Book of Ezekiel
EZEKIEL, BOOK OF. Until quite recently universally accepted as written by Ezekiel. Some critics have denied the unity of the book and have attributed all or parts of it to later writers. There has been, however, no agreement among these critics. The arguments for both the unity of the book and its origin with Ezekiel are very strong. The book is autobiographical, that is, the author often uses the first person singular pronoun. The arrangement of the book shows its unity—all the parts fit together and, indeed, need each other to make the whole.
The locality of Ezekiel’s ministry was Babylon, to which he had been deported in 597 b.c. Ezekiel 8-11 contains a unique vision of events that were transpiring in Jerusalem, made possible when “the Spirit lifted me up...and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem” (8:3). Elsewhere in the book an intimate knowledge of events in faraway Jerusalem is implied (e.g., 24:1-2). It appears impossible that Ezekiel in Babylon could have known in such detail events in Jerusalem except by divine inspiration. Therefore many scholars are now of the opinion that Ezekiel really prophesied in Jerusalem until the city fell. The clear statements of the book, however, indicate his presence with the Jews in Babylon when he “saw” (8:6, 9-10) the events taking place at Jerusalem; and one who makes a serious attempt to understand the visions should grapple with these statements rather than deny them.
The book is divided into three parts: Denunciation of Judah and Israel (
Bibliography: H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message, 1956; C. L. Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel, 1969; J. B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC), 1969; J. W. Wevers, Ezekiel (NCB), 1969.——JFG
EZEKIEL, BOOK OF ē zēk’ ĭĕl (יְחֶזְקֵ֨ל, LXX ̓Ιεζεκιηλ, God strengthens, Vul. Ezechiel). Son of the priest Buzi, and a prophet in the Babylonian exile.
The historical background of the book.
The ministry of Ezekiel took place in one of the great critical periods of history. His book presents a clear picture of a definite historical situation because the events of his day made a profound impression upon Ezekiel. He makes allusions to contemporary events which are known to us from extra-Biblical sources. In addition to general summaries of history (e.g., 20:5-29), Ezekiel refers to specific historical events, frequently dating accurately an incident or an oracle in accordance with his chronological system which is based upon the years of the Babylonian captivity. From his situation in Babylonia as one of the captives Ezekiel describes the destruction and restoration of Israel.
The fall of the northern kingdom of Israel.
The northern kingdom of Israel fell in 722 b.c. with the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians who had grasped the hegemony of the Near E. The Assyrians invaded Judah also but were unable to take Jerusalem. In the reign of Ashurbanipal (669-633 b.c.) the Assyrian empire began to disintegrate. The Babylonians under King Nabopolassar led a coalition of the Medes, Persians, and Scythians against the Assyrians and in 612 b.c. destroyed Nineveh. In the course of the battle the last king of the great Assyrian dynasty Sin-sharishkun (627-612 b.c.) lost his life. The Assyrian army, however, was mustered by Ashuruballat, an army officer, for the final struggle.
At the same time there was a revival of power in Egypt and Pharaoh Neco, because of the growing Neo-Babylonian menace, decided that alliance with Assyria was the best way to accomplish his own ambitions for Egypt. It was necessary for Neco to march his army northward through Judah, to which Josiah (639-608 b.c.) king of Judah objected. Over Jeremiah’s objections Josiah attempted to stop Neco at Megiddo and in the battle Josiah lost his life (
The destruction of Assyria.
Nebuchadnezzar made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle and third son of Josiah, king of Judah in the place of Jehoiachin and his name was changed to Zedekiah (
The fall of Jerusalem.
The Babylonian siege of the city lasted a year and a half (
Even as king of Judah appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah was in a rather anomalous situation. Jehoiachin had gone into captivity in 597 b.c. but there were some who believed that he would shortly return to occupy the throne of Judah (
The history of Ezekiel studies
Early attitudes to the.
Shortly after the formation of the Heb. canon some Jewish scholars raised doubts about the Book of Ezekiel, classifying it among the Antilegomena. It was thought that Ezekiel at some points contradicted the Pentateuch. Benedict Spinoza in the 17th cent. suggested that parts of Ezekiel’s work have been lost and that what remains has suffered from corruption. In the 18th cent. G. L. Oeder suggested that two books comprise Ezekiel, contained in
Twentieth-century critical studies.
