THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL
In response to the rebellion of Jehoiakim of Judah in 601 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian ruler, besieged Jerusalem. When Jehoiakim’s successor, Jehoiachin, surrendered in 597, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah king and deported to Babylon Jehoiachin and the royal family, along with members of the upper class, including Ezekiel the priest. Five years later, as Zedekiah planned his own revolt against Babylon, Ezekiel became the first prophet to be commissioned outside Judah or Israel (chaps. 1–3). Before Jerusalem is destroyed (587 B.C.), Ezekiel is concerned to convince his audience that they are responsible for the punishment of exile and to justify the Lord’s decision to destroy their city and Temple. Later, Ezekiel argues that the Judahites who embrace his preaching are the people whom the Lord has chosen as a new Israel, enlivened by a new heart, imbued with new breath (chaps. 36–37), and restored to a re-created land, Temple, and covenant relationship (chaps. 40–48). Ezekiel is clear on one point: the Lord punishes and restores for one reason—for the sake of his name, in order to demonstrate once and for all that he is Lord.
Ezekiel’s symbolic actions or performances foreshadow the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem (4:1–5:4; 12:1–20; 24:15–24). The closely related judgment oracles are directed against increasingly larger groups: the inhabitants of Jerusalem (5:5–17); refugees who have fled into the mountains (6:1–14); Judah’s total population, “the four corners of the land” (7:1–27). Particularly chilling is Ez 8–11, the prophet’s vision of the violent injustice and idolatrous worship that fills Jerusalem. When Ezekiel protests the Lord’s order to slaughter Jerusalem’s wicked inhabitants, the Lord refuses to relent; the Lord’s glory leaves the Temple, affirming his judgment on Jerusalem (11:22–25), whom Ezekiel portrays as a promiscuous woman, rebel from the beginning, more violent and sinful than Sodom (chap. 16). Appeals for a speedy end to the exile on the basis of a past relationship with the Lord or of Jerusalem’s privileged status are futile gestures.
Ezekiel uses stereotypic oracles against the nations (chaps. 25–32) to claim universal sovereignty for Israel’s God, to exemplify the consequences of arrogant national pride, and to set the stage for Israel’s restoration. In order to demonstrate to all the nations that “I am the Lord,” God becomes Israel’s just shepherd (34:15) under whose rule a restored people (37:1–14) enjoy prosperity in a restored land. God again acts “for the sake of my name” when the mysterious forces of Gog attack Israel (chaps. 38–39). Their defeat is prelude to Ezekiel’s vision of a new Israel whose source of life and prosperity is a well-ordered cult in a new Temple, where the divine glory again dwells (chaps. 40–48).
The Book of Ezekiel has the following divisions:
- Call of the Prophet (1:1–3:27)
- Before the Siege of Jerusalem (4:1–24:27)
- Prophecies Against Foreign Nations (25:1–32:32)
- Hope for the Future (33:1–39:29)
- The New Israel (40:1–48:35)