O
ld
T
estament
Ap
ocrypha
N
ew
T
estament
Book
Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Esther Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes Song of Songs Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel
Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi Tobit Judith Esther Wisdom of Solomon Ecclesiasticus Baruch Letter of Jeremiah Prayer of Azariah & The Song of the Three Jews Susanna Bel and the Dragon 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees Prayer of Manasseh Psalm 151 3 Maccabees 1 Esdras 2 Esdras 4 Maccabees Matthew Mark Luke John Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation
Top ↑
Chapter
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30
31
32
33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41
42
43 44 45 46 47
48

Ezekiel

Audience and Content

The main concern is the glory of YHWH[4 p.88]. The vision is international; from chapter 27 onwards Ezekiel prophesies to the nations as well as the Jews. There are many references to the Holy Spirit, so any reference to "wind", which is the same word as "spirit" in both Hebrew and Greek, may be important. The "valley of dry bones" in chapter 37 is an example of Ezekiel's vision of the work of the Holy Spirit. Such visions are common in this book, and are comparable with those in Daniel and Revelation.

"The book combines precise dating and clear, logical structure with bizarre imagery, opaque historical references, abrupt changes in subject-matter and literary style, and numerous grammatical and textual difficulties."[1 p.533] "The metaphors are chiefly ironic, playing on and subverting commonly used symbols of national unity (see Ezekiel 15:1–8). Thus, the Lion of Judah becomes a rabid man-eater; Judah the luxuriant vine a dried-up twig; Jerusalem the faithful bride a perverse prostitute; and Tyre the merchant ship a foundering wreck."[1 p.534].

"May God strengthen—​that's what Ezekiel's name means. His parents sure knew what they were doing when they named him. The Babylonian Empire, led by King Nebuchadrezzar[8], had occupied Jerusalem and Ezekiel was one of many who were removed to Babylon, where he ministered to the exiles. Many of the Israelites in exile would have been reassured by Babylon's leniency in allowing their temple to remain. After all, if you've got God's dwelling place, things can't be too bad. However, God hadn't finished judging Jerusalem for the wrongdoing that continued among the people. It was Ezekiel's job to get the exiles in Babylon to wake up and smell the judgement on their home town so far away! God meant business. And he would no longer overlook the sin of his people.

"As with many of the prophets, there's a subversiveness to Ezekiel's prophecies. Familiar images that meant one thing to his people are turned around to mean the opposite. Word pictures are skilfully painted, with the audience left hanging in suspense because (in contrast with a Rolf Harris master-piece) they 'don't know what it is yet'. Traditional symbols of security, the people's emotional supports, are kicked away one by one until it's not possible to remain in denial or trust in anything but God."[3]

Author and Date

Ezekiel, a Zadokite priest (and thus not an outcast like Jeremiah), was appointed a spiritual lookout (3:17f), but what he saw and prophesied is inconsistent with the Law of Moses. This could be seen as an example of the tension between prophecy and the priestly parts of the Old Testament.

The unity of the book implies that it is either largely by Ezekiel or largely by an editor. Ezekiel was a priest (1:3), and interested in temples and ritual, but living in exile. The exile was caused by King Zedekiah's rebellion, as described in 2 Chronicles 36. Zedekiah sought help from Egypt, and Egyptian priests practised their religion in Judah, defiling the land[1 p.535].

The people of the Middle East thought that military defeat meant that your gods had been defeated, and perhaps killed, by the enemy's. The exiles therefore suffered a crisis of faith, but Ezekiel tried to keep them loyal to YHWH and to see hope in their context. This hope was based not on God's love for them (as in Jeremiah 31:3), nor on their repentance (in 21:3 God deals with all equally regardless of their morality), but on God's desire to uphold his own name (36:21).

The book is set in Babylon starting in the 5th year of the exile of 8000 leading Jews, of whom Ezekiel was probably one[2 p.306], i.e. 593 BCE[1 p.534] (see 1:1–3 and 2 Kings 24). It is approximately chronological apart from 29:17. In 8:1 and 20:1–4 the exiles treated Ezekiel as a spiritual leader. Sometimes he acted out prophecies, as did Hosea (Hosea 1:2–3). He was a contemporary of Jeremiah (or slightly later) whose prophecy to those not yet exiled was mostly ignored. Jeremiah 29:28f indicates that there was some communication between the exiles and those still free. History shows that while some of Ezekiel's prophecies were accurate, others were not fulfilled, as indicated in the commentary that follows.