In the beginning of the 20th cent. critical opinion changed radically. Liberal literally criticism advocated the redactional character of the book which led to attempts to determine the amount of authentic Ezekielian material. In 1924 Gustav Hölscher published his Esechiel: Der Dichter und das Buch, which was a milestone in the history of Biblical criticism. It presented an entirely new view of both the prophet and his book and maintained that of the 1,273 vv. in the book only 170 could be attributed to Ezekiel. According to Hölscher 5th cent. priestly redactors were responsible for most of the book. They added all the legalistic and ritual material which completely transformed the prophet’s original oracles and made of him a teacher of the law instead of a simple messenger of the people. The Ezekiel presented in the prophecy never existed, but was a fiction invented by the priestly editors of the book.
In 1932 V. Herntrich in his Ezechielprobleme held that Ezekiel prophesied in Pal. and that a redactor was responsible for adding the material related to the Babylonian background.
The most radical critical position was that of Charles C. Torrey who in 1930 published his Pseudo-Ezekiel and the Original Prophecy. Torrey’s view was that the book comes from a writer who lived c. 200 b.c. and that the prophet Ezekiel never existed as a historical person. The book is a pseudepigraphon presenting a fictitious Ezekiel who is imagined to have lived in the reign of Manasseh. The Babylonian setting is the result of still later editing, according to Torrey.
In the United States William A. Irwin of the University of Chicago in 1943 published his The Problem of Ezekiel which was an attempt to build a critical theory upon the results of his predecessors in liberal Biblical criticism. Irwin considered the substance of the book to be Hel. Of the 1,273 vv. in the prophecy only 251 are genuine in whole or in part, the proportions of originality varying from complete genuineness down to a bare remnant of not more than a word of two. About eighty per cent of the book is spurious according to Irwin. The prophecy emerges from Irwin’s methods as a patchwork of many authors, consisting of commentaries and explanations of the commentaries written over a period of several centuries. However, the prophet Ezekiel appeared as a truly prophetic personality after his genuine oracles had been disentangled from the spurious later additions.
Opposed to the opinions of critics such as the foregoing during this period were scholars who took a more conservative view. C. G. Howie in his The Date and Composition of Ezekiel (1950) supports the substantial correctness of the traditional view of Ezekiel and disputes the idea that the book is a composite work. Georg Fohrer also considered the major part of the book as being authentic and that whatever editing took place in the course of the history of the text did not essentially affect its content. He supports the idea of a Babylonian setting for the prophetic activity of Ezekiel (Georg Fohrer, Die Hauptprobleme des Buches Ezechiel ). H. H. Rowley in his The Book of Ezekiel in Modern Study (1953) also rejected the conclusions of the popular liberal critical position and emphasized that the major content of the book belongs to the prophet.
Archeological discoveries have come to the support of the traditional view of Ezekiel. C. C. Torrey and his school attacked the historical accuracy of Ezekiel. Torrey denied that there had been a destruction of Jerusalem and Judah by Nebuchadnezzar which meant also that the Biblical account was mistaken in its history of the Captivity. This denial of the Chaldean invasion with its destruction of Judah and the resulting Captivity meant also that the Biblical account of the Restoration was false. Consequently Ezra, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah were also rejected as reliable history along with Ezekiel. The rejection of the historical accuracy of the account of what is perhaps one of the most important periods in Israel’s history was also by implication of tremendous theological significance. Much of prophetic Messianology is built around the events of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the Babylonian Exile, and the Restoration.
Archeological researches have confirmed many aspects of the historical background of Ezekiel’s book. The destruction of the cities of Judah by the Chaldeans has been confirmed by the evidence of inscrs. and pottery. The Lachish Ostraca recreated vividly the military campaign of the Babylonians in Judah just before they destroyed Jerusalem. Excavations in Babylon have uncovered ration lists of captives receiving grain from the supplies of Nebuchadnezzar among whom are many Jews. The fact that “Yaukin (Jehoiachin) King of Judah” and five of his sons are mentioned several times in the lists is a remarkable attestation to the Biblical records of the golah. Even Torrey’s contention that specialists and skilled workers like gardeners were not taken captive to Babylonia as indicated in the Biblical records has been refuted by the mention of such workers in the ration lists. Archeological reconstruction of this period has come also to the support of the reliability of the record in this regard in Jeremiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah. There is also extra-Biblical evidence of the return of the captives to Jerusalem. William F. Albright says, “The substantial historicity of the Edict of Cyrus (
The locale of Ezekiel’s activity.
The problem of the locality of Ezekiel’s prophetic activity is closely related to some of the aspects of the preceding discussion. The traditional position, based upon the book itself, is that the place of Ezekiel’s ministry is Babylonia, in Tel Abib beside the River Chebar (
There was close contact between the exiles in Babylonia and the Jerusalem community. Consequently it was not impossible for a prophet in Babylonia to deliver prophecies and perform symbolic actions for the instruction of the people in Judah. If Ezekiel and Jeremiah were in Jerusalem together one would expect to find some indication of it not only in the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but also in the Biblical historical records of the period.
The text, integrity, style, and canonicity
Condition of the text and its integrity.
The MT of Ezekiel reflects the many scribal errors produced in the course of its transmission through the centuries, a phenomenon to which all ancient documents were subjected. Fortunately the LXX, as well as other trs., parallel texts, and general textual evidence have made possible reasonably reliable restoration of many passages. Hölscher and Irwin determined what they conceived to be the original and true text by means of a preconceived key to the genuine Ezekielian material. Their method was based upon what they judged to be Ezekiel’s literary style and deviations from that style were expunged from the text and declared to be spurious. Emendations were made in the text to suit the requirements of the presuppositions.
A clumsy text does not necessarily indicate an irregularity or deviation from the smoothness of a pre-conceived style or a nonoriginal expression. The subjective character of the process is well described by Herbert G. May: “Literary and Historical criticism is not an exact science. The scholar can only be as honest as possible in considering and weighin all the facts....There is one further warning: in a book as difficult as that of Ezekiel it is inevitable that Biblical scholars should have been much influenced by their total conception of the development and character of Hebrew religion and history” (IB, VI, 45).
The style of Ezekiel.
The various literary types in the book reflect the antithetical characteristics of the prophet’s personality, his seemingly contradictory moods determining the wide variations of his style, as expressed sometimes in vivid poetry and at other times in ordinary prose. Ezekiel’s poetic nature is reflected in his effective use of the Ḳinah or dirge as in the beautiful lament over the banished princes of the royal house (
Frequently repeated typical words and phrases give support to the idea of the literary unity of the book: “walking in my statutes” (eleven times), “my sabbaths” (twelve times), “As I live, says the Lord God” (thirteen times), “countries” (twenty-four times), “idols” (forty times), “Then they will know that I am the Lord” (fifty times). These Ezekielian words and phrases appear in every part of the book indicating its literary homogeneity and suggesting a single author for the prophecy. The book thus bears the stamp of a single mind in its phraseology, its imagery, and in its process of thought which is developed on a plan so perspicuous and comprehensive that the evidence of literary design in its composition is unquestionably clear.
The problem of canonicity.
The Book of Ezekiel became a part of the Heb. canon but in the days of the rabbis Shammai and Hillel questions arose in regard to some of the canonical books which consequently came to be thought of as the Antilegomena. Among these was Ezekiel together with Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and
Division and contents.
In its general theme the Book of Ezekiel resembles the Book of Isaiah, the first part having to do with judgment, the second with blessing. In its structure the forty-eight chs. of Ezekiel may be divided into four sections indicating the contents of the book. Within the general structure, the order of the material is, on the whole, chronological.
The central point of Ezekiel’s prophecy is the destruction of Jerusalem. In the period before the destruction in 586 b.c., the prophet’s principal purpose was to preach the importance of repentance and to demand a change in the people’s way of life; to warn them that their confidence that the Egyptians could save them from defeat at the hands of the Babylonians was mistaken (
A study of the teaching of Ezekiel’s prophecy places him among the greatest of the Heb. prophets. He gave definite and clear expression to the great theological concepts which were at the heart of the preaching of all his predecessors in the prophetic office.
