Ezekiel 1-32: Judgment: The Glory Departs

Introduction

1. Summary

• Ezekiel predicted the Babylonian destruction of Judah and Jerusalem.

• Ezekiel predicted God’s judgment on the nations that had harmed His people.

2. Structure

-Judgment on Judah (Ezek.1:1-24:27)
-Judgment on the Nations (Ezek.25:1-32:32)
 

I. Judgment on Judah (1:1-24:27)

A. General Analysis

Cycle 1: Visions and Commission, Symbols and Speeches (Eze.1:1-7:27)
Visions and Commission (Ezek.1:1-3:27), Symbolic Acts (Ezek.4:1-5:17), Speeches (Ezek.6:1-7:27)
Cycle 2: Visions and Commission, Symbols and Speeches (Ezek.8:1-24:27)
Visions and Commission (Ezek.8:1-11:25), Symbolic Acts (Ezek.12:1-20), Speeches (Ezek.13:1-24:27)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Cycle 1: Visions and Commission, Symbols and Speeches (Ezek.1:1-7:27)

a. Vision and Commission (Ezek.1:1-3:27)
In the Ancient Near East it was common for kings to go into battle on glorious throne-chariots which were ornately carved with large and elaborate winged creatures. In Ezekiel 1 we have an extended description of God’s glorious chariot-throne of war surrounded by heavenly winged cherubim. The focus is not so much on the mechanical detail (the objective) but on the impression of the divine war-chariot (the subjective). The purpose of the vision is not to write a “mechanic’s manual” but to inspire wonder, contemplation and awe and ultimately to bring the people to repentance. The throne is mobile, moving with lightning speed across the sky, supported and mobilized by four sets of gyroscopic wheels and flanked on all four sides by the cherubim with four faces. The wheels freedom of motion and exceptional mobility under the direction the Spirit, symbolize God’s omnipresence and omniscience by His Spirit. Most deities in ancient times were supposed to be associated with a particular land. Israel’s God was not some localized or national deity but freely moved throughout the universe in awesome judgment. This was the Ezekiel equivalent of Isaiah’s “I saw the Lord” experience (Isa.6). The effect is also similar. He fell on his face and is addressed by God as “son of man.” Here this has no Messianic overtones but simply means “human being” and is in stark contrast with the glory of the Lord.

The major thrust of Ezekiel’s message becomes lucid in this section. He was to be a prophet of judgment, and he should have no false illusions about the difficulty of the task (Ezek.2:3–5; 3:5–7). Although he could hope for little more, he would leave with them the knowledge, minimal to be sure, that a prophet had been among them (Ezek.2:5; also 33:33).[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

The people are rebels who must be condemned for their crimes. The general context of the call narrative, as well as the specific command at the end of the commissioning to prophesy to the exiles (Ezek.3:11), indicates that the rebels are Ezekiel’s fellow deportees. They may have reacted violently to the message, feeling that they had already been sufficiently punished and that they did not need to repent. So Ezekiel is warned about popular opposition, and God exhorts him to continue to prophesy, although the people ignore him. God promises to strengthen Ezekiel so he can withstand the attacks of the exiles (Ezek.2:4-8; 3:8-9). Ezekiel’s call ends on a sombre note. He is told that the exiles will not listen to him, for they have already rejected the divine message he brings (Ezek.3:5-7). His attempts to save the exiles by exhorting them to repent will fail, and the judgment will come. Is his work an exercise in futility? Still, Ezekiel’s call stands as an eloquent testimony to God’s refusal to let Israel be destroyed. Even though it is clear from the beginning that Israel will not respond, God continues to call her.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 155.[/footnote]

b. Symbols (Ezek.4:1-5:4)

  • Clay tablet: the fact of the siege (Ezek.4:1-3)
  • Lying on his side: the length of the siege (Ezek.4:4-8)
  • Rationed food cooked over excrement: the severity of the siege (Ezek.4:9-17)
  • Burning hair: the results of the siege (Ezek.5:1-4)

Ezekiel’s responded to his divine commission by performing symbolic actions which represented God’s coming judgment against Jerusalem despite the continued false assurances of the false prophets.
c. Speeches (Ezek.5:5-7:27)

  • Privileges and provocations (Ezek.5:5-17)
  • Disobedience and desolation (Ezek.6:1-14)
  • Chaos and calamity (Ezek.7:1-27)

The silent symbolic acts are explained in these speeches. There is the recurring theme of judgments which will result in them knowing that Yahweh is the Lord. With each symbolic act there is an increase in the severity of the judgments which are portrayed as massive and catastrophic

