The Book of Ezekiel: Glory Departed

Ezekiel is a strange and wonderful book. Its writer loved God and loved God’s people. That is evident throughout the entire book. Ezekiel lived and served God in a difficult time of great suffering. The two great superpowers of the day, Egypt and Babylon, were always bearing down on tiny Judah. Ezekiel himself suffered much, but his life was defined by his relationship with the Lord and the Word the Lord spoke through him to his generation and to history.

The book of Ezekiel displays amazing literary complexity. Ezekiel uses many literary devices to communicate his inspired message. In the book we find 4 visions, 7 parables, 10 symbolic signs and 15 prophetic oracles. In the book we also find apocalyptic sections similar to the book of Revelation. In fact, the book of Revelation draws much from Ezekiel. 

Ezekiel was a priest, so the temple plays a prominent role in the book. He may have been 30 years old (1:1) at the time of his call, which was the age one began work in the priesthood.

In the book of Ezekiel we see many great truths, but especially we find the great truth that God is working out all things according to his eternal plan and for his glory. The glory of God is the central theme of the book around which all else turns. Ezekiel had an encounter with the God of glory that changed his life forever.

Historical Context 

Ezekiel lived and ministered the Word of God in one of the most challenging and pivotal times in the history of Israel. Ezekiel gives exact dates for most of his prophecies, so we can say that the book reveals prophecies given by him from July 593 BC, to April 28, 571 BC. This was the time of conflict and struggle with mighty Babylon. For many decades the superpowers, Egypt and Assyria had exerted political and military influence and even control on the much smaller Judah. By 605 BC Babylon comes into the picture and takes the first group of people into exile (Daniel and his friends were taken at this time). In 598 king Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon. As a consequence a military campaign was sent to put the rebellion down. At that time many exiles were taken captive and sent to Babylon. Ezekiel was taken in this second deportation. He lived and ministered in exile. The third and final deportation came in 586 BC when the Babylonian army destroyed and burned the city of Jerusalem with the temple. Ezekiel brought the challenging Word from the Lord during this time of tension, struggle and conflict.

The Flow of the Book

The larger flow of the book, or the macro structure, consists of three main parts: (1) Prophecies against Judah and Jerusalem (chapters 1-24), (2) Prophecies against the Nations (chapters 25-32), and Prophecies of Restoration (chapters 33-48). The flow and message of this complicated book is easier to understand through the lens of the three part macro structure. The book revolves around the pivot of the fall of Jerusalem. The first section is before the fall, the third section is after the fall, while the center section (prophecies against the nations) is during the siege and after the fall of Jerusalem. Lets look at each of these three main parts one at a time.

Prophecies Against Judah & Jerusalem: (1-24)

This first section of the book of Ezekiel consists of two cycles of prophecies with each cycle having a vision followed by a symbolic sign that is then followed by prophetic oracles. All these prophecies show the certain reality of the judgment of God on his rebellious people. Even in judgment God’s plan moves forward.

First Prophetic Cycle (1-7)

Vision (1-3): The Call of Ezekiel

Symbolic Sign (4-5) 

Prophetic Oracles (6-7)

Second Prophetic Cycle (8-24)

Vision (8-11): Corrupt Temple – Glory Departs

Symbolic Sign (12)

Prophetic Oracles (13-24): Fourteen Prophetic Oracles

1: False Prophecy Condemned (13:1-23)

2: False Seekers Condemned (14:1-11)

3: Judgment is Certain (14:12-23)

4: Parable of the Useless Vine (15:1-8)

5: Parable of the Unfaithful Bride (16:1-63)

6: Parable of Two Eagles and a Vine (17:1-24)

7: False Proverb Condemned (18:1-32)

8: A Lament for the princes of Israel (19:1-14)

9: Israel Continually Unfaithful, The Lord Always Faithful (20:1-44)

10: Fire & Sword Judgment (20:45-21:32)

11: No One to Build a Wall & Stand in the Breach (22:1-31)

12: Two Evil Sisters (23:1-49)

13: Parable of the Bloody Pot (24:1-14)

14: No Mourning Allowed (24:15-27)

Prophecies against the Nations: (25-32)

Most of the prophets prophesied judgment against the nations. The Lord God is God over all people and nations. He is not just some local deity as the pagan gods were thought to be. The judgments against the nations were for their evil generally but also related to God’s people, Israel. These oracles against the nations serve two purposes: first, to warn the nations of impending judgment, and second, to comfort the people of God to trust in their sovereign God. He has a plan for them. 

The prophecies of Ezekiel against the nations are first against those nations that surround Israel and had some impact on their turning to idols and on their defeat by Babylon. He begins with the four neighbors that circle Israel (Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia) each having a two part oracle of judgment consisting of a because part (reason) and a therefore part (reality). This is followed by three longer oracles against Tyre. Each oracle ends with the pronouncement: “you have come to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more.” Each of the oracles is against the pride of Tyre that led to its downfall. 

Then, after a brief oracle against Sidon and a word of comfort to Israel, Ezekiel turns his attention to Egypt for an extended oracle. Egypt was a major player in controlling Israel and luring her away from Babylon, which led to her ultimate destruction and exile. One must also understand that the whole idea of alliances with international superpowers to gain temporary security was contrary to the covenant relationship Israel enjoyed with the Lord. In all there are oracles against seven nations and the final nation, Egypt, has seven oracles.

