OT Survey 113 Seminar 19 Ezekiel
Andrew Hodge 29th September 2006
Old Testament Survey OTE 113
Jensen, Irving L. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament 1978, Moody Press, Chicago pp 358-373; Ezekiel; Libronix
Describe the historical background of Ezekiel’s position:
Over the 260 years before Ezekiel’s birth, Assyria has risen to be a world power after the local dominance of the Middle East under David and Solomon, reaching their peak just before the exile of the Southern Kingdom (late 6th C BC). The Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar defeat Assyria (612 BC), Egypt (battle of Carchemish 605 BC) and the country in between, Judah (three invasions 605, 597 and 586 BC). The Chaldeans (Babylonians) themselves fall in 539 BC to the Persians, the change of Babylonian rule resulting in conditions which allow the Jews to start returning from exile, with substantial Persian assistance (beginning with Cyrus).
Ezekiel is born (c 623 BC) and grows up in the ‘good’ reign of King Josiah of Judah and is therefore exposed from the earliest age to the Scriptures of the Pentateuch and the blessings of a Godly society. He may also have had available the writings of the earlier prophets Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah of Judah, and Jonah, Amos and Hosea of Israel (Jensen Chart 45 pp188-189). He would have been taught the history of the other non-writing prophets eg Jehu, Elijah, Elisha and Oded (ibid) and would have been fully aware of the history of the Northern Kingdom and its decline into captivity in 722 BC.
Unfortunately he also experienced the ‘bad’ reigns of Josiah’s successors where a series of evil kings allowed the Nation to slide rapidly back into idolatry.
Ezekiel means ‘God strengthens’. His father’s name is Buzi, a priest possibly in the line of the prophet Jeremiah1. Jensen suggests that Ezekiel descended from the line of Zadok (p 362).
Amongst others, both Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesy with power concerning the imminent captivity of the Southern Kingdom and the destruction of Jerusalem. It is therefore of interest that Ezekiel does not mention Jeremiah, nor Jeremiah mention Ezekiel, although their times of prophetic activity overlap by about 19 years (Jensen Chart 45 p 188-189 and Chart 86 p359). Ezekiel must have been familiar with Jeremiah’s message because he has been described as “the prolongation of the voice of Jeremiah” (Jensen footnote p 358).
1C. Himmelman A Family Tree: From Adam to Jesus Rose Publishing Torrance, California
Daniel (the other prophet of the Exile with Ezekiel) mentions Jeremiah once but not Ezekiel; Jeremiah’s period of prophecy overlaps Daniel’s by about 30 years. Ezekiel’s period of prophecy is completely overlapped by Daniel’s - about ten years before and 23 years after (Jensen Chart 86 p 359). Ezekiel mentions Daniel three times (Jensen p 360) - this may reflect the different audiences to which these two exilic books are directed, plus an element of the social separation in Babylon between Daniel and Ezekiel (Daniel in the court, Ezekiel with the ‘common man’ although Ezekiel himself was highly educated - evaluated for example in his knowledge of the scriptures and his writing styles).
Ezekiel was perhaps twenty years younger than Jeremiah and was about the same age as Daniel (Jensen footnote p 358). Daniel is taken from Jerusalem in the year 605 BC at the first invasion of Judah by the Babylonians, when he was in his late teens (Jensen p 378), and kept in the court at the capital Babylon. Ezekiel was taken from Jerusalem in the year 597 BC at the second invasion when he was 25 and put in a place called Tell-abib (Ezekiel 3:15) among a colony of Jewish exiles near Babylon to the north (Jensen p 362).
The first invasion removed “the king’s seed, and of the princes; children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:3-4). Daniel belonged to this group.
Ezekiel is taken in the second invasion which removed “all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land” (2 Kings 24:14). Ezekiel belongs to this group, which incidentally included the voluntary entry into exile of the then current King of Judah, Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:12). Ezekiel and Daniel therefore belonged to different socioeconomic strata, reflected in where they were settled in Babylonia.
Ezekiel is five years in Tell-abib before his call from the Lord to prophesy. His home is a meeting place where the Jewish elders came to consult with him (Ezekiel 8:1, 14:1, 20:1). Jensen assumes (p 363) that this may have been an established practice before his call from God (Chh 1-3) but there is no scriptural reason to believe so (cf 3:25-27).
The last recorded date in which Ezekiel prophesies is about 571 BC when he was about 52.a It is uncertain whether he continued after this, nor at what age he died. Jensen shows that he went on to about 559 BC when he would have been about 63 (Chart 86 p 359). Importantly, he died in Babylonia before his prophecies of Israel’s restoration - ie return to the Land - were commenced to be fulfilled (538 BC Jensen Chart 86 p 359).
Explain the object lesson God taught Ezekiel and the people of Israel through his wife:
The first and second waves of captives from Jerusalem have arrived in Babylonia. They have not realised as yet that it is their own sinful rebelliousness against Jehovah that has caused this calamity. God uses Ezekiel to show them two things. First, the exceeding sinfulness of their attitude and the judgment they deserve for that (Chh 4-24); second, God’s promised restoration as a consequence of their repentance (Chh 33-48 Jensen Chart 87 p 372).
