THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL
Part I: Ezekiel's Call to a Prophetic Ministry
Chapter 1: Ezekiel's First Vision
Holy and Eternal Lord,
Throughout salvation history, You have sent godly men and women to encourage Your people and to keep them on the narrow pathway to salvation. In a time of national and spiritual crisis, You called the young priest Ezekiel to be Your voice to a discouraged and fearful covenant people. You sent Your prophet to remind them that You apply Your judgments for the sake of their redemption, even in the case of captivity and exile. In their suffering, You called Your people to return to You in faith and obedience. When they completed their time of atonement, You promised them a physical restoration to the Promised Land and a spiritual restoration in which they would forsake false idols and know, beyond a doubt, that Yahweh is the One, True, and Holy God. Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our study of the ministry of Your "prophet of the exile" in the Book of Ezekiel. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
+ + +
By the rivers
of Babylon we sat mourning and weeping when we remembered Zion. On the poplars
of the land we hung up our harps. There our captors asked us for the words of
a song; our tormentors, for a joyful song: "Sing for us a song of Zion!" But
how could we sing a song of the LORD [YHWH] in a foreign land?
Psalm 137:1-4 (NAB)
Link to the song and video
Ezekiel is the third of the Major Prophets whose book comes after the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Christian canon. Ezekiel was the son of a chief priest named Buzi (Ez 1:3). His Hebrew name, yehezqel (1:3; 24:24), like most Hebrew names, represents either an affirmation of faith in Yahweh or an appeal of faith. Therefore, his name can mean either "God strengthens," or "May God strengthen."(1)His name expresses his parents' faith in Yahweh, and Ezekiel more than lives up to his name. In experiencing the rejection of his prophetic ministry by his fellow exiles, Yahweh strengthened him in the midst of his trials and sufferings, telling Ezekiel, "I am making your resolution as hard as a diamond, harder than flint. So do not be afraid of them, do not be overawed by them, for they are a tribe of rebels." (Ez 3:8).
Ezekiel was a younger contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, and like him was a descendant of Aaron, Moses' brother and the first high priest of the Sinai Covenant. He was born into a priestly family, and therefore he probably had a good education. As all male descendants of Aaron, Ezekiel was destined to serve in the ministerial priesthood as a chief priest in Yahweh's holy Jerusalem Temple. Like Jeremiah, he grew up during the reforms of a Davidic descendant, King Josiah of Judah (640-609 BC), and, like Jeremiah, he lived through the greatest crisis in the history of ancient Israel.
In his youth, Ezekiel rejoiced with his countrymen when the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, fell to the Babylonians (612 BC), signaling the beginning of the end the Assyrian Empire's rule over the region. He mourned when good King Josiah died at the Battle of Megiddo, trying to stop the Egyptians from reinforcing the Assyrians (609 BC). He must have cheered with his people when the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians in fierce hand-to-hand combat at the Battle of Carchemish (605 BC) only to experience the uneasiness of knowing that the Babylonians were the new overlords of the entire region, including the Kingdom of Judah.
Ezekiel and his people's unease increased when the Babylonians declared Judah a vassal state of the Babylonian Empire and took children from noble families as hostages back to Babylon, including the young future prophet, Daniel (605 BC). It was the first of three exiles for the people of Judah. In 598-98 BC, after an attempt to resist the Babylonians by Davidic King Jehoiakim and his eighteen-year-old son, King Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim died, and his son was forced to surrender to Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians appointed the young king's uncle, Mattaniah, their vassal king, renaming him Zedekiah. The Babylonians took about eight thousand Judahites to Babylon. These exiles included King Jehoiachin, his mother, leading citizens, Ezekiel, his wife (Ez 24:17), and all trained artisans like blacksmiths in a second great exile (2 Kng 24:12-17; Ez 33:21).
In the meantime, God's holy prophet Jeremiah continued his ministry to call the captive citizens of Judah to repentance for their many sins and to turn back in obedience to the covenant Yahweh made with their ancestors at Mt. Sinai. When they agreed to become Yahweh's covenant people at Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel swore complete obedience to Yahweh's Laws and commands in exchange for the blessings of God's protection (Ex 23:20-22; 24:3; Lev 26:3-13; Dt 28:1-14). Jeremiah continually warned that disobedience would mean the loss of Yahweh's protection and the fall of Jerusalem.
False prophets rejected Jeremiah's warnings of judgment, destruction, and exile. He was excommunicated from Temple worship, thrown into prison, and threatened with death. The king of Judah and the people didn't believe Jeremiah's oracles concerning the defeat of the Kingdom of Judah (the last of what had been the United Kingdom of Israel). Nor did they believe God would permit the destruction of Jerusalem and a prolonged Babylonian exile. They believed Yahweh would never deprive them of their Promised Land, nor would He allow the destruction of His holy Temple (Jer 26:7-11). They based their confidence on four pillars of belief concerning their relationship with Yahweh:
The defeat of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians and the exile of the entire population in 722 BC should have been a warning to the Southern Kingdom of Judah (2 Kng 17:7-18; 18:9-12). However, the people of Judah believed they were especially blessed because of their loyalty to the Davidic kings who ruled them and God's dwelling place among them in the Jerusalem Temple. They forgot that God saved them from the Assyrians only because good Davidic King Hezekiah led the entire nation to repentance through the destruction of all pagan images and recommitment to their covenant with Yahweh.(2 Kng 18:1-8; 19:32-36). King Josiah (640-609 BC) repeated his great-grandfather's acts of covenant loyalty and for a time saved the nation from divine judgment (1 Kng 23:1-20).
