|Ezekiel - ē-zē´ki-el
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. The Prophet and His Book
1. The Person of Ezekiel
Name, Captivity and Trials
2. The Book
(1) Its Genuineness
(2) Its Structure
(3) Relation to Jeremiah
(4) Fate of the Book and Its Place in the Canon
II. Significance of Ezekiel in Israel's Religious History
1. Formal Characteristics of Ezekiel
(2) Symbolical Acts
2. Ezekiel and the Levitical System
(1) Ezekiel 44:4ff: Theory That the Distinction of Priests and Levites Was Introduced by Ezekiel
(a) The Biblical Facts
(b) Modern Interpretation of This Passage
(c) Examination of Theory
(i) Not Tenable for Preëxilic Period
(ii) Not Sustained by Ezekiel
(iii) Not Supported by Development after Ezekiel
(d) The True Solution
(2) Ezekiel 40 through 48: Priority Claimed for Ezekiel as against the Priestly Codex
(a) Sketch of the Modern View
(b) One-Sidedness of This View
(c) Impossibility That Ezekiel Preceded P
(d) Correct Interpretation of Passage
(3) Ezekiel's Leviticism
3. Ezekiel and the Messianic Idea
4. Ezekiel and Apocalyptic Literature
5. Ezekiel's Conception of God
I. The Prophet and His Book
1. The Person of Ezekiel
The nameיחזקאל, yehezḳē'l, signifies “God strengthens.” The Septuagint employed the form Ἰεζεκιήλ, Iezekiḗl, from which the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 ad) took its “Ezechiel” and Luther “Hesekiel.” In Eze_1:3 the prophet is said to be the son of a certain Buzi, and that he was a priest. This combination of the priestly and prophetic offices is not accidental at a time when the priests began to come more and more into the foreground. Thus, too, Jeremiah (Jer_1:1) and Zechariah (Zec_1:1; compare Ezr_5:1; Ezr_6:14; Neh_12:4, Neh_12:16, and my article “Zechariah” in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary) were priests and prophets; and in Zec_7:3 a question in reference to fasting is put to both priests and prophets at the same time. And still more than in the case of Zechariah and Jeremiah, the priestly descent makes itself felt in the case of Ezekiel. We here already draw attention to his Levitical tendencies, which appear particularly prominent in Ezek 40 through 46 (see under II, 2 below), and to the high-priestly character of his picture of the Messiah (Eze_21:25 f; Eze_45:22; see II, 3 below).
We find Ezekiel in Tel-abib (Eze_3:15) at the river Chebar (Eze_1:1, Eze_1:3; Eze_3:15) on a Euphrates canal near Nippur, where the American expedition found the archives of a great business house, “Murashu and Sons.” The prophet had been taken into exile in 597 bc. This event so deeply affected the fate of the people and his personal relations that Ezekiel dates his prophecies from this event. They begin with the 5th year of this date, in which year through the appearance of the Divine glory (compare II, 1 below) he had been consecrated to the prophetic office (Eze_1:2) and continued to the 27th year (Eze_29:17), i.e. from 593 to 571 bc. The book gives us an idea of the external conditions of the exiles. The expressions “prison,” “bound,” which are applied to the exiles, easily create a false impression, or at any rate a one-sided idea. These terms surely to a great extent are used figuratively. Because the Jews had lost their country, their capital city, their temple, their service and their independence as a nation, their condition was under all circumstances lamentable, and could be compared with the fate of prisoners and those in fetters.
The external conditions in themselves, however, seem rather to have been generally tolerable. The people live in their own houses (Jer_29:5). Ezekiel himself is probably the owner of a house (Eze_3:24; Eze_8:1). They have also retained their organization, for their elders visit the prophet repeatedly (Eze_8:1; Eze_14:1; Eze_20:1). This makes it clear why later comparatively few made use of the permission to return to their country. The inscriptions found in the business house at Nippur contain also a goodly number of Jewish names, which shows how the Jews are becoming settled and taking part in the business life of the country.
Ezekiel was living in most happy wedlock. Now God reveals to him on a certain night that his wife, “the desire of his eye,” is to die through a sudden sickness. On the evening of the following day she is already dead. But he is not permitted to weep or lament over her, for he is to serve as a sign that Jerusalem is to be destroyed without wailing or lamentation (Eze_24:15). Thus in his case too, as it was with Hosea, the personal fate of the prophet is most impressively interwoven with his official activity.
The question at what age Ezekiel had left Jerusalem has been answered in different ways. From his intimate acquaintance with the priestly institutions and with the temple service, as this appears particularly in chapters 40 to 48, the conclusion is drawn that he himself must have officiated in the temple. Yet, the knowledge on his part can be amply explained if he only in a general way had been personally acquainted with the temple, with the law and the study of the Torah. We accept that he was already taken into exile at the age of 25 years, and in his 30th year was called to his prophetic office; and in doing this we come close to the statement of Josephus, according to which Ezekiel had come to Babylon in his youth. At any rate the remarkable statement in the beginning of his book, “in the 30th year,” by the side of which we find the customary dating, “in the 5th year” (Eze_1:1, Eze_1:2), can still find its best explanation when referred to the age of the prophet. We must also remember that the 30th year had a special significance for the tribe of Levi (Num_4:3, Num_4:13, Num_4:10, Num_4:39), and that later on, and surely not accidentally, both Jesus and John the Baptist began their public activity at this age (Luk_3:23).
It is indeed true that the attempt has been made to interpret this statement of Ezekiel on the basis of an era of Nabopolassar, but there is practically nothing further known of this era; and in addition there would be a disagreement here, since Nabopolassar ruled from 625 on, and his 30th year would not harmonize with the year 593 as determined byEze_1:2. Just as little can be said for explaining these 30 years as so many years after the discovery of the book of the law in 623, in the reign of Josiah (2 Ki 22 f). For this case too there is not the slightest hint that this event had been made the beginning of a new era, and, in addition, the statement in Eze_1:1, without further reference to this event, would be unthinkable.