The complex yet purposeful structure of the book, and its consistency with Babylonian and Egyptian records, makes it likely that most of it was genuinely written by Ezekiel at the times stated. Throughout the book visions alternate with verbal prophecies. The forms of expression in the book are all imitations of ancient styles[2 p.307].

The events associated with the Oracles correspond to the years 593–573 BCE. The first half of the book is all "doom and gloom" but the second half offers hope. The order of the Hebrew Canon originally placed Ezekiel after Lamentations (which is gloomy) and before Isaiah (which continued the hopeful theme) [2 p.305].

Structure

Galambush suggests this overall structure[1 p.537] and Boadt[2 p.306] interprets the dates in the text into months and years BCE:

Oracles of Destruction against Judah (1:1–24:27)
1:1–3:27 Ezekiel's inaugural vision and commissioning

1:1 June–July 593

4:1–7:27 Signs and oracles of doom
8:1–11:25 Vision of the defiled temple

8:1 August–September 592

12:1–14:23 Rulers, prophets and a few virtuous individuals
15:1–20:44 The twisted symbols of Judah's pride

20:1 July–August 591

20:45–24:27 The end approaches

24:1 January 588

Hope for the future (25:1–48:35)
25:1–32:32 Oracles against foreign nations

26:1 March 587–March 586
29:1 January 587
29:17 March–April 571
30:20 March–April 587
31:1 May–June 587
32:1&17 February–March 585

33:1–39:29 Images of restoration and return

33:21 December 586–January 585

40:1–48:35 YHWH's re-enthronement

Commentary

Ezekiel's commissioning (1:1–3:27)

1:1–3 The first vision

The opening makes it clear that these visions and prophecies date from the time when the Jews were exiled in Babylon. The reference to the "thirtieth year" is puzzling; the Targum of Ezekiel thinks it refers to the thirtieth year after Josiah's reforms[1 p.538]. Verses 2 and 3 clarify verse 1 and are the only verses in the book written in the third person. These verses date the visions to about 593–2 BCE[4 p.89]. The River Chebar was man-made, a canal loop enabling boats on the Euphrates to serve some important cities; archaeology confirms that Jews were there[2 p.310].

This event must have taken Ezekiel completely by surprise. It was believed in ancient times that each god was present in a particular area, so he would not expect to encounter the God of Judah in Babylonia. As a jewish priest he would have regarded certain sites in Judah as the place for an encounter with God. But God unexpectedly breaks through our assumptions, doing what we don't expect, showing that his power is universal.

1:4–28

cf. Jeremiah 1:13. A storm-cloud containing strange creatures approached from the north, and it gradually became clear God was in it, cf. Psalm 104:3, Mathew 24:30. This passage, with Revelation 4, is the origin of the symbols associated with the four Gospels. Four similar mythical creatures were depicted in Assyrian temples, associated with the four points of the compass[5 p.24]. The combination of Jewish and Babylonian creatures in the vision points to God being king even in Babylon[2 p.310].

Jeremiah 4:14 uses similar images, and is roughly contemporary, cf. Daniel 7:13, but neither prophet explains them. In Job 22:4 the clouds were misinterpreted as blinding God from the painful realities on earth, but actually they show our inability to understand God. Zephaniah 1:15 associates clouds and darkness with God coming in judgement, cf. darkness at Jesus's crucifixion.

The combination of wheels, a throne, and a speeding fiery figure have been interpreted as God's war chariot[2 p.311]. This passage and 1 Chronicles 28:18 led to a merkabah ("chariot") strand of Judaism[2 p.307], which seeks access to God through mystic exercises designed to circumvent his defending angels[7].

1:5–10

The text is ambiguous, preventing complete understanding[2 p.310]. The creatures resemble those carved on Babylonian temples but are controlled by God. They face all directions simultaneously, indicating perfect knowledge and mobility.

1:11

The creatures' wings touched, like the "cherubim" in the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 6:27). But these creatures were living, the prototypes of the Temple's statues[1 p.538].

1:13

cf. The burning bush indicating God's presence to Moses (Exodus 3:2f)[2 p.310].

1:20

God's Spirit moved the creatures, which in turn moved the wheels.[1 p.538]

1:22

Ezekiel looked beyond the creatures and the wheels, and noticed God's throne above everything else.[1 p.538]

1:26–27

cf. the Transfiguration in Mark 9:2f, and Revelation 1:14–15.