However, all Jeremiah's dire prophecies were true. Ezekiel's mission to the exiles in Babylon was to prepare them for the greatest crisis in the history of Yahweh's covenant people. They were doomed to experience the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem, including Yahweh's Temple, and the seventy-year exile of the population of the covenant people foretold by Jeremiah (Jer 25:8-11). In a first-person narrative, Ezekiel tells his fellow Judean that their exile and suffering are not because of any failure or lack of fidelity on God's part. Their exile and suffering are because of their sins individually and collectively, their failure to repent their sins, and their infidelity to their covenant with Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Both the Old and New Testaments recognized the legacy of Ezekiel's prophetic mission. Sirach 49:8 mentions Ezekiel's mission in the Old Testament. The New Testament does not mention Ezekiel by name, but New Testament writers refer to his prophecies and their fulfillment in Jesus. For example, compare Matthew 22:32 to Ezekiel 17:23, Mark 16:16 to Ezekiel 36:25-27, and John Chapter 10 to Ezekiel Chapter 34. The Book of Revelation, the last of the Bible books, especially alludes to Ezekiel's prophecies. No other Bible book has as many links to the Book of Revelation as the Book of Ezekiel. For example, compare Revelation Chapters 18-21 with Ezekiel Chapters 27, 38, and 47.
There are different ways to look at the divisions in the Book of Ezekiel. The first-century Jewish priest/historian, Flavius Josephus, apparently saw the book divided into two parts and wrote "Ezekiel left behind in writing two books concerning these events" (Antiquities of the Jews, 10.5.1 ). Josephus probably based his remark on the fact that the first half of the Book of Ezekiel in Chapters 1-12 consists largely of prophecies of judgment, while the last half in Chapters 25-48 consists largely of consolations for the covenant people.
In this study, we divide the Book of Ezekiel into four major sections that reflect different aspects of Ezekiel's ministry:
Part I contains Ezekiel's call to a prophetic ministry and the most bizarre vision of the Divine witnessed by any prophet. In Part II, it was God's plan that Ezekiel's oracles of judgment would help the Judeans understand why God let the city of Jerusalem fall to the Babylonians, bringing about the end of the earthly Davidic Kingdom. The oracles for the pagan, Gentile nations in Part III serve as a prelude to the establishment of the new Davidic Kingdom in the Messianic Age and has two parts:
The oracles in Part IV demonstrate that Yahweh did not abandon His people; they will return to the Promised Land and their covenant relationship with the God of Israel.
|Biblical Period||# 8 THE EXILE|
|Focus||Ezekiel's Call to a Prophetic Ministry||Judgment of the Covenant People||Judgment of the Nations||Oracles of Salvation and Promised Restoration|
|Ezekiel's first visions and divine call to service||
|Judgment on 7 Gentile Nations||
-Salvation for Israel
-The New Israel
|Topic||Before the siege of Jerusalem||During the siege of Jerusalem||After the destruction and fall of Jerusalem|
|Time||593 BC " 587/6 BC||c. 587/6 BC||c. 585 BC " 571 BC|
TIMELINE B.C. WORLD EMPIRES:
Divided Kingdom---Southern Kingdom
722 605 597 587 539 517
Assyria Babylon 2nd Babylon Persia Jerusalem Temple
conquers conquers deportation destroys conquers rebuilt
Israel & Assyria Jerusalem Babylon
exile of 1st Judahites & Temple - Edict of Cyrus allows
citizens deported to Babylon 3rd deportation exiles' return to Judah
(the 70-year exile)(2)
|Year BC||Scripture||Historical Event||Ezekiel's Life|
|930||1 Kng 12:20-24||The United Kingdom of Israel divides into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.|
|732||2 Kng 15:29||The Assyrians invade the Galilee and deport the entire population to Assyria in the first Israelite deportation.|
|722||2 Kng 17||The fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians and completion of the exile of the people of the Northern tribes into Assyria.|
|640||2 Kng 22:1||The accession of King Josiah of Judah, and the birth of Jeremiah.|
|628/7||Jer 1:1-2||Jeremiah's prophetic call|
|626||Nabopolassar is king of Babylon. His son, Nebuchadnezzar, is the commanding general of his armies.|
2 Kng 24:10-12
|If Ezekiel was 30 years old in the 5th year of the exile of King Jehoiachin (exiled in 598/7 BC), he was born in c. 623 BC.||Birth of Ezekiel (?)|
|614||The Assyrian city of Asshur falls to the Medes.|
|612||Assyrian capital city of Nineveh falls to the Babylonians.|
2 Kng 23:29-35; 2 Chr 36:1-2
2 Kng 23:36
2 Chr 36:3-4
|The Battle of Megiddo, death of King Josiah, and accession of King Jehoahaz of Judah. Judah becomes an Egyptian vassal state. The Egyptians exile King Jehoahaz to Egypt and make Jehoiakim King of Judah|
2 Kng 24:1
|The Battle of Carchemish and fall of the Assyrian Empire. The Babylonians become the regional superpower. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon succeeds his father as king and marches on Jerusalem. Judah becomes a vassal state of Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar orders the first Babylonian exile of the citizens of Judah.|
|604||2 Kng 24:1-5; 2 Chr 36:5-7||King Jehoiakim revolts against the Babylonians and dies.|
2 Kng 24:8-17;
2 Chr 36:9-10
2 Kng 24:17;
2 Chr 36:9-10
|King Jehoiachin succeeds his father.* The Babylonians depose Jehoiachin/Jechoniah, and he is sent into exile to Babylonia in the 2nd mass exile of Judahite citizens to Babylon. The Babylonians make Zedekiah king of Judah.||
Ezekiel is sent into exile to Babylon with the other Judahite captives.
|593||Ez 1:1-3:21||Ezekiel's first vision and prophetic call.|
|590||Zedekiah revolts against the Babylonians|
2 Kng 25:1;
2 Chr 36:13;
|The siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army begins.|
2 Kng 25:2-10;
2 Chr 36:19
|The fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple.|
2 Kng 25:11;
2 Kng 25:22-25; Jer 40:7; 41:2
|3rd mass exile of Judahites to Babylon. Babylonians appoint Gedaliah governor of Judah, but he is assassinated, and the remaining Judahites flee to Egypt.|
|585||Ez 33:21-22||Word of the fall of Jerusalem reaches the exiles (Dec 586/Jan 585).||Ezekiel announces the fall of Jerusalem to the exiles.|
|582||Jer 46:13||Nebuchadnezzar invades Egypt.|
|570||Death of Ezekiel (?)|
|550||Cyrus becomes king of the Medes.|
|559||Cyrus becomes king of Persia.|
2 Chr 36:22-23
|King Cyrus conquers the Babylonians. The Edict of King Cyrus allows all peoples conquered by the Babylonians, including the citizens of Judah, to return to their homelands.|
|517||Ezra 5:1-2||The rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple.|
|Michal E. Hunt © 2017|
*According to St. Matthew's genealogy, Jesus' foster father, Joseph, was a descendant of Davidic King Jehoiachin, called Jechoniah in Matthew 1:11-16.
