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Book of Ezekiel
His ministry extended over twenty-three years 595 - 573 BCE (29:17), during part of which he was contemporary with Daniel (14:14; 28:3) and Jeremiah, and probably also with Obadiah. The time and manner of his death are unknown. His reputed tomb is pointed out in the neighbourhood of Baghdad, at a place called Keffil.
Disambiguation: This article is about the Biblical prophet Ezekiel. For other meanings, see Ezekiel (disambiguation). There was another ancient Jewish writer named Ezekiel, who according to Eusebius wrote Greek tragedies on biblical matters, including one called Exagoge, recounting the Exodus, of which fragments have survived.
Story of Ezekiel
Little personal information is known about the prophet Ezekiel. We do know he was a priest in the temple at Jerusalem, and had a wife prior to being carried off in the Jewish exile of 597 BCE, at age 26. Ezekiel spends little time talking about himself in his book. Aside from the few introductory chapters (mostly about his calling by God to become His prophet), very little material is dedicated to Ezekiel himself.
Ezekiel is mentioned only twice by name: 1:3 and 24:24. He is the son of Buzi the priest, and his name means "God will strengthen". He was one of the Israeilte exiles, who settled at Tel-Aviv, on the banks of the Chebar, "in the land of the Chaldeans." (the place is thus not identical to the modern city Tel Aviv, which however is named after it.) He was probably carried away captive with Jehoiachin (1:2; 2 Kings 24:14-16) about 597 BCE.
On the fifth day of the fourth month in the fifth year of his exile (Tammuz, 592 BCE), he said he beheld on the banks of the Chebar the glory of God, who consecrated him as a prophet. The latest date in his book is the first day of the first month in the twenty-seventh year of his exile (Nisan, 570 BCE); consequently, his prophecies extended over twenty-two years.
The elders of the exiles repeatedly visited him to obtain a divine oracle (chapters 8, 14, 20). He exerted no permanent influence upon his contemporaries, however, whom he repeatedly calls the "rebellious house" (2:5, 6, 8; 3:9, 26, 27; and elsewhere), complaining that although they flock in great numbers to hear him they regard his discourse as a sort of esthetic amusement, and fail to act in accordance with his words (33:30-33). If the enigmatical date, "the thirtieth year" (1:1), be understood to apply to the age of the prophet, Ezekiel was born exactly at the time of the reform in the ritual introduced by Josiah. Concerning his death nothing is known.
He had a house in the place of his exile, where he lost his wife, in the ninth year of his exile, by some sudden and unforeseen stroke (Ezek. 8:1; 24:18).
With the exile, monarchy and state were annihilated, and a political and national life was no longer possible. In the absence of a worldly foundation it became necessary to build upon a spiritual one. This mission Ezekiel performed by observing the signs of the time and by deducing his doctrines from them. In conformity with the two parts of his book his personality and his preaching are alike twofold. The events of the past must be explained. although God has permitted his city and Temple to be destroyed, and his people to be led into exile.
Nonetheless, Ezekiel holds that God is not betraying his people. He asserts that God was compelled to do this because of the sins of the people. Nevertheless, there is no reason to despair for God does not desire the death of the sinner, but his reformation. The Lord will remain the God of Israel, and Israel will remain his people. As soon as Israel recognizes the sovereignty of the Lord and acts accordingly, God will restore the people, in order that they may fulfil their eternal mission and that He may truly dwell in the midst of them. This, however, can not be accomplished until every individual reforms and makes the will of the Lord his law.
Resurrection of the dead
Ezekiel writes about a resurrection of the dead in chapter 37. As early as the second century, however, some authorities declared this resurrection of the dead was a prophetic vision: an opinion regarded by Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed, II:46) and his followers as the only rational explanation of the Biblical passage.