1:28–2:1

cf. Revelation 1:17.

2:1

"Son of man" or "Mortal" (translations vary) emphasises Ezekiel's humble status before God.[1 p.538] Jesus applied this title to himself, e.g. Matthew 9:6.

2:3

Ezekiel's commission mentions Israel, not Judah, yet concerns both (4:4–5). David's kingdom split when Solomon died (1 Kings 11:26–12:2). The northern tribes known as Israel had been exiled long before, in 721 BCE (2 Kings 17:6). Ezekiel was warned that the people were rebellious, both to God and to Babylon.

3:1

Ezekiel must swallow the scroll because his work must be based on scripture[4 p.91]. God's words were literally put into his mouth.[1 p.538] In a similar way, we should try to absorb scripture.

3:2

cf. Revelation 10:9.

3:3

cf. Psalm 19:10, Revelation 10:10.

3:5

cf. Jesus becoming like us to save us (Galatians 4:4–5), Jeremiah 1:18–19, and 1 Corinthians 9:20.

3:14

Reluctance is often a sign of a true call from God. cf. Exodus 4:13, Jonah 1:1–3.

3:15

River Chebar: see comment on 1:3. Tel Abib means "antediluvian ruin".[2 p.311]

3:17 The second vision

The people were used to relying on sentinels, especially those watching for invasion from the north. This prophecy emphasized that the real danger was God.

3:24–27 The third vision

Ezekiel was to say nothing unless God commanded it[2 p.311]. The prophet had received his instructions; let the prophecies begin!

Warning signs (4:1–7:27)

4:1–8 Siege

God had set his face against Jerusalem, threatening its security as surely as if it were he, not Babylon, laying siege to it. [1 p.539] Perhaps Ezekiel suffered temporary disability that enforced his symbolic inaction. Archaeology confirms that maps were scratched into clay tablets in Babylon, but not in Palestine[2 p.311].

4:4–5

"The numbers are baffling."[1 p.539]

4:9–17 Famine

The first tranche of exiles were shown a shortage of food, water and fuel, as would occur in the coming siege leading to the exile of the remnant from Jerusalem.1 p.540 "Twenty shekels" is about eight ounces; a "sixth of a hin" is about a litre. A "staff of bread" was a pole for storing ring-shaped loaves out of reach of vermin.[2 p.312]

4:10

Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

5:1–17 Defeat & judgment

Jews grew beards, except when mourning. In defeat they might be forcibly shaved as humiliation (Isaiah 7:20). The hairs represented the people of Jerusalem: some would die under siege; some would be killed afterwards; and the rest would be scattered.[1 p.540] Shaving could be a step towards purification (Leviticus 14:9).

6:1–14 The Mountains

The land was blessed while the people were faithful to God (Leviticus 26). But the mountains had become a focus for idol worship (6:13) and would become a scene of killing and desolation.[1 p.540] See also the comment on chapter 35.

7:1–27 The land

cf. Isaiah 5:5. See also the comment on chapter 36.

Symbolic visions of the defiled temple (8:1–11:25)

8:1–17 Idolatry

The details indicate a date in September 592 BCE, when the Egyptian Pharaoh Psammeticus made a victorious tour of Palestine, bringing with him the principal gods of Egypt and their priests, making the land impure.[1 p.541] But God was there also, and gave Ezekiel four visions of increasing depravity in the Temple.[1 p.541]

8:3–17

cf. Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14. All kinds of idolatry were being practised in the Temple. The "image of jealousy" did not need to be explained to the exiles, but was well-established and familiar to them, perhaps an Asherah pole.

8:11

Seventy: cf. Exodus 24. In 2 Kings 22:8 Shaphan passed the Book of the Law to King Josiah, prompting the famous reforms, so it is shocking to find his son listed among the idolatrous elders[2 p.313].

8:14

The women were worshipping Tammuz, a Sumerian god of fertility and the seasons.

8:16

The men had literally turned their backs on the Temple to worship the sun.

9 God's response

A priest wearing linen (44:17, Exodus 39:27) was equipped to mark those who were not idolaters, for protection (cf. Exodus 12:13, Revelation 13:16), and to record the destruction wrought by the other six men[4 p.93]. See comment on 14:14.