Ezekiel was one of the exiles deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in the second exile (598/7 BC). In Babylon, God called him to a prophetic ministry, making him the first prophet of Yahweh to receive the call to a prophetic ministry outside the Holy Land. In his role as Yahweh's prophet, God communicated with Ezekiel through:
Ezekiel heard God's voice in oracles, preached God's messages to the people, performed prophetic acts that were object lessons for his preaching, and told the exiles parables. The prophetic acts were meant to elicit a response from the people, leading Ezekiel to provide an explanation of the symbolism of his prophetic act and to reveal the message of an oracle from God. A parable is a truth presented as a story or word picture to convey a specific teaching or message.(3) Ezekiel's parables were, for the most part, messages of God's judgment for the unfaithful covenant people of Judah. See the chart on Ezekiel's oracles in Appendix I, the chart on his prophetic acts in Appendix II, and the chart on his parables in Appendix III at the end of the lesson.
Ezekiel also saw visions, and his visions are remarkably like the visions of St. John in the Book of Revelation. In fact, no other Bible book has as many links to the last Bible book, the visions of St. John in the Book of Revelation, as the Book of Ezekiel. See the chart on the parallels between Ezekiel's visions and the visions of St. John in the Book of Revelation in Appendix IV of this lesson.
Ezekiel's prophetic ministry lasted from 593 BC to 571 BC (see Ez 29:17 for the last oracle and date). The Book of Ezekiel contains fifteen dates. The book begins with the initial date of his divine calling. The first series of seven dates in the Book of Ezekiel relate to major events in Ezekiel's preaching ministry. The dates serve to show that the message he delivered was perfectly in line with God's divine plan as it moved through judgment, disaster, and toward the promise of restoration. The second series of eight dates are associated with judgment oracles against foreign nations in Chapters 25-32.
Ezekiel calculates all the dates from the year King Jehoiachin became king, which was the same year as his exile in 598 BC rather than the years of King Zedekiah, Jehoiachin's successor and Judah's last Davidic king. The Babylonians deposed young King Jehoiachin and made him their prisoner. They sent him into exile in Babylon in the third month of his reign with his mother, other important citizens, including some chief priests like Ezekiel, and eight thousand other Judahites. Dating the events in his ministry to King Jehoiachin suggests that Ezekiel considered him the only legitimate Davidic King of Judah since King Jehoiachin was still alive in exile.
Don't miss the significance of the pattern of seven and eight dates. Seven is a favorite number in the Book of Ezekiel, with the number seven appearing twenty-two times (3:15, 16; 20:1; 29:17; 30:20; 39:9, 12, 14; 40:22, 26; 41:3; 42:25; 43:26; 44:26; 45:20, 21, 23 four times, 25 twice). It is also a number that is repeated frequently in the Book of Revelation. In Sacred Scripture, seven is a number that symbolizes completion and fullness. It is also the number of Yahweh's covenants and, in the New Testament, the number of the Holy Spirit. There are seven Old Testament covenants initiated by God with individuals and with Israel as a corporate covenant people. The eighth covenant is the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. See Yahweh's Eight Covenants.
However, the combination of seven and eight is significant. Together these numbers form a remarkable connection that point to the moving forward of God's divine plan. Seven, according to its etymology, means that which is spiritually complete, while eight denotes that which is superabundant. Yahweh's covenants are a seven and eight combination: seven covenants revealed in the Old Testament and the eighth covenant in the New Testament, in the New Covenant in Christ. Another example of the seven/eight pattern is found in the Book of Revelation which relate to judgment in God's divine plan. The last seven judgment visions of St. John are introduced by the Greek words kai eidon, "and I saw," eight times in Revelation 19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11; 21:1; and 21:2, yielding the seven/eight pattern for the final time in Sacred Scripture. See the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture"
Date in Scripture
(all dates beginning with Ez 1:2 are dated from King Jehoiachin's exile)
Equivalent Dates BC
(it is assumed that all dates are from the liturgical calendar)
|Seven Dates Associated With Events in Ezekiel's Ministry to the Exiles|
|Ez 1:1||30th year, 4th month, 5th day||July 593|
|Ez 1:2||5th year, 4th month?, 5th day||July 593|
|Ez 3:16||5th year, 4th month? 7th day (Sabbath?)||July 593|
|Ez 8:1||6th year, 6th month, 5th day||August/September 592|
|Ez 20:1||7th year, 5th month, 10th day||July/August 591|
|Ez 24:1||9th year, 10th month, 10th day||December 589/January 588|
|Ez 26:1||11th year, ? month, 1st day*||587-586|
|Eight Dates Associated With Oracles Against Foreign Nations|
|Ez 29:1||10th year, 10th month, 12th day||December 588/January 587|
|Ez 29:17||27th year, 1st month, 1st day||March/April 571|
|Ez 30:20||11th year, 1st month, 7th day||March/April 587|
|Ez 31:1||11th year, 3rd month, 1st day||May/June 587|
|Ez 32:1||12th year, 12th month, 1st day||February/March 586|
|Ez 32:17||12th year, 12th month, 15th day||February/March 586|
|Ez 33:21||12th year, 10th month, 5th day||December 586/January 585|
|Ez 40:1||25th year, 1st month, 10th day+||March/April 573|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2017|
*Septuagint Greek text reads "twelfth year and first month," i.e. March-April 586 BC
Several dates are out of chronological order; the oracle in 29:17 is the last oracle Ezekiel received. All dates are assumed to be from the liturgical lunar calendar rather than the civil lunar calendar. In the liturgical calendar, the next year began in the early spring, our March/April, with 29-30 days per month (the civil calendar began in the early fall). In a lunar calendar, each new moon begins a new month with the full moon marking the mid-month. Dates are from the New Jerusalem Bible; however, dates may vary according to the source.