Herein lies the individualistic tendency which distinguishes him from his predecessors. He conceives it as his prophetic mission to strive to reach his brethren and compatriots individually, to follow them, and to win them back to God; and he considers himself personally responsible for every individual soul. Those redeemed were to form the congregation of the new Temple, and to exemplify by their lives the truth of the word that Israel was destined to become a "kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6). Law and worship--these are the two focal points of Ezekiel's hope for the future. The people become a congregation; the nation, a religious fraternity. Political aims and tasks no longer exist; and monarchy and state have become absorbed in the pure dominion of God. Thus Ezekiel has stamped upon post-exilic Judaism its peculiar character; and herein lies his unique religio-historical importance.
Another feature of Ezekiel's personality is the pathological. With no other prophet are vision and ecstasy so prominent; and he repeatedly refers to symptoms of severe maladies, such as paralysis of the limbs and of the tongue (3:25 et seq.), from which infirmities he is relieved only upon the announcement of the downfall of Jerusalem (24:27, 33:22). These statements are to be taken not figuratively, but literally; for God had here purposely ordained that a man subject to physical infirmities should become the pliant instrument of His will.
There have been a number of debates that have surrounded this book over the centuries. For the most part there has been little quesiton of the authenticiy of the book, or its authorship, but rather whether it should be included in the biblical Cannon. This debate did not stem from any doubt of its inspired message, but rather the fear that the unlearned may misinterpret it. For a time, the first chapter was not to be read in synagogues and the private reading of the prophecy was not allowed until a person's 30th birthday.
Up until 1924, no one had questioned the authorship of the book of Ezekiel. For many, it seems clear that the book was writen by one person, expressing one train of thought and style. However, in 1924 a theory was developed that 1,103 of the verses in Ezekiel were added at a later date.
Since then, the academic community has been split into a number of different camps over the authorship of the book. W. Zimmerli, who has a rather large following, proposes that Ezekiel's original message was influenced by a later school that added a deeper understanding to the prophecies. Other groups, like the one led by M. Greenberg, still tend to see the majority of the work of the book done by Ezekiel himself.
The purpose of the book
The book of Ezekiel is a record of the prophesying of Ezekiel who delivered these oracles and prophecies orally at first. Most people accept that Ezekiel did play a part in the written record of these visions, possibly with the help of scribes or followers. The book, which is split into three sections based on the time they were written, was mostly written by Ezekiel himself. Ezekiel's writing is one of the most sophisticated of all of the Old Testament Prophets. This stems from his training as a priest for the temple, as well as his experience in ministering to the elite members of the nation of Judah.
Ezekiel's writing is made up of three distinct levels: an oracle, a continuation and a closing oracle. The first two layers are related in their writing sytle and are both attributed to Ezekiel himself. The third level, however, tends to be different from the first two, and as such is attributed to others who were interested in preserving and updating his work.
The book does show many examples of editing done over a period of time by both Ezekiel and others. Most of this work was simply rearranging the order of the oracles to fit the time period to which they applied.
When was it written?
The Book of Ezekiel can be dated due to Ezekiel's recording of events based on the rule of King Jehoiachin (King of Jerusalem). Ezekiel's records makes it possible to accurately date his life and his time of prophecy due to these references to the reigns of kings.
The Book of Ezekiel was originally written in the 25 year period between 593 to 571 B.C. The book seems to be written in two different time periods during Ezekiel's 25 years of prophecy. The first section which is aimed at the upper class of Judah was written between from 593 to 586 B.C. The second section, which runs from 586 to 571, deals with his oracles of salvation for the people.
The book has numerous events recorded that allows us to estimate their time in history. The following table lists events in the book of Ezekiel with their approximate dates.
|Chariot Vision||1:1-3||June 593 B.C.|
|Call to be a Watchman||3:16||June 593|
|Temple Vision||8:1||August/September 592|
|Discourse with Elders||20:1||August 591|
|Second Siege of Jerusalem||24:1||January 588|
|Judgment on Tyre||26:1||March/April 587/586|
|Judgment on Egypt||29:1||January 587|
|Judgment on Egypt||29:17||April 571|
|Judgment on Egypt||30:20||April 587|
|Judgment on Egypt||31:1||June 587|
|Lament over Pharaoh||32:1||March 585|
|Lament over Egypt||32:17||April 586|
|Fall of Jerusalem||33:21||December/January 586/85|
|New Temple Vision||40:1||April 573|
Where was it written
After being led away by the Babylonians somewhere between 597 and 596, Ezekiel, along with the other Israelites, was resettled in Babylon. Ezekiel himself lived in his own home in exile at Tel Abib near Chebar Canal ( 3:15), which was near Nippur in Babylonia.