As in the case of the majority of the prophets, legends have also grown around the person of Ezekiel. He is reported to have been the teacher of Pythagoras, or a servant of Jeremiah, or a martyr, and is said to have been buried in the tomb of Shem and Arphaxad. He indeed did stand in close relationship to Jeremiah (see 2, 3 below). Since the publication of Klostermann's essay in the Studien und Kritiken, 1877, it has been customary, on the basis ofEze_3:14 f,26 f; Eze_4:4; Eze_24:27, to regard Ezekiel as subject to catalepsy (compare the belief often entertained that Paul was an epileptic). Even if his condition, in which he lay speechless or motionless, has some similarity with certain forms of catalepsy or kindred diseases, i.e. a temporary suspension of the power of locomotion or of speech; yet in the case of Ezekiel we never find that he is describing a disease, but his unique condition occurs only at the express command of God (Eze_3:24; Eze_24:25); and this on account of the stubbornness of the house of Israel (Eze_3:26). This latter expression which occurs with such frequency (compare Eze_2:5; Eze_3:9, Eze_3:27, etc.) induces to the consideration of the reception which the prophet met at the hand of his contemporaries.
He lives in the midst of briars and thorns and dwells among scorpions (Eze_2:6). Israel has a mind harder than a rock, firmer than adamant (Eze_3:8 f). “Is he not a speaker of parables?” is cast up to him by his contemporaries, and he complains to God on this account (Eze_20:49); and God in turn sums up the impression which Ezekiel has made on them in the words (Eze_33:32): “Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy words, but they do them not.” They consequently estimate him according to his aesthetic side (compare II, 1, below), but that is all.
2. The Book
(1) Its Genuineness
When compared with almost every other prophetic book, we are particularly favorably situated in dealing with the genuineness of the Book of Ezekiel (compare my work, Die messianische Erwartung der vorexilischen Propheten, zugleich ein Protest gegen moderne Textzersplitterung), as this is practically not at all called into question, and efforts to prove a complicated composition of the book are scarcely made.
Both the efforts of Zunz, made long ago (compare Zeitschrift der deutsch-morgenländishchen Gesellschaft, 1873, and Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden), and of Seinecke (Geschichte des Volkes Israel, II, 1ff) to prove a Persian or even a Greek period as the time of the composition of the book; as also the later attempt of Kroetzmann, in his Commentary on Ezekiel, to show that there are two recensions of the book, have found no favor. The claim that Ezek 40 through 48 were written by a pupil of Ezekiel was made as a timid suggestion by Volz, but, judging from the tendency of criticism, the origin of these chapters will probably yet become the subject of serious debate. But in general the conviction obtains that the book is characterized by such unity that we can only accept or reject it as a whole, but that for its rejection there is not the least substantial ground. This leads us to the contents.
(2) Its Structure
The parts of the book are in general very transparent. First of all the book is divided into halves by the announcement of the fall of Jerusalem in Ezek 33; of which parts the first predominantly deals with punishments and threats; the other with comfort and encouragement. Possibly it is these two parts of the book that Josephus has in mind when he says (Ant., X) that Ezekiel had written two books. That the introduction of prophecies of redemption after those of threats in other prophetical books also is often a matter of importance, and that the right appreciation of this fact is a significant factor in the struggle against the attacks made on the genuineness of these books has been demonstrated by me in my book, Die messianische Erwartung der vorexilischen Prophelen (compare 39-40 for the case of Amos; 62ff, 136 f, for the case of Hosea; 197ff for Isa 7 through 12; 238ff for Micah; see also my article in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary).
Down to the time when Jerusalem fell, Ezekiel was compelled to antagonize the hopes, which were supported by false prophets, that God would not suffer this calamity. Over against this, Ezekiel persistently and emphatically points to this fact, that the apostasy had been too great for God not to bring about this catastrophe. There is scarcely a violation of a single command - religious, moral or cultural - which the prophet is not compelled to charge against the people in the three sections,Eze_3:16; Eze_8:1; Eze_20:1, until in Eze_24:1, on the 10th day of the 10th month of the 9th year (589 bc) the destruction of Jerusalem was symbolized by the vision of the boiling pot with the piece of meat in it, and the unlamented destruction of the city was prefigured by the unmourned and sudden death of his wife (see 1 above). After the five sections of this subdivision I, referring to Israel - each one of which subdivisions is introduced by a new dating, and thereby separated from the others and chronologically arranged (Eze_1:1, with the consecration of the prophet immediately following it; Eze_3:16; Eze_8:1; Eze_20:1; Eze_24:1) - there follow as a second subdivision the seven oracles against the Ammonites (Eze_25:1); the Moabites (Eze_25:8); the Edomites (Eze_25:12); the Philistines (Eze_25:15); Tyre (Eze_26:1); Sidon (Eze_28:20); Egypt (Eze_29:1), evidently arranged from a geographical point of view.
The most extensive are those against Tyre and the group of oracles against Egypt, both provided with separate dates (compare 26:1 through 29:1;Eze_30:20; Eze_31:1; Eze_32:1, Eze_32:17). The supplement in reference to Tyre (Eze_29:17) is the latest dated oracle of Ezekiel (from the year 571 bc), and is found here, at a suitable place, because it is connected with a threat against Egypt (Ezek 40 through 48 date from the year 573 according to Eze_40:1). The number seven evidently does not occur accidentally, since in other threats of this kind a typical number appears to have been purposely chosen, thus: Isa 13 through 22, i.e. ten; Jer 46 through 51, also ten; which fact again under the circumstances is an important argument in repelling attacks on the genuineness of the book.
Probably the five parts of the first subdivision, and the seven of the second, supplement each other, making a total of twelve (compare the analogous structure of Ex 25:1 through 30:10 under EXODUS, and probably the chiastic structure of Ezek 34 through 48, with 7 and 5 pieces; see below). The oracles against the foreign countries are not only in point of time to be placed between Ezek 24 andEze_33:21, but also, as concerns contents, help splendidly to solve the difficulty suggested by chapter 24, and in this way satisfactorily fill the gap thus made. The arrival of the news of the fall of Jerusalem, in 586 bc (compare Eze_33:21), which had already been foretold in chapter 24, introduced by the mighty watchman's cry to repentance (Eze_33:1), and followed by a reproof of the superficial reception of the prophetic word (see 1 above), concludes the first chief part of the book.
The second part also naturally fails into two subdivisions, of which the first contains the development of the nearer and more remote future, as to its inner character and its historical course (Ezek 34 through 39): (1) The true shepherd of Israel (Ezek 34); (2) The future fate of Edom (Eze_35:1-15); (3) Israel's deliverance from the disgrace of the shameful treatment by the heathen, which falls back upon the latter again (Eze_36:1-15); (4) The desecration of the name of Yahweh by Israel and the sanctification by Yahweh (Ezek 36:15-38); (5) The revival of the Israelite nation (Eze_37:1-14); (6) The reunion of the separated kingdoms, Judah and Israel (Eze_37:15-28); (7) The overthrow of the terrible Gentile power of the north (Ezek 38 f).
