Ezekiel, 1



1. The Person of Ezekiel

Name, Captivity and Trials

2. The Book

(1) Its Genuineness

(2) Its Structure

(3) Relation to Jeremiah

(4) Fate of the Book and Its Place in the Canon


1. Formal Characteristics of Ezekiel

(1) Visions

(2) Symbolical Acts

(3) Allegories

(4) Lamentations

2. Ezekiel and the Levitical System

(1) Eze 44:4 ff: Theory That the Distinction of Priests and Levites Was Introduced by Ezekiel

(a) The Biblical Facts

(b) Modern Interpretation of This Passage

(c) Examination of Theory

(i) Not Tenable for Pre-exilic Period

(ii) Not Sustained by Ezekiel

(iii) Not Supported by Development after Ezekiel

(d) The True Solution

(2) Eze 40:1-49 through Eze 48:1-35: Priority Claimed for Ezekiel as against the Priestly Codex

(a) Sketch of the Modern View

(b) One-Sidedness of This View

(c) Impossibility That Ezekiel Preceded P

(d) Correct Interpretation of Passage

(3) Ezekiel's Leviticism

3. Ezekiel and the Messianic Idea

4. Ezekiel and Apocalyptic Literature

5. Ezekiel's Conception of God

See a list of verses on EZEKIEL in the Bible.

I. The Prophet and His Book.

1. The Person of Ezekiel:

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

The name yehezqe'l, signifies "God strengthens." The Septuagint employed the form Iezekiel, from which the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) took its "Ezechiel" and Luther "Hesekiel." In Eze 1:3 the prophet is said to be the son of a certain Buzi, and that he was a priest. This combination of the priestly and prophetic offices is not accidental at a time when the priests began to come more and more into the foreground. Thus, too, Jeremiah (Eze 1:1) and Zechariah (Eze 1:1; compare Ezr 5:1; 6:14; Ne 12:4,16, and my article "Zechariah" in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary) were priests and prophets; and in Zec 7:3 a question in reference to fasting is put to both priests and prophets at the same time. And still more than in the case of Zechariah and Jeremiah, the priestly descent makes itself felt in the case of Ezekiel. We here already draw attention to his Levitical tendencies, which appear particularly prominent in Eze 40:1-49 through Eze 46:1-24 (see underII , 2 below), and to the high-priestly character of his picture of the Messiah (Eze 21:25 f; Eze 45:22; see II , 3 below).

We find Ezekiel in Tel-abib (3:15) at the river Chebar (1:1,3; 3:15) on a Euphrates canal near Nippur, where the American expedition found the archives of a great business house, "Murashu and Sons." The prophet had been taken into exile in 597 BC. This event so deeply affected the fate of the people and his personal relations that Ezekiel dates his prophecies from this event. They begin with the 5th year of this date, in which year through the appearance of the Divine glory (compare II , 1 below) he had been consecrated to the prophetic office (1:2) and continued to the 27th year (29:17), i.e. from 593 to 571 BC. The book gives us an idea of the external conditions of the exiles. The expressions "prison," "bound," which are applied to the exiles, easily create a false impression, or at any rate a one-sided idea. These terms surely to a great extent are used figuratively. Because the Jews had lost their country, their capital city, their temple, their service and their independence as a nation, their condition was under all circumstances lamentable, and could be compared with the fate of prisoners and those in fetters.

The external conditions in themselves, however, seem rather to have been generally tolerable. The people live in their own houses (Jer 29:5). Ezekiel himself is probably the owner of a house (Eze 3:24; 8:1). They have also retained their organization, for their elders visit the prophet repeatedly (Eze 8:1; 14:1; 20:1). This makes it clear why later comparatively few made use of the permission to return to their country. The inscriptions found in the business house at Nippur contain also a goodly number of Jewish names, which shows how the Jews are becoming settled and taking part in the business life of the country.