Generaly speaking, life was good in captivity. Unlike their ancestors who were enslaved by Egypt before being led to their land by Moses, the Jews of Ezekiel's time were able to become part of the society they found themselves in.
Unlike other enemies, the Babylonians allowed the Jewish people to settle in small groups. This enabled them to preserve some sense of national idenity. Other conquering nations, like Assyria, would scatter the people in an attempt to punish their captives, and to integrate them into their empire to prevent any type of organized resistance or uprising.
While keeping their religious and national identities, many Jewish people did start to settle into their new environment. From building homes to opening businesses, the Jews seemed to settle into their exile land for the long haul.
This growing comfort in Babylon helps to explain why so many Jewish people decided not to return to their land. Many people would have been born in exile and would know nothing of their old land, so when the opprotunity came for them to reclaim the land that was taken from them, many decided not to leave the Babylonian land they knew. This large group of people who decided to stay are sometiems referred to as the "Lost 10 Tribes of Israel"
Why was it written
The book of Ezekiel was written for the Jewish people living in exile in Babylon. For a people whose custom it was to worship their God, who dwelt in the temple in Jerusalem, being in exile raised some important theological questions for them. The largest question was how they could worship a God that had resided in their temple when they were now in a distant land, cut off from their traditional place of worship.
It is to this problem that Ezekiel speaks. Explaining their exile as a punishment for the nations disobedience, Ezekiel explains to the people why they were in exile, and why God would allow the city of Jerusalem to be destroyed.
He does, however, offer hope to the people living in exile. Turning to God's promised grace and forgiveness, he spoke words of hope to the people that desperately needed it at the time. Pointing to a day when they would be restored to their land, and once again they would be prosperous, Ezekiel gave hope to a people who had very little of it.
In a time when the Jewish people were ready to totally turn their backs on the God of their ancestors, Ezekiel sought to show them that their God was still in control of their situation. In their society where their God had lost credibility, and the people were turning away from Him, Ezekiel used his own life and relationship to God as an example to the people of what a right relationship looked like.
What are the themes of the books?
The Book of Ezekiel can be split into three disctinct sections.
- Judgment on Israel - Ezekiel makes a series of denunciations against his fellow Jews ( 3:22-24), warning them of the certain destruction of Jerusalem, in opposition to the words of the false prophets (4:1-3). The symbolic acts, by which the extremities to which Jerusalem would be reduced are described in Chapters 4 and 5, show his intimate acquaintance with the Levitical legislation. (See, for example, Exodus 22:30; Deuteronomy 14:21; Leviticus 5:2; 7:18,24; 17:15; 19:7; 22:8)
- Prophecies against various neighboring nations: against the Ammonites ( Ezek. 25:1-7), the Moabites ( 8-11), the Edomites ( 12-14), the Philistines ( 15-17), Tyre and Sidon ( 26-28), and against Egypt (29-32).
- Prophecies delivered after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II: the triumphs of Israel and of the kingdom of God on earth ( Ezek. 33-39 ); Messianic times, and the establishment and prosperity of the kingdom of God ( 40;48).
