The book containing the messages of Ezekiel the prophet to the Jews of the Babylonian exile from 593/92 to 571/70 b.c. In the English Bible Ezekiel follows the writings of Jeremiah and precedes those of Daniel. In Hebrew Bibles Ezekiel is preceded by Jeremiah and followed by Hosea, the book of Daniel being classified in the section known as the Hagiographa, or Writings. The book of Ezekiel seems to have been accepted into the prophetic canon at an early date, and its right to a place there has never been challenged. Unlike many other books of the OT, Ezekiel is usually recognised as genuine even by critical scholars, although some attacks have been made upon it.
By the time of the Babylonian captivity more than 8 centuries had passed since the formal covenant at Mount Sinai by which Israel as a nation had accepted God's invitation to become His chosen people and had pledged itself to Him as theocratic ruler. In the divine purpose the Jewish people, by strict obedience to God's wise and just requirements, were to reflect God's character and to become the recipients of spiritual and material blessings that would testify to the nations of the earth of the superiority of the worship and service of the true God above all false gods. But continued and increasing apostasy finally made it clear that only by the most severe measures could the Jewish nation ever be expected to realise its high mission. The people had forgotten that it was only by virtue of their covenant agreement with God that they occupied the Land of Promise, and that apostasy meant the forfeit of that right. Accordingly, God sent them into exile to learn under adverse circumstances the lesson they had failed to learn in times of prosperity, namely, that they must accept the responsibilities of the covenant relationship if they would enjoy its privileges. God purposed that the leaders of Israel, who were chiefly at fault, should be sent into exile (Is 3:12; 9:16; Eze. 34:2-19; Dan 1:3, 4), but that the vast majority of the people were to remain in their homeland, awaiting there the return of a chastened leadership. In order that the people might understand and co-operate with the divine purpose in the Captivity, God sent the prophet Jeremiah to instruct those who remained behind, and commissioned Ezekiel to be His spokesman to the exiles in Babylon. Simultaneously God sent Daniel as His ambassador to the court of Babylon, to secure Nebuchadnezzar's submission to, and co-operation with, His purpose.
As Ezekiel himself relates, he "was among the captives by the river of Chebar" (Eze. 1:1), probably at Tel-abib (ch 3:15), having been transported there with the 2nd contingent of exiles, at the time of Jehoiachin's captivity in 597 b.c., from which event the numerous chronological notices in the book are computed (Eze. 1:2). Apparently the exiles at Tel-abib were permitted to administer their own local affairs through a group of "elders" (see chs 8:1; 14:1; 20:1, 3), and were permitted to communicate with the leaders who remained in Jerusalem (Jer 29:1, 24-29). As a whole, the exiles doubtless led a reasonably normal social and economic life (see ch 29:5-10, 28).
Ezekiel was called to the prophetic office in midsummer, in 593/92 b.c. (Eze. 1:2). Whereas former prophets had largely been content simply to date their messages by noting the reign of the king under which the messages were given, Ezekiel and Jeremiah often provide practically complete chronological information, giving the month and day as well as the year, so that it is possible to correlate the messages with specific historical developments. This greatly helps in understanding the import of the successive messages, since each is thus dated. Ezekiel's ministry, at least insofar as his recorded messages are concerned, seems to have been concentrated largely within the 7 years immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 b.c. and in the next few months thereafter. His ministry extended at least some 15 years later, to 571/70 b.c.
If a title were to be given the book appropriate to its contents, perhaps none would serve better than "captivity and Restoration," since these subjects are the 2 foci around which the messages cluster. Chapters 1-33 are concerned with the former; chs 34-48 deal with the latter, the arrival of news concerning the fall of Jerusalem (ch 33:21) logically dividing the book into 2 parts. The constantly recurring theme that binds the 2 sections together is "Ye shall know that I am the Lord" (chs 6:7; 7:4; etc.). This expression or its equivalent occurs more than 60 times and emphasises the fundamental cause of Israel's failure hitherto "they did not understand or appreciate God's righteous character or the exalted purpose and destiny that the covenant relationship vouchsafed to them as a nation. The Captivity was ordained to teach them this all-important lesson. Messages borne by Ezekiel prior to the arrival of word that Jerusalem had fallen were designed to secure the co-operation of the exiles with God's plan for the Captivity. The exiles were to submit to Nebuchadnezzar (for a period of 70 years; Jer 25:12; 29:10).
About the time Ezekiel received his call to the prophetic office in Babylonia, King Zedekiah at Jerusalem was entertaining envoys from neighbouring nations seeking an alliance to rise in revolt and throw off the Babylonian yoke (Jer 27:2, 3). Jeremiah warned that the yokes of wood they proposed to break would be replaced with yokes of iron (see ch 28:10, 12). Among the false prophets at Jerusalem were some who predicted the end of the Captivity and the return of the captives "within two full years" (vs. 3, 4, 11). The Jews in Babylonia apparently shared the expectation of a brief captivity (see ch 29:28). It was these circumstances that led Jeremiah to counsel submission to God's plan for an extended captivity (chs 27:4-17; 29:5-13, 28) and that formed the background for Ezekiel's messages recorded in Eze. 1-23. Jeremiah 24-33, on the other hand, deals more particularly with the siege of Jerusalem and its fall in 586. With a spirit of unwarranted optimism the Jews blindly believed that God would not allow this calamity to come (Jer 7:4; 17:15; 26:8, 9; Eze. 11:3, 15; etc.), but both Jeremiah (Jer 26:6) and Ezekiel (Eze. 11:5-11) sought to dispel this vain hope. When the destruction of the city and the Temple eventually dashed this vain hope to the ground the Jewish people gave themselves up to despair, apparently fearing that the Captivity would be permanent and that their nation would never be restored. Their national pride thus fully humbled, the people stood in need of encouragement, lest their loss of hope should incapacitate them for learning the great lesson of the Captivity and for responding to the eventual summons to return and rebuild Jerusalem. Such encouragement God sent through the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 31:27 to 33:26) to the Jews who remained in Jerusalem, and through Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylonia (Eze. 34-48).