Ezekiel was living in most happy wedlock. Now God reveals to him on a certain night that his wife, "the desire of his eye," is to die through a sudden sickness. On the evening of the following day she is already dead. But he is not permitted to weep or lament over her, for he is to serve as a sign that Jerusalem is to be destroyed without wailing or lamentation (24:15 ff). Thus in his case too, as it was with Hosea, the personal fate of the prophet is most impressively interwoven with his official activity.

The question at what age Ezekiel had left Jerusalem has been answered in different ways. From his intimate acquaintance with the priestly institutions and with the temple service, as this appears particularly in chapters 40 to 48, the conclusion is drawn that he himself must have officiated in the temple. Yet, the knowledge on his part can be amply explained if he only in a general way had been personally acquainted with the temple, with the law and the study of the Torah. We accept that he was already taken into exile at the age of 25 years, and in his 30th year was called to his prophetic office; and in doing this we come close to the statement of Josephus, according to which Ezekiel had come to Babylon in his youth. At any rate the remarkable statement in the beginning of his book, "in the 30th year," by the side of which we find the customary dating, "in the 5th year" (1:1,2), can still find its best explanation when referred to the age of the prophet. We must also remember that the 30th year had a special significance for the tribe of Levi (Nu 4:3,13,10,39), and that later on, and surely not accidentally, both Jesus and John the Baptist began their public activity at this age (Lu 3:23).

It is indeed true that the attempt has been made to interpret this statement of Ezekiel on the basis of an era of Nabopolassar, but there is practically nothing further known of this era; and in addition there would be a disagreement here, since Nabopolassar ruled from 625 on, and his 30th year would not harmonize with the year 593 as determined by Eze 1:2. Just as little can be said for explaining these 30 years as so many years after the discovery of the book of the law in 623, in the reign of Josiah (2Ki 22:1-20 f). For this case too there is not the slightest hint that this event had been made the beginning of a new era, and, in addition, the statement in Eze 1:1, without further reference to this event, would be unthinkable.

As in the case of the majority of the prophets, legends have also grown around the person of Ezekiel. He is reported to have been the teacher of Pythagoras, or a servant of Jeremiah, or a martyr, and is said to have been buried in the tomb of Shem and Arphaxad. He indeed did stand in close relationship to Jeremiah (see 2, 3 below). Since the publication of Klostermann's essay in the Studien und Kritiken, 1877, it has been customary, on the basis of Eze 3:14 f,Eze 26:1-21 f; Eze 4:4 ff; Eze 24:27, to regard Ezekiel as subject to catalepsy (compare the belief often entertained that Paul was an epileptic). Even if his condition, in which he lay speechless or motionless, has some similarity with certain forms of catalepsy or kindred diseases, i.e. a temporary suspension of the power of locomotion or of speech; yet in the case of Ezekiel we never find that he is describing a disease, but his unique condition occurs only at the express command of God (Eze 3:24 ff; Eze 24:25 ff); and this on account of the stubbornness of the house of Israel (Eze 3:26). This latter expression which occurs with such frequency (compare Eze 2:5 ff; Eze 3:9,27, etc.) induces to the consideration of the reception which the prophet met at the hand of his contemporaries.

He lives in the midst of briars and thorns and dwells among scorpions (2:6). Israel has a mind harder than a rock, firmer than adamant (3:8 f). "Is he not a speaker of parables?" is cast up to him by his contemporaries, and he complains to God on this account (20:49); and God in turn sums up the impression which Ezekiel has made on them in the words (33:32): "Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy words, but they do them not." They consequently estimate him according to his aesthetic side (compare II , 1, below), but that is all.

2. The Book:

(1) Its Genuineness.

When compared with almost every other prophetic book, we are particularly favorably situated in dealing with the genuineness of the Book of Ezekiel (compare my work, Die messianische Erwartung der vorexilischen Propheten, zugleich ein Protest gegen moderne Textzersplitterung), as this is practically not at all called into question, and efforts to prove a complicated composition of the book are scarcely made.

