5 Interesting Things to Know about Ezekiel in the Bible
- Jessica Udall Contributing Writer
- 2021 26 Jan
The book of Ezekiel is buried deep in the midst of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, and for many believers, it stays buried there, unexcavated and mysterious. Few pastors want to touch the book since it doesn’t lend itself to easy outlines and simple applications. Those who do delve into its forty-eight chapters may come away mystified and confused, wondering, “What did I just read? What does it all mean?” While one of the Bible’s more complex books, Ezekiel is worth trying to understand. The greatness and goodness of God are displayed within it in stark contrast to the dark background of fallen humanity. There is also much to discover about the seriousness of sin, the possibility of repentance, and the complexity of the human heart within its pages.
The book of Ezekiel was written between 593-571 BC (it includes Ezekiel's first vision in 573 BC, the fall of Judah in 586 BC, and Ezekiel's vision of the second temple in 573 BC). Ezekiel's first vision occurred four years after Nebuchadnezzar deported the first group of Judean exiles to Babylon. His ministry began when he was thirty years old, and his last vision for the book occurred when he was fifty years old. Ezekiel had a tough job like most of the Old Testament prophets; he was speaking to a people who were in the midst of turmoil and just punishment due to years and years of disobedience toward God. Despite this hardship, Ezekiel defended the Lord as a holy God; he wanted to restore God's glory to the people of God. The people had rejected God and turned toward other nations, now they were reaping the consequences of those choices made by kings and common people. But God never leaves his people to fend for themselves; He is always present and always working to preserve a remnant through grace and faith. Ezekiel provides the hope of a new heart and spirit (Eze 36:22-32) to those who are exiled and those who remain in Judah.
Before you embark on your own reading of Ezekiel, here are 5 interesting things to know:
1. The Book Was Written during the Exile in the 6th Century
Ezekiel 1:3 tells us at the time of the writing of the book, the prophet and many of God’s people were currently in Babylon after being deported from Judah in 597 BC. He was a contemporary of the prophet Daniel and began prophesying in 593 BC. Ezekiel was involved in prophetic ministry for over two decades, with his last recorded message dated in the year 571 BC. In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet first details the reasons why judgment would come on Judah (ch. 1-25), then declares judgment on other sinful peoples surrounding Judah (ch. 25-32), then ends with an assurance that one day God’s people would return to the land and be reconciled with God (ch. 33-48).
It seems Ezekiel wrote the book to help exiles in Babylon to understand why their exile had happened and to urge them to live with faithfulness and unity as they looked forward to their eventual restoration. While many false prophets tried to tell the people what they wanted to hear--that they would quickly return to their beloved homeland--Ezekiel prophesied the truth, that Jerusalem would in fact be destroyed and that it would take many years for the future restoration that God had indeed promised.
2. Young Jewish men used to be forbidden from reading Ezekiel until age 30.
There is much that is hard to understand about the book of Ezekiel. In fact, according to Matthew Henry, some Jewish rabbis used to forbid men from reading it until the age of thirty because it was thought that maturity was needed to understand the message of the prophecy. Matthew Henry encourages readers of Ezekiel, however, that “if we read these difficult parts of scripture with humility and reverence, and search them diligently, though we may not be able to untie all the knots we meet with, any more than we can solve all the phenomena in the book of nature, yet we may from them, as from the book of nature, gather a great deal for the confirming of our faith and the encouraging of our hope in the God we worship.”
3. The Name Ezekiel Means “the Strength of God”
The Prophet Ezekiel’s name means “God strengthens,” and indeed he needed much strength to declare a difficult message: the fact that Judah was being judged for their sins, and that judgment would continue for many years. He urged them to repent and throw themselves on God’s mercy, hoping in the gracious promise of future restoration. Ezekiel came from a priestly family and his prophecies have a priestly tone and emphasis (for example, Ezekiel 46). Though the exile was terribly difficult in the sense that the people had been displaced from their homeland, the conditions they endured in Babylon seemed to be “generally tolerable,” with Ezekiel and many other exiles able to own their own houses (Ezekiel 3:24; 8:1). Ezekiel’s wife died suddenly (24:15ff) and God tells Ezekiel not to loudly grieve over her, and that this will serve as a sign that “Jerusalem is to be destroyed without wailing or lamentation (24:15ff)" (Blbclassic.org).
4. Ezekiel teaches us that God is good and loving even in the midst of judgment.
Though the general tone of Ezekiel is dark and focused on sin and judgment, the fact that prophets were continuing to bring God’s message to people is proof that his love endures even when his people sin. Indeed, Ezekiel portrays God as the faithful husband of an adulterous wife. This relationship is vividly portrayed in Ezekiel 16, where God concludes: “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you” (Ezekiel 16:59-60).
Matthew Henry elaborates: “It was an indication of God's good-will to them, and his gracious designs concerning them in their affliction, that he raised up prophets among them, both to convince them when, in the beginning of their troubles, they were secure and unhumbled, which was Ezekiel's business, and to comfort them when, in the latter end of their troubles, they were dejected and discouraged. If the Lord had been pleased to kill them, he would not have used such apt and proper means to cure them.
5. Ezekiel teaches us that God is eager to forgive the repentant.
God is not eager to punish wrongdoers. Instead, he gives them every chance to repent. God appeals to the Israelites in Ezekiel 18:31-32: “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”
Beyond the judgment and exile that God’s unfaithful people were experiencing at the time of the writing of Ezekiel, God forecasts hope through his prophet, saying: “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:24-26).
While Ezekiel may seem like an intimidating book to read, there are rewards to be gained from spending time with the strong prophet of God who pulls no punches regarding unrighteousness but reminds us of God’s steadfast and enduring love that covers a multitude of sins when repentance softens wayward hearts. Perspective-shifting, priority-reorienting truths glimmer in from the book of Ezekiel like buried treasure, ascertained by the mature and diligent miners of God’s Word.
Photo credit: ©Sparrowstock
Jessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.