Ezekiel’s concept of God.
Fundamental to an understanding of Ezekiel’s theology is his concept of God. It is the glory of God that is first drawn to our attention by the prophet. The vision by the River Chebar which formed the introduction to the call of Ezekiel to the prophetic office, was “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (1:28 KJV). Here Jehovah is described as the absolute ruler of all creation over which He sits enthroned. The vision is in the form of a divine throne-chariot and appears as a great cloud and fire coming from the N. The chariot is borne by four living creatures in the form of men, “each had four faces, and each of them had four wings....As for the likeness of their faces each had the face of a man in front; the four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle at the back,” representing the whole living creation (
These figures appear again in
This abiding sense of the glory of God has its counterpart in the title by which Ezekiel is led to speak of himself. He is the “son of man,” a weak and mortal representation of fallen humanity, conscious of his limitations before the presence of the glory of God (
Ezekiel has much to say about the name of the Lord. The name of the Lord is the correlative of His glory. That name is the name of Yahweh. “I am Yahweh” (אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה
The term is applied also to anything which belongs to the sphere of the Holy One in Israel or has come into His presence (cf.
Ezekiel’s concept of Israel.
In this way the name of Yahweh was profaned, and the heathen gained a false impression of the God of Israel and knowledge of Him was obscured. The adverse effect of the Captivity included not only the nations but also many in Israel who did not understand what happened. This effect will be eliminated when the final lesson of history is revealed (39:23). Since the honor of Yahweh is historically identified with the destinies of His chosen people, the ultimate disclosure of His deity can be effected only by the restoration of this nation to its Promised Land under conditions which reflect the holiness and glory of Yahweh. The same principle involved in the temporary exile of Israel becomes the surety of Israel’s final redemption. Yahweh’s recovery of His people from the lands of the Diaspora restores the prestige of His name among the nations, and emphasizes the profound moral principles of His reign (39:23). At the same time it reaffirmed and clarified to Israel the historic truths that had been the subject of the preaching of the prophets in the past (20:42-44; 36:11, 37; 39:28,
Ezekiel is consequently led to a doctrine of salvation which is profoundly monergistic. Everything proceeds on the basis of the sovereign irresistible grace of God. It melts the hard hearts of the people, brings them to repentance, and endows them with a new spirit motivating them to walk in His statutes and to do His will (
The freedom and responsibility of the individual before God.
A prominent idea in Ezekiel is the doctrine of the responsibility of the individual soul before God. He had been anticipated in his teaching by Jeremiah (
The sense of personal responsibility was a matter of great concern for Ezekiel in his own work. The nature and limits of his responsibility were defined for him at the beginning of his prophetic ministry, and again when he began the second period of his work. It was made clear to the prophet that although he was responsible for the proclamation of the revelation vouchsafed to him, he was not responsible for its success or failure (
The idea of personal responsibility is inseparably related to the concept of faith as personal fellowship between the believer and God, a concept that was part of the thinking of all the prophets in regard to their own relation to Yahweh. Jeremiah had anticipated Ezekiel also in the doctrine that this is the character which true faith must assume in the experience of all people. It was Ezekiel who developed the principle most logically that neither a man’s sins nor hereditary guilt can prevent the work of divine grace in the life of the penitent sinner (
The kingdom of God in its final glory (40-48).
This final section of Ezekiel’s prophecy is in many respects the most remarkable part of the book. In the form of a Messianic prophecy the prophet describes a politicoreligious constitution by which his fundamental concept of holiness is expressed in the regulation of the details of the life of the redeemed community. These chs. are separated by an interval of twelve or thirteen years from the last of the other prophecies. Foregoing prophecies described the redemption and restoration of the land and the people (33-37). This section presents a description of the condition of the people in the experience of the promised redemption. The background of this picture is formed by the first thirty-nine chapters of the book. The concluding statement of the foregoing section is, “I will not hide my face any more from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God” (39:29).