Both the efforts of Zunz, made long ago (compare Zeitschrift der deutsch-morgenlandishchen Gesellschaft, 1873, and Die gottesdienstlichen Vortrage der Juden), and of Seinecke (Geschichte des Volkes Israel,II , 1 ff) to prove a Persian or even a Greek period as the time of the composition of the book; as also the later attempt of Kroetzmann, in his Commentary on Ezekiel, to show that there are two recensions of the book, have found no favor. The claim that Eze 40:1-49 through Eze 48:1-35 were written by a pupil of Ezekiel was made as a timid suggestion by Volz, but, judging from the tendency of criticism, the origin of these chapters will probably yet become the subject of serious debate. But in general the conviction obtains that the book is characterized by such unity that we can only accept or reject it as a whole, but that for its rejection there is not the least substantial ground. This leads us to the contents.

(2) Its Structure.

The parts of the book are in general very transparent. First of all the book is divided into halves by the announcement of the fall of Jerusalem in Eze 33:1-33; of which parts the first predominantly deals with punishments and threats; the other with comfort and encouragement. Possibly it is these two parts of the book that Josephus has in mind when he says (Ant., X) that Ezekiel had written two books. That the introduction of prophecies of redemption after those of threats in other prophetical books also is often a matter of importance, and that the right appreciation of this fact is a significant factor in the struggle against the attacks made on the genuineness of these books has been demonstrated by me in my book, Die messianische Erwartung der vorexilischen Prophelen (compare 39-40 for the case of Amos; 62 ff, 136 f, for the case of Hosea; 197 ff for Isa 7:1-25 through Isa 12:1-6; 238 ff for Micah; see also my article in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary).

Down to the time when Jerusalem fell, Ezekiel was compelled to antagonize the hopes, which were supported by false prophets, that God would not suffer this calamity. Over against this, Ezekiel persistently and emphatically points to this fact, that the apostasy had been too great for God not to bring about this catastrophe. There is scarcely a violation of a single command--religious, moral or cultural--which the prophet is not compelled to charge against the people in the three sections, 3:16 ff; 8:1 ff; 20:1 ff, until in 24:1 ff, on the 10th day of the 10th month of the 9th year (589 BC) the destruction of Jerusalem was symbolized by the vision of the boiling pot with the piece of meat in it, and the unlamented destruction of the city was prefigured by the unmourned and sudden death of his wife (see 1 above). After the five sections of this subdivision I, referring to Israel--each one of which subdivisions is introduced by a new dating, and thereby separated from the others and chronologically arranged (1:1 ff, with the consecration of the prophet immediately following it; 3:16 ff; 8:1 ff; 20:1 ff; 24:1 ff)--there follow as a second subdivision the seven oracles against the Ammonites (25:1 ff); the Moabites (25:8 ff); the Edomites (25:12 ff); the Philistines (25:15 ff); Tyre (26:1 ff); Sidon (28:20 ff); Egypt (29:1 ff), evidently arranged from a geographical point of view.

The most extensive are those against Tyre and the group of oracles against Egypt, both provided with separate dates (compare 26:1 through 29:1; 30:20; 31:1; 32:1,17). The supplement in reference to Tyre (29:17 ff) is the latest dated oracle of Ezekiel (from the year 571 BC), and is found here, at a suitable place, because it is connected with a threat against Egypt (Eze 40:1-49 through Eze 48:1-35 date from the year 573 according to Eze 40:1). The number seven evidently does not occur accidentally, since in other threats of this kind a typical number appears to have been purposely chosen, thus: Isa 13:1-22 through Isa 22:1-25, i.e. ten; Jer 46:1-28 through Jer 51:1-64, also ten; which fact again under the circumstances is an important argument in repelling attacks on the genuineness of the book.