The second subdivision (Ezek 40 through 48) contains the reconstruction of the external affairs of the people in a vision, on the birthday of 573, “in the beginning of the year” (beginning of a jubilee year? (Lev_25:10); compare also DAY OF ATONEMENT). After the explanatory introduction (Eze_40:1-4), there follow five pericopes: (1) directions with reference to the temple (compare the subscription Eze_43:12) (Ezek 40:5 through 43:12); (2) The altar (Ezek 43:13 through 46:24); (3) The wonderful fountain of the temple, on the banks of which the trees bear fruit every month (Eze_47:1-12); (4) The boundaries of the land and its division among the twelve tribes of Israel (Ezek 47:13 through 48:29); (5) The size of the holy city and the names of its twelve gates (Eze_48:30-35).
In (3) to (5) The prominence of the number twelve is clear. Perhaps we can also divide (1) and (2) each into twelve pieces: (1) would beEze_40:5, Eze_40:17, Eze_40:28, Eze_40:39, Eze_40:48; Eze_41:1, Eze_41:5, Eze_41:12, Eze_41:15; Eze_42:1, Eze_42:15; Eze_43:1; for (2) it would be Eze_43:13, Eze_43:18; Eze_44:1, Eze_44:4, Eze_44:15; Eze_45:1, Eze_45:9, Eze_45:13, Eze_45:18; Eze_46:1, Eze_46:16, Eze_46:19.
At any rate the entire second chief part, Ezek 34 through 48, contains predictions of deliverance. The people down to 586 were confident, so that Ezekiel was compelled to rebuke them. After the taking of Jerusalem a change took place in both respects. Now the people are despairing, and this is just the right time for the prophet to preach deliverance. The most important separate prophecies will be mentioned and examined in another connection (II below).
The transparent structure of the whole book suggests the idea that the author did not extend the composition over a long period, but wrote it, so to say, at one stretch, which of course does not make it impossible that the separate prophecies were put into written form immediately after their reception, but rather presupposes this. When the prophet wrote they were only woven together into a single uniform book (compare also EXODUS, IV, 1, 2).
(3) Relation to Jeremiah
As Elijah and Elisha, or Amos and Hosea, or Isaiah and Micah, or Haggai and Zechariah, so too Jeremiah and Ezekiel constitute a prophetic couple (compare 1 above); compare e.g. in later time the sending out of the disciples of Jesus, two by two (Luk_10:1), the relation of Peter and John in Acts 3ff; of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13ff; of Luther and Melanchthon, Calvin and Zwingli. Both prophets prophesy about the same time; both are of priestly descent (compare 1 above), both witness the overthrow of the Jewish nation, and with their prophecies accompany the fate of the Jewish state down to the catastrophe and beyond that, rebuking, threatening, warning, admonishing, and also comforting and encouraging.
In matters of detail, too, these two prophets often show the greatest similarity, as in the threat against the unfaithful shepherds (Eze_34:2; Jer_23:1); in putting into one class the Northern and the Southern Kingdom and condemning both, although the prediction is also made that they shall eventually be united and pardoned (Ezek 23; 16; Jer_3:6; Eze_37:15; Jer_3:14-18; Jer_23:5 f; 30 f); in the individualizing of religion (compare the fact that both reject the common saying: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge,” Eze_18:2; Jer_31:29); in their inwardness (Eze_36:25; Jer_24:7; Jer_31:27-34; Jer_32:39; Jer_33:8); in their comparisons of the coming judgment with a boiling pot (Eze_24:1; Jer_1:13); and finally, in their representation of the Messiah as the priest-king (see 1 above; namely, in Eze_21:25 f; Eze_45:22; compare Jer_30:21; Jer_33:17; see II, 3, and my work Messianische Erwartung, 320ff, 354ff). Neither is to be considered independently of the other, since the prophetical writings, apparently, received canonical authority soon after and perhaps immediately after they were written (compare the expression “the former prophets” in Zec_1:4; Zec_7:7, Zec_7:12, also the constantly increasing number of citations from earlier prophets in the later prophets, and the understanding of the “exact succession of the prophets” down to Artaxerxes in Josephus, CAp, I, 8), it is possible that Ezekiel, with his waw consecutivum, with which the book begins, is to be understood as desiring to connect with the somewhat older Jeremiah (compare a similar relation of Jonah to Obadiah; see my articles “Canon of the OT” and “Jonah” in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary).
(4) Fate of the Book and Its Place in the Canon
With Jeremiah and Ezekiel, many Hebrew manuscripts, especially those of the German and French Jews, begin the series of “later prophets,” and thus these books are found before Isaiah; while the Massorah and the manuscripts of the Spanish Jews, according to the age and the size of the books, have the order, Isa, Jer, Ezk. The text of the book is, in part, quite corrupt, and in this way the interpretation of the book, not easy in itself, is made considerably more difficult. Jerome, Ad Paul., writes that the beginning and the end of the book contained many dark passages; that these parts, like the beginning of Gen, were not permitted to be read by the Jews before these had reached their 30th year. During the time when the schools of Hillel and Shammai flourished, Ezekiel belonged to those books which some wanted “to hide,” the others being Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Esther and Canticles. In these discussions the question at issue was not the reception of the book into the Canon, which was rather presupposed, nor again any effort to exclude them from the Canon again, which thought could not be reconciled with the high estimate in which it is known that Est was held, but it was the exclusion of these books from public reading in the Divine service, which project failed. The reasons for this proposal are not to be sought in any doubt as to their authenticity, but in reference to their contents (compare my article “Canon of the Old Testament,” in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary). Possibly, too, one reason was to be found in the desire to avoid the profanation of the most sacred vision in the beginning of the book, as Zunz suggests. There is no doubt, however, that the difference of this book from the Torah was a reason that made it inadvisable to read it in public. It was hoped that these contradictions would be solved by Elijah when he should return. But finally, rabbinical research, after having used up three hundred cans of oil, succeeded in finding the solution. These contradictions, as a matter of fact, have not yet been removed, and have in modern times contributed to the production of a very radical theory in criticism, as will be shown immediately under II, 2.
II. Significance of Ezekiel in Israel's Religious History
Under the first head we will consider the formal characteristics and significance of the book; and the examination of its contents will form the subject under the next four divisions.