Ezekiel did much of his prophizing through his actions. Instead of coming out and just orally give the people a message, God instructed him to live out his messages in various ways. Each one had a unique and specific meaning to them. He does various things like sketches Jersualem on a brick ( Ezek. 4:1-3), Lies on left side for 390 days and right side for 40 ( Ezekiel 4:4-8 ), Shaves his head with a sword, weighs and divides the hair, burning a portion of it, smiting a second portion with a sword and scattering hte third portion ot the winds ( Ezek. 5:1-12), Digs his way through a wall and takes an exile's baggage with him ( Ezek. 12:1-12), Marks out a route for the Babylonian army with a crossroads that forces the king to cast lots to decide which road to take (Ezek. 21:18-23), and Loses his wife in death (Ezek. 25:15-24).
The closing visions of this book are referred to in the book of Revelation (Ezek. 38 = Rev. 20:8; Ezek. 47:1-8 = Rev. 22:1,2). Other references to this book are also found in the New Testament. (Compare Epistle to the Romans 2:24 with Ezek. 36:22; Rom. 10:5, Galatians 3:12 with Ezek. 20:11; 2 Peter 3:4 with Ezek. 12:22.)
Daniel, fourteen years after his deportation from Jerusalem, is mentioned by Ezekiel (14:14) along with Noah and Job as distinguished for his righteousness, and some five years later he is spoken of as pre-eminent for his wisdom (28:3).
Ezekiel refers to the Pentateuch (e.g., Ezek. 27; 28:13; 31:8; 36:11, 34; 47:13, etc.) quite often, and shows on a number of occasions that he is familar with the writings of Hosea (Ezek. 37:22), Isaiah (Ezek. 8:12; 29:6), and especially with those of Jeremiah, his older contemporary (Jeremiah 24:7, 9; 48:37).
In Jewish literature
Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, is said to have been a descendant of Joshua by his marriage with the proselyte Rahab (Talmud Meg. 14b; Midrash Sifre, Num. 78). Some even say that he was the son of Jeremiah, who was also called "Buzi" because he was despised by the Jews. He was already active as a prophet while in Palestine, and he retained this gift when he was exiled with Jehoiachin and the nobles of the country to Babylon (Josephus, Ant. x. 6, § 3: "while he was still a boy"; comp. Rashi on Sanh. 92b, above).
Although in the beginning of the book he very describes the appearance of the throne of God, this is not due to the fact that he had seen more than Isaiah, but because the latter was more accustomed to such visions; for the relation of the two prophets is that of a courtier to a peasant, the latter of whom would always describe a royal court more floridly than the former, to whom such things would be familiar (Ḥag. 13b). Ezekiel, like all the other prophets, has beheld only a blurred reflection of the divine majesty, just as a poor mirror reflects objects only imperfectly (Midrash Lev. Rabbah i. 14, toward the end). God allowed Ezekiel to behold the throne in order to demonstrate to him that Israel had no reason to be proud of the Temple; for God, who is praised day and night by the hosts of the angels, does not need human offerings and worship (Midrash Lev. Rabbah ii. 8; Tanna debe Eliyahu R. vi.).
According to midrash Canticles Rabbah, it was Ezekiel whom the three pious men, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, asked for advice as to whether they should resist Nebuchadnezzar's command and choose death by fire rather than worship his idol. At first God revealed to the prophet that they could not hope for a miraculous rescue; whereupon the prophet was greatly grieved, since these three men constituted the "remnant of Judah". But after they had left the house of the prophet, fully determined to sacrifice their lives to God, Ezekiel received this revelation: "Thou dost believe indeed that I will abandon them. That shall not happen; but do thou let them carry out their intention according to their pious dictates, and tell them nothing" (Midrash Canticles Rabbah vii. 8)
Translations and commentaries on the book of Ezekiel
Print translations and commentaries
(To be added)
On-line translations and commentaries
- Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.
- LaSor, William Sanford et al. Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.
- Allen, Leslie C. "Word Biblical Commentary Volume 28: Ezekiel 1-20". Word Books Publisher: Dallas TX, 1990
- Allen, Leslie C. "Word Biblical Commentary Volume 29: Ezekiel 20-48". Word Books Publisher: Dallas TX, 1990
Prepared in 2005 for the course BIBL5023 at Acadia Divinity College
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