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Religious and Theological Studies

Research guide for the study of religion and theology.

Biography of Ezekiel

Ezekiel was the son of Buzi, a temple priest. Ezekiel lived in exile under the Babylonian rule.  At the age of thirty, Ezekiel would have begun to perform priestly duties in the temple. Instead, Ezekiel received the call from God to be a prophet to the people (Walsh 2013, p.1342). The call is shown in Ezekiel chapters 2 and 3. According to Odell, Ezekiel’s call is like a ritual of relinquishing his priestly duties.

In the early days of the exile (597 BCE), the people were filled with the hope that they would be returning to their homes rather quickly. However, while in Babylon with the people who had been exiled, Ezekiel prophesied that the Israelites would need to bear the entirety of their punishment which had only just begun. Yahweh then allowed the destruction of the temple in order to show the seriousness of the Israelites' punishment. The Jerome Biblical Commentary suggests that, when the Lord leaves the city of Jerusalem (Ez:8) and resides in a mountain to the east (towards Babylon), Yahweh is going to reside with the people in exile and will only return with the exiles (Brown, 1989, vs. 30).

After the destruction of the temple (586 BCE), Ezekiel was taken to the valley of dry bones and prophesied that the punishment was over and Yahweh would soon restore His people. To instill further hope in the exiled people of Israel, the Spirit took Ezekiel to measure the destroyed temple so that it too may one day be restored. The Jerome Biblical Commentary explains that the dry bones “represent the total destruction of Israel...Ezekiel begins with the notice that no ‘spirit’ is present at all. Suddenly he is to summon the spirit in...the passage finally climaxes when God himself declares the my spirit,” (Brown, 1989).

Ezekiel dies in exile. His last words in his book are the measurements of the temple.

*for more information Check the Anselm Study Bible and the Jerome Biblical Commentary

Ezekiel Timeline

(All dates approximate):

  • 622 BCE- Ezekiel was born
  • 622 BCE- Book of the Law found by Josiah
  • 605 BCE- First Siege of Jerusalem by Babylon
  • 597 BCE- Second Siege of Jerusalem by Babylon
  • 593 BCE- Ezekiel called to be prophet
  • 593 BCE- Ezekiel eats the scroll
  • 593 BCE- Ezekiel foretells Siege of Jerusalem
  • 593 BCE- Ezekiel’s first temple vision
  • 591 BCE- Ezekiel prophesies against Jerusalem
  • 589 BCE- Wife of Ezekiel died in Babylon
  • 586 BCE- Third and Final Siege of Jerusalem by Babylon
  • 586 BCE- Jerusalem Destroyed
  • 586 BCE- Jerusalem and Temple Burned
  • 586 BCE- Ezekiel prophesies against Egypt
  • 585 BCE- Ezekiel explains Jerusalem’s fall
  • 585 BCE- Ezekiel foresees reproof and restoration
  • 585 BCE- Ezekiel sees resurrection of Dry Bones
  • 573 BCE- Ezekiel predicts Glory returning
  • 570 BCE- Ezekiel’s death

Culture

“Culture is a fuzzy set of basic assumptions and values, orientations to life, beliefs, policies, procedures and behavioural conventions that are shared by a group of people, and that influence (but do not determine) each member’s behaviour and his/her interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behaviour.” – Hellen Spencer-Oatey

The culture of the time during the exile was centered around fear and hope. During the exile, there was a cultural fear that things would be forgotten. Ezekiel addressed that fear, and offered hope. He told the Israelites to keep track of the important things, because one day it might be gone. In the Book of Ezekiel, Ezekiel had a vision where he took down measurements of the temple, so that if the temple was destroyed, it could be rebuilt.

When Ezekiel heard the call from God to become his prophet he prophesized the destruction of the temples and the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. The Babylonian exile and the destruction of the temples made the Jewish people fear their faith would be forgotten over time due to the importance of the temple as a place to worship and make sacrifices to God. The prophets during the exile, Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah, “believed that Yahweh used the Babylonian empire to punish the Israelites for their sins, and he therefore had the power to redeem them from captivity if they repent” (Halakah.(2016)). The Israelites hoped of one day restoring the Judean Kingdom and reestablishing the Judean monarchy lead by a descendant of the royal house of David. Before the Jewish people could restore their kingdom they had to find ways to keep their faith from being forgotten. This fear of being forgotten started changes in Judaism such as making it more important to write down important aspects of Jewish culture and the building of Synagogues for prayer to temporarily replace the temple. During the exile Ezekiel had the vision of The Valley of Bones which describes the dead state of the Jewish people’s relationship with Yahweh. God tells Ezekiel that he will revive the Jewish people’s faith by saying, “My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them” (Ezekiel 37:13-14). The challenges that Ezekiel and the Israelites faced were that of preserving their faith and culture to the best of their ability so that they might one day restore and return to Judea.

Hope for Future Generations

Reverend David Bast reflecting on Ezekiel Ch. 2:3-7 and Ch. 3:4-11

Ezekiel’s visions demonstrate that there is hope even in the darkest times of life when things look as if the road is at a dead end. God has the power to renew us and those dry bones that we have can be revived with His everlasting love. Just like during the time of exile in Babylon there was societal and cultural problems, similarly we see this in today’s cultures. As we talked about in class individualism is very prevalent in today’s society and unfortunately a lot of people are rejecting God’s law and abiding by their own rules and regulations. In a culture filled with: violence, war, drugs, economic downfall, rebellion, greed, disorder, broken families, religious division and persecution it isn’t hard to recognize our society is suffering. However, there is still Hope for all nations! God said this during the exile and these words still resonate today. Because of God’s victory over sin and bringing dry bones back to life we all can rejoice and put our trust in God.

