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An Introduction to the Book of Ezekiel

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I. TITLE OF THE BOOK:

A. In Hebrew: In Hebrew the book is titled laqzhy meaning God strengthens

B. In Greek: In Greek the book is titled IESEKIHL; the Hebrew is simply transliterated.

II. DATE: 593/2 to 562 B.C.

A. Ezekiel's prophecies seem to be dated around the exile of king Jehoiachin (597 B.C.)

Thirteen of Ezekiel's message are dated precisely to the day, month and year of King Jehoiachin's exile to Babylon. The following chart lays out the general chronological arrangement of these prophecies with three exceptions (29:1, 17; 32:1) all of which were oracles against Egypt and thus placed together with the other Egyptian prophecies:1

Chariot Vision

1:1-3

June 593 B.C.

Call to be a Watchman

3:16

June 593

Temple Vision

8:1

August/September 492

Discourse with Elders

20:1

August 591

Second Siege of Jerusalem

24:1

January 588

Judgment on Tyre

26:1

March/April 587/586

Judgment on Egypt

29:1

January 587

Judgment on Egypt

29:17

April 571

Judgment on Egypt

30:20

April 587

Judgment on Egypt

31:1

June 587

Lament over Pharaoh

32:1

March 585

Lament over Egypt

32:17

April 586

Fall of Jerusalem

33:21

December/January 586/85

New Temple Vision

40:1

April 573

B. Ezekiel was called to his prophetic ministry in the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin--593/92 B.C.

C. Ezekiel's last discourse was dated in the twenty-seventh year of Jehoiachin's exile--571/70 B.C. (29:17)

D. Ezekiel never mentions the release of Jehoiachin in 560 B.C.

E. Therefore, it reasonable to conclude that Ezekiel's messages cover the period from 593/92 to 571/70 B.C. and were written down in present form from 571/70 B.C. to 562 B.C.

III. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND2

A. Josiah brought about the final spiritual revival for Judah when he came to the throne in 622 B.C.

B. The Assyrian Empire Fell

1. The Assyrian power rose with Ashurnasirpal II (884-859 B.C.) and Shalmaneser II (859-824 B.C.)

2. Tiglath-pileser III (Pul in the Scriptures) began a group of conquerors who took Syria and Palestine including Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C. who began the deportation of Samaria), Sargon II (722-705 B.C. who completed the deportation of Samaria), Sennacherib (704-581 B.C. who attacked king of Judah, Hezekiah [Josiah's father]), and Esarhaddon (681-669 B.C. who led campaigns against Egypt)

3. Esarhaddon's son, Ashurbanipal (669-631) ruled much of the upper Egyptian city of Thebes, but his decline and that of Assyria's soon followed

4. Nineveh, the capital, was destroyed in 612 B.C.

5. Assyria's army was defeated in 609 B.C. at Haran

6. What was left of Assyria's army went to Carchemish (just west of the Euphrates River and north of Aram)

C. The Neo-Babylonian Empire Arose

1. Merodach Baladan was a Chaldean and father of Nabopolassar and grandfather of Nebuchadnezzar. Merodach Baladan sent ambassadors to Hezekiah (Isa 39; 2 Ki 20:12-19)

2. In October 626 B.C. Nabopolassar defeated the Assyrians outside of Babylon

3. In 616 B.C. Nabopolassar expanded his kingdom, and in 612 B.C. he joined with the Medes and destroyed Nineveh

D. A Realignment of Power in 609 B.C. and later

1. Judah: When Assyria fell and Babylon arose Judah, under Josiah, removed itself from Assyria's control and existed as an autonomous state until 609 B.C. when it lost a battle with Egypt on the plain of Megiddo

2. Egypt:

a. Attempted to expand its presence into Palestine with Assyria's troubles

b. Egypt joined with Assyria to fight the Babylonians at Haran

1) Judah tried to stop Egypt's (Pharaoh Neco II) alliance but was defeated on the plain of Megiddo with the loss of their king, Josiah (cf. 2 Chron 35:20-24)

2) The Assyrians lost their battle with Babylon (even with the help of Egypt) and disappeared as a power in the world, and Egypt retreated to Carchemish as the dividing line between Egypt and Babylonian

