Overview of the Book of Ezekiel

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Overview of the Book of Ezekiel
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Overview of the Book of Ezekiel

Author: The prophet Ezekiel.

Purpose:

To encourage the exiles to remain faithful to the Lord so that he would fulfill his offer to restore them to the Promised Land and rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem to new heights of glory.

Date: c. 593-570 B.C.

Key Truths:

  • Judah and Jerusalem deserved the judgment of total destruction and exile.
  • Judgment comes on those who have themselves flagrantly violated the law of God.
  • God will judge the nations who have turned against his people.
  • God would bring great blessings to his people after the exile.
  • The center of the restored people of God would be Jerusalem and its Temple.

Author:

The opening verses of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1-3) anticipate that the book consists largely of texts written by Ezekiel from an autobiographical perspective (Ezek. 1:1). Third-person materials also appear (Ezek. 1:2-3), giving the impression that Ezekiel himself or someone close to him wove these independent autobiographical sections into a unified whole.

We have no information about Ezekiel beyond that contained in this book bearing his name, which means "God makes strong, hardens" (see note on 3:7-8). If Ezekiel was 30 years old when he began his prophetic ministry (Ezek. 1:1) and this date corresponds to the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin (Ezek. 1:2-3), Ezekiel was about 26 when taken into exile. The latest date mentioned in the book (Ezek. 29:17) shows that his ministry spanned at least 23 years, at which time he would have been about 50 years old. The circumstances of his death are unknown.

Ezekiel was a priest (Ezek. 1:3). Priests ordinarily began their Temple service at age 30. However, Ezekiel was living among the exiles 700 miles from Jerusalem, and during the period of his preaching the Temple was in ruins. In the year in which he would have begun his Temple service God called him to become a prophet.

Ezekiel was taken into exile as a captive in 597 B.C., after Nebuchadnezzar had captured Jerusalem and carried away Jehoiachin, the royal family and the leading citizens and skilled artisans (2 Kings 24:14). Ezekiel lived in the vicinity of Nippur (Ezek. 1:1). He was married, but his wife died during the captivity, shortly before the city of Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. (Ezek. 24:18). His prophetic role was recognized by the leaders among the exiles (Ezek. 8:1; 20:1).

In the book God commonly addressed the prophet by the phrase son of man, basically meaning "person, human being." The term emphasized human frailty and insignificance as compared with the transcendence of God. At a later time in Jewish history, the same term took on much greater significance. See note on Ezekiel 2:1 and Daniel 7:13.

Time and Place of Writing:

Ezekiel witnessed much of the decline and fall of the once mighty Assyrian empire. The armies of Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar, emerged as the dominant power in the ancient Near East. The Babylonian forces and the armies of Pharaoh Neco of Egypt periodically skirmished over the territory formerly subject to the Assyrians; the kings of Judah in Jerusalem were caught in the middle.

Jehoiakim was placed on the throne of Jerusalem by Neco (2 Kings 23:34) in 609 B.C. After the defeat of the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 B.C., Jehoiakim switched his allegiance and became a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar. He remained subject to Nebuchadnezzar for three years, until he switched allegiance once again to Egypt (2 Kings 24:1). In the same month Nebuchadnezzar set out to punish Judah for its infidelity, Jehoiakim died and his son Jehoiachin succeeded him. Jehoiachin was left to face Nebuchadnezzar's wrath. After a brief siege in 597 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive, along with much of the population of Jerusalem, including Ezekiel (2 Kings 24:8-12). Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin's uncle, Zedekiah, as ruler in his place; Zedekiah ruled until the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Though some have called Zedekiah the last king of Judah, Jehoiachin was the last legitimate ruler. Dates in the book of Ezekiel are all referenced in terms of the years of Jehoiachin's exile. Zedekiah's reign was characterized by a vacillation similar to Jehoiakim's between alliances with Egypt and Babylon (Ezek. 17:15-19).

The captives and many of the people remaining in Jerusalem hoped that the exile would be short, that those who had been deported would soon be returned to the city and that Jerusalem would be spared further disaster. The false prophets encouraged this belief. Since the Lord had chosen Jerusalem as his dwelling and had defended the city in the past, it was popularly believed that Jerusalem was inviolable. Much of Ezekiel's preaching was devoted to warning the exiles that a worse fate was yet in store for Jerusalem - the city would be destroyed.

No other prophetic book contains as many chronological notices. Ezekiel was conscious of the relevance of his message to the immediate historical situation. Dates help orient the reader to the contemporary scene. As for the accuracy of the dates in the chart, chronology for the latter half of the first millennium B.C. (including the time of Ezekiel) is firm due to availability and agreement of chronological records both from the Bible and from extra-Biblical documents in a variety of ancient Near Eastern languages. Astronomical observations recorded by ancient scribes enable correlation of the ancient and modern calendars with a high degree of confidence. Though it is conceivable that some of the dates will be adjusted in the light of further discovery, major changes are unlikely.