For the names of the months in the Old Covenant civil and
liturgical calendars, see Israel's Liturgical and Civil Calendar Year.
Please note that, like the Old Covenant Church, we also have a civil and liturgical calendar. Our civil calendar begins on January the 1st, the eighth day after Jesus' birth on December 25th (as the ancients counted without a zero place-value). It was the day Jesus was circumcised as a child of the Sinai Covenant. Our liturgical calendar begins on the first week of Advent.
God's prophet Jeremiah prophesied a seventy-year exile for the Judahites in Babylonian captivity (Jer 25:11; 29:10; 2 Chr 36:21). It was a prophecy refuted by the false Judean prophets in Babylon, like Hananiah who told the people the exile would end within two years (Jer 28:1-4).
Ezekiel's mission was to refute Hananiah's false prophecies, to prepare his fellow countrymen and women in Babylon for the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem. He was to urge the Judahites:
The reason for the exile is the theme of the Book of Ezekiel. Yahweh tells the people through His prophet that the exile is so You/they will know that I am Yahweh. It is a statement, repeated with slight variations seventy times.(4) It was Ezekiel's mission to act as Yahweh's prosecuting attorney against His covenant people, announcing God's covenant judgments against them for their violations of the covenant treaty made at Mt. Sinai with Yahweh, their Great King (Lev 26:14-46; Dt 28:15-69). He was to explain the actions of God in permitting the conquest of Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the captivity in exile of the citizens of Judah, and what appeared to be the end of the Davidic line of kings. The Davidic King appointed by the Babylonians Zedekiah, and all his sons would die at the hands of the Babylonians when they destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BC. The man Ezekiel considered the last legitimate Davidic king languished in exile with his people and would die an honored prisoner in Babylon as the last known Davidic heir (2 Kng 24:8-12; 25:27-30).
The other aspect of Ezekiel's mission was to tell the people that their punishment was not because God had repudiated His covenant people, even though they had repudiated Him by worshipping false gods. Their punishment was intended to separate them from the sin of idolatry so they would come to know that Yahweh is the One and Only God. It was a mission that Ezekiel accepted and was faithful to his entire life.
All Scripture quoted in this study is from the New Jerusalem Bible unless noted otherwise.
He parted the
heavens and came down, a storm-cloud underneath his feet; riding one of the
winged creatures, he flew soaring on the wings of the wind. His covering he
made the darkness, his pavilion dark waters and dense cloud. A brightness lit
up before him, hail and blazing fire.
Chapter 1 divides into five parts:
Ezekiel 1:1-3 ~ Introduction and Historical Background
1 In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, as I was among the exiles by the River Chebar, heaven [the heavens] opened and I saw visions from God. 2 On the fifth of the month, it was the fifth year of exile for King Jehoiachin, 3 the word of Yahweh was addressed to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in Chaldaea by the River Chebar. There the hand of Yahweh came on him.
[...] = Hebrew translation, IBHE, vol. III, page 1898.
It is Ezekiel's custom to open accounts of his prophetic experiences with a date based on the year of King Jehoiachin's exile to Babylon in the first year of his reign (2 Kng 24:10-12). Deposing King Jehoiachin put an end to the revolt against Babylonian domination that his father, King Jehoiakim, began a few years earlier. 2 Kings 24:8-17 records how Nebuchadnezzar arrived in Jerusalem to order the deportation of the young king with his mother, members of the aristocracy, and military elite. Nebuchadnezzar then installed Jehoiachin's uncle, Mattaniah, whom he renamed Zedekiah, as his vassal king of Judah. Babylonian chronicles support these events and assign them to the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign in the spring of 598 BC to spring 597 BC.
As far as Ezekiel is concerned, King Jehoiachin is Judah's only legitimate king and all other kings of Judah appointed by foreign powers are illegitimate. Ezekiel's custom of giving a date is a departure from the usual practice in prophetic books. Notice that verse 1 is a first person account while verses 2-3 are a third person account, perhaps recorded by Ezekiel's secretary or a later editor. The first person account continues in verse 4.
1:1 In the
thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month ...
The "thirtieth year" may refer to Ezekiel's age when he received his prophetic call or, as other Biblical scholars suggest, it is in the thirtieth year of his ministry that he made his book available. However, verse 2 records that God's divine call occurred on the fifth day of an unnamed month in the fifth year and seems to support the interpretation that Ezekiel was referring to the event in the same year, month, and day as when he was thirty years old in verse 1. It was the interpretation of many Church Fathers that Ezekiel was thirty years old when he received his divine call, including Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. Jerome (Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, 1.2.3; Jerome, Commentary on Ezekiel, 1.1.1).
Question: Age thirty was a significant age in
Scripture. What examples can you give of other agents of God who began serving
the Lord in an important mission at age thirty? See Num 4:1-3; 1 Chr 23:3-4; 2
Sam 5:4; Lk 1:36-37; 3:23.
Answer: The Levitical chief priests began their public service in the Temple at age thirty. Age thirty was when David became King of Israel. Both St. John the Baptist, who was six months older than Jesus (as the ancients counted), and Jesus began their ministries when they were thirty years old.
Ezekiel was a chief priest (verse 3). It was therefore fitting that he should receive his prophetic call to begin his ministry at age thirty since it was the age a chief priest finished his training to become a fully invested chief priest.
as I was among the exiles by the River Chebar, heaven [the
heavens] opened and I saw visions from God. The Hebrew translation has
Ezekiel, unlike Daniel, is not living among the pagan Gentiles but with his exiled Judahites. That the "heavens opened" is a unique expression. Elsewhere the Old Testament records that God "inclines" or "rends" the Heaven to descend and reveal Himself (2 Sam 22:10; Is 63:11, 19). It is the same expression rendered in Greek in the New Testament account of Jesus' Baptism in Matthew 3:16 and Luke 3:21 (Mk 1:10 has heavens "torn open"). The result of the opening of Heaven is that Ezekiel sees "visions from God." The announcement of the revelation is the end of the first person account that begins again in verse 4.
2 On the fifth of
the month, it was the fifth year of exile for King Jehoiachin,
Davidic King Jehoiachin was deposed in the spring of 598 and sent into exile in 598/597 BC. Ezekiel's call to prophetic service occurs on the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year of the deportation. The fifth year of his exile would have been about 593 BC. It was the same year of Ezekiel's prophetic call when he was probably thirty years old. The fifth day of the fourth month in verse 2 would have been the fifth of Tammuz or the month of July in our calendar. See a chart of the Jewish calendar and the list of Ezekiel's dates in the Appendix to the lesson.
King Zedekiah, Jehoiachin's uncle who the Babylonians appointed as his successor when they deposed the young king, visited Babylon in the fourth year of his reign, in 594/3 BC, according to Jeremiah 51:59. The exiles would have known of His visit to renew his oath of allegiance to his Babylonian overlords. When they heard about the visit, the news probably fueled their expectations that the return to their homeland was imminent. However, Yahweh repudiated Zedekiah and every citizen of Judah who placed their hopes in the king. Counting as the ancients counted, King Zedekiah, the city of Jerusalem, the Temple will all be destroyed within a significant seven years.
3 the word of
Yahweh was addressed to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in Chaldaea by the
Chaldaea is another name for Babylon (Ez 12:13; 23:15, 23), identifying the nation by its ruling class. The Chaldaeans were a group of Aramaeans who had moved into southern Babylonia in the early part of the 1st millennium BC. A Chaldean leader named Nabopolassar succeeded in gaining independence for Babylon from Assyria in 625 BC, declared himself king, and founded the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar was his son and the second monarch in the Chaldean dynasty.
Ezekiel was standing by the water when he received his call and inaugural vision. The River Chebar, identified in the Hebrew as the Kabaru canal, was an obscure course of water mentioned twice in ancient Babylonian documents. One document identifies the location of the canal near the city of Nippur, an ancient city of Mesopotamia located today in southwestern Iraq south of Bagdad.
There the hand of Yahweh came on him.
The "hand of God" is a manifestation of God's power (see Ex 9:3; Dt 2:15; 1 Sam 5:9; Is 41:20). In 8:1, Ezekiel will use a slightly different expression, writing, The hand of Yahweh fell on me, which describes the way he felt the overwhelming power of God's presence.
Ezekiel 1:4-14 ~ The Vision of Yahweh's Chariot-Throne
and the Four Living Creatures
4 I looked; a stormy wind blew from the north, a great cloud with flashing fire and brilliant light round it, and in the middle, in the heart of the fire, a brilliance like that of amber, 5 and in the middle what seemed to be four living creatures. They looked like this: They were of human form. 6 Each had four faces, each had four wings. 7 Their legs were straight; they had hooves like calves, glittering like polished brass. 8 Below their wings, they had human hands on all four sides corresponding to their four faces and four wings. 9 They touched one another with their wings; they did not turn as they moved; each one moved straight forward. 10 As to the appearance of their faces, all four had a human face, and a lion's face to the right, and all four had a bull's face to the left, and all four had an eagle's face. 11 Their wings were spread upwards, each had one pair touching its neighbor's, and the other pair covering its body. 12 And each one moved straight forward; they went where the spirit urged them, they did not turn as they moved. 13 Between these living creatures were what looked like blazing coals, like torches, darting backwards and forwards between the living creatures; the fire gave a brilliant light, and lightning flashed from the fire, 14 and the living creatures kept disappearing and reappearing like flashes of lightning.
Standing by the Chebar River, Ezekiel witnesses one of the most bizarre visions recorded in the Bible. Gentile lands were considered ritually unclean because the people and their land were polluted with idol worship, while the land of Israel was pure and holy because it was the dwelling place of Yahweh (Amos 7:17; Ez 4:13; Hos 9:3-4; Ex 19:2; 2 Kng 5:17; Jer 12:7; 8:11; Hos 8:1; Zec 2:16; 9:8; 2 Mac 1:7). Flowing water provided the means for ritual purification and cleansing from exposure to the impure (see Lev 14:5, 50; 15:13; Num 19:17). Every town in Israel had a ritual purification pool for immersion called a mikveh, and Jerusalem had several, including the Pool of Siloam (Jn 9:6-7). Religious Jews immersed for ritual purification at least once a day and always before attending Temple worship. It is the reason St. John the Baptist's baptism was a ritual of immersion in water for the repentance of sins in preparation for the coming of the Messianic Kingdom (Mt 3:5). Ezekiel standing by the canal may have been because he was ritually purifying himself. The question is where was he looking when he saw the divine apparition? Was he looking at the sky or was he seeing the reflection of the vision in the water of the canal? If he was looking into the water, he was avoiding the danger associated with coming face to face with a Divine Being.
Question: Can you recall in Scripture when God
warned that no human being could see His face and live or when an agent of God,
knowing the warning, protected himself from directly viewing God's face? See
Ex 33:18-20 and 1 Kng 19:9-13.
looked; a stormy wind blew from the north
Biblical scholar Moshe Greenberg observes that it is a peculiarity of the climate in the lower end of the Persian Gulf region that from May to October the predominating element is the existence of a zone of extremely low pressure. This condition produces a very persistent and regular northwesterly wind over the entire region, and July, the month of Ezekiel's vision, is the worst month for desert sandstorms (Ezekiel, 1-20, page 42). If the conditions were the same in Ezekiel's time, the storm would come from the north, and on that fateful day in July it wasn't a sandstorm the prophet saw but a radiant, supernatural cloud bearing a vision of the Divine in brilliant light and fire.