10–12

The vision mimics the annual New Year procession in Jerusalem. The Ark was taken out of the Temple like a king going to defeat his enemies, while the Temple was cleansed. The procession culminated on the top of the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple Mount. But in the vision the first foe to be defeated is Jerusalem itself; the land must be cleansed so that God may return.[1 p.537]

10

God and his servants "packed their bags" ready to leave the Temple, purifying with fire as they went. The war chariot arrived empty to take God away[2 p.314] (verse 18). God's glory had been restricted to the Holy of Holies; its appearance in the outer courtyards was a sign of its departure.

11

The idolaters would not repent, but justice demands that they should be warned.

11:15

The remnant in Jerusalem claimed that the first tranche of exiles, the leaders, were the guilty ones, and the remnant would inherit the land without them.[2 p.314]

11:16–21

God was not limited to the Temple nor the Promised Land, but present even in Babylon. People should engage with him there, and hope for return from exile.

11:19

The people's hard hearts would be replaced by ones having the godly qualities of empathy and mercy.

11:22–23

God left the Temple, moving eastwards—​towards Babylon![2 p.313]—​but stopped on the Mount of Olives, as did the New Year procession.

Rulers and individuals (12:1–14:23)

12

Ezekiel acted out a prophecy of exile, fulfilled by King Zedekiah.

12:12

Ezekiel avoids giving Zedekiah, Nebuchadrezzar[8]s vassal, the title king.2 p.315

12:13

Zedekiah tried to escape but was captured, blinded and exiled (2 Kings 25:4–7).

12:24–13:23

Jeremiah 14:13 et al confirms that there were false prophets promising peace.

13:18–22

The details appear to refer to items used in divination or sorcery.[2 p.316]

14:1–11

Even those who consulted Ezekiel as an oracle were denounced by God.

14:14f

See comment on chapter 18. Commentators differ on whether the name famously is the biblical prophet; see comments on Daniel.

National symbols re-interpreted (15:1–20:49)

15 The useless vine

Israel as a vine: see Psalm 80:8f and Isaiah 5:1–7. The wood of a dead vine is useless. Jerusalem had been burned down once, and would be burned down again.[1 p.545] The dead vine seems to be a hopeless case until the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones in chapter 37.

16 The unfaithful wife

Jerusalem was a Canaanite city before the Hebrews took it over after the Exodus, and is portrayed here as an adopted city. Samaria (verse 46) was capital of the ten tribes of Israel, portrayed as the elder sister because it was larger[2 p.317] taken into exile in 721 BCE; The two tribes of Judah should learn from her fate. If God was king and husband, treaties with foreign kings were adultery, and the penalty was death.[1 p.545–6]

16:49–50

See Appendix 3: Cities of the Plain.

17 A riddle

The chapter is in three parts: 1–10 present the riddle, 11–21 explain it, and 22 onwards promise a happy ending. The eagles are foreign powers: the first is Nebuchadrezzar[8] who took Jehoiachin and other leaders to Babylon leaving Zedekiah as vassal (2 Kings 24:12–17).

17:15–21

Zedekiah broke the oath he took in God's name (verse 19) and turned to Egypt[1 p.546] whose pharaoh Psammeticus II is the second eagle in verse 7[2 p.317].

17:22–24

The cedar is the Jewish royal family; the twig is a young king, planted by God in the sight of neighbouring trees.[2 p.318] God ushers in a fresh start; the following chapter describes the New Covenant.

18 Individual judgment

cf. Genesis 18:32, Exodus 20:5–6, Exodus 34:7, Ezekiel 9, 14:14 and 33. Ezekiel denied that God visits on one individual the sins of another—​which some would see as an example of the tension between the prophetic and priestly strands of the Old Testament. But Ezekiel was a priest (1:3) as well as a prophet, so the tension may represent theological development or argument. Ezekiel's theology is close to that in Leviticus chapters 17 to 26.[2 p.305, 307]

The old covenant rewarded godliness with possession of the promised land. It follows that if a patriarch lost that benefit, his family would go into exile with him. But now that the entire nation had lost the land and gone into exile, the old covenant was ended. Righteousness would henceforth be rewarded on an individual basis, which verse 32 confirms is the result that God wants. But see also 21:3 below.

18:31

This verse heralds the New Covenant, cf. 36:26, John 3:5.

19 Laments for princes

In verses 1–9 a lion represents the king of the Jews, cf. Genesis 49:9; in 10–14 a vine has the same meaning.

