Introduction to Ezekiel

By James M. Rochford

Ezekiel’s name means “God strengthens.” He was from a priestly family, and he was called to be a prophet at about the age of thirty in 592 BC (1:1).

Nebuchadnezzar took him as a hostage and slave after he took over Jerusalem in 597 B.C. Of course, only important people were taken as hostages and slaves. The rest were killed. From this, we can infer that Ezekiel was an important figure in Israel. Mark Rooker writes, “Ezekiel, son of Buzi, was among the 8,000 citizens of Jerusalem deported to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the city in 598 BC (2 Kgs 24:10-17). Ezekiel’s call to be a prophet occurred five years later (the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile), in the year 593, while he was living at Tel-abib near the Chebar river in Babylon.”[1]

His wife had been killed in 587 BC, during the Exile (Ezek. 24).

He was 30 years old when we started his ministry (1:1), and his last oracle was in the 27th year of King Jehoichin (29:17). This gives him a 23 year ministry.

Ezekiel’s mission was dour. God told him that he needed someone to speak to this people “whether they listen or not.” At his commissioning, God told him:

(Ezek. 2:5-7) As for them, whether they listen or not—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words, though thistles and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions; neither fear their words nor be dismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious house. 7 But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.

(Ezek. 3:7) The house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me.

God commissioned him to do a failed ministry. He knew that the people wouldn’t listen; yet he sent a messenger anyhow. Ezekiel is one of the most chronological books of the entire Bible, which makes it easier to study.[2]

Authorship

Most critical scholars accept Ezekiel’s book as authentic. Archer writes, “As recently as the eighth edition of Driver’s ILOT, the genuineness of Ezekiel had been accepted as completely authentic by the majority of rationalist critics.”[3] S. R. Driver wrote, “No critical question arises in connection with the authorship of the book, the whole from beginning to end bearing unmistakably the stamp of a single mind.”[4]

Date of Ezekiel

Ezekiel was called to this ministry in the 5th year of Jehoiachin in 592 BC (Ezek. 1:1-2). His last discourse is dated to 570 BC (Ezek. 29:17). This would have put Ezekiel at middle aged (50 years old or so).

Critic C.C. Torrey held to a third century dating of Ezekiel; however, few critical scholars have followed him.[5] After the middle of the 20th century, even critical scholars date the book to the sixth century BC.[6] Regarding the dating of Ezekiel, Robert W. Manweiler writes, “Ezekiel is probably the most carefully dated of all Old Testament books… we here note that the majority of biblical scholars, even of those who reject the inspiration and unity of the Bible, believe most of the book was written in the sixth century BC by the prophet Ezekiel.”[7] Mark Rooker writes, “The Hebrew language used throughout the book fits well in the language strata of the exilic period, not the postexilic period. The work exhibits such homogeneity and literary coherence that it is reasonable to assert that all editorial work on the book was carried out by the prophet himself.”[8] He adds, “The occurrence of 14 historical dates attached to the beginning of many of the various oracles and prophecies of Ezekiel is another important unifying factor. The book of Ezekiel along with Haggai and Zechariah uses more dates than any other prophetic book.”[9]

Canonicity of Ezekiel

Rabbis questioned the inspiration of this book because “its words contradicted the words of the Law.”[10] Specifically, the rabbis had difficulty harmonizing Ezekiel’s vision of the third Temple with the second Temple. OT scholar Mark Rooker writes, “The book of Ezekiel was considered one of the canonical books of the OT called the Antilogoumena, ‘disputed books.’ The reason some opposed its acceptance into the canon was because it seemed to conflict with the law of Moses on a number of accounts.”[11]

However, canonicity scholar Roger Beckwith writes, “The evidence in favour of the canonicity of Ezekiel is so ample and so early that the book is something of an embarrassment to those who hold the common view about the date of the closing of the canon.”[12] Beckwith gives several lines of evidence: First, it claims to be written by a divinely-commissioned prophet. Second, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, 4 Maccabees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Revelation, 1 Clement, and Josephus all viewed it as inspired and thus canonical. Third, it is included in the “Law and the Prophets” and the 22 book canon.

