Ezekiel is the author of this prophecy. He is identified by name on two separate occasions (Ezek. 1:3; 24:24), and throughout the prophecy the first person singular (“I”) is used. The prophecy is stamped with clear unity, which supports the assertion that Ezekiel is the human penman. Ezekiel’s name means “God strengthens,” and he served God as both an ordained priest (Ezek. 1:3) and a prophet (Ezek. 2:5).
The prophecy came in the “thirtieth year,” which was also “the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity” (Ezek. 1:1-2; see 2 Kings 24:12-16). This marked the second stage of the Babylonian captivity (which began in 597 BC). The thirtieth year most probably refers to Ezekiel’s age, the age when Levites commenced their service for God (Num. 4:35). Ezekiel had come of age and, although not at Jerusalem, had a special work to do. He commenced his prophetic work at this time. The fact that this coincided with the fifth year of the captivity reveals that Ezekiel was twenty-five years old when he was taken captive and brought to Babylon. His ministry continued until the twenty-seventh year of the captivity (Ezek. 29:17). This gives the prophet a twenty-two year ministry, extending from 592 to 570 BC. His wife died on the first day of the siege of Jerusalem (Ezek. 24:1,15-18), which ultimately fell in 587 BC. He was contemporary with Daniel (Ezek. 14:14,20; 28:3), who was exiled at the first stage of captivity in 605 BC.
Ezekiel introduces each of the literary units or specific prophetic utterances with chronological statements (Ezek. 1:1; 8:1; 20:1; 24:1; 26:1; 29:1,17; 30:20; 31:1; 32:1,17; 33:21; 40:1)
Destruction and restoration for the sake of God’s holiness and glory.
To call Israel to grief and shame over its horrible crimes, and to hope and wonder over God’s saving grace by placing its history in the light of God’s supreme holiness.
The Contribution of Ezekiel to Redemptive Revelation
Ezekiel’s ministry was not an easy one; he lived in dark days with seemingly no hope for a better future, although many of his contemporaries in exile failed to comprehend the gravity of the situation. They believed that the captivity would be short-lived, and that God would never permit Jerusalem to be completely destroyed.
The people failed to see how holy God was and how heinous their sins were. Ezekiel addressed both of those issues and in so doing underscored essential gospel truths. He did so by developing and intermingling five principal themes: (1) the holiness and glory of God, (2) the sinfulness of the nation, (3) the necessity of judgment, (4) individual responsibility, and (5) restoration made possible by the Messiah.
Ezekiel made it clear that God’s holiness and glory are the chief motives for both divine judgment and salvation. Israel’s sin had profaned God’s holy name, which required judgment. Ezekiel is a master of analogy in describing sin, and thus the necessity of the gospel. The people are described as a rebellious house (Ezek. 2:5-8, etc.), a worthless vine (Ezek. 15:1-8), an orphan turned adulterous (Ezek. 16:1-63), two sister harlots (Ezek. 23:1-49), those with stony hearts (Ezek. 11:9), etc. Perhaps one of the most significant points he makes regarding sin is individual responsibility and accountability: “all souls are mine . . . the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). Personalizing sin personalizes repentance as well; salvation is ultimately an individual matter.
Although much of Ezekiel’s preaching focused on the reasons for judgment, he pointed to a great hope as well. He described a restoration in terms of a new exodus, a spiritual renewal (Ezek. 37:1-28) that would be accomplished by the Good Shepherd, a new David who would rule justly and rescue His lost people (Ezek. 34:1-31)—a message precisely paralleled by Christ’s teaching (John 10). Similarly, Ezekiel’s exposition of regeneration (Ezek. 36:22-27) explains Christ’s amazement that Nicodemus did not seem to know about the necessity of the new birth (John 3:3-8). Notwithstanding some of the complex visions and the sometimes-strange object lessons Ezekiel used to illustrate the message, his prophecy is clear, with both gospel warnings and hope.
In both judgment and grace, God reveals through Ezekiel that He does all things for His glory. Over sixty times in this book the Lord declares that He acts so that people will “know that I am the Lord,” picking up one of the great themes of Exodus (Ex. 6:7; 7:5, etc.). The Lord does His mighty works of salvation and judgment for the sake of His great and holy name (Ezek. 20:9,14,39,44; 36:20-23; 39:7,25; 43:7-8). He is “the Lord God,” a combined title appearing 210 times in Ezekiel (over seventy percent of all its occurrences in the Old Testament). The first word (Adonai) of the title means “Lord” or “Master,” and the second (Yahweh or Jehovah) is God’s name, the great “I Am” (Ex. 3:14-15).
These elements come together in God’s declaration of why He will save Israel: “Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went. And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes” (Ezek. 36:22-23, emphasis added). Thus the plotline of the book revolves around the glory of the sovereign God, opening with a vision of His majesty (Ezek. 1:1-28), describing the departure of His glory from His temple (Ezek. 8:1-11:25), and promising the return of His glory to a new temple (Ezek. 43:1-5; 44:4). The ultimate hope of Israel is for God’s glory to dwell with them through His work of sovereign grace.
Major Problems of Interpretation:
Ezekiels Symbolic Actions
In addition to using parables and common sayings to drive home his message, the prophet was also directed by God to engage in many symbolic actions, visible words, or enacted parables. Below are listed ten and their significance.
- Making a model of Jerusalem (4:1-3): the siege of Jerusalem.
- Lying on the ground (4:4-8): the time and discomforts of captivity for the northern and southern kingdoms.
- Eating a strange diet (4:9-17): the scarcity of food during the siege of Jerusalem, and contamination of the nation during exile.
- Shaving and disposing of his hair (5:1-4): dishonor coming to the nation and the manner in which people would be destroyed (plague, battle, and exile).
- Packing and leaving home (12:3-7): the attempted escape and exile of Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:4-5).
- Eating rations with anxiety (12:17-20): the horror of conquest and exile.
- Crying and striking his thighs (21:11-12): alarm and grief because of judgment.
- Making a model of a road (21:19-21): the approach of Nebuchadnezzar and his assault on Jerusalem.
- Not openly mourning his wife’s death (24:15-24): grief coming on Judah so deeply that external mourning would be impossible and inadequate.
- Writing on two sticks (37:15-17): God gathering Israel and Judah together again.
Ezekiel’s Vision of the New Temple and Land
Chapters 40-48 are considered to be among the most difficult chapters to interpret in Ezekiel’s prophecy, indeed in the whole Bible. Various interpretations have been offered of this final vision, and the details have engendered debate among Bible scholars. There are generally four views held concerning this vision:
- The historical-literal view: the vision relates to the times immediately prior to the captivity and focuses on Solomon’s temple.
- The ideal or conditional view: the vision outlines what should have been after the return from captivity, but because of the disobedience of the people it was never realized.
- The Jewish view: the description given in this vision was followed by the returning captives as far as circumstances allowed them, and Herod copied the same pattern when he renovated and enlarged the temple. The spiritual view: the vision symbolically represents God’s good plan for His people, especially after Christ’s incarnation, when His glory shall dwell within His people as His living temple by the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit (37:14,27-28; Eph. 2:18-22).
