By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Ezekiel 1.3
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Book of Ezekiel in conjunction with this article.
The Book of Ezekiel
This month we are continuing our examination of a portion of the Old Testament. The third book in this series of studies is Ezekiel. Generally speaking, the prophets are always intriguing. They challenged their original audience to “listen up” and they continue to challenge us to do the same. As modern-day believers, we might be tempted to have a cynical attitude toward the original audience, but we should still ask “Why didn’t they listen?” or “What were they thinking?” because they are good questions, yet these are questions that will never truly be completely answered. But, perhaps we can answer those questions about them, by reflecting on the church today “Does she listen?” It can only be stated fairly that in some instances she listens and in others she does not. This means that for us, the lessons from the prophets are crucial. With that in mind, let us continue on our prophet study.
Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, lived during the Babylonian Invasion and Captivity of Judah, circa 600 B.C./BCE. God did not just call any particular man, Ezekiel was a priest1 whose very name proclaimed God Strengthens.2 In the timeframe of the siege and deportation of Judah, how important is it that God Strengthens his people that were taken to be held captive in Babylon? We know some about Ezekiel’s personal life. We know that he was married3 but was commanded by God not to mourn the loss of “the delight of [his] eyes.”4 Religiously, Ezekiel (God Strengthens) was already in service to God as a priest, but with the development of history, God called him to do an even greater task.
It seems that most commentators take from opening verses of chapter one that Ezekiel was taken captive because he is described as being “in the land of the Chaldeans, by the river Chebar.”5 This plays a significant role in his work because he is not working from Jerusalem sending messages to those in captivity. Instead, he is working from within the captivity itself. We must remember that for those taken captive, their return to Jerusalem is still some years away. Knowing this, Ezekiel’s work is not just important to the imprisoned hearts of Israel, but his messages have the distinct possibility of being “overheard” by Babylonians and serving as some of the planted seeds for Cyrus who will take the throne in 559 and set the captives free in 539.6
As we continue, let us consider some tidbits mentioned in the NIV Archeological Study Bible. These provide additional points of interest which can enrich one’s reading of the Book of Ezekiel. The study Bible states that the reader should give “attention to the book’s four major visions (chs. 1-3; 8-11; 37.1-14; 40-48), twelve symbolic acts (3:22-26; 4:1-3; 4:4-8; 4:9-11; 4:12-14; 5:1-3; 12:1-16; 12:17-20; 21:6-7; 21:18-24; 24:15-24; 37:15-38) and five parables (chs. 15; 16; 17; 19; 23)”7 (references in original – rah). So that one can increasingly appreciate the imagery, consider the following information (provided by the Archeological Study Bible) regarding the book of Ezekiel:8
- The Practice of rubbing newborns with salt has been observed among Arab peasants as recently as A.D. 1918 (16:4).
- The inner courtyard of Ezekiel’s visionary temple was a perfect square – the “shape” of perfection, or holiness (40:47).
- The Dead Sea contains so much salt that nothing can live in it (47:8).
One commentator states that Ezekiel writes prose (unlike poetry, it is an ordinary style without a metered structure)9 but that his writing has a style that “is intricate, with striking imagery and extended metaphors.”10 This commentator also believes that Ezekiel has “some of the most theologically challenging and dynamic material among the prophets… [and also] some of the most difficult and bizarre passages.”11 Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of this challenging and dynamic writing is the Valley of Dry Bones found in Ezekiel chapter thirty-seven. While this book contains difficult and bizarre passages, like the opening vision in chapter one, Ezekiel is also about contemplation.
He mediates and reflects on “the problems posed by the tragedies of Jerusalem’s destruction and Babylonian exile.”12 The commentator who revealed that Ezekiel struggled with those problems believes that Ezekiel is grappling specifically with the following questions:
- Why did God allow the Temple and Jerusalem to be destroyed?
- Why did God allow the people of Israel to be carried away into exile?
- What future is there for Israel?13
These are hard questions. And the questions reflect the need of the individual to understand not only just what is happening around them, but also how the things around them affect their individual and communal lives. Perhaps Ezekiel, through his contemplations, can strengthen us today. Life does not just happen. Life unfolds in dramatic ways that affect the course of human history. Like Ezekiel, we are participating in history and we too can be affected by the goings-on around us. As we too ask, “What does it all mean?” May the LORD bless us as we continue our study.
1. “Ezekiel: A Priest.” Ezekiel 1.3.
2. “Ezekiel means God Strengthens.” Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions, e-Sword, Version 7.9.8, April 30, 2009.
3. “Ezekiel: Married” Ezekiel 24.15-18.
4. “The Delight of His Eyes.” Ezekiel 24.16, English Standard Version.
5. “Ezekiel: A Captive.” Ezekiel 1.3.
6. “Cyrus’ Dates.” Cyrus, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ISBN 080542836-4, p. 377.
7. Introduction to Ezekiel; “As You Read” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1312, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
8. Introduction to Ezekiel; “Did You Know?” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1312, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
9. “prose.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 30 Apr. 2009. Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/prose.
10. Ezekiel: Introduction; “Character” The Jewish Study Bible, ISBN 0-19-529751-2, p.1042.