1. Formal Characteristics of Ezekiel
It is not correct to regard Ezekiel merely as a writer, as it is becoming more and more customary to do. Passages likeEze_3:10 f; Eze_14:4; Eze_20:1, Eze_20:27; Eze_24:18; Eze_43:10 f show that just as the other prophets did, he too proclaimed by word of mouth the revelations of God he had received. However, he had access only to a portion of the people. It was indeed for him even more important than it had been for the earlier prophets to provide for the wider circulation and permanent influence of his message by putting it into written form. We will, at this point, examine his book first of all from its formal and its aesthetic side. To do this it is very difficult, in a short sketch, to give even a general impression of the practically inexhaustible riches of the means at his command for the expression of his thoughts.
Thus, a number of visions at once attract our attention. In the beginning of his work there appears to him the Divine throne-chariot, which comes from the north as a storm, as a great cloud and a fire rolled together. This chariot is borne by the four living creatures in the form of men, with the countenances of a man, of a lion, of an ox and of an eagle, representing the whole living creation. It will be remembered that these figures have passed over into the Revelation of John (Rev_4:7), and later were regarded as the symbols of the four evangelists. In Ezek 10 f this throne-chariot in the vision leaves the portal of the temple going toward the east, returning again in the prediction of deliverance in Ezek 43. Moreover, the entire last nine chapters are to be interpreted as a vision (compare Eze_40:2). We must not forget, finally, the revivification of the Israelite nation in Ezek 37, represented in the picture of a field full of dead bones, which are again united, covered with skin, and receive new life through the rūaḥ (word of two meanings, “wind” and “spirit”).
As a rule the visions of Ezekiel, like those of Zechariah (compare my article “Zechariah” in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary), are not regarded as actual experiences, but only as literary forms. When it is given as a reason for this that the number of visions are too great and too complicated, and therefore too difficult of presentation, to be real experiences, we must declare this to be an altogether too unsafe, subjective and irrelevant rule to apply in the matter. However, correct the facts mentioned are in themselves they do not compel us to draw this conclusion. Not only is it uncertain how many visions may be experiences (compare e.g. the five visions in Am 7ff, which are generally regarded as actual experiences), but it is also absolutely impossible to prove such an a priori claim with reference to the impossibility and the unreality of processes which are not accessible to us by our own experience. As these visions, one and all, are, from the religious and ethical sides, up to the standards of Old Testament prophecy, and as, further, they are entirely unique in character, and as, finally, there is nothing to show that they are only literary forms, we must hold to the conviction that the visions are actual experiences.
(2) Symbolical Acts
Then we find in Ezekiel, also, a large number of symbolical acts. According to Divine command Ezekiel sketches the city of Jerusalem and its siege on a tile (Eze_4:1); or he lies bound on his left side, as an atonement, 390 days, and 40 days on his right side, according to the number of years of the guilt of Israel and Judah (Eze_4:4). During the 390 days the condition of the people in exile is symbolized by a small quantity of food daily of the weight of only 20 shekels, and unclean, being baked on human or cattle dung, and a small quantity of water, which serves as food and drink of the prophet (Eze_4:9).
By means of his beard and the hair of his head, which he shaves off and in part burns, in part strikes with the sword, and in part scatters to the wind, and only the very smallest portion of which he ties together in the hem of his garment, he pictures how the people shall be decimated so that only a small remnant shall remain (Eze_5:1). In Ezek 12, he prepares articles necessary for marching and departs in the darkness. Just so Israel will go into captivity and its king will not see the country into which he goes (compare the blinding of Zedekiah, 2Ki_25:7). In Eze_37:15, he unites two different sticks into one, with inscriptions referring to the two kingdoms, and these picture the future union of Israel and Judah. It is perhaps an open question whether or not some of these symbolical actions, which would be difficult to carry out in actuality, are not perhaps to be interpreted as visions; thus, e.g. the distributing the wine of wrath to all the nations, in Jer_25:15, can in all probability not be understood in any other way. But, at any rate, it appears to us that here, too, the acceptance of a mere literary form is both unnecessary and unsatisfactory, and considering the religio-ethical character of Ezekiel, not permissible.
In regard to the numerous allegories, attention need be drawn only to the picture of the two unfaithful sisters, Oholah and Oholibah (i.e. Samaria and Jerusalem), whose relation to Yahweh as well as their infidelity is portrayed in a manner that is actually offensive to over-sensitive minds (Ezek 23; compare Ezek 16). In Ezek 17, Zedekiah is represented under the image of a grapevine, which the great eagle (i.e. the king of Babylon) has appointed, which, however, turns to another great eagle (king of Egypt), and because of this infidelity shall be rooted out, until God, eventually, causes a new tree to grow out of a tender branch.
Of the lamentations, we mention the following: according toEze_19:1-14, a lioness rears young lions, one after the other, but one after the other is caught in a trap and led away by nose-rings. The ones meant are Jehoahaz and certainly Jehoiachin. The lion mother, who before was like a grapevine, is banished (Zedekiah). Another lamentation is spoken over Tyre, which is compared to a proud ship (compare Eze_27:1); also over the king of Tyre, who is hurled down from the mountain of the gods (Eze_28:11-19); and over Pharaoh of Egypt, who is pictured as a crocodile in the sea (Eze_32:1).
That his contemporaries knew how to appreciate the prophet at least from the aesthetic side, we saw above (I, 1). What impression does Ezekiel make upon us today, from this point of view? He is declared to be “too intellectual for a poet”; “fantastic”; “vividness in him finds a substitute in strengthening and repetition”; “he has no poetical talent”; “he is the most monotonous prose writer among the prophets.” These and similar opinions are heard. In matters of taste there is no disputing; but there is food for reflection in the story handed down that Frederick yon Schiller was accustomed to read Ezekiel, chiefly on account of his magnificent descriptions, and that he himself wanted to learn Hebrew in order to be able to enjoy the book in the original. And Herder, with his undeniable and undenied fine appreciation of the poetry of many nations, calls Ezekiel “the Aeschylus and the Shakespeare of the Hebrews” (compare Lange's Commentary on Ezk, 519).