3) Egypt ruled Judah:

a) Egypt (Necho) replaced Josiah's son, Jehoahaz, after three months with Jehoiakim (who was another son of Josiah) as a vassal king (2 Ki 23:34-35)

b) Egypt (Necho) plundered Judah's treasuries

c) Egypt (Necho) took Jehoahaz into captivity in Egypt

E. In 605 B.C. other changes of power occurred:

1. Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish

2. Judah's king, Jehoiakim, changed his loyalty to the Babylonians rather than the Egyptians and became Nebuchadnezzar's vassal king (2 Ki. 24:1)

3. Nebuchadnezzar had to return to Babylon with the death of his father, Nebopolassar

4. Nebuchadnezzar solidified his rule by appointing vassal kings and taking hostages; Daniel was taken as a part of this deportation (Dan 1:1-6)

F. In 601 Egypt defeated the Babylonians

1. Judah's king, Jehoiakim, switched loyalty from Babylonia to the Egyptians (2 Ki 24:1)

2. On December of 598 Babylonia made an attack on Jerusalem leading to Jehoiakim's death and the surrender of the city by his successor, Jehoiachin, in March of 597

3. Nebuchadnezzar, replaced Jehoiachin after only three months of reign, deported him and 10,000 other leaders from the city, looted the city, and placed Zedekiah Judah's vassal king (cf. 2 Ki 24:12-16)

G. Ezekiel was one of those deported during this second deportation (597 B.C.). He would begin his prophetic ministry five years later (Ezk 1:2; 8:1 etc.)

1. He lived in Tel Aviv beside the Kebar River (Grand Canal) in Babylon 3:15

2. Dyer writes, During these final years Ezekiel was ministering in Babylon, predicting the coming collapse of Jerusalem. His message fell on deaf ears till word of the city's destruction was received in Babylon. The fall of the city prompted a change in Ezekiel's prophetic message. Before Jerusalem fell, Ezekiel's message focused on Judah's forthcoming destruction because of her sin. After Jerusalem's fall, Ezekiel's message centered on Judah's future restoration.3

IV. AUTHOR: The Prophet Ezekiel, a priest and son of Buzi (1:3)

A. External Evidence:

1. Ezekiel was considered to be the author of this book until the Twentieth Century when in 1924 Gustav Hoelscher first questioned authorship based upon questionable internal evidence4

2. Therefore, external evidence is almost unanimously in favor of the prophet Ezekiel as the book's author

B. Internal Evidence

1. The autobiographical style of the book supports Ezekiel as the author of the book (I, me, my are in almost every chapter of the book; cf. chapter 2:1-10)

2. The book has a uniformity of language, style, theme, and message which support the theory of a single author

3. Hill and Walton write, The lack of strict chronological ordering of the literature may argue in favor of Ezekiel as the compiler of the oracles, since it is very likely another editor would have been more concerned with the deliberate sequencing of the dated materials5

V. CANONICAL PLACEMENT

A. In the Hebrew canon Ezekiel is placed following Isaiah and Jeremiah among the Major Prophets

B. In the Greek canon, which the English arrangement follows, Ezekiel is placed after Lamentations which was associated with the Prophet Jeremiah

C. Hill and Walton write, While Ezekiel was always included in the Hebrew canon, later Jewish scholars disputed the book's canonical value. At issue were seeming discrepancies between the prophet's understanding of temple ritual and the prescriptions of Mosaic law (e.g., a disagreement in the number and kinds of animals sacrificed at the New Moon festival--cf. Num. 28:11 and Ezek. 46:6). The rabbis eventually restricted the public and private use of Ezekiel, commenting that the ultimate harmonization of the difficulties must await 'the coming of Elijah' (cf. Mal 4:5).6

VI. LITERARY STYLE

A. There are many different Speech Types which Ezekiel employs to communicate his message. The following chart lists some of them out7

Judgment oracle

Usually introduced by formula, I am against you

21:1-5

Aftermath or restoration oracle

Reversing judgment formula, I am for you

34:11-15

Command formula

Especially Son of man, set your face ...

6:2-3; 20:46-47

Woe oracle of indictment

 

13:3-7; 34:2-6

Demonstration oracle

Usually containing because ... therefore clauses

13:8-9; 16:36-42

Disputation oracle

IN which popular proverb is recited and then refuted by prophetic discourse (e.g., sour grapes proverb)

18:1-20; cf. 12:22-25

Lament
Over Tyre
Over Pharaoh

 

26:15-18

32:1-16

Wailing lament

Introduced by wail

30:1-4

32:17-21

Riddles, parables, allegories

E.g., parable of the vine Allegories of the eagle and cedars, lion, boiling pot etc.