20:8–9 An oracle

Ezekiel compared the people's past, cf. Exodus 32:9–10, with their present, and prophesied their future.

20:33

cf. Jeremiah 21:5.

20:49

Ezekiel complained to God that his prophesies were not being taken seriously; he shouldn't have been surprised, having been warned in chapter 2.

The end (21:1–24:27)

21

This passage seems to contradict chapter 18 by prophesying doom to both the righteous and the wicked without distinction (verses 3–4).

21:19–22

Nebuchadrezzar[8] used three types of divination (names arrows to be drawn as lots, images of gods, and inspection of the liver of an animal sacrifice[2 p.320]) to decide which capital to attack first. The lot fell to Jerusalem.[1 p.549]

21:23

Even with Nebuchadrezzar[8] approaching, the people of Jerusalem continued to rely on their treaties—​despite having broken them and turned to Egypt.

22

Jerusalem's crimes were recited, as if to confirm the justice of the death sentence.

23

The northern and southern kingdoms, centred on Samaria and Jerusalem, are both compared wives whose infidelity prompted universal disgust. Samaria suffered first (and was conquered in 721 BCE) but Jerusalem failed to learn from her fate. The cities' pseudonyms in this passage hint at tents, suggesting sanctuaries.[1 p.550]

24

Ezekiel had prophetic certainty that the siege of Jerusalem had begun; images of fire and blood filled his mind. Then his wife died, but he was told to hide his grief over both events, because the people showed no grief for the Jerusalem.

24:3

cf. 1 Samuel 2:14; this illustration reflects Jeremiah's priestly duties in the temple.

24:11

Though this was officially the iron age, copper and bronze were still the metals used for everyday purposes.

24:26

Given the distance, "on that day" must mean "then" rather than "within 24 hours". One person would escape and confirm Ezekiel's prophecy; this was fulfilled in 33:21.

Oracles against foreign nations (25:1–32:32)

25–32

Galambush[1 p.551] regards the prophecies against foreign nations as the first sign of hope for the exiles. Similar prophecies are found in Isaiah 13–23, Jeremiah 46–51 and Amos 1–2. They were probably not heard, nor meant to be heard, by the nations concerned. They were encouraging firstly because they show that God's power is universal, and secondly because he was no longer fighting them but their enemies. However, they were not all confirmed by events.

Seven nations are named: Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon, which all troubled Judah and rebelled against Babylon; Egypt encouraged Judah's rebellion (and is the subject of seven oracles); and the Philistines, historical enemies of the Jews, loyal to Babylon and likely to capitalise on their downfall.[1 p.552]

27

The second oracle against Tyre focusses on their sea-faring and trading reputation.

28:3

Commentators differ on whether the name famously is the biblical prophet; see comments on Daniel.

28:13

The list of stones seems to mean everything that is precious and beautiful.

28:24–26

The oracles against the nations are interrupted by brief promises to the Jews, here and in 29:21.[1 p.552]

29:17–20

This is the latest dated passage in Ezekiel, indicating January 571 BCE. It revises Ezekiel's earlier oracles against Tyre, which proved wrong: Babylon besieged Tyre as predicted, for 13 years, but Tyre (situated on a coastal island) did not fall. Babylon invaded Egypt in 568 BCE but was not victorious. [1 p.553]

29:21

The word "horn" seems to indicate a strong person; in Daniel 7:24 horns represent kings.

31:3

As in chapter 17, cedars represent kings.

Repentance, restoration and return (33:1–39:29)

33:1–9

Ezekiel was still responsible for warning the people that they must repent, cf. 3:18–21. From here on, the prophecies describe what God can do, rather than what did occur. The exiles ignored the blue-prints that Ezekiel saw.[1 p.560] The fulfilment lies in the next world, not this one.

33:10–20

This chapter develops concepts of repentance (not only a change of mind but also a change of action) and forgiveness, as in chapter 18.

33:21

Someone escaped Jerusalem's destruction to tell the exiles, as prophesied in 24:26.

33:22

This verse may mean that Ezekiel was now allowed to speak his own thoughts, not just oracles from God.[1 p.556]

33:23–24

If the people repented they could return to the land, cf. chapter18.[1 p.556]

33:25–33

The destruction of Jerusalem did not terminate the call to repent. But as every preacher discovers, you can tell people what to do, but you can't make them do it.