- The Vision of Glory and the Call to Prophesy (Ezek. 1:1-3:27)
- Messages of Judgment against Jerusalem (Ezek. 4:1-7:27)
- Signs of Jerusalem’s Siege and Doom (Ezek. 4:1-5:17)
- Oracles against the Mountains and Land (Ezek. 6:1-7:27)
- The Vision of Glory Departing from the Temple (Ezek. 8:1-11:25)
- Parables and Teachings against Jerusalem (Ezek. 12:1-24:27)
- Signs and Warnings of the Coming Exile (Ezek. 12:1-28)
- False Prophets (Ezek. 13:1-23)
- People of Idolatry beyond Intercession (Ezek. 14:1-23)
- Parables of the Vine, the Wife, and the Eagles (Ezek. 15:1-17:24)
- Principle of Responsibility (Ezek. 18:1-32)
- Parables of the Lioness and the Vine (Ezek. 19:1-14)
- Israel’s History and God’s Name (Ezek. 20:1-44)
- Fire and Sword (Ezek. 20:45-21:32)
- The Defiled City (Ezek. 22:1-31)
- Parable of the Immoral Sisters (Ezek. 23:1-49)
- Signs of the Cauldron and the Death of Ezekiel’s Wife (Ezek. 24:1-27)
- Messages of Judgment against Gentile Nations (Ezek. 25:1-32:32)
- Judgment against Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia (Ezek. 25:1-17)
- Judgment against Tyre and Sidon (Ezek. 26:1-28:26)
- Judgment against Egypt (Ezek. 29:1-32:32)
- The Fall and Restoration of Jerusalem (Ezek. 33:1-37:28)
- The Fall and Exile of Jerusalem (Ezek. 33:1-33)
- Parable of the Shepherds and the Sheep (Ezek. 34:1-31)
- Restoration of Land and People for God’s Holy Name (Ezek. 36:1-38)
- The Vision of Resurrection and the Sign of Reunification (Ezek. 37:1-28)
- The Great Conflict with Gog (Ezek. 38:1-39:29)
- The Vision of Glory Returning to the Land (Ezek. 40:1-48:35)
- The Temple and the Ceremonies of Worship (Ezek. 40:1-46:24)
- The River and the Land (Ezek. 47:1-48:35)
The spiritual view has been the most common in church history and was reflected in the interpretations of the Reformers. Several considerations from the text favor this interpretation. First, chs. 40-48 are a vision (40:2), and this form of revelation commonly uses symbolism (such as the visions of Zechariah and Daniel). Second, elements of the vision clearly run contrary to normal experience, such as the river that comes out of the temple and grows deeper as it flows, changing quickly from a trickle to an impassable flood several feet deep over the course of less than a mile and a half. Third, the idea of this river appears again in the apostle John’s vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation, which is also a book full of symbolism (Rev. 22:1-2).
Fourth, the physical dimensions of the temple and division of the land in this vision were never fulfilled in Israel’s history, nor did the Lord ever rebuke His people after the exile for failing to implement them. Fifth, if the instructions of this vision pertain to some future temple, then this mandates animal sacrifices for the sins of the people (Ezek. 40:38-39, etc.). However, Christ has offered Himself once for all as the sufficient sacrifice for sinners, and all other sacrifices for sin have ceased (Heb. 10:10-18). The reply that the sacrifices in Ezekiel’s vision will function as mere remembrances of Christ’s work fails to take the text literally, for it says that these sacrifices will “make reconciliation” or atonement for them (Ezek. 45:15,17). Therefore, it is best to understand the vision of chs. 40-48 as a symbolic representation of Israel’s hope.
However, the symbolism in the closing vision of the temple and land does not encourage the reader to engage in wild allegory, assigning a spiritual meaning to every dimension of the architecture. Just like the opening vision of God’s glory riding the chariot of the cherubim (1:1-28), the message is not in every detail but in the overall impressions the vision makes.
Ezekiel’s prophecy closes with a vision of overwhelming hope, that though the descendants of Abraham forfeited God’s presence, the means of atoning for sin, and their inheritance by their idolatry, God would certainly restore all of these to believers for the sake of His holy name. Christians can rejoice that this restoration is found in Jesus Christ, for by His Spirit God’s presence is with His people forever. Christ our Priest has offered the perfect sacrifice for their sins, and they will enjoy a glorious inheritance with Christ the King in a new world without end.
Extracted from: Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible Notes(Beeke, Joel R. 2015. Reformation Heritage Books).