2. Ezekiel and the Levitical System
(1)Eze_44:4 : Theory That the Distinction of Priests and Levites Was Introduced by Ezekiel
(A) The Biblical Facts
In the vision of the reconstruction of the external relations of the people in the future (Ezek 40 through 48), in the second pericope, which treats of the cult (43:13 through 46:24; compare I, 2, 2), it is claimed that Ezekiel, at the command of Yahweh, reproaches the Israelites that they engage in their room strangers, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to take charge of the service of Yahweh in the sanctuary, instead of doing this service themselves, and thus desecrate the temple (Eze_44:4-8). From now on the Levites, who hitherto have been participating in the service of the idols on the high places and had become for Israel an occasion for guilt, are to attend to this work. They are degraded from the priesthood as a punishment of their guilt, and are to render the above-mentioned service in the temple (Eze_44:9), while only those Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who had been rendering their services in the sanctuary in the proper way, while Israel was going astray, are to be permitted to perform priestly functions (Eze_44:15).
(B) Modern Interpretation of This Passage
The modern interpretation of this passage (Eze_44:4) is regarded as one of the most important proofs for the Wellhausen hypothesis. Down to the 7th century bc it is claimed that there are no signs that a distinction was made between the persons who had charge of the cults in Israel, and this is held to be proved by the history of the preceding period and by the Book of Deuteronomy, placed by the critics in this time. It is said that Ezekiel is the first to change this, and in this passage introduces the distinction between priests and the lower order of Levites, which difference is then presupposed by the Priestly Code. According to this view, the high priest of the Priestly Code, too, would not yet be known to Ezekiel, and would not yet exist in his time. More fully expressed, the development would have to be thought as follows: the Book of Deuteronomy, which abolished the service on the high places, and had introduced the concentration of the cults, had in a humane way provided for the deposed priests who had been serving on the high places, and, in Deu_18:6, had expressly permitted them to perform their work in Jerusalem, as did all of their brethren of their tribe, and to enjoy the same income as these. While all the other Deuteronomic commands had in principle been recognized, this ordinance alone had met with opposition: for in 2Ki_23:9 we are expressly told that the priests of the high places were not permitted to go up to Jerusalem. Ezekiel now, according to Wellhausen's statement, “hangs over the logic of the facts a moral mantle,” by representing the deposition of the priests of the high places as a punishment for the fact that they were priests of the high places, although they had held this position in the past by virtue of legal right.
It is indeed true, it is said, that these priests did not submit to such a representation of the case and such treatment. The violent contentions which are said to have arisen in consequence are thought to have their outcome expressed in Nu 16 f (the rebellion of Korah, the budding staff of Aaron). The Priestly Code, however, continued to adhere to the distinction once it had been introduced, and had become a fact already at the return in 538 bc (compareEzr_2:36), even if it was found impossible to limit the priesthood to the Zadokites, and if it was decided to make an honorable office out of the degraded position of the Levites as given by Ezekiel. The fact that, according to Ezr_2:36-39, in the year 538 bc, already 4,289 priests, but according to Ezr_2:40, only 74 Levites, returned, is also regarded as proving how dissatisfied the degraded priests of the high places had been with the new position, created by Ezekiel, to which they had been assigned. With the introduction of the P Codex in 444 bc, which made a distinction between high priest, priests and Levites within the tribe of Levi, this development reached an end for the time being. While Deuteronomy speaks of the “Levitical priests,” which expression is regarded as confirming the original identity of the priests and the Levites, it is claimed that since the days of Ezekiel, priests and Levites constitute two sharply distinguished classes.
(C) Examination of Theory
Both the exegesis ofEze_44:4 and the whole superstructure are in every direction indefensible and cannot be maintained (compare also my work, Are the Critics Right? 30ff, 124ff, 196ff).
(i) Not Tenable for Preëxilic Period
Proof that the hypothesis cannot be maintained for the preëxilic period. The claim that down to the 7th century bc there did not exist in Israel any distinction among the persons engaged in the public cults is in itself an absurdity, but has in addition against it the express testimony of history. In preëxilic times the high priest is expressly mentioned in2Ki_12:9; 2Ki_22:4, 2Ki_22:8; 2Ki_23:4. Accordingly he cannot have been a product of the post-exilic period. The rank of an Eli (1 Sam 1ff), Ahimelech (1Sa_21:1-15 f), Abiathar (1Ki_2:26 f), Zadok (1Ki_2:35), is vastly above that of an ordinary priest. The fact that the expression “high priest” does not happen to occur here is all the less to be pressed, as the term is found even in the Priestly Code only in Lev_21:10; Num_35:25-28. From Deu_10:6; Jos_24:33; Jdg_20:28, we learn that the office of high priest was transmitted from Aaron to his son, Eleazar, and then to his son, Phinehas (compare also Num_25:11). Before the time of Eli, according to 1Ch_24:3, it had passed over to the line of the other surviving son of Aaron, that of Ithamar, but, according to 1Ki_2:26 f,35, at the deposition of Abiathar and the appointment of Zadok, it returned again to the line of Eleazar (compare 1Sa_2:27, 1Sa_2:28, 1Sa_2:35 f with 1Ch_24:3). Distinctions within the tribe are also expressly presupposed by Jer_20:1; Jer_29:25 f,29; Jer_52:24; 2Ki_25:18. In the same way Levites are expressly mentioned in history (compare Jdg_17:1-13 f; 19 through 21; 1Sa_6:15; 2Sa_15:24; 1Ki_8:3). This very division of the priestly tribe into three parts possibly suggested the three parts of the temple of Solomon (the holy of holies, the holy place, the forecourt). According to all this, it is not possible that this distinction is not found in Deuteronomy, especially if this book was not written until the 7th century bc and throughout took into consideration the actual condition of affairs at that time, as is generally claimed. But this difference is found in Deuteronomy, the false dating of which we can here ignore, and is probably suggested by it; for, if this were not the case, then the addition of the words “the whole tribe of Levi” to the words “Levitical priests” in Deu_18:1 would be tautology. But as it is, both expressions already refer to what follows: namely, Deu_18:3-5 to the priests and Deu_18:6 to the rest of the Levites. In the same way, the Levites are in Deu_12:12, Deu_12:18 f; Deu_14:27, Deu_14:29; Deu_16:11, Deu_16:14 the objects of charity, while Deu_18:3 prescribes a fixed and not insignificant income for the priests. Then, finally, such general statements as are found in Deu_10:8; Deu_18:2; Deu_33:8, not only demand such specific directions as are found only in the Priestly Code (P), but in Deu_10:9; Deu_18:2 there is a direct reference to Num_18:20, Num_18:24 (from P). On the other hand, Deuteronomy, in harmony with its general tendency of impressing upon Israel in the spirit of pastoral exhortation the chief demands of the law, does not find it necessary, in every instance, to mention the distinctions that existed in the tribe of Levi.