The mysterious vision of God's throne and the "wheel in the middle of a wheel" (Eze. 1:26, 16) that accompanied Ezekiel's commission to the prophetic office was designed to impress upon the prophet the greatness and majesty of God (cf. Is 6:1-8). Boldly he was to proclaim the words that God gave him to speak (Eze. 2:3-8), not quailing at the people's dullness of perception and their hardness of heart (ch 3:1-11). He became not only God's spokesman (Eze. 2:8; 3:1) but His watchman over the house of Israel (ch 3:15-21). As a reminder of Ezekiel's role as spokesman and watchman, God inflicted dumbness upon him (v 26) and gave him the faculty of speech only when bearing the messages God should bid him speak (v 27). This experience served also as a testimony to the people that God was indeed speaking through the prophet. With the arrival of news that Jerusalem had fallen, his tongue was loosed (ch 33:21, 22).
Ezekiel's first message (Eze. 4-7) announces the inevitability of the fall of Jerusalem. He is to act out the siege in pantomime in order to impress the exiles (ch 4:1-8) and to depict the sufferings of the people during that time (chs 4:9 to 6:7). A remnant will escape, however (ch 6:8-14). But an "end is come" (ch 7), and the centuries of warning are to be fulfilled without further delay. The 2nd message (chs 8-19) delineates in bold strokes the reason for the Captivity, particularly for the impending blow of 586 b.c. that was to lay Jerusalem waste-Israel's now absolute apostasy. Chapter 8 etches a vivid picture of how the sacred precincts of the Temple were at that very time being prostituted to various forms of heathen worship, and the vision of the man with a writer's inkhorn in ch 9 announces the close of the city's period of probation. The coals of fire scattered over the city (ch 10:2) depict the same idea, which is confirmed by a repetition of the vision of ch 1, thus stressing the fact that what is to take place is the divine will (ch 10:3-22). In ch 11 Ezekiel is shown the stubborn opposition of the people in Jerusalem to the idea that the city will fall. By the graphic device of moving his own household effects (ch 12:1-7) he reinforces the divine proclamation concerning the city's fate (vs. 8-20) and declares that God will no longer delay the fulfilment of His word (vs. 21-28). Ezekiel then warns against the messages of the false prophets (ch 13), and when the elders come to restrain him, he boldly declares their sins and repeats the warning of judgement (chs 14; 15). By an allegory he sets forth God's persistent efforts to exalt Israel, and their persistent apostasy (ch 16). It is the failure of the contemporary leaders that has made the fall of Jerusalem inevitable (ch 17), and they cannot escape responsibility by blaming their woes on the sins of their fathers (chs 18; 19). The 2nd message (chs 20-23) covers generally the same ground as the 2nd and closes with another lengthy allegory depicting Israel's apostasy. The 4th message (Eze. 24; possibly also ch 25) announces the beginning of the siege, and the destruction of the Temple is graphically portrayed by the death of the prophet's own wife-the "desire" of his eyes, as the Temple was the "desire" of every Jew. In ch 25 Ezekiel inveighs against the neighbour nations for taking advantage of the Jews in their hour of extremity. The next section (chs 26-32) consists of a series of messages given at different times, in which God declares His purpose to judge the neighbouring nations as well as Israel, with particular attention given to the Phoenician city of Tyre and to Egypt. Chapter 33 consists mostly of messages addressed to the prophet himself, reiterating his status as a watchman over Israel, though vs. 21, 22 related the incident (dated 2 mos. earlier than ch 32) of the arrival of news of the fall of Jerusalem.
The 2nd part of the book of Ezekiel (chs 34 to 48) consists of a series of messages dealing with various aspects of the restoration from captivity. God will restore His people to their land and enter into a new covenant with them (ch 34). The triumph of Israel will be accompanied by the desolation of their foes (ch 35). God will give His people a new heart, to obey Him, and will do better by them than ever before (ch 36). The nation will be revived, and the 2 kingdoms, Judah and Joseph (the 10 tribes), will be reunited under the house of David (ch 37). All of their enemies will be destroyed (chs 38; 39). The Temple will be rebuilt, more ample and glorious than ever (chs 40-42). God will again take up residence among His people, and the priestly service will be reinaugurated (chs 43; 44). The land will be reapportioned (ch 45), and "the prince" (Messiah) will come and go among them (ch 46). From the Temple there will flow forth a healing stream that restores the entire earth to Edenic beauty, thus depicting the extension of God's sovereignty over the whole earth (Eze. 47). The city itself is described , and its name given as "the Lord is there" (ch 48).
It should be remembered that Ezekiel was describing for the exiles in Babylon God's plans for their return and for the restored state of 12 tribes, plans centring on the city and Temple to which the Messianic Prince would come. However, because of unfaithfulness the returned Jews failed to realise what was envisioned by Ezekiel. For a discussion of prophecies of this type see Prophet, II.
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.