Fausset's Bible Dictionary


"God will strengthen," Hebrew, Yehezqel. Son of Buzi (Eze_1:3), a priest. Probably exercised the priestly office at Jerusalem before his departure in the captivity or transmigration (galut) of Jehoiachin, which took place 11 years before the city fell (2Ki_24:15). His priestly character gave him much weight with his Hebrew fellow exiles. His priestly service was as real in the spiritual temple in Chaldaea as it had been in the visible temple at Jerusalem (Ezekiel 11; Eze_40-48; Eze_4:13-14; Eze_20:12-13). The priestly tone appears throughout his book, so that he is the priest among the prophets. Called to prophesy in the fifth year of Jehoiachin's captivity (595 B.C.) "in the 30th year in the fourth month." i.e. the 30th from the era of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar's father (525 B.C.), an era he naturally uses writing in Babylonia (Farrar).

But elsewhere he dates from Jehoiachin's captivity alone. This fact, and his expressly calling himself "the priest" (Eze_1:3), favor the view that his mention of the 30th fear of his own age is in order to mark his entering on a priestly ministry to his exiled countrymen (that being the usual age, Num_4:23; Num_4:30; "the heavens being opened" to him, as they were to his Antitype in beginning His ministry in His 30th year at Jordan, Luk_3:21-23). Thus, he would be 25 when carried away. The best of the people were apparently the first carried away (Eze_11:16; Jer_24:2-8; Jer_24:10). Believing the prophets they obeyed Nebuchadnezzar's first summons to surrender, as the only path of safety. But the unbelieving were willing to do anything to remain in their native land; and despised their exiled brethren as having no share in the temple sacrifices.

Thus, Ezekiel's sphere of ministry was less impeded by his countrymen than Jeremiah's at home. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29) sent a letter to the exiles to warn them against the flattering promises of false prophets that they should soon return, for that the captivity would last 70 years. This was in the fourth year of Zedekiah or of Jehoiachin's captivity; and one of the captives, Shemaiah, so far from believing, wrote back that Jeremiah should be imprisoned. Ezekiel began his ministry the next or fifth year, confirming Jeremiah's words. The first scene of his prophecies was near the river Chebar (identified by some with Khabour, but rather the nahr Malcha or royal canal of Nebuchadnezzar) (See BABEL; BABYLON.)

Telabib (Thelaba) was his "house," where the elders came to inquire of him God's communications (Eze_3:15; Eze_8:1). They were eager to return to Jerusalem, but Ezekiel taught that they must first return to their God. He was married, but lost his wife by a sudden stroke (Eze_24:18). His prophesying continued for 22 years at least, down to the 27th year of the captivity (Eze_29:17). On comparing Ezekiel 13 with Jer_6:14; Jer_8:11; Jer_23:9-10; Jer_23:16; Jer_23:26; and Ezekiel 34, with Jer_23:4-5; Jer_23:33, we see the inner harmony between the two prophets, though Ezekiel did not receive his commission until toward the close of Jeremiah's prophesying; the latter having prophesied 34 years before Ezekiel, and continuing to prophesy six or seven years after him.

Ezekiel began prophesying the year after the communication of Jeremiah's predictions to Babylon (Jer_51:59-64); Ezekiel's prophecies form a sequel to them (Eze_1:2). Yet in natural character they widely differ: Jeremiah plaintive, sensitive to a fault, and tender; Ezekiel abrupt, unbending, firmly unflinching, with priestly zeal against gainsayers. He was contemporary also with Daniel, whose ministry was then in the Babylonian court whereas Ezekiel was among the Jews. Daniel's prophecies were later than those of Ezekiel, but his fame for piety and wisdom was already established (Eze_14:14; Eze_16: 28; Eze_16:3); and the Jews in their low state naturally prided themselves on one who reflected such glory on their nation at the pagan capital (Daniel 1-2). Ezekiel and Daniel have a mutual resemblance in the visions and images in their prophecies.

It is an undesigned proof of genuineness that, while prophesying against the enemies of the covenant people, he directs none against Babylon, whereas Jeremiah utters against her terrible denunciations. Ezekiel gave no needless offense to the government under which he lived, Jeremiah on the other hand was still in Judaea. The improved character of the people toward the close of the captivity, their renunciation of idolatry thenceforth and return to the law under Ezra, were primarily under God due in a great measure to Ezekiel's labors. "His word fell like a hammer upon all the pleasant dreams in which the captives indulged, and ground them to powder, a gigantic nature fitted to struggle against the Babylonian spirit of the age, which reveled in things gigantic and grotesque" (Hengstenberg). Realizing energy is his characteristic, adapting him to confront the "rebellious house," "of stubborn front and hard heart."