Question: What is the predominant number in
Ezekiel's vision in verses 5-18? How many times is this number repeated? The
NJB translation gives an accurate rendering of the number, but not all
translations are as faithful to the Hebrew text.
Answer: The passage repeats the number four twelve times: see 1:5, 6 twice, 8 twice, 10 three times, 15, 16, 17, 18.
In the significance of numbers in Scripture, four is the number of the earth, represented, for example, in the four cardinal directions (the "four corners of the earth") and the four seasons (see Ez 7:2 and the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture."
Ezekiel does not name the four living creatures in his
description, but he calls them cherubim in the vision in 10:1-20. Cherubim are
mentioned in the Bible seventy times.
Question: What is the function of cherubim in these passages: Gen 3:24; Ex 25:18-22; Num 7:89; 1 Sam 4:4; 1 Kng 6:23-35; 8:6-7; 2 Chr 3:7; Heb 9:5 ?
Ezekiel's description of the "four living creatures" in verses 4-10:
Each creature had four faces: a lion, a bull, an eagle, and a human face. Each of the four kinds of faces was depicted frequently in ancient iconographic and glyptic art and also had symbolic significance for the Israelites:
These animals, carrying God's divine throne, declare that Yahweh has the courage and majesty of the lion, the powerful strength of the bull, the swiftness and mobility of the eagle, and the wisdom and reason of humans. In their collective presence, they express the transcendent divine attributers of God's omnipotence and omniscience.
The Prophet Isaiah and St. John saw similar divine agents in their visits to the heavenly Sanctuary. Isaiah saw Seraphs with six wings and hands (Is 6:1-7). The four living creatures St. John saw were similar to Ezekiel's four living creatures, but they were not the same (see Rev 4:6-8).
Ezekiel 1:15-21 ~ The Wheels of the Chariot-Throne
15 Now, as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel touching the ground beside each of the four-faced living creatures. 16 The appearance and structure of the wheels were like glittering chrysolite. All four looked alike, and their appearance and structure were such that each wheel seemed to have another wheel inside it. 17 In whichever of the four directions they moved, they did not need to turn as they moved. 18 Their circumference was of awe-inspiring size, and the rims of all four sparkled [were full of eyes] all the way round. 19 When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures left the ground, the wheels too left the ground. 20 They moved in whichever direction the spirit chose to go, and the wheels rose with them, since the wheels shared the spirit of the animals. 21 When the living creatures moved on, they moved on; when the former halted, the latter halted; when the former left the ground, the wheels too left the ground, since the wheels shared the spirit of the animals. [...] = literal Hebrew, IBHE, vol. III, page 1899.
The chariot throne of Yahweh was supported by rather than drawn by the four living creatures and their wheels. Each of the creatures appears to have an identical set of wheels like but not like a four-wheeled chariot. The characteristic of the wheels include:
Question: According to verse 20, what powers the
movement of the four living creatures?
Answer: The spirit (of God) powers the four living creatures.
The words "the spirit" are ha-ruah in Hebrew. It is the same divine force that swept across the vast waters in the Creation event in Genesis 1:2, with a divine wind [ruah] sweeping over the waters. In Hebrew, the word ruah can mean wind, breath, or spirit.
Ezekiel 1:22-25 ~ The Platform of the Throne
22 Over the heads of the living creatures was what looked like a solid surface glittering like crystal, spread out over their heads, above them, 23 and under the solid surface, their wings were spread out straight, touching one another, and each had a pair covering its body. 24 I also heard the noise of their wings; when they moved, it was like the noise of flood-waters [many waters], like the voice of Shaddai, like the noise of a storm, like the noise of an armed camp; and when they halted, they lowered their wings; 25 there was a noise too.
The four winged creatures held up a glittering platform upon which Ezekiel saw a magnificent throne made of some precious material. The Hebrew wording suggests it was similar to sapphire or lapis lazuli (verse 26), and on the throne was a human form.
the heads of the living creatures was what looked like a solid surface
glittering like crystal, spread out over their heads, above them...
The description of the solid, glittering crystal surface is similar to the description of the floor of the heavenly Sanctuary seen by Moses, Aaron, Aaron's sons, and the seventy elders who ate a sacred meal in the presence of God at the ratification of the Sinai Covenant (also see verse 26). Looking up into the heavenly Sanctuary, they saw the God of Israel beneath whose feet there was what looked like a sapphire pavement pure as the heavens themselves... (Ex 24:10). In the Book of Revelation, St. John, transported to the heavenly Sanctuary, has a similar vision from a different perspective. He describes the floor of the Sanctuary: In front of the throne was a sea as transparent as crystal... (Rev 4:6a).
24 I also
heard the noise of their wings; when they moved, it was like the noise of
flood-waters [many waters], like the voice of Shaddai, like the noise of a
storm, like the noise of an armed camp.
The term "many waters" or "abundant waters" is a more literal translation of what is polus hydra in the Greek text of the Old and New Testaments. "Many waters" is a key Biblical phrase, set within God's covenant relationships, and reflecting the "abundant" blessings God bestows on His people and His liturgical interaction with them. For example:
The significance of "many waters' in Scripture will achieve its climax in Revelation 22:1-2 in St. John's heavenly vision of the many waters of the "River of Life."
Ezekiel 1:26-28 ~ The Glory of God
26 Beyond the solid surface above their heads, there was what seemed like a sapphire, in the form of a throne. High above on the form of a throne was a form with the appearance of a human being. 27 I saw a brilliance like amber, like fire, radiating from what appeared to be the waist upwards; and from what appeared to be the waist downwards, I saw what looked like fire, giving a brilliant light all round. 28 The radiance of the encircling light was like the radiance of the bow in the clouds on rainy days. The sight was like the glory of Yahweh. I looked and fell to the ground, and I heard the voice of someone speaking to me.