The theme of Yahweh’s wrath, which was a major component of the prophetic message of doom, is seen to be a principal theme in Ezekiel as well. Already introduced in Ezek.5:13, chapters 6 and 7 raise the din of God’s outpoured wrath to deafening decibels. And to no surprise, the fearful product of divine wrath is the end of Israel. Announced with a frightful repetitiveness, the prophet leaves no room for doubt – the end had come (Ezek.7:2, 3, 6, 24).[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Yahweh is moving from his heavenly palace, in judgment against the Jerusalem temple. The book thus commences with Jerusalem and her temple under imminent judgment. Yet the covenant faithfulness of Yahweh has led us to expect a movement beyond judgment. So the Book of Ezekiel concludes with the magnificent conception of Yahweh enthroned in what must be the New Jerusalem, permanently located among his people in a new city from which, in Eden terms, the waters of life flow.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 153.[/footnote]

 

2. Cycle 2: Visions and Commission, Symbols and Speeches (Ezek.8:1-24:27)

a. Visions and Commission (Ezek.8:1-11:25)

  • Visionary transport to Jerusalem (Ezek.8:1-4)

-The Defilement of the Temple (Ezek.8:5–18)
-The Doom of the City (Ezek.9:1–11)
-The Departure of the Glory (Ezek.10:1–22)
-The Denouncement of the Leaders (Ezek.11:1–21)

  • Visionary transport to Babylon (Ezek.11:22-25)

While remaining bodily in Babylon, Ezekiel saw a series of visions designed to demonstrate the justice of God’s destruction of Jerusalem. God showed Ezekiel increasingly serious sin in Jerusalem, especially idolatry in the Temple area. God then showed Ezekiel his executioners filling the Temple area with corpses (Ezek.9:7).

He begins his ministry confirming all that Jeremiah has said and seeking to convince the exiles that they must return to the Lord before they can ever hope to return to Jerusalem. His task is difficult; he meets with opposition. The idolatry that Ezekiel had witnessed among the Jews in Jerusalem is also all too evident among the exiles in Babylon. The punishment of God in the first wave of captivity did not stir the first exiles to repentance. They did not believe that Jerusalem would actually be destroyed by the Babylonians. The second invasion and subsequent exile of more Israelites fail to quell the rising optimism. It is unpalatable for them to accept that the Lord has given world domination to Babylon and that the Jews should not only submit willingly to their captors but also work and pray for the peace of their enemies (Jer.29:7). The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel have a united message: Jerusalem will fall and the Jews will be in exile for many years. Jeremiah predicts an exile lasting seventy years (Jer.25:11; 29:10).[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 588.[/footnote]

b. Symbols (Ezek.12:1-28)

  • Packed belongings (Ezek.12:1-16)
  • Eating and drinking (Ezek.12:17-28)

God told Ezekiel “I have set you as a sign to the house of Israel” (Ezek.12:6). He was a sign to testify that those who lived in Jerusalem would do in reality what he had done in symbol. Those at ease in Jerusalem would soon be exiles whose only possessions could be held in small sacks flung over their backs. They and their Prince (King Zedekiah) would go into captivity despite any attempt to escape. God directed Ezekiel to eat his bread with “trembling” and drink his water with “quivering and anxiety.” In so doing he illustrated what would happen to the citizens of Jerusalem. When unspeakable disasters befell their land, the inhabitants of Jerusalem would eat and drink in anxiety and horror. Yet through this bitter experience they would learn something about the true nature of Yahweh.
c. Speeches (Ezek.13:1-24:27)
Here, Ezekiel explains his symbolic acts. These chapters, filled with unspeakable judgments against Yahweh’s people, predict, justify, and announce the end of the kingdom of Judah. Even Noah, Job and Daniel could not save the people by their prayers (ch.14)
Israel’s history is depicted in three discourses.
(i) The tender parable of the abandoned baby girl (ch 16). This describes Israel’s offensiveness, the justice of God’s judgment and the grace of His redemption.
(ii) A narrative of God’s experience of Israel’s sin and rebellion from the Exodus to the conquest (chapter 20-22).

Ezekiel reminded the elders of the people’s dismal spiritual history. Israel barely had left Egypt when the people began to complain. Despite all the miracles they had seen, they lacked the faith to trust God to provide their needs. For almost a thousand years, they maintained this rebellious attitude and learned precious little about a relationship with God. God in his grace withheld judgment but he would not do so anymore.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 414.[/footnote]

