The book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1)

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Ezekiel is named in Ezekiel 1:3 as the author of this book. Although some scholars have challenged this, arguing that Ezekiel was late, postexilic work (perhaps as late as 200 B.C.), the vast majority consider this scepticism unfounded.

Ezekiel was carried into exile in Babylon. most likely along with Judah’s king Jehoiachin, in 597 B.C. This prophet, who came from a priestly family, was married and lived in his own house in Babylon, enjoying relative freedom of movement. His intellect was keen and his knowledge wide-raging.

Many of the visions and events recounted in Ezekiel can be dated with pinpoint accuracy. Ezekiel 1:2 is dated to the fifth year, fourth month and fifth day: July 31, 593 B.C. Ezekiel 8:1 specifies the sixth year, sixth month and fifth day: September 17, 592 B.C., and 20:1 designates the seventh year, fifth month and tenth day: August 14, 591 B.C. Other dates are stipulated at 24:1, 26:1, 29:1, 17, 30:20, 31:1, 32:1, 17, 33:21, 40:1. The last dated vision (40:1) is reported to have come on April 28, 573 B.C. Thus, Ezekiel’s vision spanned 25 years, from 593 to 573 B.C. The date in 1:1 (thirteenth year, fourth month, fifth day) os an apparent reference to Ezekiel’s own life – that is, his age.

The book was written from Babylon during the exile and, though Ezekiel was carried to Jerusalem in a vision (Ezekiel 8), was intended for the exiles. In particular, the prophet was given the distressing task of dashing the hopes of the early deportees that Jerusalem would be spared destruction and that they could soon return home. Beginning in 593 B.C., Ezekiel prepared his fellow captives for the heartrending events to come in 586 B.C.: Jerusalem would be sacked and the temple burned to the ground.

Ezekiel lived during a time of international upheaval. The once mighty Assyrian empire, which had been the northern kingdom’s nemesis and ultimate undoing, was beginning to crumble, but Babylon was flexing its muscles in alarming ways. Indeed, this resurgent power would dominate the international scene until being crushed by Persia in 539 B.C.

Ezekiel graphically portrayed the sinfulness of the Jerusalem of his day, as well as its consequent, certain judgement (see e.g. Ezekiel 16). In addition, he predicted the nature of that coming destruction (see e.g. Ezekiel 4-5) and provided its theological justification: The city was not inviolable, because God had abandoned His own temple (see Temple abandoned under Ezekiel 10). It is important to note, however,  that the tragic tone is mitigated by hope: God allowed His spokesman to infuse his countrymen  and women with anticipation not only of their own nation’s restoration, but also of His coming judgement upon their oppressors for generations od idolatry and violence perpetrated against His people.

Ezekiel is a highly structured and symmetrical boo. Be alert for contrasts, such as the following: the vision of the defiled temple, fit only for destruction (Ezekiel 8-11), versus that of the restored and purified temple (Ezekiel 40-48); the God of wrath (Ezekiel 1) versus the God of comfort (48:35); Ezekiel’s callings to be a watchman (1) announcing divine judgement (Ezekiel 3) and (2) announcing the coming new age (Ezekiel 33); the rebuke against the mountains of Israel (Ezekiel 6) versus the prediction of their consolation (Ezekiel 36). Notice Ezekiel’s nontraditional prose, and listen for the hammering effect of his frequent  repetitions. Pay special attention to the book’s four major visions (Ezekiel 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, 37:15-28) and five parables (Ezekiel 15, 16, 17, 19, 23).

Did you know that the practice of rubbing newborns with salt has been observed among Arab peasants as recently as A.D. 1918 (16:4)? Did you know that the inner courtyard of Ezekiel’s visionary temple was a perfect square – the “shape” of perfection, or holiness (40:47)? Did you know that the Dead Sea contains so much salt that nothing can live in it (47:8)?


 

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