Teaching Rotation

(Ezek. 1-3) Ezekiel’s commissioning—emphasize the importance of being faithful, rather than successful

(Ezek. 4-11) Ezekiel’s preaching—explain the strange object lessons and images that God puts Ezekiel through

(Ezek. 12-18) Focus on chapters 16 and 18—emphasize Israel being compared to a prostitute and the fairness of God’s judgment

(Ezek. 19-35) Focus on chapter 26 (prediction of Tyre) and chapter 28 (Satan)

(Ezek. 36-39) The regathering of Israel, Armageddon, and the Second Coming

(Ezek. 40-48) Ezekiel’s Third Temple (Is this literal or figurative?)

Chapter Summaries

 

Ezekiel 1

Ezekiel sees a massive cloud with lightning flashing through it (v.4). In the center, he sees glowing metal and the four creatures (v.5). They looked like humans, but they had four faces and wings (v.6). The text doesn’t say that they had four heads—simply four faces. Their wings touched each other (v.9). Their faces were human, lion, ox, and eagle faces (v.10). God directed them by his Spirit (v.12—or by the wind?). They looked like burning coals with lightning striking between them (v.13), and they moved like lightning (v.14).

The creatures were riding on wheels (v.15). The wheels looked like they were intersecting with each other for mobility (v.16). They were covered with eyes (v.18). Above them, there was a human-like figure on a throne (v.26). He looked like he was made of fire (v.27). He was a theophany of God.

Ezekiel 2

God gave him his Spirit (v.2), and commissioned him to go to Israel. He tells him that Israel is stubborn and not inclined to listen (v.4). But whether or not they listen, God wants them to have a chance to hear from a prophet (v.5). He tells Ezekiel not to be afraid (v.6). He has Ezekiel eat the scroll of God’s word.

Ezekiel 3

The scroll tasted good (v.3). He tells Ezekiel to talk to Israel—even though they are hardened. But he promises that he will strengthen Ezekiel to be just as stubborn (v.9). He was picked up and taken to Tel Abib (v.15) and collected himself. Ezekiel’s job was to speak God’s word. If he doesn’t do this, he will be responsible for the results (vv.19-20). God begins Ezekiel’s ministry… by silencing him (v.26).

Ezekiel 4 (Clay model—symbolizes the starvation of Jerusalem)

(4:1-4) He was to build a clay model of the Siege of Jerusalem. He was to lie on his left side with a clay griddle between himself and the city. This was supposed to symbolize him bearing their sins.

It must’ve looked like Ezekiel was playing toy games—like a little boy playing G.I. Joes in the sandbox. The people would come over and watch him, as he created this scene silently.

(Ezek. 4:4-8) How could Ezekiel lay on his side for over a year?

(4:5) He lay there for 390 days on the left side—one day for each year of Israel’s sin. This was the northern part of the nation, which had already been exiled. The people watched this for over a year until… one day he faced the other way!

(4:6) He lay there for 40 days on the right side—one day for each year of Judah’s sin.

(4:8) God tied him with ropes.

(4:9) This is the recipe for “Ezekiel Bread.”

(4:13) He fixed his food over a fire made of dried human feces. This symbolized how the Jews would eat in Exile.

(4:14) Ezekiel protests about the human feces part.

(4:15) God permits him to use cow dung instead.

(4:16-17) Starvation and drought would come during the Siege.

Ezekiel 5 (Hair cut—symbolizes the slaughter, starvation, or scattering)

(5:1-3) Ezekiel needs to cut his hair with sharp sword and split the hair into three separate piles. The three piles would be used in his clay model: One third to be burned in the city; a third to be chopped, and a third to be “exiled” or thrown to the wind. Some of the people (“hairs”) would be a spared remnant (in Ezekiel’s robe).

This act is explained clearly in verse 12.

(5:5-8) The symbolic act is explained clearly. He further explains that the reason for judgment was their failure to keep the covenant. They didn’t even live up to the standards of the pagans.

(5:9) Judgment was also because of idolatry.

(5:10) The Siege would be so bad that the people would give in to cannibalism.

(5:11) The people brought idolatry into the Temple.