However, the future grace of God is also hinted at towards the end of chapter 20. God will again intervene to save His people by another Exodus of His people. He will purge them through the wilderness of international scattering and bring a purified remnant into the Promised Land to serve God again (Ezek.20:40-44).
(iii) An allegory on the two indecent sisters (ch 23). Israel’s offensiveness and God’s justice are again confirmed. His hearers had become worse than Sodom and Samaria.
The section is concluded aptly with the death of Ezekiel’s wife on the day the siege of Jerusalem began. Ezekiel is commanded not to mourn (Ezek.24:15-27).
3. Ezekiel’s dumbness (ch 3)
There are many questions about the length and nature of Ezekiel’s dumbness. Critics have highlighted a seeming inconsistency between the reported dumbness of Ezekiel and the reported speeches of Ezekiel during that period. Soon after Ezekiel was called, God told him that he would be unable to speak and preach (Ezek.3:22). He was to recover his speech seven years later when Jerusalem was besieged (Ezek.24:26-27). However chapters 4-32 indicate that he continued to preach during those years (Ezek.11:25). Five explanations have been offered:
a. Ezekiel did not prophesy between 592 BC and 586 BC. Chapters 1-32 are predictions after the events. No evangelical can accept such a radical and rationalistic re-interpretation.
b. Ezek.3:22-27 is misplaced and should come in chapter 24 or 32 so that the prophet’s silence was very brief and just before the fall of Jerusalem. However, the otherwise orderly structure of the book would argue against this kind of editorialising.
c. Like other accounts in Ezek.3:22-5:17, the experience of dumbness was “visionary.” However, Ezekiel usually informs us when he is seeing visions.
d. The dumbness was intermittent during the seven years and not completely removed until Jerusalem fell, when his ministry became one of blessing and hope. The prophet only spoke when God gave him a message to proclaim (Ezek.3:26-27).
e. The “silence” was some kind of inhibited speech and the inhibition was removed when Jerusalem fell. It may then refer to Ezekiel’s role as a public reprover or watchman being inhibited until he was reinstated to that office just prior to his release from silence (Ezek.33:1–10). Dumbrell modifies this view somewhat by making it refer to Ezekiel’s intercessory role.

The prophets regularly represented God’s people before him and interceded in their behalf (Gen.18:23-33; 20:7; Ex. 32:11-14; Num. 12:10-13; Isa. 37:21; Jer. 10:23-11:14; 14:11-15:1). What sacrifice was for a priest, prayer was for a prophet. At the very least, Ezekiel’s dumbness conveyed the idea that he would not be interceding with God in the nation’s behalf. God’s decree that Jerusalem be destroyed was now irrevocable, and intercession was pointless. The only words from the prophet’s mouth would be announcements of impending doom until that divine decree had come to pass.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 322.[/footnote]

4. The glory departs
Note how chapters 10 and 11 depict God as withdrawing gradually and reluctantly. At Ezek.10:4, He is standing over the threshold of His house. At Ezek.10:18, He moves and stands over the cherubim; at Ezek.10:19, He is at the door of the east gate. Finally, at Ezek.11:22-23, He pauses again upon the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem, as though bidding a last farewell to the city where He had set His name.

The departure of the glory of God from the sanctuary and the city is slow, reluctant, dignified. The ‘glory of the Lord’ is mentioned twelve times in the first eleven chapters. Then there is a prolonged silence. But the glory of the Lord will return (Ezek.43:2,4-5; 44:4).[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 589.[/footnote]

The “glory of the Lord,” in disdain for the abominations that were taking place in the Temple (Ezek.8:5–17), had already departed from the Holy of Holies, for in Ezek.8:6 the Lord accuses the abominators of driving Him from His sanctuary. When the purging of the Temple began in chapter 9 , the glory of the Lord had come to rest upon the Temple threshold (Ezek.9:3) and at some unspecified time returned to the cherubim, subsequently coming to rest a second time upon the threshold (Ezek.10:3–4). Then it resumed its place on the chariot throne as it moved with the living creatures to the East Gate of the city (Ezek.10:18–19), finally coming to rest upon the Mount of Olives on the city’s east side (Ezek.11:23). Only in Ezekiel’s vision of the New Temple did it return to its place in the sanctuary (Ezek.43:1–5).[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

If the book of Ezekiel were divided into two main parts, the division would then be at chapter 33. Note the outline “Jehovah Not There,” “Jehovah There.” In the first division, God is represented as leaving the city (chaps. 10-11); in the last division, He is shown as returning (Ezek.43:1-5), and remaining (Ezek.48:35).[footnote]I L Jensen, Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), 368.[/footnote]

 

5. Individual Responsibility (Ezek.18)

Although the exile was the result of years of cumulative sin and guilt of previous generations, Ezekiel was the “champion of individualism.” He emphasised personal responsibility more than any other prophet (Ezek.18:1-32; 33:10-20). He refuted their false proverb which accused God of injustice in punishing them for the sins of previous generations (Ezek.18:2). Ezekiel emphasised that the judgment had come because of their sins too: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
Thus, the prophecy inculcates the great doctrine of personal responsibility. He saw that each man was God’s creation and, therefore, His property, and, therefore, accountable to him for his life (Ezek.18:4, 13, 18). The individual could personally turn and be spared (chap.18), but corporate mercy was now out of the question.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Christ the Prophet

Ezekiel called for repentance and announced that God would destroy Jerusalem and exile its population for its sins. Jesus also called for repentance and announced that God would destroy Jerusalem and its temple, and exile its people for their sins (Mat.24; Jn.2:19).
 