What God did to Ezekiel’s marriage is described briefly at the end of the section of deserved judgment in 24:15-27. God took away Ezekiel’s wife in death as an object lesson to the exiles, showing them what it would be like and feel like when they lost their sons and daughters to the sword, and their Temple to the destruction of the enemy (24:21) at the soon-to-be-accomplished fall of Jerusalem. The ultimate purpose of this draconian stroke is to cause the Israelites to “know that I am the Lord GOD” (24:24) ie that Jehovah is Sovereign over every event in the lives of the nations, the Nation, and each one of them as individuals.
The context of Ch 24 is ‘in the ninth year, in the tenth month’ (24:1) and although the exact time at which God communicated to Ezekiel that he was to lose his wife is not given, if Ezekiel is written chronologically (there are thirteen specific time-points throughout the book), it cannot be later than ‘the eleventh year’ (26:1). If these years refer to the time from the beginning of Ezekiel’s exile from Jerusalem (Jensen), then the ninth year is two years before the destruction and burning of Jerusalem (ie 588 BC). The Pulpit Commentary identifies this ninth year as the scripture does “this same day: the day the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day” (24:2) ie in 587 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar began his third invasion of Judah. In turn, this means that the dates on Jensen’s Chart 86 (p359) are probably slightly out, but this is not to imply bad scholarship, more to demonstrate the great difficulties of establishing all the dates one would like to know with any certainty.
The first part of Ezekiel 24 deals with the imminent destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar after a siege lasting about two years. It is obvious to a soldier that the longer a siege takes, the more severe will be the destruction of the besieged city at the end. The imagery used in these verses is one previously employed optimistically by the Israelite exiles (11:3-7), describing themselves as flesh in the cauldron of the city. Ezekiel turns this picture back onto them to remind them that “the interpretation which he gave to their own comparison had proved to be the true one. The cauldron is the city, the fire is the invading army, the metal of the cauldron does not protect them.” “The Babylonian invaders stood as the final link in a moral chain of cause and effect.” The punishment of Jerusalem will continue until the uttermost part of her iniquity is consumed (24:11-14).
It is then that God and Ezekiel show them the picture of God’s sovereignty in the removal of Ezekiel’s ‘desire (or delight) of his eyes’.
It is not known how long Ezekiel had been married, but if his wife is of a similar age to her husband, she would have been in her mid thirties. Their marriage was a good one in the eyes of those who knew them because of their response to Ezekiel’s lack of mourning (which was precisely God’s intention for them ie the public aspects of Ezekiel’s marriage were such that Israel was extremely curious to know the reason for his strange behaviour).
On the morning of his wife’s scheduled death, Ezekiel spoke to those who would listen that his wife was going to die that day (as a husband how could he do this?). One wonders what state his wife was in at that time. Was she already sick and on her deathbed? I suspect not - this was a sign to be ‘at a stroke’, and there is unlikely to be anything in the way of human prediction of something that already looked to be inevitable. In that case, his wife - perfectly healthy - was forewarned of her demise by something less than 24 hours. We might imagine what was going through both their minds at this stage.
Such was his commitment to his Lord in obedience - seen in this circumstance to be greater than his emotional turmoil at the loss of his wife - Ezekiel deliberately does not mourn her. His behaviour on the morning after her death (at interment), when his compatriots come to console him, is sufficient cause for them to be curious about the one thing that God needed them to be curious about - the fate of their family left behind and the centre of their worship. He is therefore able to reply to his fellow-exiles’ questions about the true nature of God’s allowing Jerusalem to be destroyed - reaping what is sowed, God’s righteous judgment on sin.
The response to this preaching was not uniform. For God, (for Ezekiel, and it should have been the same for Israel), the loss of the city and the Temple where He had chosen to live was similar to losing one’s wife.
There would be no mourning for some in Israel, for two reasons. First, the loss of it was too great for that, too big to be worried about, they had enough problems already (24:23). Second, the spiritual sensitivity of some of the exiles was so low, that they were not that close to their city and Temple as they should have been and they were not prepared to mourn for something they cared little about. This is the same message as the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 16:1-9), and a similar principle written in Zechariah 13:3 where the lies told by false prophets will not be tolerated by their natural parents who hold the honour of God above their love for their children - to the point where the parents will kill their son. The Babylonian exiles have effectively killed their own children by their sinfulness (24:21).
God and Ezekiel’s action is a sign to the Nation predicting what the people would do when they discovered the destruction of Jerusalem, effective in pointing some of them back to the LORD their God (24:24).
The double blow of loss of Temple and of children was intended to be so great that mourning for these things (24:25) is swept away by the realisation that it is personal sinfulness that has caused it all. This is suggested by 24:23 “but ye shall pine away for your iniquities, and mourn one toward another”. I suspect that this was only true for some, not all of the exiles.