(5:15) Israel would become a mockery to the nations.

(5:16-17) God will shoot to kill! Israel will be judged with famine and disease.

Ezekiel 6 (Prophecy to the mountain shrines)

(6:2-3) The pagan shrines on the mountains will be destroyed.

(6:4-7) The worshippers will die in front of the shrines.

(6:8-10) Those who survive will be exiled to the nations, so that they can recognize the gravity of their idolatry.

(6:11-12) God will bring war, disease, and starvation.

(6:13-14) God will reveal that he is the true God through his justice and judgment.

Ezekiel 7 (Further judgment)

(7:2-4) Hope is gone! Judgment is here.

(Ezek. 7:2) Did the biblical authors believe in a flat earth?

(7:9) No mercy, no pity.

(7:11) Their money won’t save them.

(7:12) Whether you’re doing well or poorly in the stock market, the entire economy is about to crash.

(7:15) War on the outside, and famine and disease on the inside.

(7:16-17) What if we escape to the mountains? This will only bring moaning and wetting your pants with fear (“their knees will be wet with urine” NET).

(7:19) Their money will be worthless in this day.

(7:20-22) The people took pride from their wealth, but it will all be taken away and plundered.

(7:24) Enemy nations will carry out this judgment.

(7:25) No peace.

(7:26) No vision or direction from God.

(7:27) They will get the judgment that they deserve.

Ezekiel 8 (Idolatry vision)

(8:1) In September of 592 BC, Ezekiel had all of leaders of Judah in his home.

(8:2-6) Ezekiel saw a vision of a man on fire. He grabbed Ezekiel by the hair and took him up into a vision of Jerusalem. He saw a vision of an idol at the northern gate, which was the gate that the king used. No one used the north gate regularly expect the king.

Is it wrong for God to be jealous?

(8:7-12) Ezekiel dug into a wall and found a secret passage into the Temple. Inside, the leadership felt like they could practice idolatry without God seeing them.

(8:13-14) Women were weeping for the god Tammuz.

(8:15-16) Men were sun-worshipping. They had their backs to the Temple. Moses wrote, “Beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven” (Deut. 4:19).

Since they were in the inner temple, these must have been priests.

(8:17-18) The idolatry led to violence in the people’s lives.

God gave Ezekiel a vision of Jerusalem (v.3). He asks Ezekiel to go in and see the wickedness in Jerusalem (v.9). They didn’t believe that God could see them (v.12).

Ezekiel 9

(9:1-3) In the vision, six executioners appear at the northern gate. The seventh man had a writing kit.

God’s glory was leaving the Temple.

(9:4) Those who rejected the idolatry were spared. They were given a “mark” to protect them.

(9:5) Those with the mark were spared.

(9:6) What is the significance of starting in the sanctuary (the Temple)? This is the epicenter of evil where the problem comes from.

(9:8) Will even the remnant be killed?

(9:9) This is a pun: The people think that God doesn’t see, so God says he won’t see them with pity.

Believers in Christ have been “marked” with the Holy Spirit.

Ezekiel didn’t live in the city, so these visions were probably important to show just how bad the sin was. God wants to show Ezekiel why this judgment is so bad.

Ezekiel 10 (The cherubim)

God left the Temple in the previous chapters, but now he is about to leave the city.

In 1 Kings 8, when Solomon dedicated the Temple, the glory came upon the Temple.

The glory of God would move as a sign of his presence. Here the glory of God leaves the Temple, and this shows his is taking off.

(10:2) While Nebuchadnezzar mediated the judgment, this was ultimately from God.

(10:3) We’ve seen God leaving all the way from the north—now to the south.

(10:4-5) God is in the Temple (cf. v.18).

(10:6) This is a huge contraption. He can walk into it.

(10:9-13) This image had four wheels, and they intersected one another. The wheels didn’t move as the cherubim moved. They were also covered with eye balls.

(10:14-16) The cherubim had four faces: cherub, man, lion, and eagle. They also had wings.

(10:18) The glory departed from the Temple.

Ezekiel 11 (Where is the sanctuary?)

