Background

“God strengthens” (or possibly “Strengthened by God”) is the meaning of Ezekiel’s name, bringing to mind his work of comfort and encouragement among the Hebrew exiles in Babylonia. Ezekiel is addressed by God as “son of man” 93 times – a man who humbly and faithfully shared God’s truth despite lukewarm response from his people (Ezek 33:30-33).1The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.

Authorship

Biographical information about Ezekiel can only be found in the book itself, but there is more provided here than is usual among the prophetic writings. Ezekiel was a priest in Judah who in the year 597 BC, at the apparent age of 25, was taken into exile along with King Jehoiachin and about 10,000 other “upper class” Judeans (See 2 Ki 24:10-17). He was married, was settled near the Kebar River (Grand Canal) about 50 miles south of Babylon, had his own house, and enjoyed quite a bit of freedom as did most of the exiles. Five years into exile, in June/July 593 BC, his public prophetic ministry began, as recorded in Ezekiel 1. Thirteen of his messages are dated precisely (day, month, and year of Jehoiachin’s exile). The list of these is provided below. From 593 until 571, that is, for 22 years, Ezekiel received and shared God’s Word to his fellow exiles. His compilation of revealed information stops abruptly, and that is all we know. It is likely that his public ministry ended prior to 562 BC, for there is no mention of Jehoiachin’s release from prison.

See also the Chronology of the Prophets and the Chronology of Latter Prophets and Intertestamental Period.

Purpose

The main themes and purposes of Ezekiel are fairly easy to recognize and remember. He stresses the truth of God’s presence and active control of all events everywhere, even when it appears otherwise or is denied by many. In this book we are shown how forcefully God reveals himself to people to make sure they learn this. (“They will know that I am the Lord,” in variations, is found some 65 times in this book.) The Character of God, as severe Judge and as merciful Forgiver at the same time, is impressed on the reader. And this book is also a theodicy of sorts, offering a defense and explanation of divine judgment on Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. While with God’s exiled people Ezekiel served great purposes of God: to confirm the parallel messages of Jeremiah given back in Judah (especially about Jerusalem’s impending doom), to speak against the false prophets who were misleading the people, and to encourage the exiles who were devastated when Jerusalem did fall.

Content

The writing style and literary features of Ezekiel are distinctly different from those of most prophetic writings. The man and his message cannot easily be separated from each other. Ezekiel was a living object lesson, with an unconventional ministry and lifestyle. He often used a “shock treatment” in prophecy to get the attention of callous people, to convict and then to comfort them. Most of the book is prose rather than poetry, which is another distinct feature among prophets in general. In the series of revelations we find four ecstatic visions (Ezek 1-3, 8-11, 37:1-14, and 40-48), twelve symbolic acts (in Ezek 3, 4, 5, 12, 21, 24, and 37), and five parable messages (Ezek 15, 16, 17, 19, and 23). Ezekiel also provides us with what may be called a clear advancement of Old Testament apocalyptic literature, that is, through him the Lord brought us strange visions and unusual symbols in combination with themes of the End Times. Ezekiel thus became a bridge between the pre-exilic “little apocalypse” of Isaiah (Is 24-27) and the fuller apocalyptic exile book of Daniel. And all of these pointed to later, post-exile and New Testament apocalyptic pieces (Zechariah, Revelation).

The following is a list of Ezekiel’s visions, with the Scripture reference that helps us date each vision and the approximate date itself:

VisionLocation in EzekielDate (BC)
Chariot vision Ezek 1:1-3June 593
Call to be a watchmanEzek 3:16June 593
Temple visionEzek 8:1Aug/Sept 592
Discourse with eldersEzek 20:1Aug 591
Second siege of Jerusalem Ezek 24:1Jan 588
Judgment on TyreEzek 26:1Mar/Apr 587/586
Judgment on EgyptEzek 29:1Jan 587
Judgment on EgyptEzek 29:17Apr 571
Judgment on EgyptEzek 30:20Apr 587
Judgment on EgyptEzek 31:1June 587
Lament over PharaohEzek 32:1March 585
Lament over EgyptEzek 32:17Apr 586
Fall of JerusalemEzek 33:21Dec/Jan 586/585
New temple visionEzek 40:1Apr 573

Christ Connection

Ezekiel means “God strengthens” or “strengthened by God.” This meaning shows how God was with Ezekiel in a very dark and troubling time for Judah, as they were in captivity and struggling to keep their faith in the promised Messiah alive. With the messages from God given to Ezekiel, God shows his almighty power to his people. God also shows his grace in the picture of the Messiah as the true Shepherd who will save and care for his sheep: “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd” (Ezek 34:23).

Notable Passages

  • Ezekiel 1:28
  • Ezekiel 2:6
  • Ezekiel 11:17-21
  • Ezekiel 18:4,9
  • Ezekiel 18:20-23
  • Ezekiel 18:30-32
  • Ezekiel 20:22-24
  • Ezekiel 33:11
  • Ezekiel 34:11-16,30-31
  • Ezekiel 36:26-28
  • Ezekiel 37:1-14
  • Ezekiel 37:22-28
  • Ezekiel 39:29
  • Ezekiel 43:4-5,9
  • Ezekiel 48:35

Outline

Ezekiel follows the same basic sequence that is found in Isaiah and Jeremiah (and Zephaniah): (1) Oracles against Israel/Judah, (2) Oracles against the nations, and (3) Promises of comfort for the faithful of Israel/Judah.

  1. Oracles and Prophecies against Judah and Jerusalem (given prior to the destruction of the city and temple) (Ezek 1-24)
  2. Oracles and Prophecies against the Nations (who participated in or happily watched the destruction of the city and temple) (Ezek 25-32)
  3. Oracles and Prophecies of Comfort and Restoration for Israel and the Nations under the Messiah (given following the destruction of the city and temple) (Ezek 33-48)

It should be noted that the internal markers of the book would be the twelve visions that are each introduced with historical and chronological information.

References   [ + ]

1. The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.