“By this ban [on mourning, Ezekiel]…. was to model the overwhelming shock of a communal bereavement caused by the destruction of the temple and the killing of children left in the capital. These two tragedies stole all the meaning from life then and thereafter, and turned the whole future into a chaotic void. The first was theologically more crucial than the second: it not only slammed the door on centuries of worship, but removed the ground of Israel’s spiritual being. The fall of the temple exposed it as an outer shell corroded from within by national sinfulness.”
After describing this episode in the life of Ezekiel, the book goes on to describe God’s judgment on a variety of heathen nations and individuals, returning to Israel in Ch 33. Ezekiel is reminded of his duty to Israel as a watchman against spiritual unrighteousness, he reproves Israel’s shepherds (Ch 34), and from Ch 36 on there is a long section on Israel’s restoration, initially back into the Land, but with much more promised to come. This has already been hinted at in 24:27 when the Lord assures Ezekiel that he “shalt speak, and be no more dumb”. What about? He has already been very vocal about the judgments of God - then he will be permitted to speak of His blessings. The loss of Ezekiel’s wife then is the final straw in breaking the hardness of Israel’s rebellion and causes them to begin to repent and allow God to start blessing them again.
On Ezekiel’s part, there would have come a time when he would have been allowed to grieve, but not until the full importance of God’s lesson to the Nation was complete. This may have been as much as three years later after a messenger came from Jerusalem to detail the disaster. He would then have had a double reason for mourning, and a double reason to be closer to his Lord.
Describe some of the ways God asked Ezekiel to demonstrate His messages:
Ezekiel received his messages as ‘visions, parables, allegories and apocalyptic imagery’ (Jensen p 364). He expressed this data by his preaching, his writing, by signs and by symbolic acts.
His public actions - designed to attract attention (12:9, 24:19, 37:18) - also attracted ridicule and scorn and, perhaps hardest of all, apathy and disinterest. They were mini-dramas using object lessons, in some cases acting out prophesied events eg the siege of Jerusalem (4:1-4). They were effective in pointing some of the nation toward the reason for their exile and the means of restoring themselves to God’s favour, although it would be the next generation that would begin to benefit.
Jensen lists 10 signs and their teaching on p 366. Nine (the ninth being Ezekiel’s wife’s death) show judgment and withdrawal of blessing. The tenth - the Two Sticks - teach the reunion of Judah and Israel.
Ezekiel’s writing expresses the teaching he had received in his visions and apocalyptic imagery, together with instruction told as allegory, parable and in poetry. There is much resemblance between Ezekiel and Revelation (Jensen pp 366-367).
Understand Ezekiel’s prophetic role to Israel and Judah:
During the time that Ezekiel prophesied, Israel as the Northern Kingdom had been in captivity to the Assyrians for 100+ years. Israel was now represented by a small remnant that had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians along with the Southern Kingdom of Judah (and including the individuals who represented each of the twelve tribes and the Royal line of descent for the Messiah).
Ezekiel prophesies in the first half of the 70 year captivity to these exiles for one purpose - to prepare them as a nation to return to their Promised Land and re-establish themselves as the Chosen People of God. This cannot occur until the people repent of the sinful rebelliousness against God and the Land that had caused the Captivity in the first place. Some time had to elapse before the Land recovered from the Nation’s occupation, and God had to prepare the heathen nations impacting on Israel not only to let them go back, but also to assist them to do so.
Ezekiel therefore preached sinfulness and its inevitable judgment, and once the Nation started to repent after the predicted fall of Jerusalem, he preached their future blessings (up to the millennium) so that hope could be restored. As mentioned above, it would be the next generation that would have the privilege of being involved in this.
Appreciate the cost of being a servant of the LORD:
Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry has required him to speak unpopular things, endure ridicule and scorn, experience multiple demands from God on his obedience, and to allow his own wife to be sacrificed on the altar of his commitment to God. Ezekiel is denied the normal social venting of his grief at his bereavement, intensifying the pain of his loss.
Apply the lessons learnt from Ezekiel to modern society:
Christianity as a world-wide religion today is equally rebellious against God as the Israelites were in 600 BC. We are powerless to effectively stand up against Islam and other religions with the truth, and are failing ourselves, our Nations and our God with our lukewarmness. This may be just as was predicted, but we deserve to be vomited out, just like the Israelites were.
In our case however, we have no Promised Land to return to if we repent. Instead, God has promised us a 1000 year personal reign over the whole earth by Jesus Himself - Jew and Gentile together - and a New Heaven and a New Earth to follow.
The last sign that will bring Jews to faith in Christ as Messiah will be much more draconian than writing, preaching and signs such as the unexpected death of a wife. The Tribulation will bring calamities that will stimulate the Jew and Gentile to repentance and provide punitive judgment on the rest of the rebellious earth populations.
aJames E. Smith, The Major Prophets (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1992).
The Pulpit Commentary: Ezekiel Vol. II, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, 32 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004).
Leslie C. Allen, vol. 29, Word Biblical Commentary : Ezekiel 20-48, Word Biblical Commentary, 60 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).
Leslie C. Allen, vol. 29, Word Biblical Commentary : Ezekiel 20-48, Word Biblical Commentary, 63 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).