Exile in Ezekiel

Dry Bones: A Symbol of New Hope

At the beginning of the exile, the Israelites were hopeful that they would be able to return to their homes in a short period of time. In fact, in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet Hananiah challenged Jeremiah and preached a short exile (Jeremiah 28). However, Ezekiel prophesied that the Israelites needed to bear the fullness of their punishment (Ez. 14:10). Still, it took the destruction of the temple for the people to fully understand the extent of their sins. 

Ezekiel was then taken to a valley of dry bones in a vision. While the book of Ezekiel is a book rich with metaphors and symbolism, the vision of the dry bones is very memorable. In the valley, Ezekiel was told by the Lord to prophesy that the skin and spirit would be returned to the bones. This symbolized that the Israelites would be forgiven, symbolizing a new hope for the people in exile. 

Ezekiel's Message

Hope is necessary in times of despair. For the Israelites, things were in despair. According to Ezekiel, men and women were rejecting the word of the Lord and instead were turning to kings who were leading the people astray. In Ezekiel 34:12, God stepped in and became the shepherd of the people. Thus, the God in Ezekiel is an active God who will step in to shepherd his people. The Gospel according to John also uses the metaphor as God as a shepherd, and that is most evidently known and remembered when Jesus speaks to the crowd and says that He is the “good shepherd” (John 10:11). The shepherd’s responsibility is to gather his people, or his sheep, together, which is especially helpful to keep in mind for the Israelites in the midst of the Exile (Adams). Ezekiel’s aim throughout his prophecy was to show the Israelites that God was still active and would bring them together even through the darkness of the exile. 

Davis who is the writer of Swallowing the Scroll, explains that the entire book of Ezekiel was written from the perspective of first person. Ezekiel was the first prophet to put a major part of his message immediately into writing.

    *For more information, see “Ezekiel 34:11-19” by Samuel L. Adams

The Call of Ezekiel

  • Ezekiel has a very powerful vision in Ch. 1:4-28. Ezekiel sees four living creatures that appear form the center of a storm. They exemplify angels in other Old Testament visions as well as the creatures described in Revelation 4. The creatures had four sets of intersecting wheels filled with eyes that moved everywhere with them. As Ezekiel looks at these fascinating creatures he hears a voice coming from the massive space above the creatures. He looks up and into the light and believes to have seen “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. For no mortal can look directly upon the being of God.” Ezekiel was awe-struck and falls face down hearing God’s voice (1:28). This was the initial vision that began Ezekiel’s call (2:3-7). God would send Ezekiel to speak to the Israelites who were a very disobedient and stubborn bunch. Ezekiel would reside with these people and essentially live with them among briars, thorns, and scorpions (v. 6). Nonetheless, this was God’s will for Ezekiel and his job was to preach to these people no matter the consequence or end result.

  • In Ezekiel’s call, Ezekiel writes that God “looked like a human being.” (Ez. 1:26) This mirrors Genesis which states that man was made in the image of God, after God’s likeness (Gen. 1:26). After seeing God, the call began. The spirit entered Ezekiel, enabling him to be able to hear the word of God. Ezekiel was told by God that he was to be a prophet to the rebellious Israelites, even though they may refuse to listen to him. God then told Ezekiel: “Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you” (Ez. 2:8), and a scroll was handed to him. Ezekiel ate the scroll that came from God, which tasted “sweet as honey” (Ez. 3:3). As Ezekiel was told his mission, he realized that his message was not likely to be received well by the Israelites. In fact, God told Ezekiel that they “will refuse to listen to you” (Ez. 3:7). Still, God sent Ezekiel to the Israelites. After God told him to go and speak His words (Thus says the LORD God), Ezekiel was taken to the exiles at the river Chebar where he remained for seven days.

*For more information, see http://www.usccb.org/bible/ezekiel, “Prophecy in Crisis: The Call of Ezekiel” by Robert Wilson, “The Call to Ezekiel: Rooted in Tradition and Still Alive Today” by Gregory Polan.

References

Matthews, Victor Harold., and Victor Harold. Matthews. The Hebrew prophets and their social world: an introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.

Osiek, C., & Hoppe, L.J. (2013). Anselm Academic study Bible: New American Bible revised edition. Winoma, MN: Anselm Academic. All references to this edition.

Peels, H. G. L., and Fanie Snyman. The Lion Has Roared: Theological Themes in the Prophetic Literature of the Old Testament. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2012. Print.

“Timeline: the development of Israelite religion / Judaism, the emergence of the Hebrew Bible and the Oral Torah” Dr. Charles Ess / Drury University

Walsh, Jerome "The Book of Ezekiel: Introduction", Anselm Academic Study Bible. Anselm Academic. Winona, Minnisota:Christian Brothers Publications, 1342-1344.

2016. "Judaism." Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia 1p. 1. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, EBSCOhost (accessed May 8, 2017).

DE BRIES, PIETER. 2012. “Ezekiel: Prophet of the Name and Glory of YHWH- The Character of His Book and Several of Its Main themes.” Journal Of Biblical & Pneumatological Research 4, 94-108. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 8, 2017).

“Ezekiel: Prophet of Hope.” Words of Hope. N.p., 29 Mar. 1998. Web. 14 May 2017.

Glass, Benjamin. "Judean mindset throughout the Babylonian exile: literary study of Jeremiah and Baruch in historical context." Http://jbq.jewishbible.org/. 2015. Accessed May 8, 2017.

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