This entire time, Ezekiel has been wondering of the remnant would be with the people in the city and the Temple. Is that where God’s sanctuary will be? Is that where God’s protection will be? We discover that God’s sanctuary is Him! He is going to give sanctuary and safety to the exiles. The exiles will be the remnant—not the people in Jerusalem! What a stunning reversal!

(11:2-3) This is not a question as NIV states (see NASB). The “pot” (Jerusalem) protected the “meat” (the people). These men were claiming that they should build houses in the city and ignore Ezekiel.

(11:7, 11) God changes the analogy: The “meat” are the dead people—not the living.

(11:8-10) God will bring judgment on the people in the city.

(11:12) The people are judged for conformity to the nations.

(11:13) Finally, as a vision of hope! Ezekiel thought that the remnant would be in Jerusalem.

(11:14) As it turns out, the remnant was in Babylon the whole time!

(11:16) God was the sanctuary for the people—not the walls of Jerusalem.

(11:17) After the Exile, the people will return.

(11:19) This is similar to the language of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31.

(11:22-23) The glory of God left Jerusalem and settled on a mountain to the east.

(11:24-25) This would be an encouraging message to the exiles in Babylon.

Ezekiel 12 (Pretending like he was an exile)

Remember, Ezekiel would act out his prophetic messages.

(12:1-7) Ezekiel is supposed to pack up in broad daylight so the people can see what an exile looks like.

(12:9) The people wanted to know what this meant.

(12:11) This represented the Exile of Judah for Zedekiah.

(12:16) God promises to spare a few so they can confess their sins.

(12:22-23) The people had created a proverb to deny prophecy. Instead, every prophecy will be fulfilled.

(12:25) The prophecies will be fulfilled in their lifetimes.

(12:27-28) No more delay.

They are originally denying God’s fulfillment, but then denying the timeframe.

Ezekiel 13

This is judgment against the false prophets. These prophets were spreading false prophecies to the people. He gives the analogy of the false prophets are building up a “big wall” for protection. But it’s really just a “white wall” or a fake wall that has no substance.

Ezekiel 14

(14:1-8) God calls on them to repent from their idols.

(14:9)

(14:14) Even if these righteous people won’t save the unrighteous people.

(15:22) Even if Daniel, Job, and Noah were in this situation, God wouldn’t spare their families. God will allow only a few survivors.

Ezekiel 15

God compares Israel to a vine. He will destroy the land, because they are unfaithful (v.8).

Ezekiel 16

God describes how he birthed Israel, watched her through puberty, and finally, married her. But they were an adulterous prostitute (v.15-16). They were giving their sex away for free (v.33). In fact, they made the payment (v.34).

He uses the two most intimate relationships to show God’s tenderness to us, and how deep the betrayal goes.

Ezekiel 17

God offers an illustration about how the land will bear fruit.

Ezekiel 18 (God’s judgment is just)

The people were wondering why the next generation was suffering from God’s exile of Israel, if they were innocent. God affirms that each person will be judged for their own sins. This shows that God will be fair with his judgment.

Ezekiel 19

This is a lament against Israel’s princes (v.1). Israel will be dried up and destroyed.

Ezekiel 20

God wanted to save the Israelites from idolatry (v.7). This chapter is really a repetition of history of how God promises to disperse the nation if they rebelled (Deut. 28). The concept of the Wilderness Wandering is a type of how God was going to send the nation into Exile (vv.34-36). He will bring them back again (v.41). The people were too dense to understand the meaning (v.49).

Ezekiel 21

The nation will become ruined, and the kingship will be ended until the true Ruler appears to take the crown (v.27).

Ezekiel 22

God gets into some of the specifics of their sin, including sexual immorality, theft, ignoring the poor, and child sacrifice. The dross was the leftover scum of purified metal (v.18).

Ezekiel 23

God gives the illustration of two prostitutes. God married these prostitutes from the start. He describes how many men had used her for prostitution. They are an illustration for Israel’s idolatry.

Ezekiel 24

Babylon had surrounded Jerusalem (v.2). He describes Israel as a meal in a cooking pot. Ezekiel’s wife died (v.18). This was probably a mercy, because it happened before the capture of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel 25

God speaks against the Pagan nations next for their brutality against Israel. Here he speaks against the Ammonites (v.2). He speaks against Moab (v.8) and Edom (v.14).