InNum_18:7 we have in P even an analogon to Deu_10:8; Deu_33:8; since here, too, no distinction is made between priests and high priests separately, but the whole priestly service is mentioned in a summary manner (compare further Lev_6:22 in comparison with Lev_6:25; Nu 35 in comparison with Josh 21). That Deuteronomy cannot say “Aaron and his sons,” as P does, is certainly self-evident, because Aaron was no longer living at the time when the addresses of Deuteronomy were delivered. And how the expression “Levitical priests,” which Deuteronomy uses for the expression found in the Priestly Code (P), and which was entirely suitable, because under all circumstances the priests were of the tribe of Levi, is to be understood as excluding the subordinate members of the cults-officers belonging to the same tribe, is altogether incomprehensible (compare the emphasis put on the Levitical priesthood in P itself, as found in Num_17:1-13; Jos_21:4, Jos_21:10). So are other passages which originated at a time after the introduction by Ezekiel, or, according to the critics, are claimed to have been introduced then (compare Mal_2:1,Mal_2:4, Mal_2:8; Mal_3:3; Jer_33:18; Isa_66:21; 2Ch_5:5; 2Ch_23:18; 2Ch_29:4; 2Ch_30:27), and even in Ezek (Eze_44:15). The claims that Dt is more humane in its treatment of the priests who had engaged in the worship in high places (compare e.g. 2 Ki 22 f) cannot at all be reconciled with Dt 13, which directs that death is to be the punishment for such idolatry. If, notwithstanding this, it is still claimed that Deu_18:6 allows the priests of the high places to serve in Jerusalem, then it is incomprehensible how in 2Ki_23:9 these men did not appeal directly to Dt in vindication of their rights over against all hindrances, since Dt was regarded as the absolute norm in carrying out the cult tradition.
(ii) Not Sustained by Ezekiel
Examination of the hypothesis on the basis of Ezekiel: No less unfavorable to the view of the critics must the judgment be when we examine it in the light of the contents of Ezekiel itself. The prophet presupposes a double service in the sanctuary, a lower service which, in the future, the degraded priests of the high places are to perform and which, in the past, had been performed in an unlawful manner by strangers (Eze_44:6-9), and a higher service, which had been performed by the Zadokites, the priests at the central sanctuary, in the proper way at the time when the other priests had gone astray, which service was for this reason to be entrusted to them alone in the future (compare, also, Eze_40:45, Eze_40:46; Eze_43:19). Since in Eze_44:6 the sharpest rebukes are cast up to Israel (according to the reading of the Septuagint, which here uses the second person, even the charge of having broken the covenant), because they had permitted the lower service to be performed by uncircumcised aliens, it is absolutely impossible that Ezekiel should have been the first to introduce the distinction between higher and lower service, but he presupposes this distinction as something well known, and, also, that the lower service has been regulated by Divine ordinances. As we have such ordinances clearly given only in Num_18:2 (from P) it is in itself natural and almost necessary that Ezekiel has reference to these very ordinances, but these very ordinances direct that the Levites are to have charge of this lower service. This is confirmed by Eze_48:12 f, where the designation “Levites” in contradistinction from the priests is a fixed and recognized term for the lower cult officials. For Ezekiel has not at all said that he would from now on call these temple-servants simply by the name “Levites,” but, rather, he simply presupposes the terminology of P as known and makes use of it. He would, too, scarcely have selected this expression to designate a condition of punishment, since the term “Levites” is recognized on all hands to be an honorable title in the sacred Scriptures. And when he, in addition, designates the Zadokites as “Levitical priests” (Eze_44:15), this only shows anew that Ezekiel in his designation of the lower temple-servants only made use of the terminology introduced by P.
But, on the representation of the critics, the whole attitude ascribed to Ezekiel cannot be upheld. It is maintained that a prophet filled with the highest religious and ethical thoughts has been guilty of an action that, from an ethical point of view, is to be most sharply condemned. The prophet is made to write reproaches against the people of Israel for something they could not help (Eze_44:6), and he is made to degrade and punish the priests of the high places, who also had acted in good faith and were doing what they had a right to do (Eze_44:9; compare “the moral mantle” which, according to Wellhausen, “he threw over the logic of facts”). Ezekiel is accordingly regarded here as a bad man; but at the same time he would also be a stupid man. How could he expect to succeed in such an uncouth and transparent trick? If success had attended the effort to exclude from the service in Jerusalem the priests of the high places according to 2Ki_23:9, and notwithstanding Deu_18:6, which according to what has been said under (a) is most improbable, then this would through the action of Ezekiel again have been made a matter of uncertainty. Or, was it expected that they would suffer themselves to be upraided and punished without protesting if they had done no wrong? Finally, too, the prophet would have belonged to that class whose good fortune is greater than their common sense. This leads us to the following:
(iii) Not Supported by Development After Ezekiel
Examination of the development after the time of Ezekiel: Ezekiel's success is altogether incomprehensible, if now the distinction between priests and Levites has, at once, been introduced and at the return from captivity, in the year 538 (Ezr_2:36), certainly was a fact. It is true that we at once meet with a host of difficulties. Why do only 74 Levites return according to Ezr_2:40 if their degradation from the ranks of the priesthood through Ezekiel had not preceded? asks the Wellhausen school. Why did any Levites, at all, return, if they had been so disgraced? is our question. But, how is it at all possible that so many priests could return (4,289 among 42,360 exiles, or more than one-tenth of the whole number; compare Ezr_2:36-38 with Ezr_2:64; but many more than one-tenth if women are included in the 42,360), if, since the times of Ezekiel, there were none other than Zadokite priests? In examining the writers claimed as the authors of the Priestly Code (P), all those difficulties recur again which are found in the case of Ezekiel himself. That Nu 16 f indicates and reflects the opposition of the degraded is nothing but an unproved assertion; but if they had revolted, which was probable enough, then there would have been no worse and more foolish means than to change the degraded position of the Levites according to Ezekiel into the honorable position assigned them in the Priestly Code (P). This would only have made the matter worse. The Levites would again have been able to claim their old rights and they would have acquired the strongest weapons for their opposition. The fact that Ezekiel's restoration of the priesthood to the Zadokites would have been ignored by the Priestly Code (P), as also the descent of Aaron through Eleazar and Ithamar, according to the account of the Priestly Code (P), that is, that in reality also others were admitted to the priesthood, would only have the effect of making those who still were excluded all the more rebellious, who could appeal to each case of such an admission as a precedent and accordingly as a violation of the principle. What possible purpose the authors of P could have had in the creation of those products of imagination, Nadab and Abihu, and the portrayal of the terrible fate of these sons of Aaron (Lev 10) remains incomprehensible (compare the purposeless and constructive imagination in the description of the details of the Ark of the Covenant, which stands in no connection with the tendency of P; see EXODUS, III, 5). Nor can it be understood why the creators of the Priestly Code would have had assigned other duties to the Levites than Ezekiel had done; the slaying of the burnt offerings and the sacrifices (Eze_44:11) and the cooking of the latter (Eze_46:24) is lacking in the Priestly Code (P), in which document the transportation of the imaginary tabernacle would have exhausted the duties of the priests (Nu 4), while in other respects, their services would be described only in such general notices as in Num_8:23; Num_18:2 (compare for this reason the very credible account in Chronicles, which through Eze_44:11; Eze_46:24 only becomes all the more trustworthy, where we are told of the enlargement of the duties of the Levites already by David in 1Ch_23:25). In short, the critical views offer one monstrosity after another, and each greater than its predecessor. We will only mention further that, if the critics are right in this matter, then of the directions found in Ezek 40 through 48 nothing else has ever been carried out in reality, even when these chapters are correctly understood (see 2 (d) below), and at first nothing was intended to be carried out, so that it would be all the more surprising if this one feature of the program of Ezekiel had alone been picked out and had been carried out with an inexplicable haste, and that too at a time when the whole cult was not at all observed (573, according to Eze_40:1).