Reference
Y/M/D
Julian Calendar
Event
Ezek. 1:1
30/4/5
July 31, 593
Call Narrative
Ezek. 1:2
5/4(?)/5
July 31, 593
Call narrative
Ezek. 8:1
6/6/5
Sept. 17, 592
Vision of events in Jerusalem
Ezek. 20:1
7/5/10
Aug. 14, 591
Elders come to inquire
Ezek. 24:1
9/10/10
Jan. 15, 588
Siege of Jerusalem begun
Ezek. 26:1
11/-/1
Betw. Apr., 587
& Apr., 586
Oracle against Tyre
Ezek. 29:1
10/10/12
Jan. 7, 587
Oracle against Egypt
Ezek. 29:17
27/1/1
Apr. 26, 571
Egypt instead of Tyre
Ezek. 30:20
11/1/7
Apr. 29, 587
Oracle against Pharaoh
Ezek. 31:1
11/3/1
June 21, 587
Oracle against Pharaoh
Ezek. 32:1
12/12/1
Mar. 3, 585
Oracle against Pharaoh
Ezek. 32:17
12/-/15
Betw. Apr., 586
& Apr., 585
Oracle against Egypt
Ezek. 33:21
12/10/5
Jan. 8, 585
Escapee from Jerusalem arrives
Ezek. 40:1
25/1/10
Apr. 28, 573
Vision of restored Jerusalem

The latest date noted in Ezekiel is 571 B.C. (Ezek. 29:17). The book could not have reached its final composition until that time. Other portions may have been written earlier and compiled toward the end of Ezekiel's life. There is no significant evidence for placing any substantial portion of the book after his lifetime.

Purpose and Distinctives:

The book of Ezekiel is unique in that, with occasional exceptions, it is entirely autobiographical, that is, written in the first person, from the viewpoint of Ezekiel himself. The book is divided into three parts. In the first two Ezekiel announced judgment on Jerusalem (Ezek. 1-24) and other foreign nations (Ezek. 25-32). Once a messenger arrived reporting the destruction of Jerusalem (Ezek. 33:21-22), Ezekiel's preaching became dominated by the promises of restoration and mercy for the future (Ezek. 33-48). The part announcing judgment on Jerusalem and the part prophesying restoration both begin with oracles concerning Ezekiel's role as a watchman (Ezek. 3:16-21; 33:1-20).

Ezekiel records a larger number of symbolic actions than any other prophetic book (Ezek. 3:22-26; 4:1-3; 4:4-8; 4:9-11; 4:12-14; 5:1-3; 12:10-16; 12:17-20; 21:6-7; 21:18-24; 24:15-24; 37:15-28; see note on Ezek. 4:1-3). Ezekiel identified closely with his own message, enduring extreme hardships in order to provide signs that might spur the nation to repentance (e.g., lying on his side for over a year [Ezek. 4:4-7]). Ezekiel also used parables (Ezek. 15; 16; 17; 19; 23) and proverbs (12:21-22; 16:44; 18:2-3).

Christ in Ezekiel:

Christ's prophetic ministry was anticipated as Ezekiel announced that God would destroy Jerusalem and send its population into exile because of continued unbelief. Judgment against the apostates among the covenant people extended to the ministry of Jesus as well. Jesus called for repentance among the Jews, and a remnant responded in faith. Yet, like Ezekiel, Jesus announced that the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem would occur again after his departure (Matt. 24:1-51; John 2:19). Ezekiel also announced judgments against the Gentile nations who troubled the people of God (Ezek. 29:19; 30:25; 38:21-23). These judgments occurred to some degree in the inauguration of Christ's kingdom (Matt. 24:34; Luke 11:32, 51) but will be brought to fullness in the judgment that will come when Christ returns (Rev. 11:18; 14:7; 15:1).

Christ's work was anticipated as Ezekiel announced that God would one day end the exile (Ezek. 33-48), establish a covenant of peace (Ezek. 34:5; 37:6) and restore Jerusalem to greater glory than ever before (Ezek. 48:1-35). In line with these hopes, Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension took place near the city (Matt. 16:21). The outpouring of the Spirit occurred there as thousands of exiles came to faith in the Messiah on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47). Furthermore, between his first and second comings, the Jerusalem in heaven where Christ is becomes an important aspect of the Christian faith (John 3:31; Col. 1:5). The New Testament also made Jerusalem the centerpiece of the new heavens and the new earth to be established when Christ returns (Rev. 21:2).

Christ himself was anticipated as Ezekiel mentioned "the prince" in Ezekiel 34:24, 37:25, 44:3, 45:7, 16, 17, 22, and Ezekiel 46:2, 4, 8, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18. This prince would be the son of David who would rule over the people of God after the exile. No royal figure from David's house ruled over Israel from the exile until Jesus (Luke 1:32-33). Thus Jesus fulfills the hopes Ezekiel had for the restoration of the house of David after exile. See note on Ezekiel 37:24.

Ezekiel rested many of his hopes for Israel's future on the restoration of the Temple and its priesthood (Ezek. 40-48). As the incarnate Son of God Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of both the Temple of God (John 2:19-22; Rev. 21:22) and the priesthood (Heb. 7:1-8:6). His death was an atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17). He now ministers before the throne of God in heaven, making intercession for the saints. See The Ascension and Session of Jesus: Why Did Jesus Go to Heaven? When he returns in glory Christ will sanctify the new heavens and the new earth into a holy dwelling for God (Rev. 21:22-23), replacing the Temple as the place of his special presence.

Introduction Material:

Introduction to the Prophetic Books

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).