Ezekiel 26

God speaks against Tyre next. He promises that it will never be rebuilt.

Ezekiel 27

More on the destruction of Tyre.

Ezekiel 28

The first part of this passage refers to the human king of Tyre. The second part refers to the spiritual being behind Tyre (Satan). God then speaks against Sidon (v.21).

Ezekiel 29

God speaks against Egypt (v.2). He describes the Pharaoh as a hooked fish (v.4). He predicts a destruction of Egypt for 40 years (v.12). Nebuchadnezzar attacks Tyre, but he didn’t capture it (v.18). So God gives him Egypt instead (v.19).

Ezekiel 30

God is going to conquer Egypt through Nebuchadnezzar. He promises to disperse Egypt to the nations.

Ezekiel 31

Assyria was put down because it tried to compare to God’s plan on its own (v.10).

Ezekiel 32

More on the destruction of Egypt.

Ezekiel 33

God explains that there was a warning for the people. The watchman was typically responsible for protecting the people, and God calls Ezekiel a watchman in this sense. God wants the people to repent (v.11). Later, the city was destroyed (v.21).

Ezekiel 34

God is angry with the false shepherds of Israel. Notice that Yahweh is speaking in the first person throughout this section (“I will…”). This is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

Ezekiel 35

He promises to destroy Mount Seir.

Ezekiel 36

God promises to restore Israel. God promises that this will be a permanent restoration (v.12). He would restore them from all the nations (v.24). There will be a spiritual restoration after this regathering (vv.26-27). He won’t do this for their righteousness (v.32).

Ezekiel 37

God gives Ezekiel an object-lesson of bones in the valley. The bones are reanimated slowly, and then spiritually renewed (vv.9-10). God tells them that this is the nation of Israel (v.11). The people will believe that they are cut off from God’s promise (v.11), but God disagrees (v.12). God promises a permanent restoration of a united kingdom (v.22). This will occur “forever” (v.26, 28).

Ezekiel 38

God speaks against Gog and Magog (v.3). He will bring them to Israel (v.4). They develop an evil plot to kill Israel (v.10). They will attack Israel (v.16), but God will create an earthquake (v.19). He will bring judgment on Gog and Magog and the other nations (v.22).

Ezekiel 39

The nations will be destroyed before attacking Israel (v.4). God emphasizes how this is going to happen (v.8). It will take time to bury the bodies (v.15). After this happens, the nations will permanently know that God is behind Israel (v.22). None of the Jews will be left behind (v.28).

Ezekiel 40

After this fiery battle, there will be a massive Temple restored. There are many measurements taken of this Temple—very specific. There were animal sacrifices performed here (v.41). There are priests that serve in the Temple (vv.45-46).

[1] Merrill, Eugene H., Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 394.

[2] Merrill, Eugene H., Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 396.

[3] Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (3rd. Ed.). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 410.

[4] S. R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, 9th ed. (Edinburgh: T& T Clark, 1913), 279. Cited in Merrill, Eugene H., Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 395.

[5] C. C. Torrey, Pseudo-Ezekiel and the Original Prophecy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1930). Cited in Merrill, Eugene H., Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 395.

[6] For example, see C. G. Howie, The Date and Composition of Ezekiel (Philadelphia: SBL, 1950); and G. Fohrer, Die Hauptprobleme des Buches Ezechiel (Berlin: Albel Topelmann, 1952). W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel, Hermeneia, 2 vols. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1979, 1983). Cited in Merrill, Eugene H., Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 395.

[7] Newman, Robert C. The Evidence of Prophecy: Fulfilled Prediction as a Testimony to the Truth of Christianity. Hatfield, PA: Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1988. 21.

[8] Merrill, Eugene H., Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 396.

[9] Merrill, Eugene H., Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 396.

[10] Bab. Shabbath 13b. Cited in Roger T. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and Its Background in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1986), 284.

[11] Merrill, Eugene H., Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 404.

[12] Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and Its Background in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1986), 318.