Introduction to the Book of Ezekiel

Ezekial Addresses the Sin of Idolatry and the Restoration of Israel

Book of Ezekiel - Sin of Idolatry
Ezekiel's Vision. Edward Gooch / Stringer / Getty Images

The book of Ezekiel features one of the eeriest scenes in the Bible, a vision of God raising an army of dead men's bones from their graves and bringing them back to life (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

That's just one of many symbolic visions and performances of this ancient prophet, who predicted the destruction of Israel and the idolatrous nations around it. Despite its frightening oracles, Ezekiel concludes with a message of hope and restoration for God's people.

Historical Context

The book of Ezekiel is categorized with the writings of the major prophets. It is placed between the book of Lamentations and the book of Daniel in the Old Testament Canon of Scripture.

The prophet Ezekiel was born around 622 BC and preached for about 22 years. His contemporary was the prophet Jeremiah.

Ezekiel lived during the time of the Babylonian exile. Thousands of citizens of Israel, including Ezekiel and King Jehoiachin, had been captured and taken to Babylon about 597 BC. Ezekiel prophesied to those exiles about why God had allowed that, while at the same time, the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the Israelites left behind in Judah.

Besides giving oral warnings, Ezekiel performed physical actions which served as symbolic plays for the exiles to learn from. Ezekiel was ordered by God to lie on his left side 390 days and on his right side 40 days. He had to eat disgusting bread, drink rationed water, and use cow dung for fuel.

He shaved his beard and head and used the hair as traditional symbols of humiliation. Ezekiel packed his belongings as if heading on a journey. When his wife died, he was told not to mourn her.

Bible scholars say God's warnings in Ezekiel finally cured Israel of the sin of idolatry. When they returned from exile and rebuilt the temple, they never turned away from the True God again.

Who Wrote the Book of Ezekiel?

The Hebrew prophet Ezekiel was the son of Buzi and member of a priestly family. Ezekiel's writings indicate that he was familiar with the duties and regulations of the priests regarding sacrifices and rituals.

Date Written

The book of Ezekiel was written between 593 BC and 573 BC.

Written To

Ezekiel's primary audience was his fellow exiles in Babylon, but he also wrote to the Israelites at home in Jerusalem and all later readers of the Bible.

Landscape 

Ezekiel wrote from Babylon, but his prophecies concerned Israel, Egypt, and several of the neighboring countries.

Themes in Ezekiel

Ezekiel was called to be a watchman for God with the chief task of warning his people about the terrible consequences of the sin of idolatry. Herein lies the main theme of the book of Ezekiel. Other themes include the sovereignty of God over the entire world, God's holiness, right worship, corrupt leaders, the restoration of Israel, and the coming of a Messiah.

Thought for Reflection

The book of Ezekiel is about idolatry. The first of the Ten Commandments sternly forbids it: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2-3, NIV)

Today, idolatry consists of putting more importance on anything other than God, from our career to money, fame, power, material possessions, celebrities, or other distractions. We each need to ask, "Have I let anything other than God take first place in my life? Has anything else become a god to me?"

Points of Interest

  • Ezekiel's name means "God strengthens" or "may God strengthen."
  • More than 90 times, God calls Ezekiel "son of Man," a term used to highlight the prophet's humanity. The term also occurs in Daniel 7:13. Jesus Christ often used that title for himself, probably a reference to Daniel, designating his humanity and his mission of salvation.
  • Some references in Ezekiel have striking similarities to the prophetic book of Revelation.  Descriptions of God and the cherubim are similar. Ezekiel is told to eat a scroll, just as the Apostle John was told to eat a book in Revelation. Visions of a river of life appear in both books.
  • The phrase "they shall know that I am the LORD" occurs about 60 times in the book. God tacks it onto his upcoming deeds to explain the reason for the action.

Key Characters in the Book of Ezekiel

Ezekiel, Israel's leaders, Ezekiel's wife, and King Nebuchadnezzar.

Key Verses

Ezekiel 14:6
“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!" (NIV)

Ezekiel 34:23-24
I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken. (NIV)

Outline of the Book of Ezekiel:

Prophesies about doom and destruction (1:1 - 24:27)

  • Ezekiel's appointment by God.
  • Revelations of sin, God's judgment.
  • God's punishment is inescapable.

Prophesies condemning foreign nations (25:1 - 32:32)

  • Oracles against Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, Egypt.
  • Oracles against foreign countries' rulers.

Prophesies of hope and restoration of Israel (33:1 - 48:35)

  • Shepherds who will protect and restore Israel.
  • Raising dry bones; restoring hope.
  • The new temple filled with God's glory.
  • Dividing the land among the tribes.

Sources 

  • Unger's Bible Handbook, Merrill F. Unger.
  • Halley's Bible Handbook, Henry H. Halley.
  • ESV Study Bible.
  • Life Application Study Bible.