One also must guard against the tendency to emphasize the supernatural elements in Ezekiel’s description such as the life-giving stream which issues from the Temple mount, the personal presence of Yahweh, etc., and conclude that the whole passage is merely an allegory representing the spiritual perfection characteristic of the Church in the Christian age. The literalness and reality of the prophetic program described here are quite clear. The Temple is real, as are the ceremonies and those who serve Him. Sacrifices and offerings are thought of as continuing when Israel is redeemed and the kingdom is Yahweh’s by the greatest prophets (
The priestly character of the institutions prescribed by Ezekiel is due in some respects to the fact that the prophet himself was a priest, but more importantly to the suitability of the priestly concept of holiness to be the principle of a theocracy that was to be the reflection of the essential character of Yahweh and the relation of His people to Him.
Theuse of Ezekiel
Quotations from Ezekiel in the NT.
Ezekiel’s influence on John.
Ezekiel is more closely related to the gospel of John and the Revelation, as indicated by a definite literary kinship as well as doctrine than any other part of the NT.
John’s vision of the holy city, the new Jerusalem (
Jesus and Ezekiel.
The preceding comparisons indicate that Jesus frequently referred to the Book of Ezekiel. He used the title “Son of man” in the same sense that it is used repeatedly by the prophet.
Ezekiel in the history of Judaism.
Ezekiel exerted important influence upon the development of Judaism. In some respects he shares with Ezra the reputation of being the father of Judaism. He prophesied in the transition period between the pre-exilic faith of an established covenant people and the postexilic faith of this same people now a legal community in a strange land. In this period of devastation and change, the prophet contributed to the safeguards which were to protect the Israel of the future against the heathenism that had brought about the destruction of the nation. There are three aspects of Ezekiel’s prophecies that are of particular significance.
His influence upon the mysticisim of Judaism.
Ezekiel’s influence upon the mysticism of Judah is the result of his visions. His visions initiated that tendency in the life of Israel that resulted in the production of an extensive Ap. Lit. chiefly between the 2nd cent. b.c. and the 2nd cent. a.d. He influenced as well the development of the later mysticism of the Cabala. There is, however, an important difference between Ezekiel’s apocalyptic writing and that of the later apocalyptic writing of Judaism. These later writers borrowed Ezekiel’s style, but were not inspired as to the origin, content, and delivery of their message. Consequently these apocalyptic writings were not considered canonical.
His influence upon the cult of Judaism.
Of particular interest and significance in the influence of Ezekiel is his exposition of the Temple and its ceremonies. A priest as well as a prophet, he emphasized ritualism, but not at the expense of moral values, laying the foundations for its eventual prominence in Jewish life. The direction given by the prophet in regards to the cult was followed in succeeding generations. He was the forerunner of that Judaism which developed around the Temple cult and ceremonial minutiae. The moral and spiritual influence of Ezekiel upon Judaism was equally important. The doctrines of personal immortality, bodily resurrection, and the importance of the law in Judaism were all profoundly influenced by Ezekiel. The prophet, upon the basis of the lessons of the past with its many examples of Israel’s apostasy, tribulations, and exile, insists that the future restoration depends upon Israel’s observance of the will of Yahweh and strict adherence to the laws expounded by its legitimate religious leaders.
His influence upon the literature of Judaism.
Ezekiel figures prominently in much of the lit. of Judaism as well as its art. He appears in the murals of the synagogue of Dura Europos completed in a.d. 255, and in modern times in the 1956 edition of the Bible published by Teriade in Paris in the form of an etching by Chagall, “The Calling of Ezekiel.”
G. Hölscher, Hesekiel, Der Dichter und das Buch (1924); C. C. Torrey, Pseudo-Ezekiel and the Original Prophecy (1930); J. B. Harford, Studies in the Book of Ezekiel (1935); G. A. Cooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel in ICC (1937); I. G. Matthews, Ezekiel (1939); T. H. Gaster, “Ezekiel and the Mysteries” JBL, LX (1941); W. A. Irwin, The Problem of Ezekiel (1943); C. G. Howie, The Date and Composition of Ezekiel (1950); H. G. May, Ezekiel in IB, vol. 6 (1956); H. F. Hahn, Thein Modern Research (1966).