Ezekiel’s complex character makes him one of the most interesting figures in Israelite prophecy. In many ways he resembles the more primitive type of prophet represented by Elijah and Elisha; yet he clearly depends on all his predecessors in prophecy, and his teaching is a development of theirs. His unique contribution to the history of prophetism lies in his manifest interest in the temple and the liturgy, an interest paralleled in no other prophet – not even Jeremiah who, like Ezekiel, was also a priest. Particularly because of this interest, Ezekiel’s influence on postexilic religion was enormous, and not without reason has he been called “the father of Judaism.” This has resulted in his prophecies reaching us with the evident marks of editing and addition by the post-exilic circles that shared his intense interest. However, we may be sure that in this book we have throughout what is in substance the prophet’s own work.
Ezekiel became a prophet in Babylon – the first prophet to receive the call to prophesy outside the Holy Land. As one of the exiles deported by Nebuchadnezzar in 597, his first task was to prepare his fellow countrymen in Babylon for the final destruction of Jerusalem, which they believed to be inviolable. Accordingly, the first part of his book consists of reproaches for Israel’s past and present sins and the confident prediction of yet a further devastation of the land of promise and a more general exile. In 587, when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, Ezekiel was vindicated before his unbelieving compatriots.
After this time, Ezekiel’s message changes. From now on his prophecy is characterized by the promise of salvation in a new covenant, and he is anxious to lay down the conditions necessary to obtain it. Even as Jeremiah had believed, Ezekiel thought that the exiles were the hope of Israel’s restoration, once God’s allotted time for the Exile had been accomplished. His final eight chapters are an utopian vision of the Israel of the future, rid of its past evils and reestablished firmly under the rule of the Lord. The famous vision of the dry bones in chapter 37 expresses his firm belief in a forthcoming restoration, Israel rising to new life from the graveyard of Babylon. But Ezekiel’s new covenant, like Jeremiah’s, was to see its true fulfillment only in the New Testament.
Perhaps no other prophet has stressed the absolute majesty of God as Ezekiel does. This appears not only in the tremendous vision by the river Chebar with which his prophecy opens, but throughout the book. Ultimately, says Ezekiel, whatever God does to or for man is motivated by zeal for his own holy name. The new heart and the new spirit which must exist under the new covenant cannot be the work of man; they too must be the work of God. By such teachings he helped prepare for the New Testament doctrine of salvation through grace.
The Book of Ezekiel is divided as follows:
- Call of the Prophet (⇒ Ezekiel 1:1-⇒ 3:27)
- Before the Siege of Jerusalem (⇒ Ezekiel 4:1-⇒ 24:27)
- Prophecies against Foreign Nations (⇒ Ezekiel 25:1-⇒ 32:32)
- Salvation for Israel (⇒ Ezekiel 33:1-⇒ 39:29)
- The New Israel (⇒ Ezekiel 40:1-⇒ 48:35)
1 In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens opened, and I saw divine visions. –
2 On the fifth day of the month, the fifth year, that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile,
the word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar. – There the hand of the LORD came upon me.
3 As I looked, a stormwind came from the North, a huge cloud with flashing fire (enveloped in brightness), from the midst of which (the midst of the fire) something gleamed like electrum.
4 Within it were figures resembling four living creatures that looked like this: their form was human,
but each had four faces and four wings,
and their legs went straight down; the soles of their feet were round. They sparkled with a gleam like burnished bronze.
5 Their faces were like this: each of the four had the face of a man, but on the right side was the face of a lion, and on the left side the face of an ox, and finally each had the face of an eagle.
Their faces (and their wings) looked out on all their four sides; they did not turn when they moved, but each went straight forward.
(Each went straight forward; wherever the spirit wished to go, there they went; they did not turn when they moved.)
Human hands were under their wings, and the wings of one touched those of another.
Each had two wings spread out above so that they touched one another’s, while the other two wings of each covered his body.
In among the living creatures something like burning coals of fire could be seen; they seemed like torches, moving to and fro among the living creatures. The fire gleamed, and from it came forth flashes of lightning.
As I looked at the living creatures, I saw wheels on the ground, one beside each of the four living creatures.
The wheels had the sparkling appearance of chrysolite, and all four of them looked the same: they were constructed as though one wheel were within another.
They could move in any of the four directions they faced, without veering as they moved.
The four of them had rims, and I saw that their rims were full of eyes all around.
When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved with them; and when the living creatures were raised from the ground, the wheels also were raised.
Wherever the spirit wished to go, there the wheels went, and they were raised together with the living creatures; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
6 Over the heads of the living creatures, something like a firmament could be seen, seeming like glittering crystal, stretched straight out above their heads.
Beneath the firmament their wings were stretched out, one toward the other. (Each of them had two covering his body.)
Then I heard the sound of their wings, like the roaring of mighty waters, like the voice of the Almighty. When they moved, the sound of the tumult was like the din of an army. (And when they stood still, they lowered their wings.)
7 Above the firmament over their heads something like a throne could be seen, looking like sapphire. Upon it was seated, up above, one who had the appearance of a man.
Upward from what resembled his waist I saw what gleamed like electrum; downward from what resembled his waist I saw what looked like fire; he was surrounded with splendor.
Like the bow which appears in the clouds on a rainy day was the splendor that surrounded him. Such was the vision of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I had seen it, I fell upon my face and heard a voice that said to me:
1  The thirtieth year, which corresponds to the fifth year of exile (⇒ Ezekiel 1:2), has never been satisfactorily explained; possibly it refers to the prophet’s age. The river Chebar: probably a canal near Nippur, southeast of Babylon, one of the sites on which the Jewish exiles were settled.
2  The fifth day of the fourth month, the fifth year: July 31, 593 B.C.; cf ⇒ Ezekiel 1:1.
4  Four living creatures: identified as cherubim in ⇒ Ezekiel 10:1-2(20-21).
5 [8-22] Note the changed order of the verses and the omission of the textually uncertain Ezekiel 1:14, 21. Such changes also occur elsewhere in this book.
6 [22-23,26] This symbolic description of God’s throne is similar to that in ⇒ Exodus 24:9-10.