Between the oracle against Israel’s neighbors and the oracle against Egypt, we find a brief prophecy (two verses) of comfort and security for Israel. Though the Lord was using the nations to judge rebellious Israel, he will ultimately judge the nations and restore Israel. All this is for the glory of the Lord. His plan will be fulfilled for the salvation of his people.

Prophecies of Restoration: (33-48)

All the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) have large section of prophecies against Israel and prophecies against the nations and prophecies of restoration to Israel. Prophecies of restoration (ch. 33-48) complete the book with a sense of hope for God’s exiled people. God’s plan is still on track even in the darkest days.

This section consist of eight parts. The first four parts are a transition from judgment in the previous chapters to hope in the following chapters. They begin with Ezekiel called to be a watchman over the people of God, a grave and awesome call (33:1-20). Then, a message of the fall of Jerusalem is received and recounted. From this, warnings are give to those who remain in the land and to the exiles (33:21-33). The third part is an indictment against the unfaithful shepherds (prophets, priest & kings) of the people of God (34). They hold great responsibility for the wickedness in the land. Because his appointed shepherds were unfaithful, the Lord himself will be the shepherd of his flock. He will do this through the One Shepherd, the Messiah, whom he will anoint for this purpose. Then, the transition section ends with further oracles of Judgment against Edom for their treachery against the people of God in their hour of need.

The last four parts of this final section consist of oracles of comfort and restoration for the beleaguered people of God. They are: Restoration of Israel for the Lord’s Glory (36), Restoration & Reunification (37), Gog of Magog (38-39) and the Final Vision of Restoration (40-48). These last four parts can form a chronological eschatology (End Times) of the plan of God. First, the restoration of the people of God under the Messiah who brings the Spirit. This will come to be known as the Church (36). Second, the Messianic kingdom will be established unifying all the people of God (37). Third, the final rebellion of Satan that is put down by the Lord (38-39). And finally, we see the New Heavens and the New Earth, the eternal blessedness of the people of God (40-48).

Major Themes in Ezekiel:

1) Glory of God: The Glory of God forms the main theme and the central driving force of the book of Ezekiel. The book begins with a marvelous vision of the glory of God, which is the call of Ezekiel. It is the glory of God that arrested Ezekiel’s heart and plunged him into a difficult ministry. Ezekiel’s life is seized with the mission to declare the glory of God in the face of Judah’s evil turn from that glory. Because their evil was so grievous, the glory of the Lord departs form his temple, the place where the glory resided. Two other ideas play into the major theme of glory in Ezekiel. First, there is the idea of the Lord’s name that the people treated with dishonor. The Lord will judge and restore for the sake of his holy name (20:9, 14, 22, 39, 44; 36:20, 21, 22, 23; 37:7, 25; 43:7, 8). The second idea related to the glory of God is that people may know that He is the Lord. The phrase is used 72 times in the book. The Lord does what he does so that people may know that he is indeed the Lord and relate to him in a righteous way. The Lord is glorious and all the earth must bow before him.   

2) Judgment: This second major theme flows out of the first. Because the glory of the Lord is so awesome, people must treat his holy name with great honor and reverence. When people dishonor his name and violate his will and refuse to humble themselves and repent, righteous judgment will fall upon them. The book of Ezekiel is filled with oracles of judgment against Israel and the nations. The Lord is merciful and slow to anger. But when people reject his goodness and refuse to repent, he sends judgment. His own people for whom he provides many blessings turned from him in wickedness so that their judgment is the just recompense for their deeds. The judgment of God is necessary and instrumental in the fulfillment of his plan of salvation for the world.

3) Restoration: The righteous judgment of the Lord comes upon evil doers, but the mercy and compassion of the Lord is always near. Even as he judges his people he is preparing restoration for them. As they suffer under the heavy hand of judgment he promises future restoration for them so that they will not loose heart. Restoration is also necessary for the fulfillment of the plan of salvation. It is the restored community in the land that will give birth to the Messiah and the salvation he brings.

4) Messiah: The painful, present suffering the people of God experience is mitigated  by the prophecies of hope concerning the Messiah. The messianic prophecy in Ezekiel comes when the Lord condemns the unfaithful shepherds of Israel and promises to be their shepherd himself. Then in 34:23-24 we read, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall tend them; and he shall tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I am the Lord. I have spoken.”

5) New Temple: The last eight chapter of the book are a prophetic oracle of a new temple, its activities and the regulation for it. The new temple is a future time of blessing for the people of God when his presence will be with them in abundance. Their lives will be focused on the glory and worship of the Lord alone. The new temple is understood variously by different interpreters. Some see it as a literal future temple. Others view Ezekiel’s temple symbolically as the presence of God among his people in the Church Age. Still others see the temple as a symbol of the presence of Jesus in the Messianic Age (Millennium). Finally, it is understood as the presence of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb when there will be no literal temple in the eternal state of the New Heavens and the New Earth. The presence of God is key to all the Bible from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation. The presence of God is the burning passion of the people of God. It is the purpose for which God saves us. He is always with his people. They can trust that his presence will give them strength through any adversity.

Conclusion:

The book of Ezekiel is a sure word from the Lord of judgment and salvation. The Lord is glorious beyond compare. Those who trust and revere him will receive his salvation. But those who reject his love will fall under his righteous judgment. Ezekiel shows us that no matter how difficult the times may be, walking with the Lord is the way of blessing. Those who do will experience the glory of the Lord in a powerful way.

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