Probably the five parts of the first subdivision, and the seven of the second, supplement each other, making a total of twelve (compare the analogous structure of Ex 25:1 through Ex 30:10 under EXODUS, and probably the chiastic structure of Eze 34:1-31 through Eze 48:1-35, with 7 and 5 pieces; see below). The oracles against the foreign countries are not only in point of time to be placed between Eze 24:1-27 and Eze 33:21, but also, as concerns contents, help splendidly to solve the difficulty suggested by chapter Eze 24:1-27, and in this way satisfactorily fill the gap thus made. The arrival of the news of the fall of Jerusalem, in 586 BC (compare 33:21 ff), which had already been foretold in chapter 24, introduced by the mighty watchman's cry to repentance (33:1 ff), and followed by a reproof of the superficial reception of the prophetic word (see 1 above), concludes the first chief part of the book.

The second part also naturally fails into two subdivisions, of which the first contains the development of the nearer and more remote future, as to its inner character and its historical course (Eze 34:1-31 through Eze 39:1-29): (1) the true shepherd of Israel (Eze 34:1-31); (2) the future fate of Edom (Eze 35:1-15); (3) Israel's deliverance from the disgrace of the shameful treatment by the heathen, which falls back upon the latter again (Eze 36:1-15); (4) the desecration of the name of Yahweh by Israel and the sanctification by Yahweh (Eze 36:15-38); (5) the revival of the Israelite nation (Eze 37:1-14); (6) the reunion of the separated kingdoms, Judah and Israel (Eze 37:15-28); (7) the overthrow of the terrible Gentilepower of the north (Eze 38:1-23 f).

The second subdivision (Eze 40:1-49 through Eze 48:1-35) contains the reconstruction of the external affairs of the people in a vision, on the birthday of 573, "in the beginning of the year" (beginning of a jubilee year? (Le 25:10); compare also DAY OF ATONEMENT). After the explanatory introduction (Eze 40:1-4), there follow five pericopes: (1) directions with reference to the temple (compare the subscription Eze 43:12) (Eze 40:5 through Eze 43:12); (2) the altar (Eze 43:13 through Eze 46:24); (3) the wonderful fountain of the temple, on the banks of which the trees bear fruit every month (Eze 47:1-12); (4) the boundaries of the land and its division among the twelve tribes of Israel (Eze 47:13 through Eze 48:29); (5) the size of the holy city and the names of its twelve gates (Eze 48:30-35).

In (3) to (5) the prominence of the number twelve is clear. Perhaps we can also divide (1) and (2) each into twelve pieces: (1) would be Eze 40:5 ff,Eze 17:1-24 ff,Eze 28:1-26 ff,Eze 39:1-29 ff,Eze 48:1-35 ff; Eze 41:1 ff,5 ff,Eze 12:1-28 ff,Eze 15:1-8 ff; Eze 42:1 ff,Eze 15:1-8 ff; Eze 43:1 ff; for (2) it would be 43:13 ff,18 ff; 44:1 ff,4 ff,15 ff; 45:1 ff,9 ff,13 ff,18 ff; 46:1 ff,16 ff,19 ff.

At any rate the entire second chief part, Eze 34:1-31 through Eze 48:1-35, contains predictions of deliverance. The people down to 586 were confident, so that Ezekiel was compelled to rebuke them. After the taking of Jerusalem a change took place in both respects. Now the people are despairing, and this is just the right time for the prophet to preach deliverance. The most important separate prophecies will be mentioned and examined in another connection (II below).

The transparent structure of the whole book suggests the idea that the author did not extend the composition over a long period, but wrote it, so to say, at one stretch, which of course does not make it impossible that the separate prophecies were put into written form immediately after their reception, but rather presupposes this. When the prophet wrote they were only woven together into a single uniform book (compare also EXODUS,IV , 1, 2).

(3) Relation to Jeremiah.