2. Standing in the gap

The false prophets were condemned for not standing in the gap, in the breaches of the walls (Ezek.22:30). Like Moses, Jesus did stand in the gap. He stood between an angry God and a sinful people. As a greater than Moses, His mediatorial work secured a spiritual and eternal deliverance and not just a temporary physical deliverance.
 

3. Messianic prophecies

-The Lord, the sanctuary (Ezek.11:16-20)
-The wonderful cedar sprig (Ezek.17:22-24)
-The rightful King (Ezek.21:26-27)
 

II. The Nations Judged (25:1-32:32)

A. General Analysis

  • Judgment against Ammon (Ezek.25:1-7)
  • Judgment against Moab and Seir (Ezek.25:8-11)
  • Judgment against Edom (Ezek.25:12-14)
  • Judgment against Philistia (Ezek.25:15-17)
  • Judgment against Phoenicia (Ezek.26:1-28:26)
  • Judgment against Egypt (Ezek.29:1-32:32)

The Day of the Lord is also impending for the nations, just as Ezekiel had announced Israel’s doomsday in the first section.

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Oracles against the nations

The oracles against the foreign nations appear between the oracles of judgment on Judah (1-24) and the message of hope for Judah (33-48).

Israel’s prophets played an important role in warfare, often providing oracles, concerning particular battles (1Sam.22:5; 28:6; 1Kings 20:13-14,22; 22:6-7: 2Kings3:11; 6:12,16; 9:6-7; 20:14; 2Ch.16:7; 18:5). The oracles against foreign nations in the prophetic books reflect this function. They resemble battlefield oracles given by the prophets during the course of actual war but in these instances were uttered instead of prediction of battles to come. Archaeological evidence from the cultures surrounding Israel attests to ceremonies in which enemy powers were ritually denounced or symbolically destroyed. Some of the oracles in the Biblical prophets may have had such a setting.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003),[/footnote]

 

2. Prominent motifs

The nations are indicted for their behaviour towards God’s people.

Passage Nations Crime Punishment
Ezek.25:1-7 Ammon Gloating over Jerusalem’s destruction Destruction from East
(Nebuchadnezzar or Arabs 586?)
Ezek.25:8-11 Moab/Seir Gloating over Judah’s defeat Destruction from East
(Nebuchadnezzar or Arabs 586?)
Ezek.25:12-14 Edom Revenge on Judahites after destruction Destruction by Israel (c165)
Ezek.25:15-17 Philistia Troubling Judah throughout history Unspecified divine vengeance (c586)
Ezek.26:1-28:19 Tyre
Ezek.26:1=587
Gloating over Jerusalem’s destruction Nebuchadnezzar will destroy (586-571)
Ezek.28:20-26 Sidon Briars and thorns for Judah Plague and sword will destroy (586)
Ezek.29:1-32:32 Egypt Pride and defiance Nebuchadnezzar will defeat (568/7)

[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Prophets (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]
There is a geographical order to the oracles. They start in the northeast with Ammon and proceed in a clockwise manner back round to Phoenicia in the north. They conclude with Egypt, the major power in the South. Babylon is not mentioned as it was God’s instrument of judgment against most of these nations.
 

3. Literary form of oracles against foreign nations

A word of reception “The word of the Lord came to me saying…”
A word of address to the prophet “Son of man, say/prophesy/set your face against…”
A word of validation “Thus says the Lord God”
A word of indictment “…because…”
A word of confirmation “…and they shall know that I am the Lord…”

 

4. Main question

The bulk of the oracles are dated and were mostly given during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. The exiles were asking: “What about nations that troubled Israel?” Ezekiel said: “God will punish them.”
In the midst of the words of judgment upon the nations, which offer implicit comfort to Israel, are words of explicit comfort to Israel, though the nation is not directly addressed (Ezek.28:24–26; 29:21)

C. New Testament Analysis

Ezekiel announced judgments against the Gentile persecutors of God’s people. Some of these judgments came to pass in events associated with Christ’s first coming (Mat.24:34; Lk.11:32,51). They will be completed at Christ’s second coming (Rev.11:18; 14:7; 15:1).
 

III. The Message

Original Message: Covenant-breaking Jerusalem and the nations around her were judged as Ezekiel predicted
Present Message: God, through Christ, will judge covenant breakers and all the rebellious nations of the earth, in accordance with His Word.