(D) The True Solution
The text as it reads inEze_44:9 actually does speak of a degradation. If the matter involved only a mere putting back into the status quo ante, of the Levites, who on the high places, contrary to the law, had usurped the prerogatives of the higher priestly offices, as this could easily be understood, then the expression in Eze_44:10, Eze_44:12, “They shall bear their iniquity,” would lose much of its significance. On the other hand, the whole matter finds its explanation if, in the first place, the lower order of Levites did not put a high estimate on their office, so that they transferred their service to aliens (Eze_44:6), and if, in the second place, by those Levites who departed from Yahweh, when Israel was going astray, not all the Levites are to be understood, but only a certain group of priests, who by these words were for themselves and their contemporaries clearly enough designated: namely, the descendants of Aaron through Ithamar and Eleazar in so far as they were not Zadokites, that is, had not officiated at the central sanctuary. The non-Zadokite priests had permitted themselves to be misled to officiate in the idolatry in the services of the high places, and for this reason were for the future to be degraded to the already existing lower order of the Levites.
The fact that in the ranks of lower participants in the cults, already in the days of David, according to Chronicles, a still further division had taken place (1 Ch 23 through 26), so that by the side of the Levites in the most narrow sense of the word, also the singers and the gate watchmen were Levites of a lower rank (Neh_12:44-47; Neh_13:10), is again in itself entirely credible, and, in addition, is made very probable by Ezr_2:40. This too at once increases the small number of Levites who returned from the exile from 74 to 341. In comparison to the number of priests (4,289) the number yet remains a small one, but from Eze_44:6 we learn further that the Levites also before the days of Ezekiel had not appreciated their office, for then they would not have given it over to aliens. In this way not only does everything become clear and intelligible, but the weapon which was to serve for the defense of the Wellhausen school has in every respect been turned against these critics. The historical order can only be: first, the Priestly Code, and after that Ezekiel; never vice versa.
(2) Ezekiel 40 Through 48: Priority Claimed for Ezekiel as Against the Priest Codex
(A) Sketch of the Modern View
The entire vision of what the external condition of affairs would be in the future in Ezek 40 through 48, and not only what is particularly stated inEze_44:4, is made a part of Israel's religious development in accordance with the scheme of the Wellhausen school. For this hypothesis, this section is one of the chief arguments, besides the opposition which it claims exists on the part of the prophets against the sacrifices, in addition to the proof taken from the history of the people and from the comparison of the different collections of laws with each other. In Ezek 40 through 48 many things are different from what they are in the Priestly Code, and in Ezek much is lacking that is found in P. How now would a prophet dare to change the legislation in P? Hence, P is regarded as later than Ezk. This is, briefly, the logic of the Wellhausen school.
(B) One-Sidedness of This View
If we first state the facts in the case and complete the observations of the modern school, the picture will at once assume quite a different form and the conclusions drawn will in their consequences prove very embarrassing. It is a fact that in Ezekiel the high priest so prominent in P is lacking. No mention is made of the equipment of the holy of holies, and in the holy place the table of the shewbread and the candlesticks, old utensils that are mentioned in the tabernacle of the Priestly Code (P), and in part play an important role there. But the differences in Ezekiel are not found only in comparison with the Priestly Code (P), but just as much, too, in features which belong to the legislation of Deuteronomy, as also of the Book of the Covenant, accepted at all hands as preëxilic (Ex 21 through 23; 34). Thus there is lacking in Ezek 40 through 48 not only the tithes of P (Lev_27:30-33), also the laws with reference to the firstborn from P (Lev_27:26 f; Num_18:15 f), the ordinances with reference to the portions of the redemption sacrifice to be given to the priests from P (Lev_7:31), but equally the ordinance with reference to the tithes, firstborn and sacrificial gifts from Dt (compare Deu_14:22; Deu_26:12; Deu_14:23-26; Deu_15:19-23; Deu_18:3). The feast of weeks is wanting, which is demanded not only by P in Lev_23:15; Num_28:26, but also by the older legislation (Exo_23:16; Exo_34:22; Deu_16:9); and in the place of the three parallel feasts demanded everywhere, only the Passover and the Feast of the Tabernacles are prescribed (Eze_45:21). Thus too the direction with regard, e.g. to the Day of Atonement in Eze_45:18 is different in regard to number, time and ritual from P in Lev 16, etc. (compare DAY OF ATONEMENT, I, 1), but also the command found in Exo_20:26 (from E) that it was not permitted to ascend on steps to the altar of Yahweh is overthrown by Eze_43:17. And, according to what has been described under (1), criticism itself accepts (although without reason) that Ezekiel had changed the commandment of Deu_18:6, according to which all the Levites in Jerusalem could perform priestly service, so that he not only forbade this, as did 2Ki_23:9, but that he also degraded these priests of the high places as a punishment and reduced them to a lower service.