15

Chaps. 17, 19, 23, 24, 27

B. The book has a basic chronological arrangement (unlike Jeremiah)

C. The major units of the book follow the chronological flow of Ezekiel's life and naturally relate to the message of the book:

1. Chapters 1--24 speak of judgment since the fall of Jerusalem is coming

2. Chapters 25--32 emphasize judgment upon the nations after the fall of Jerusalem for either being participants in or gleeful onlookers to 'the day of Jacob's trouble'8

3. Chapters 33-48 speak of the hope of restoration for the people held in captivity after the fall of Jerusalem.

VII. PURPOSES FOR THE BOOK

A. To speak locally to the exiles whom Jeremiah addresses by letter (e.g., Jer. 29), as people who continue to listen to false prophets and practice idolatry. The contents of Ezekiel indicate that little has changed in the attitude of the Jewish people who have come to Babylon9

B. To outline the blessing that follows necessary judgment10

C. To emphasize God's sovereignty which will bring about judgment and restoration11

D. To warn Israel as a watchman of imminent judgment

E. To stress the need for individual responsibility and national accountably before God12


1 Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 343.

2 This was adapted from Charles H. Dyer, Jeremiah, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1125-27, and Homer Heater, Jr., Notes on the Book of Jeremiah, unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets (Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990), 101-105.

3 Charles H. Dyer, Ezekiel, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1226. Hill and Walton also emphasize the couture of the book with the development of Ezekiel's message (Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 342-43).

4 Gustav Hoelscher, Hesekiel: Der Dicter und das Buch, BZAW 39 (1924).

S. R. Driver wrote early in the Twentieth Century that No critical question arises in connection with the authorship of the book, the whole from beginning to end bearing unmistakably the stamp of a single mind (Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, 297.

See Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 377-79 for a more indepth discussion; also see John B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction & Commentary, 13-20.

An exception to this might be that later Jewish tradition attributed the compilation of Ezekiel's oracles to the men of the Great Synagogue (see also Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 339-40).

5 Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 343.

6 Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 339. For a fuller discussion of this problem see Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 381-384. He provides a better resolution when he writes, In view of the foregoing considerations, the present writer has come to the view that a moderately literal interpretation of these chapters [40--48] is attended by less serious difficulties than a figurative interpretation. Much caution should be exercised in pressing details, but in the broad outline it may be reasonably deduced that in a coming age all the promises conveyed by the angel to Ezekiel will be fulfilled in the glorious earthly kingdom with which the drama of redemption is destined to close. The sacrificial offerings mentioned in these chapters are to be understood as devoid of propitiatory or atoning character, since Christ's sacrifice provided an atonement which was sufficient for all time (Heb 10:12). Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus ordained the sacrament of holy communion as an ordinance to be practiced even after His crucifixion, and He specified that it was to observed until His second coming (1 Co 11:26: 'till he come'). By premillennial definition, the millennium is to follow His second advent. If, then, there was a sacramental form practiced during the church age, why should there not be a new form of sacrament carried on during the millennium itself? (Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 383).

7 Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 345.

8 Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 343.

9 Homer Heater, Jr., Notes on the Book of Ezekiel, unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets [Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990], 202.

10 Whereas Jeremiah's primary emphasis was to warn of impending judgment (with a slight focus upon coming restoration), Ezekiel was emphasizing that necessary judgment on sin established a foundation for future national blessing. Future national blessing is the emphasis of Ezekiel. The opening vision in Jeremiah emphasizes the certain judgment which will come through man (the almond/cauldron), but the opening vision in Ezekiel emphasizes God in his glory in order to reassure him that He will carry out necessary judgment (4--32) and bring his nation subsequent blessing (33--38). While Judgment is the climax in Jeremiah, it is the foundation upon which righteous blessing builds in Ezekiel.

Dyer states it this way, Ezekiel's purpose in writing chapters 1--32 was to show both the necessity and inevitability of Judah's fall to Babylon because of her sin against God's holy character. After the fall of Jerusalem Ezekiel was recommissioned to show the necessity and inevitability of Judah's restoration to fellowship by God (chaps. 33-48) (Charles H. Dyer, Notes on the Book of Ezekiel, [Unpublished class notes in 304 Preexlic and Exilic Prophets, Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1993], 4).

11 Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 344.

12 Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel. The Expositor's Bible Commentary, VI:744.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines