The name ‘Ezekiel’ means ‘God strengthens’ or ‘God will strengthen’. As a Levite (1:3), Ezekiel would have started to work in the temple when he was 30 years of age. Ezekiel was, however, about 25 years old when he was part of the second deportation to Babylon in about 597 BC. While he never acted as a priest in the temple, at 30 years of age Ezekiel was called to serve as a prophet of God (1:1). God not only strengthened Ezekiel because he was told that Israel would not listen to him (3:4-11), but He also inspired Ezekiel to write this book, probably in about 575-570 BC.
Daniel was part of the first deportation to Babylon in 605 BC, Ezekiel was part of the second deportation (with 10 000 other skilled Jewish people) to Babylon in 597 BC and when Jerusalem fell in 586 BC, Jeremiah left the city under duress. In Babylon, the Jewish captives were not treated as slaves, but lived in exile at the river Chebar (1:3; 3:15), a royal canal of Nebuchadnezzar that flowed out of the Euphrates (Feinberg 2003:11, 18). You can almost hear the Jewish people singing ‘by the rivers of Babylon where we sat down and wept’ (cf. Psalm 137:1). Ezekiel therefore received his prophetic calling, visions, symbolic acts and various other revelations over a period of about 20 to 22 years (about 597-575 BC) while he was outside of the land of Israel. While most of Jeremiah’s prophecies were delivered while he was still in the land of Israel, both Daniel and Ezekiel acted as prophets of God while outside of the land of Israel.
Ezekiel ministered to Jewish people outside of the land, specifically to the Jews in Tel-Abib by the river Chebar in Babylonia (2:3; 3:11, 15). Ezekiel warned his audience not to believe false prophets who denied God’s judgement of Jerusalem and called them to repent and turn back to God (Dyer & Rydelnik 2014:1204). But God also foretold them through Ezekiel that not only will Gentile nations be judged (25-32), but Israel will be restored in the millennium kingdom under the Messiah, in their land and as a saved nation (33-48).
‘If the message of Isaiah centers about the salvation of the Lord, that of Jeremiah about the judgment of the Lord, and that of Daniel about the kingdom of the Lord, then that of Ezekiel is concerned with the glory of the Lord’ (Feinberg 2003:12). Initially the Book of Ezekiel is about judgement, but after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC and the nation in exile (mentioned in 33:21), Ezekiel’s message changed to a message of hope (Rooker 2011:398). The remnant of Israel was reminded that their only hope was in the glorious character of the God of Israel, and so references to God’s glory occur frequently in Ezekiel (1:28; 3:12, 23; 8:4; 9:3; 10:4, 18-19; 11:22-23; 39:11, 21; 43:2-5; 44:4). It is therefore fitting that in the opening section of the book, Ezekiel sees in a vision God’s glory on the throne (1:4-2:7), later Ezekiel sees in a vision how God’s glory left the temple and Jerusalem (8-11) but in the closing prophetic section, the glory of God returns to fill the millennium temple (43:1-12). According to Constable (2017:10), ‘fifteen times God said He acted to keep His name glorious (20:9, 14, 22, 39, 44; 36:20-23; 39:7, 25; 43:7-8)’ and over ‘60 times the Lord said He had acted so the people would know that He was Yahweh’. In the light of God’s consistent character, Ezekiel was commissioned to deliver a message of judgement (ex. chapters 2-3) but later recommissioned to give a message of deliverance and hope, based on God’s faithfulness to His covenants and mercy to those who would turn to Him (Dyer & Rydelnik 2014:1205). Ezekiel ministered to ‘all twelve tribes and his purpose was twofold: (1) to remind them of the sins which had brought judgment and exile upon them; (2) to encourage and strengthen their faith by prophecies of future restoration and glory’ (Feinberg 2003:13).
The Structure of Ezekiel
If Ezekiel is structured according to fourteen specific dates (cf. Constable 2017:5-6), then the following fourteen grouped messages may outline the book: First: 1:1—3:15; Second 3:16—7:27; Third 8:1—19:14; Fourth 20:1—23:49; Fifth 24:1—25:17; Sixth 26:1—28:26; Seventh 29:1-16; Eight 29:17—30:19; Ninth 30:20-26; Tenth 31:1-18; Eleventh 32:1-16; Twelfth 32:17—33:20; Thirteenth 33:21—39:29; and Fourteenth 40:1—48:35.
Another way to structure Ezekiel is logical-topical and, if this approach is followed, the book may be structured as follows:
It is worth noting three chiastic structures for three visions that touch on the topic of God’s glory. Parunak (1980:62-66) identified the following chiastic structure for Ezekiel 1:1-3:15:
A Circumstances of the vision 1:1-3
B Divine confrontation: the chariot’s approach 1:4-28
C Introductory word 2:1-2
D First commission and reassurance 2:3-8a
E Confirmatory sign 2:8b—3:3
D’ Second commission 3:4-11
C’ Introductory word 3:12
B’ Divine confrontation: the chariot’s departure 3:13
A’ Circumstances of the vision 3:14-15
A second chiastic structure identified by Parunak (180:67-69) is for Ezekiel 8-11, where the Shekinah glory of God slowly departs from the temple and from Jerusalem: A 8:1-4; B 8:5-9:11; C 10:1-7; C’ 10:8-22; B’ 11:1-21; and A’ 11:22-25.
A third chiastic structure worth highlighting is identified by Dorsey (1999:257), concerning Ezekiel chapters 40-48:
A Measurements of the temple 40:1-42:20
B Arrival of the glory of God from the east 43:1-12
C Temple regulations 43:13-44:31
D Measurements of land’s sacred centre 45:1-12
C’ Temple regulations 45:13-46:24
B’ Departure of river to the east 47:1-12
A’ Measurements of the land 47:13-48:35
Ezekiel’s Concluding Message
Written to Jews outside of the land, Ezekiel may well be a difficult book, what with its four visions, ten symbolic actions, two allegories (chapters 16 and 23), four parables, four lamentations, apocalyptic imagery and various personal experiences which the Lord inspired Ezekiel to write about. It is with sadness and sorrow that one reads in Ezekiel 8-11 how God’s Shekinah glory left the temple in Jerusalem. But the same Ezekiel tells about the sprig from the line of David (17:22), the future righteous King (21:27) and the True Shepherd (34:11-16) who will return to Jerusalem from the east and with glory (43:1-5). The moment God’s righteous judgement on Jerusalem was reported to Ezekiel (33:21), the message in Ezekiel changed from judgement to hope, from present captivity to future restoration and glory. Written many years later to Jews in the dispersion outside of the land (1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 3:1), the apostle to the Jews says much the same thing, for believers are to heed the prophetic word as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts (2 Peter 1:19).
Constable, T.L., 2017, Notes on Ezekiel, 2017 edition.
Dorsey, D.A., 1999, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids.
Dyer, C. with Rydelnik, E., 2014, ‘Ezekiel’, in M. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (eds.), The Moody Bible Commentary, pp. 1203-1278, Moody Publishers, Chicago.
Feinberg, C.L., 2003, The Prophecy of Ezekiel: The Glory of God, Wipf & Stock Publishers, Eugene.
Rooker, M.F., 2011, ‘Ezekiel’, in E.H. Merrill, M.F. Rooker & M.A. Grisanti, The World and the Word, pp. 394-404, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville.
Parunak, H. Van Dyke, 1980, “The Literary Architecture of Ezekiel’s mar’ot ‘elohim,” Journal of Biblical Literature 99(1), 61-74.
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