Lecture 33: Ezekiel
Course: Old Testament Survey
I. Orienting Data
Let me then start talking about Ezekiel and what we have in the Book of Ezekiel.
It is a big book, forty-eight chapters; it is one of the Major Prophets. I am going to summarize it in a relatively greater speed than how carefully we looked at Lamentations.
1. Fall of Jerusalem
The first thing I would say is that Ezekiel has a special emphasis here on the fall of Jerusalem. Indeed, what Ezekiel does is devote half the book, as we measure it by chapters, to hammering away at basically one message. If you look at chapters 1 through 24 you will see, for the most part, that they have a single theme expressed in many, many beautifully varied ways, which is this: do not fool yourselves, the exile will not be short and it will not be partial.
Ezekiel went into exile in 598 BC when King Jehoiachin was exiled. Jehoiachin was the last legitimate king of the Judeans and he was deposed and taken into captivity to Babylon in 598 BC after just reigning for a few months. He was the king featured in the tablet inscribed with the food distribution lists that confirms the ending of the Book of 2 Kings. After him the Babylonians put a puppet king named Zedekiah on the throne. Zedekiah was really the Babylonian choice for king, but he was also a descendent of David. He is the one who is deposed of in 586. Many people hoped that the exile would be brief. Jeremiah encountered a prophet named Hananiah and descriptions are given in chapter 37 about how he had to deal with this prophet who was saying, “Two years and then the exile will be over. The Babylonians will be off the scene. Give it two years.” Jeremiah said, “No, it is going to seventy.” That was hard. Hananiah saying was, “Oh, it will just be 598 to 596. Jeremiah says, “No, it hasn’t even come yet. When it comes it will last seventy years.” Therefore, people like Ezekiel are up against the same kind of opposition that Jeremiah was up against. People said, “Come on, not for a whole lifetime, you don’t mean that.” So, they are all giving positive words and saying it cannot be that bad and Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, has to preach a very, very unpopular message and has to say, “Look, here is the situation; it’s going to be bad, bad, bad.”
2. Oracle Against Foreign Nations
Also he has oracles against foreign nations as you might expect by now, especially Egypt, Tyre and a new one, Magog, a nation that does not really exist, a nation that seems to be kind of a composite that speaks about all the nations gathering against God’s people.
3. New Jerusalem and New Temple
Then he has visions of the New Jerusalem and the new temple.
He was a priest. His prophesies go from 593 to 571.
1. God’s judgment
2. The idea of the presence of the Lord in His glory leaving and then returning in his visions
3. The idolatry that is all over the place in the final days of Jerusalem and how that confirms that God’s people are not faithful
4. God’s omnipresence and omniscience
5. Destruction of final world powers
6. Total final victory of God
7. Ezekiel is very helpful in showing how different the age of the New Covenant will be from that of the Old. When you read Ezekiel he describes the future for the nation of Israel and it does not look anything like actual ancient Israel. Nothing like it; geographically it is totally different. He describes Jerusalem; it is nothing like the actual historical Jerusalem. He describes the new temple; it is nothing like the actual historical temple. What he is saying is this: in the age to come there are going to be realities that are totally different than what we are used to. It is not the same. It is not just that we will come back and start up life as it once was. No, what God has in mind after the exile is something much, much better. Much bigger, much different; not the same old thing. I think you can see it in Ezekiel even better, more clearly than you can in most prophets, and it helps you to understand what the prophets are really doing; that they are saying the restoration era is an era of vastly different blessing on a vastly different scale.
A. Major Themes
1. Give up your false hope.
There are people who you will encounter all your life in ministry who have false hope. They will have the notion, for example, that if they raise their children correctly their children will be good all through their teenage years, college years, and thereafter and will reflect their values and be nice, quiet, obedient kids and never have a problem. There are people who believe that and it hurts then if that is their confidence, if that is what they really believe God owes them to have that not work out. You will have people who will say, “If your relationship to Christ is good, you just are not going to get sick; you should not have to be sick.” Many people hold onto that. It makes sense to them, it fits somehow into their psyche and they are expecting that they are not going to get sick if they know Christ. So they just cannot understand it if they get sick; it just does not make sense. There are even groups, as some of you probably know, where people will say, “Haven’t been sick a day in my life, had some symptoms but never really been sick.” They talk about having symptoms. Professor Fea who taught here for a long time wrote an article called The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel and in it tried to demonstrate how wrong that way of thinking is. I could go on and list many kinds of false hopes.
There are many people who are convinced that Christ is supposed to make their life smooth, that everything should go well. Often Christian testimonies are this way. Someone stands up in some kind of a church meeting and says, “I was a prominent rascal before I accepted Christ. Now everything is going just great.” The implication of that kind of mentality follows that, if everything is not going great for you, you must not be much of a Christian. People need to know that often the proof that you are in God’s will is that you are suffering as He predicts. That is what Paul says. Paul says, “What proof do you want that I am an apostle? Christ came to suffer and did, He is a suffering servant. I am suffering for Him, let me describe my suffering. What more proof do you need?” He gives his suffering as the credential that makes him a true apostle. That is just a way of thinking that many people do not have in mind, and Ezekiel is really useful for teaching that.
2. Ezekiel is also an advisor to the community
People come to him and ask about this and that, and he says, “I don’t know, I’ll go ask the Lord.” He goes and prays and God frequently gives him answers and he comes back and says, “Here is what God told me.”
