophets, indulged in uncleanness and defilement, and entered into foreign alliances. Finally, Ezekiel had a message of restoration. The nation would rise from the ashes of its death like a dead body from the grave. That hope is vividly portrayed in the vision of the dry bones (ch. 37). A new era is coming, in which God will reign supreme.
Outline for the Book of Ezekiel
- Prophecies of doom for Judah and Jerusalem Ezekiel 1:1-24:27
- Messages to the pagan nations Ezekiel 25:1-32:32
- The renewal of life and the ideal age Ezekiel 33:1-39:29
- The new temple and the new age Ezekiel 40:1-48:35