He zealously upheld the ceremonies of the law (Eze_4:14; Eze_22:8, etc.); keeping them before the national mind, in the absence of the visible framework, against the time of the restoration of the national polity and temple. His self sacrificing patriotism, ready for any suffering if only he may benefit his countrymen spiritually, appears in his conduct when she who was "the desire of his eyes" was snatched from him at a stroke (Deu_33:9). The phrase shows how tenderly he loved her; yet with priestly prostration of every affection before God's will he puts on no mourning, in order to convey a prophetical lesson to his people (Eze_24:15-25). His style is colored by the pentateuch and by Jeremiah. It is simple, the conceptions definite, the details even in the enigmatical symbols minute and vivid, magnificent in imagery, but austere. The fondness for particulars appears in contrasting his prophecy concerning Tyre (Ezekiel 28) with Isaiah's (Isaiah 23).

The obscurity lies in the subject matter, not in the form or manner of his communications. He delights to linger about the temple and to use its symbolical forms, with which his priestly sympathies were so bound up, as the imagery to express his instructions. This was divinely ordered to satisfy the spiritual want and instinctive craving felt by the people in the absence of the national temple and the sacrifices. Thus, Ezekiel molded their minds to the conviction that the essence of the law could be maintained where many of its forms could not be observed, a new phase in the kingdom of God; the synagogal worship which he maintained, consisting of prayer and the word, preparing the way for the gospel wherein God who is a spirit is worshipped acceptably by the spiritual wherever they be. His frequent repetitions give weight and force to his pictures; poetical parallelism is found only in Ezekiel 7; Ezekiel 21; Ezekiel 27; Ezekiel 28-30.

His mysterious symbols presented in plain words, like our Lord's parables, were designed to stimulate the people's dormant minds. The superficial, volatile, and willfully unbelieving were thereby left to judicial blindness (Isa_6:10; Mat_13:11-13, etc.), while the better disposed were awakened to a deeper search into the things of God by the very obscurity of the symbols. In observance of this divine purpose has led the Jews to place his book among the "treasures" (genazin), which, like the early chapters of Genesis and Song of Solomon, are not to be read until the age of 30 (Jerome's Ep. ad Eustoch.). Sir_49:8 refers to Ezekiel. So Josephus (Ant. 10:5, section 1), Melito's catalogue (Eusebius, H. E., 4:26), Origen, Jerome, and the Talmud mention it as part of the canon.

The oneness of tone throughout, and the recurrence of favorite phrases ("son of man," "they shall know that I am the Lord, ... the hand of the Lord was upon me," "set thy face against," etc.), exclude the idea of interpolation of sections. The earlier part, treating mainly of sin and judgment (Ezekiel 1-32), is a key to the latter part, which holds out a glorious hope in the last days when the judgments shall have had their designed effect. Thus, unity and orderly progress characterize the whole. The fall of Jerusalem is the central point.

Previously, he calls to repentance, and rebukes blind trust in Egypt or in man (Eze_17:15-17; compare Jer_37:7). Afterward he consoles the captives by promising future and final restoration. His prophecies against seven (the number for completeness) foreign nations stand between these two divisions, and were uttered in the interval between the knowledge of Nebuchadnezzar's siege (Eze_24:2, etc.) and the news that Jerusalem was taken (Eze_33:21), yet uttered with the prophetic certainty of its capture, so that it is taken as a past fact (Eze_26:2). One however of this series (Eze_29:17) belongs to the 27th year of the captivity, and is therefore later than the temple series (Eze_40:1), which was in the 25th. There are nine sections:

(1) Ezekiel's call: Ezekiel 1-3; 15.

(2) Symbolical prophecies of Jerusalem's fall: Eze_3:16-17.

(3) A year and two months later a vision of the temple polluted by Tammuz or Adonis worship; God's consequent scattering of fire over the city, and forsaking the temple to reveal Himself to an inquiring people in exile; purer, happier times follow: Ezekiel 8-11.

(4) Sins of the several classes, priests, prophets, and princes: Ezekiel 12-19.