34

The analogy of shepherds with leaders was traditional, as in Psalm 23, and is comparable with that in John chapter 10. Greedy or careless shepherds were to be removed from office, and God himself would become the people's shepherd.

34:6

The reference to high hills suggests that God held the pastors responsible for the people's aspostasy in the "high places".

34:11f

cf. John 10:11–16.

34:12–13

Jews have been brought back from the ends of the earth since the establishment of Israel in 1948 CE; cf. Jeremiah 29:10.

34:15

The phrase "lie down" imdicates that they have reached a comfortable destination and it is not necessary to search further for pasture or safety.

34:19–22

The shepherd is also judge. God criticized the flock as well as the shepherds.[1 p.556]

35–36

When the people repented the curse on the land and mountains in chapters 6 and 7 would end; God would transfer his favour from Edom's land to Israel's.[1 p.556]

36:1–25

The task set before Ezekiel is one that he cannot undertake in his own strength.

36:21

There is hope for the exiled people, but Ezekiel sees it as based not on God's love for the people, nor on the people's repentance, but on God's desire to uphold his own name (unlike Jeremiah 31:3 for example).

36:25–26

This verse heralds the New Covenant, cf. 18:31, John 3:5.

36:26–27

In order to carry out his prophetic task Ezekiel needs the Holy Spirit and faith to speak out. This situation resembles that of the disciples in Acts 1; they set us an excellent example of what to do when faced with an overwhelming task: pray continually. God honours this approach: Ezekiel 36 is followed by Ezekiel 37, as Acts 1 is followed by Acts 2. Thus this passage links the old and new covenants.

37 Dry Bones

The valley of dry bones is a wonderful picture of God's power to bring new life into any situation, no matter how hopeless it may seem. It builds on the image of the dead vine in chapter 15, and expands Isaiah 26:19, where resurrection is only for God's people. It is specifically focussed on Israel (the ten northern tribes), promising rejuvenation (verses 1–14) and re-union with Judah (verses 15–28). Ephraim (verse 16) was one of two large northern tribes (the other being Manasseh, which disappeared at this time) descended from Joseph.

Other examples of the power of God's word are the raising of Lazarus (John 11:43) and the sharp two-edged sword (Revelation 1:16). It seems reasonable to suppose that something similar applied when Jesus was raised from death. Matthew claims literal fulfilment of this prophecy in Matthew 27:52–53.

The Word is implemented by the Holy Spirit, represented by the winds (wind being the same word as spirit in Hebrew and Greek) to which Ezekiel had to prophesy in verse 9. The story is also comparable with Adam being given life in the beginning (Genesis 2:7) and the raising of the dead in the last days (Revelation 20:4).

An essential feature of something alive is that it can to some extent repair any damage it suffers. A living soul is one that repents and comes back to God whenever it sins[6 p.61]. I would add a degree of self-determination as well.

The frightening thing is, it is the prophet's responsibility to set all this in motion. The prophet's only qualification seems to be that in verse 3 he realised that though the bones could live again through any natural process, the matter was not beyond God's power. If those who can see such things are silent, God's will may not be done. We can draw comfort from the example of the disciples in Acts 1: they felt powerless to carry out their task so they got together and prayed. God honoured it by giving them the Holy Spirit and with it the power to fulfil their commission, as described in Acts 2.

The passage emphasizes the importance of prayer. Someone without faith considers words of prayer futile, and prefers action. But here Ezekiel's words achieve what his action could not. The exiles were losing their faith, and Ezekiel's task was to encourage them.

38–39 Gog and Magog

"Gog" of Magog (Genesis 10:2) attacks helpless Israel but finds God defending it. The story foretells restoration of the covenant situation as it was before chapter 4 when God's protection was removed[2 p.318]. Galambush[1 p.558–9] identifies Gog with Nebuchadrezzar[8], but also sees apocalyptic significance for a Last Battle (see Revelation 20:8). The attacker may be generic, the focus being God.

God's return (40:1–48:35)

40–42

Ezekiel was shown a new temple, and told to commit the details to memory and then describe them to the exiles, not for them to build it, because it was revealed complete, but to worship correctly[1 p.560]. It carefully separated holy areas from profane ones, having more concentric courtyards than the real temple.[2 p.326] Perhaps the exiles needed a larger concept of God and a larger vision of how he should be worshipped.