3. Interrelationship of leader and people
He addresses the interrelationship of leader and people in his foreign nation oracles. Unlike some of the other books, Ezekiel will talk about the Pharaoh more than about Egypt per say, more about the king of Tyre than about Tyre per say, etc. That is one of his special characteristics. You see in Ezekiel the significance of the government leadership. It is one of his very useful themes.
4. Universal divine sovereignty
Ezekiel starts with a vision that involves the picture of the wheel in a wheel and so on. This really is not mysterious. This is not something that cannot be comprehended. He says in Ezekiel 1:4, “I saw a windstorm coming out of the north flashing light, brilliant light, the center of the fire looked like glowing metal, then there is four living creatures, each of them has four kinds of things and they have got wings and they all face in different directions, each one goes straight ahead and don’t move as they turn.” What can this be? You go on and see the whole thing and you might say, “What kind of a weird thing is this?” Some people have even tried to argue it is obviously a flying saucer. What Ezekiel sees is God’s super fast worldwide chariot. This is a bird’s eye view. He sees this chariot that has the wheels all around; it has wheels in a wheel, not like hubs or something, but rather wheels on different axes so that the wheels do not need to turn. There is a wheel facing this way and a wheel facing that way, like a gyroscope would look. It has got living creatures pulling this, facing in every direction so they do not need to turn this chariot around. This rather can just go.
He says at the end of chapter 1, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” That is what God caused him to see. In effect, God suddenly shows up and says, “Hi Ezekiel, here you are way over here near the Tigris River and I’m just dropping by. How do you like My chariot? Nice, huh? It’s fast. Ezekiel, I want you to preach and just tell people that I’m sovereign over the whole universe. I’m not localized back in Judah like many, many people think. I’m the only God and I’m universal; I’m over it all and I’m commissioning you to preach My word to a bunch of people that will be hard hearted, stiff necked, and resist everything you say but that’s your commission. So long,” and off He goes. I know that is a caricature but that is the idea of what is going on in Ezekiel. In exile these people are not way off from Yahweh’s influence and control. There is no place where he does not have any influence or control. That does not happen; it does not work that way.
5. The need to have hope in an otherwise hopeless situation comes partly from that divine sovereignty.
6. Individual and national responsibility; he does not drop that as a concept.
7. Unification as a prelude to eschatological fulfillment. He talks about the fact that Israel and Judah together, all of God’s people must be unified. The unity of God’s people is a great theme in Scripture.
8. Corporate leadership of the Holy Spirit is a big theme for him.
9. The certainty of fulfillment of God’s word. It will happen so do not have false hope. If God says He is going to punish, He is going to punish. You cannot naively figure that something will not happen if God has said it will.
10. The transformation of people prior to eschatological fulfillment is important. Ezekiel wants everybody to understand that they need to become a new people. You do not say, “Make me Lord. Force me to be part of your New Covenant.” No, there has to be a will to get into that. It just does not automatically happen.
11. Transformation of the temple
12. Transformation of the Promised Land
13. The presence of God. If God is not present than we are in trouble. If He is present and we are sinful then we are in trouble too. You have the beneficent limited presence of God that reflects itself in Ezekiel.
1. In the first half of this bifid book, this two-part book, Jerusalem must fall. That is woe.
2. Then come the more positive stuff. The oracles against foreign nations are positive from the point of view of God’s people because they all say these oppressor nations must decline and God’s people must rise.
3. Hope after the fall.
4. The great visions of the future; nothing like the present.
C. Other Issues in Ezekiel
1. Ezekiel reflects the sense of the turning of history which is what the exile period is.
2. Ezekiel is apocalyptic, but I am going to talk about more apocalyptic when we get to Daniel. However, Ezekiel still has plenty of examples of it.
3. Ezekiel has plenty examples of the lament form. He is a lamenter, but it is not the lament form as we have it in the Psalms. It is another kind of lament which is more like the funerary lament where you are imagining what you say at the death of somebody. You are imagining the funeral of someone who is now in a very sad position. He does that in a lot of his foreign nation oracles.
4. The dated prophecies, as we have already said.
5. When you read the Prophets, it can seem like they are talking materialistically, just as it can seem in the New Testament when you read about streets of gold in Jerusalem. That is a misunderstanding. When you read about the supposedly material restoration in Ezekiel, it is more like that they will get their land back but not the same land. They will get your city back but not the same city. They will get their temple back but not the same temple. Everything changes. What he is really saying is, “We prophets do give our predictions in what sound like material terms. But, if you really examine what we are doing, we are using that as a means of conveying the fact that there is something ahead that we don’t even understand. It is beyond, it is great. You don’t understand it; we don’t understand it. It is something fabulous in the plan of God. We can only describe it from the point of view of the material but that is not really what we are thinking.” If you understand, you can see it so well in Ezekiel 40-48. It will be like a prism through which you can also then suddenly understand what Amos means, for example, when he says, “The days are coming when the person trying to plant his field will tell the person who is still harvesting, would you please get out of the way, I need to plant the crops,” because the harvest will be so abundant that they will go right around to planting time again. That is just crazy in any agricultural society; you do not have harvests like that. It is a way of using material terminology to say that there is something great and wonderful ahead that we do not have any ability to portray as well as we would like to.