(5) A year later the warning of judgment for national guilt repeated more distinctly as the time drew nearer: Ezekiel 20-2.

(6) Two years and five months later, the very day on which Ezekiel speaks, is announced as that of beginning the siege; Jerusalem shall fall: Ezekiel 24.

(7) Predictions against foreign nations during Ezekiel's silence regarding his own people; since judgment begins at the house of God it will visit the pagan world: Ezekiel 25-32; some of these were uttered later than others, but all began to be given (Havernick) after the fall of Jerusalem.

(8) In the 12th year of the captivity, when the fugitives from Jerusalem (Eze_33:21) had reached Chaldaea, he foretells better times, Israel's restoration, God's kingdom triumphant over Seir, the pagan world powers, and Gog: Ezekiel 33-39.

(9) After 13 years, the last vision, the order and beauty of the restored kingdom: Ezekiel 40-48.

The fullness of details as to the temple and its offerings favors the view of a literal (in the main) interpretation rather than a purely symbolical one. The prophecy has certainly not yet been fulfilled; the fulfillment will make all dear. There are details physically so improbable as to preclude a purely literal explanation. The main truth is dear. As Israel served the nations for their rejection of Messiah, so shall they serve Israel in the person of Messiah when Israel shall acknowledge Messiah (Isa_60:12; Zec_14:16-19; Psa_72:11). The ideal temple exhibits under Old Testament forms the essential character of Messiah's worship as it shall be when He shall reign in Jerusalem among His own people the Jews, and thence to the ends of the earth (Jer_3:17-18). The square of the temple area is three miles and a half, i.e. larger than all the former Jerusalem.

The city is three or four thousand square miles, including the holy portion for the prince, priests, and Levites, i.e., nearly as large as all Judaea W. of Jordan. Again, the half of the holy portion extends 30 miles S. of Jerusalem, i.e., covering nearly the whole southern territory. Without great physical changes (and the boundaries are given the same as under Moses) no adequate room is left for the five tribes whose inheritance is beyond the holy portion (Eze_47:19; Eze_48:23-38). The literal sacrifices seem to oppose Heb_9:10; Heb_10:14; Heb_10:18, and to give a handle to Rome's worst error, the sacrifice of the mass. In Ezekiel's temple holiness pervades the whole, and there is no distinction of parts as to relative holiness, as in the Old Testament temple. But all the difficulties may be only apparent.

Faith waits God's time and God's way; the ideal of the theocratic temple will then first be realized. Israel will show in the temple rites the essential unity between the law and the gospel, which now seem to be opposed (Rom_10:4; Rom_10:8). We do not yet see how to harmonize a return to sacrifices with the Epistle to the Hebrew, but two considerations lessen the difficulty: The Jews as a nation stand to God in a peculiar relation, distinct from that of us Christians of the present elect church gathered out of Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately. That shall be the period of public liturgy, or perfect outward worship of the great congregation on earth, as the present time is one of gathering out the spiritual worshippers one by one, who shall reign in glorified bodies with Christ over Israel and the nations in the flesh.

Besides Israel's spiritual relation to Christ as her Savior, she will perform a perfect outward service of sacrifice, (retrospectively referring to Christ's one propitiatory offering, lest this should be lost sight of in the glory of His kingdom), prayer, and praise as a nation to her then manifested King reigning in the midst of her; and all nations shall join in that service, recognizing His divine kingship over themselves also. Christ's word shall be fulfilled, "till heaven and earth pass one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law until all be fulfilled" (Mat_5:18). The antitypical perfection of the old temple service, which seemed a cumbrous yoke unintelligible to the worshippers, shall then be understood fully and become a delightful service of love. Ezekiel was the only prophet, strictly, at Babylon.

For Daniel was rather a seer, unveiling the future in the pagan court, but not discharging the prophetical office as Ezekiel among the covenant people; therefore his book was not classed with the prophets but with the hagiographa. Striking instances of seeming contradictions, which when understood become strong confirmations of genuineness, are Eze_12:13, "I will bring him (Zedekiah) to Babylon ... yet shall he not see it though he shall die there"; because he was blinded by Nebuchadnezzar before arriving there (Jer_52:11). Also Eze_18:20, "the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father"; not really contradicting Exo_20:5, "visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me"; the children hating God as their fathers did, the sin with cumulative force descends from parent to child; so Deu_24:16 expressly "the fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither the children for the fathers."


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)