The "someone" speaking to Ezekiel is the omnificent Creator, the omniscient Judge of the universe, Yahweh, the God of Israel who sits on His throne in the heavens. Enthroned on His heavenly chariot, He extends His Presence and His rule to the farthest corners of the earth. However, His chosen dwelling place is Jerusalem in the land of Israel (Dt 12:11-12; 1 Kng 8:10-13; Ez 48:35), among the people with whom He has formed a covenant relationship (Ex 24:3-8).
The covenantal basis of Yahweh's relationship with Israel is not only evident in His designation of the Israelites as "my people" ( ammi in Hebrew, used more than 25 times in the Book of Ezekiel), but in Yahweh's covenant formula pronouncement: "I will be your God, and you shall be my people," seven times in 11:20; 14:11; 34:24, 30, 31; 36:28; and 37:23 (with slight variations), and the many explicit references to Israel's covenant with Yahweh.
Question: The presence of God carried on the fiery
chariot in the midst of the four winged creatures is reminiscent of what
created object described as a throne for the Divine Presence above the cherubim?
See Ex 25:10-22; 1 Sam 4:4;
2 Sam 6:2; 2 Kng 19:15;
1 Chr 13:6; 28:18;
Ps 80:1; 99:1;
Is 37:16; Dan 3:55.
Answer: It has a function that is similar to the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The winged creatures on the lid of the Ark formed the dwelling place for the invisible presence of Yahweh who was "enthroned on the winged creatures" above the Israelite's most sacred relic. The Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant with its two cherubim was the visible symbol of Yahweh enthroned above the cherubim on His heavenly chariot-throne.
Gazing at the magnificent crystal platform, Ezekiel saw
a dazzling and regal figure.
Question: What two features of the figure are especially significant to Ezekiel?
Ezekiel realizes he is seeing a vision of Yahweh in His Shekinah glory. He would have remembered that it was Yahweh's Shekinah glory that had entered the Holy of Holies of the desert Tabernacle and had taken the space between the winged cherubim of the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant as His dwelling place among His covenant people (Ex 40:34-35). He would also have remembered that centuries later when the Jerusalem Temple was dedicated, the same phenomenon took place as a symbol of Yahweh's imprimatur on Solomon's Temple (1 Kng 8:6-11).
radiance of the encircling light was like the radiance of the bow in the clouds
on rainy days.
Question: What is the radiant bow and what does it signify? See Gen 9:8-16
Answer: The radiant bow is the seven-colored rainbow that was the sign of the covenant God made with Noah and all creation. When God promised He would never destroy the earth with water again, He took His war bow and hung it in the sky as a sign of His covenant promise.
Ezekiel saw the "bow" hung above the throne of God. The sign of the rainbow is a manifestation of God and a sign also associated with His oath swearing as in Genesis 9:15-16. St. John also saw a rainbow in the heavenly Sanctuary:
Another mention of the "bow" associated with the four living creatures occurs in Revelation 6:1-2, Then, in my vision, I saw the Lamb break one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures shout in a voice like thunder, Come!' Immediately I saw a white horse appear, and its rider was holding a bow, he was given a victor's crown and he went away, to go from victory to victory. In Revelation 6:1, John hears one of the four living creatures call out "Come!" The angel is not speaking to John but is calling forth the first of four horsemen of divine judgment. Christ the "rider on the white horse," armed for battle, carrying a bow and wearing a crown. The living creatures standing around the four corners of God's altar call for God's righteous judgments to come and destroy the wicked.
In the 6th century BC, when Ezekiel had his vision of the throne of God, he saw the bow hanging above the throne in 1:26-28. It was still there when St. John was lifted up into the heavenly throne room in the 1st century AD in Revelation 4:3 ... there was a rainbow encircling the throne. However, in Revelation 6:2 when Christ, the victorious Lamb, stepped forward to receive the Book (scroll) from the right hand of God, He also reached up and took down the bow to use it in judgment against His enemies in the Last Judgment (see the Revelation study, Chapter 6).
Ezekiel's vision proclaims the transcendent glory of God and His all-encompassing holiness and sovereignty over creation. Everything about the vision proclaims God's glory as He sits on a throne, separate from all inferior creatures, while His noble attendants move according to His will. However, perhaps the most important aspect of Ezekiel's vision is the affirmation that God cares about His people. That He appears to Ezekiel in human form is a reminder that all humanity is created in the "image" (selme) and "likeness" (demut) of God (Gen 1:26-27). He has come to an unclean land to appear before one of His exiled people, calling Ezekiel to be His prophet to deliver His words to His covenant people in exile. God is present among His people so they will know He has not abandoned them and that Yahweh is their God!
Question for discussion or reflection:
Compare Ezekiel's vision of God with Isaiah's vision of the heavenly Sanctuary and its angels in 6:1-7. Then compare those visions with St. John's vision of the heavenly Sanctuary in Revelation 1:1-4:11. How are the visions alike and how are they different?
The phrase "the Lord Yahweh says this..." introduces most of Ezekiel's oracles. Here are some of Ezekiel's oracles of mission and judgment associated with dates in the Book of Ezekiel:
|2:1-3:15||Commissioning oracle||July 593|
|3:16-21||Mission oracle||one week later|
|3:22-27||Yahweh tells Ezekiel to remain silent.||July 593|
|20:1||Oracle of Israel's abominations||July/August 591|
|24:15||God forbids Ezekiel to mourn for his dead wife.||December 589/January 588|
|29:1||Oracle of Egypt's doom #1||December/January 587|
|30:20||Oracle of Egypt's doom #2||March/April 586|
|31:1||Oracle of Egypt's doom #3||May/June 587|
|32:17||Oracle of Egypt's doom #4 and #5||March/April 586|
|32:1||Oracle of Egypt's doom #6||February/March 585|
|40:1, 18; 48:35||The future Temple oracles||September/October 573|
|29:17||Ezekiel's last oracle||March/April 571|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2017|
The dates in 29:17 and 32:17 are out of sequence. The
Jewish calendar followed a lunar month, with the new moon marking the first day
of each new month and the full moon the 15th or middle of the
month. Each month contained 29 to 30 day. The religious year began in the
spring, but the beginning of the civil year coincided with the first month of
autumn. See the chart on the liturgical and civil year.
