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Major Prophets

Ezekiel

Ezekiel was training to be a priest and was in his mid-twenties when, in 597 B.C., Jehoiachin surrendered Jerusalem to the Babylonian army. Ten thousand men of Judah were taken into exile, joining those who had previously been exiled during his father Jehoiakim’s reign. Amongst the ten thousand was Ezekiel. Nearly five years later, at the age of thirty, God called him into service as a prophet. Ezekiel prophesied to the Jews in captivity in Babylon from around 593 to 570 B.C., Now referring to them as Israel. He was contemporary with Daniel and, like Daniel, some of his prophecies had significant eschatological content.

Ezekiel’s calling

[1-3] Whilst among the exiles by the Chebar River, Ezekiel has a vision of the throne of God and is called to be a prophet to God’s rebellious people. God refers to Ezekiel as ‘son of man’, a title He repeatedly uses. Ezekiel is taken in the Spirit to be amongst the exiles at Tel Abib where he stays for seven days, after which he is told by God he is to be a watchman for all Israel. He is to give them a warning of accountability for their brothers’ sins, and is then confined to a house and made dumb until required to prophesy.

Israel’s sin and the departure of God’s glory from the temple

[4-12] In chapters 4 and 5, Ezekiel is required to enact the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. He is to make a representation of Jerusalem under siege, spend 390 days on his left side for Israel’s sins and 40 days on his right side for Judah’s sins, survive on a meagre ration of defiled grain and water, shave his head, signifying his sharing of Jerusalem’s disgrace, and burn his hair, tossing it away until only a remnant remains. These symbolic acts, witnessed by the people, are to be a vivid lesson to them. This enacted prophecy is followed in chapters 6 and 7 by the prophecy in words, foretelling the doom and destruction of Jerusalem. About a year later, related in chapters 8 to 11, Ezekiel is carried in a vision to Jerusalem and set beside the temple at the north gate of the inner court. What he is then shown is a fourfold view of sins: an image set up at the north gate of the temple; the elders secretly practising animal worship, each having a shrine of his own idol; the women mourning a god Tammuz; and twenty-five men turning their backs on God to worship the sun. The people think that God does not see all they are doing. They are of course wrong and judgement is administered before Ezekiel’s eyes. He cries out to God, fearing all Israel will be slain, but he is told all those who grieve and lament over the detestable things done in Israel will be spared. Then Ezekiel again sees a vision of the throne of God, but now the glory of God departs from the temple. A judgement is then pronounced on the leaders of the people, and a promise is given concerning the return of the remnant of Israel. The people are still not listening, so in chapter 12 we hear how Ezekiel is told to enact the final stage of the exile from Jerusalem. The enacting is not just of the exile in general, but focuses on the flight of Zedekiah. He gathers together the bare necessities for escape and breaks through the mud brick wall at night. When the people ask Ezekiel what he is doing, he gives an explanation to them just as God had instructed him. They seem to think this will be a long way off in the future, but are told this exile is imminent.

A series of oracles explaining divine judgement

[13-24] In chapter 13, false prophets who prophesy peace when there will be none are condemned, as are the prophetesses who make magic charms and ensnare the people. In chapter 14, the idolaters are condemned. It would seem that they think the few righteous among them will be their saving, but God declares that even if Noah, Daniel or Job were here, they would be able to save only themselves. A parable of the vine, an oft-used symbol of Israel, is given in chapter 15. By now the vine has lost its ability to produce fruit and is useless for anything else. In chapter 16 we have a lengthy allegory of Jerusalem as the unfaithful wife. First seen as a wayward foundling, when she is old enough she is married and love lavished on her. She becomes great and glorious but breaks her marriage covenant and prostitutes herself in the most despicable way with the foreign nations around her. Her husband has been forgotten and she will be punished. God will deal with Israel as she deserves, but in time He will remember the covenant of her youth. A new and everlasting covenant will be established and atonement made for all she has done, but she will remember and be ashamed. In chapter 17, God gives Ezekiel a parable of two eagles to relate to the people. He is then to give an explanation of it. The first eagle is Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who took King Jehoiachin captive. The seed he plants is the vassal king Zedekiah, but Zedekiah soon turns to the second eagle, Egypt, for help. That help doesn’t materialise and the Babylonians return to destroy Jerusalem. (This prophecy comes true within three to four years.) But God will take a shoot from the top of a cedar, the line of Judah’s kings, which will take root and flourish. It was a commonly held belief that a son bore the sins of his father. In chapter 18, God makes it plain that each is accountable for his own sins. If a man lives a righteous life, then he will live. If he has a son who leads a sinful life, then that son will die for his sins. But if a sinful man has a son who leads a righteous life, then this son will live; he is not held to account for the sins of his father. Furthermore, God wants everyone to live. If a sinful man repents and turns away from his sins, then he too will live. In chapter 19, a lament is given concerning three kings of Judah. The first is Jehoahaz, who was captured and taken to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho; the second is Jehoiachin, who was king when Ezekiel was taken into captivity; and the third is a prediction of Zedekiah’s rebellion and the fall of Jerusalem. We come to chapter 20 and it is now August of 591 B.C. Some elders of Israel come to Ezekiel to enquire of the Lord, but God doesn’t allow their enquiry and Ezekiel is told to judge them. He recalls Israel’s rebellious history and God’s judgement on them, then speaks of restoration. As we move into chapter 21, a prophecy is given of the coming judgement, with Nebuchadnezzar being God’s instrument of that judgement, when Babylon will destroy both Jerusalem and Ammon. Jerusalem is the specific object of scorn in chapter 22. The people are guilty in every imaginable and detestable way, involving every section of society. There is no one innocent to be found, so they will be consumed by God’s fiery anger. In chapter 23 we have a parable of two sisters: Oholah represents Samaria, capital of the northern kingdom, and Oholibah represents Jerusalem. Both sisters become common whores whose whoredom really started in Egypt. Their lust for their lovers (pagan gods) turns from Egypt to Assyria with unquenchable thirst, and their acts of whoredom seem to have no bounds. Oholibah is now outdoing her sister and lusting after Babylon. She will share in her sister’s fate when she is put to shame and destroyed by her latest lover. It is now January of 588 B.C., the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. In chapter 24, Jerusalem is likened to a rusty cooking pot put on the fire. Its contents will be consumed, then the empty pot itself put to the fire. Then, Ezekiel’s wife, the delight of his eyes, dies. God gives Ezekiel instruction on how he is to mourn, which is how the people will mourn when the news of the loss of Jerusalem reaches them.