As Elijah and Elisha, or Amos and Hosea, or Isaiah and Micah, or Haggai and Zechariah, so too Jeremiah and Ezekiel constitute a prophetic couple (compare 1 above); compare e.g. in later time the sending out of the disciples of Jesus, two by two (Lu 10:1), the relation of Peter and John in Ac 3:1-26 ff; of Paul and Barnabas in Ac 13:1-52 ff; of Luther and Melanchthon, Calvin and Zwingli. Both prophets prophesy about the same time; both are of priestly descent (compare 1 above), both witness the overthrow of the Jewish nation, and with their prophecies accompany the fate of the Jewish state down to the catastrophe and beyond that, rebuking, threatening, warning, admonishing, and also comforting and encouraging.

In matters of detail, too, these two prophets often show the greatest similarity, as in the threat against the unfaithful shepherds (Eze 34:2 ff; Jer 23:1 ff); in putting into one class the Northern and the Southern Kingdom and condemning both, although the prediction is also made that they shall eventually be united and pardoned (Eze 23:1-49; 16:1-63; Jer 3:6 ff; Eze 37:15 ff; Jer 3:14-18; 23:5 f; Jer 30:1-24 f); in the individualizing of religion (compare the fact that both reject the common saying: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge," Eze 18:2; Jer 31:29); in their inwardness (Eze 36:25 ff; Jer 24:7; 31:27-34; 32:39; 33:8); in their comparisons of the coming judgment with a boiling pot (Eze 24:1 ff; Jer 1:13 ff); and finally, in their representation of the Messiah as the priest-king (see 1 above; namely, in Eze 21:25 f; Eze 45:22; compare Jer 30:21; 33:17 ff; see II , Jer 3:1-25, and my work Messianische Erwartung, 320 ff, 354 ff). Neither is to be considered independently of the other, since the prophetical writings, apparently, received canonical authority soon after and perhaps immediately after they were written (compare the expression "the former prophets" in Zec 1:4; 7:7,12, also the constantly increasing number of citations from earlier prophets in the later prophets, and the understanding of the "exact succession of the prophets" down to Artaxerxes in Josephus, CAp, I, Zec 8:1-23), it is possible that Ezekiel, with his waw consecutivum, with which the book begins, is to be understood as desiring to connect with the somewhat older Jeremiah (compare a similar relation of Jonah to Obadiah; see my articles "Canon of theOT " and "Jonah" in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary).

(4) Fate of the Book and Its Place in the Canon.

With Jeremiah and Ezekiel, many Hebrew manuscripts, especially those of the German and French Jews, begin the series of "later prophets," and thus these books are found before Isaiah; while the Massorah and the manuscripts of the Spanish Jews, according to the age and the size of the books, have the order, Isa, Jer, Ezk. The text of the book is, in part, quite corrupt, and in this way the interpretation of the book, not easy in itself, is made considerably more difficult. Jerome, Ad Paul., writes that the beginning and the end of the book contained many dark passages; that these parts, like the beginning of Gen, were not permitted to be read by the Jews before these had reached their 30th year. During the time when the schools of Hillel and Shammai flourished, Ezekiel belonged to those books which some wanted "to hide," the others being Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Esther and Canticles. In these discussions the question at issue was not the reception of the book into the Canon, which was rather presupposed, nor again any effort to exclude them from the Canon again, which thought could not be reconciled with the high estimate in which it is known that Est was held, but it was the exclusion of these books from public reading in the Divine service, which project failed. The reasons for this proposal are not to be sought in any doubt as to their authenticity, but in reference to their contents (compare my article "Canon of the Old Testament," in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary). Possibly, too, one reason was to be found in the desire to avoid the profanation of the most sacred vision in the beginning of the book, as Zunz suggests. There is no doubt, however, that the difference of this book from the Torah was a reason that made it inadvisable to read it in public. It was hoped that these contradictions would be solved by Elijah when he should return. But finally, rabbinical research, after having used up three hundred cans of oil, succeeded in finding the solution. These contradictions, as a matter of fact, have not yet been removed, and have in modern times contributed to the production of a very radical theory in criticism, as will be shown immediately under II, 2.

Continued in EZEKIEL, 2.

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