Dates may vary according to the source.
Ezekiel's oracles also commanded certain actions on Ezekiel's part as object lessons to accompany his preaching:
|Ezekiel's Twelve Object Lessons/Symbolic Acts|
|Object Lesson/Symbolic Act||Scripture|
|1. Shut up in his house and bound with cords, God forbids Ezekiel to speak unless God orders him to speak.||Ez 3:22-26|
|2. He inscribes a plan of the city on a clay tablet and models a siege, using an iron skillet.||Ez 4:1-3|
|3. He lays on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 40 days||Ez 4:4-8|
|4. He eats a meager diet and restricts his intake of water reflecting the diet of the people of a besieged city.||Ez 4:9-11|
|5. He bakes bread and is told to use human excrement for fuel, but God allows cow dung.||Ex 4:12-14|
|6. He shaves his beard and head, divides the hair into three equal parts and then cuts, burns, and scatters the hair.||Ex 5:1-3|
|7. He digs through the wall of his house and carries clothes as an exile but not looking at the ground.||Ez 12:1-16|
|8. He is commanded to eat his bread trembling and drink his water shaking.||Ex 12:17-18|
|9. He is to recite a proverb to the exiles.||Ex 17:1-8|
|10. He is to raise a lamentation over the prince of Israel.||Ez 19:1-14|
|11. He is to turn in the direction of Jerusalem and groan.||Ex 21:6, 11-12|
|12. He is ordered not to mourn the death of his wife.||Ez 24:15-18|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2017|
|1. The Wood of the Vine||Symbolized the way in which Judah became useless to God and now served no other purpose than to be burned up in divine judgment.|
|2. The Foundling||Illustrated the covenant people's betrayal of God's love and compassion.|
|3. The Eagles and the Cedar Tree||Presented the foolishness of King Zedekiah rebellion against the Babylonians that would bring King Nebuchadnezzar's army to destroy Jerusalem.|
|4. The Fiery Furnace||Explained God's plan to purify His people through the fires of the siege of Jerusalem.|
|5. The Two Sister Harlots||Symbolized the spiritual adultery of covenant people of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.|
|6. The Cooking Pot||Illustrated the way God was going to apply the "heat" to Jerusalem to cleanse it of its impurities.|
|7. The Shipwreck||Symbolized the divine judgment on the city of Tyre.|
|8. The Fallen Tree||Egypt's Pharaoh is like a fallen tree.|
|9. The Failed Shepherds||Signified the failure of Judah's civil and religious leaders and God's plan to deal with them.|
|10. The Dry Bones||Symbolized the promised spiritual renewal of the covenant people.|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2017|
Parallels Between the Visions of the
and the Visions of St. John in the Book of Revelation
|Vision||Book of Ezekiel||Book of Revelation|
|1. The throne vision||Chapter 1||Chapter 4|
|2. Opening the scroll||Chapters 2-3||Chapter 5|
|3. The four plagues||Chapter 5||Chapter 6:1-8|
|4. Those slain under the altar||Chapter 6||Chapter 6:9-11|
|5. The wrath of God||Chapter 7||Chapter 6:12-17|
|6. The seal on the Saint's foreheads||Chapter 9||Chapter 7|
|7. The coals from the altar||Chapter 10||Chapter 8|
|8. The 1/3 destruction||Chapter 5:1-4 &12||Chapter 8:6-12|
|9. No more delay||Chapter 12||Chapter 10:1-7|
|10. The eating of the book||Chapter 2||Chapter 10:8-11|
|11. Prophecy against the nations||Chapters 25-32||Chapter 10:11|
|12. Measuring the Temple||Chapters 40-43||Chapter 11:1-2|
|13. Comparing Jerusalem to Sodom||Chapter 16||Chapter 11:8|
|14. The cup of wrath||Chapter 23||Chapter 14|
|15. The vine of the land||Chapter 15||Chapter 14:18-20|
|16. The great harlot||Chapters 16, 23||Chapters 17-18|
|17. The lament sung over the city||Chapter 27||Chapter 18|
|18. The scavenger's feast||Chapter 39||Chapter 19|
|19. The first resurrection||Chapter 37||Chapter 20:4-6|
|20. The Battle of Gog and Magog||Chapter 38-39||Chapter 20:7-9|
|21. The New Jerusalem||Chapters 40-48||Chapter 21|
|22. The River of Life||Chapter 47||Chapter 22|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2017|
2. The seventy years are usually counted from the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 587 BC to the rebuilding of the Temple in 517 BC.
3. The prophets Jeremiah and Zechariah also used parables to communicate God's message to His people (see for example Jer 18:1-10 and Zech 5:1-4), as did God's supreme prophet, Jesus of Nazareth (see for example the seven "Kingdom Parables" in Matthew Chapter 13).
4. The theme of the Book of Ezekiel is "You/they will know that I am Yahweh," and is found in 6:7, 10, 13, 14; 7:4, 9, 27; 11:10, 12; 12:15, 16, 20; 13:9, 14, 21, 23; 14:8; 15:7; 16:62; 17:21, 24; 20:12, 20, 26, 38, 42, 44; 21:5; 22:16, 22; 23:49; 24:24, 27; 25:5, 7, 11, 17; 26:6; 28:22, 23, 24, 26; 29:6, 9, 16, 21; 30:8, 19, 25, 26; 32:15; 33:29; 34:27; 35:4, 9, 12, 15; 36:11, 23, 38; 37:6, 13, 14, 28; 38:23; 39:6, 7, 22, 23, 28.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):