Oracles of judgement against foreign nations

[25-32] These oracles form a division between Ezekiel’s prophecies prior to and following the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C . The first four nations prophesied against are Israel’s oldest enemies: Ammon, Moab and Edom, who will be overrun by the people from the east, and Philistia, whose hostility continues towards the Israelites until Nebuchadnezzar deports them. Tyre and Sidon are next to be the subjects of Ezekiel’s prophecies. Both are sea ports, the greater of the two being Tyre, and both are to fall to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Chapters 29 to 32 are devoted to prophecies against Egypt. Some of these prophecies can be accurately dated and do not all occur chronologically. Together they depict the fall of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar. Words are spoken against a proud and arrogant pharaoh. Egypt will be destroyed and laid waste for a long period of time, after which she will become a nation again, but will be weak and no longer have her former confidence. Her destruction is brought about by Nebuchadnezzar following a hard campaign against Tyre for which he seemed to get no reward. However, in his defeat of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar gets his reward by taking Egypt’s wealth.

Words of consolation for Israel

[33-39] In chapter 33, Ezekiel’s mission as watchman over Israel is reiterated. The news that Jerusalem has fallen reaches the exiles in Babylon and the cause of it is explained by Ezekiel. In chapter 34, the shepherds of Israel, the leaders, are condemned for their failure to shepherd the flock. God declares that He will be their shepherd and judge between the good and bad sheep. Here we look forward to the time when one from the line of David will rule over God’s people, bringing peace and prosperity. In chapter 35, there is another prophecy given against Edom, not just for her past, but for her intent to take advantage of Israel’s defeat and take possession of the lands, both of Israel and Judah. Then, in chapter 36, Ezekiel prophesies the restoration of Israel, cleansed of her sins and with a new heart. Chapter 37 is where we read of the valley of dry bones, a vision shown to Ezekiel to represent the restoration of dead Israel. Then Ezekiel is given a practical representation of the two nations using two sticks, one for Israel and the other for Judah. They become one again by the joining of these two sticks. Again, the prophecy looks forward to the new everlasting covenant  with one shepherd from the line of David. The ‘final battle’ is depicted in chapters 38 and 39 as a prophecy against Gog. The symbolism is significant and relevant to near future events of our time, but requires study and interpretation, which aren’t within the remit of this summary. It is a prophecy of war raged against Israel by other nations led by Gog, in which God will intervene and save His people. The war will nevertheless be devastating. The weapons used will become a fuel, and the clean-up process will take many months to complete because of the manner in which the land has become contaminated. Then God’s glory will be displayed among the nations in the restoration of Israel.

Israel’s coming restoration

[40-48] The remaining chapters of Ezekiel are concerned with the Millennium Kingdom. The date of Ezekiel’s vision is given as the 25th year of their exile. Chapters 40 to 42 give the interior and exterior details of the rebuilt temple. The detail is precise, but this is not the temple built when the Jews returned from exile. It is perhaps, then, the Millennium temple. In chapter 43, Ezekiel describes the returning of God’s glory to the temple. His vision is like the previous visions of God’s glory experienced when He came to destroy the city and those by the Chebar River. In chapter 44, the role of the priesthood is to be reinstated, and rules given concerning it. Chapter 45 concerns the division of the land for the sanctuary, the city, and the prince, both for his government of the people and his worship of God. Further instructions for the prince and the people are given in chapter 46. In the first part of chapter 47, Ezekiel is given a vision of a new river of life flowing from the temple. Then the division of the land is given; first, the boundaries, then, in chapter 48, the division by tribe. Then the names of the new city gates are given. There will be three gates in each of the four city walls, each named after a tribe of Israel. Finally, the new city is to be named: ‘The Lord is there.’