40:3

cf. Revelation 11:1.

40:42

The stones are hewn, unlike the earliest altars which were made of stones in their natural state.

41:21–22

Two altars are described in Ezekiel, one larger than the other, just as two altars were shown to Moses as the model for the Tabernacle. The ones Ezekiel saw are about twice the size of their real counterparts. These verses describe the smaller of the two, which is larger than the smaller of the real ones described in Exodus 37:25 but dwarfed by the enormous one in Ezekiel 43:12. Its shape (taller than it is wide) is like the smaller one in the Temple, the one for burning incense.

As in Exodus 27, the altars were made of wood, yet did not burn when things were burnt on top of them, because of the covering of gold. Moses may have found this reminiscent of the burning bush (Exodus 3:1–6). Wood is (or was) a living thing. The covering of gold resembles the way God's strength and righteousness cover our sinfulness and weakness, saving us from corruption (Romans 13:12–14, Ephesians 6, Colossians 3:10).

43

God moved into the new temple, reversing his departure in 11:22.

43:5

God's glory filled the temple, as in Isaiah 6:1–4.

43:7

This verse was fulfilled by Jesus coming as "Immanuel" (God with us).

43:12f

This altar was enormous, far larger than the real ones described in Exodus 37:25 and 38:1 or the one envisaged in Ezekiel 41:21. Its shape (wider than it is tall) was like the larger one in the Temple, the one for burnt offerings, but it was about twice the size, with a fitted hearth, and it apparently had an incense altar built on top.

43:17

Given the size of this altar, one might need to climb steps to put an offering on it. Jesus was elevated in offering himself on the altar of the cross. Exodus 20:26 warns against making an altar this big, because of the associated risks of the priest exposing himself if viewed from below. So an altar of this size can only be used by a priest with nothing to hide, or one resigned to the indignity of nakedness, which was apparently the fate of someone being crucified.

44–46

The vision broadened to include the ritual and social arrangements. The duties and facilities of the king, the priests and the people are all described. The east gate through which God entered remains locked thereafter, both because his private entrance is holy, and because he has no intention of leaving again[1 p.561].

45:12

Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

47:1f

cf. Psalm 36:9, Revelation 22:1, Revelation 22:17 (assuming that this water is the River of Life seen in Revelation). The water brings life. The way it keeps getting deeper may parallel the loaves and fishes (e.g. Matthew 14:17), where the tiny resources of God's people were miraculously made sufficient for a vast crowd. Maxwell[9] suggests that apocalyptic writing can be seen as a call for action. Ezekiel's apocalyptic vision reaches a climax which challenges the exiles to benefit others rather than seeking personal gain. From the temple there should be a river of goodness reaching out, getting deeper as it goes.

47:12

cf. Revelation 22:2.

Abbreviations

BCE: before the Christian Era (the academic multi-faith version of Before Christ)

CE: in the Christian Era (the academic multi-faith version of Anno Domini)

cf.: confer (abbreviated Latin) meaning "compare this with"

ed(s): editor(s)

e.g.: (abbreviated Latin) meaning "for example..."

et al: (abbreviated Latin) meaning "and others"

f: and the following verses

i.e.: (abbreviated Latin) meaning "that is"

p.: page

References:

  1. Galambush, J. "Ezekiel" in Barton, J. & Muddiman, J. (eds) The Oxford Biblical Commentary (Oxford University Press, 2001)
  2. Boadt, L. "Ezekiel" in Brown,R. et al (eds) The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Upper Saddle River:Prentice-Hall, 1990)
  3. James Davies in Scripture Union's Closer to God Bible notes May 30–June 5 2005
  4. Sweeney, M. "The Latter Prophets" in Mackenzie and Graham (eds) The Hebrew Bible Today (Westminster: John Knox Press 1998)
  5. Burridge, Revd Dr Richard (Dean of King's College, London) Four Gospels, One Jesus? (London: Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, 1994)
  6. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity (Glasgow: Fontana 1952/London: Fount, 1977)
  7. Crim, K. & Crim, M. "Merkaba" in Gentz, W. (ed) The Dictionary of Bible and Religion (Nashville: Abingdon, 1986)
  8. Nebuchadrezzar is sometimes spelled Nebuchadnezzar.
  9. Marcus Maxwell People's Bible Commentary—​Revelation (Oxford: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2005 edition) p.13

© David Billin 2002–2022