As is the case in reference to the law, Ezekiel also disagrees with the facts of history. He changes the dimensions of the Solomonic temple entirely (40:5 through 42:20); he gives an entirely different distribution of the Holy Land (47:13 through 48:29) from that which was carried out in actual history. What sheer arbitrariness and short-sightedness it would be, to pick out of this condition of affairs only those features in which he differs from the Priestly Code (P), in order, for this reason, to force the composition of the Priestly Code into the postexilic period, and at the same time to close one's eyes to the necessary conclusion that if this principle of interpretation is correct, then the Book of the Covenant and Deuteronomy, the temple and the migration into Canaan must also be post-exilic. “The prophet is not allowed to change the Priestly Code (P),” we are told; but as a matter of fact he has changed P no more than he changed the older laws and history. Hence, the claim is false. And then, too, P is not to be regarded as unchangeable. Even the writer of Chronicles, who writes from the standpoint of the Priestly Code (P), has changed P; for he narrates in1Ch_23:24, 1Ch_23:27 that the age of the Levites since the time of David had been reduced from 30 or 25 years (Num_4:3, Num_4:13, Num_4:10, Num_4:35; Num_8:23) to 20 years (compare also the participation of the Levites in the burnt sacrifices and the Passover under Hezekiah (2Ch_29:34; 2Ch_30:17, 2Ch_30:19)), and in P itself, according to Num_9:6-12, the observation of the Passover after the regular time was permitted, and in general if such changes and adaptations of the law on the part of Ezek could not be demonstrated elsewhere, the difficulties for the advocates of the Wellhausen hypothesis would be exactly as great as they are for the adherents of the Biblical views, only that the problem would be inverted to explain how the author of P could have ventured to deviate so far from the will of God as this had been revealed to Ezekiel.
(C) Impossibility That Ezekiel Preceded P
While the description of the temple inEze_40:5 and of the future dwelling-places of the people (Eze_47:13) is comparatively complete, it is the very legislation of the ritual in 43:13 through 46:24, in which it is maintained that the authors of P followed the precedent of the prophet, that is in itself so full of omissions in Ezek, that it could not possibly have been a first sketch, but must presuppose the Priestly Code (P), if it is not to be regarded as suspended in the air. Ezek presupposes not only burnt offerings, peace offerings and food offerings, but also sin offerings (Eze_40:39; Eze_42:13; Eze_43:19, Eze_43:21, Eze_43:22, Eze_43:25; Eze_44:27, Eze_44:29; Eze_46:20). Ezekiel is indeed the first and the only prophet who mentioned sin offerings, just as the guilt offerings are found outside of Ezek only in Isa_53:10. But this reference is of such a kind that he presupposes on the part of his readers an acquaintance also with these two kinds of sacrifices; hence, it is, in itself, a natural conclusion, that the sacrificial legislation of the Priestly Code (P), that is, chiefly Lev 1 to 7, is older, and as the guilt offerings and the sin offerings are prescribed only by the Priestly Code (P), and in Lev 4 f appear to be emphasized anew, this conclusion becomes a necessity.
If this is not the case then Ezek is without any foundation. In the same way the injunctions with reference to what is clean and unclean are presupposed as known inEze_44:23, Eze_44:15 f (compare Eze_22:26). How long the uncleanness described in Eze_22:26 continued can be seen only from Num_19:11. Since in Eze_22:26 there is presupposed a definitely fixed ṭorah or Law, which it is possible to violate, then it is only natural to conclude that such commands existed before the days of Ezekiel, especially such as are found in Lev 11 through 15. In the same way the general character of the ordinances (Eze_44:30), concerning the tithes due to the cult officials, demand such further developments as are found especially in Nu 18 in P. The high priests, too, although Ezekiel makes no mention of them, belong to the period earlier than Ezekiel, as was proved under (1). If there had been no high priest before the days of Ezekiel, it would have been a perfect mystery, in addition, how he would be found after 520 bc (Hag_1:1; Zec_3:8; Zec_6:10), without a word having been mentioned of the establishment of such an important institution. In addition, if the office had been created just at this time, this would make it very uncomfortable for the contentions of the Wellhausen school, since the other ordinances of P were introduced only in 444 bc, and should here be regarded as innovating.
That Ezekiel presupposed the ordinances of P in reference to the cult officials has been demonstrated under (1). Accordingly, there yet remains to be discussed the universally recognized relationship that exists between Ezek and the so-called Law of Holiness (H) in Lev 17 through 26 (compare LEVITICUS), which is so great, that for a time Ezekiel was regarded as the author or the editor of this law, a view which, however, has been dropped, because a number of the peculiarities of Ezekiel do not admit of its acceptance. The more advanced critics then went farther, and claimed that the Law of Holiness (H, Lev 17 through 26) is later than Ezekiel, which is the only possible and defensible position. For practical reasons we here examine, in addition to Ezek 40 through 48, also the older parts of the book. Especially do we take into consideration, in addition to chapter 44, also chapters 18, 20 and 22; but in the end the contents of H are suggested by the entire Book of Ezekiel. Especially Lev 26 has been very fully used by Ezekiel; compare for the details, Driver's Introduction to the Old Testament; or, Hoffmann, Die wichtigsten Instanzen gegen die Graf-Wellhausensche Hypothese. That Ezekiel could not be the earlier of the two can be concluded as far as P in general is concerned, and for H in particular, especially from this, that Ezkekiel is just as closely connected with Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, as with P; while, on the other hand, in the passage in question, P is connected only with Ezekiel, while the expressions which Ezekiel has in common with Deuteronomy and those Ezekiel has in common with Jer are not found in P (compare the exceedingly interesting and instructive proof in Hoffmann, op. cit.). Equally striking is the proof of Köhler, Biblische Geschichte, III, 154ff, who shows that the contents of the Torah (Law) presupposed and recognized by Jeremiah and Ezekiel as dating from the Mosaic period, take into consideration not only the Books of the Covenant (Ex 21ff; 34) and Deuteronomy, but especially P in general and H in particular. Further, if we place P in a later period, it would be incomprehensible that this body of laws, in which the systematic feature is so important, can differ from the still more systematic ordinances of Ezekiel, and thus become more unsystematic. Thus the sacrifices on the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles are in number of the same kind inEze_45:21; but not so in P in Num_28:16; Num_29:12. In the same way in the food offerings on the feasts as far as oxen, rams, lambs, and the amount of oil to be given are concerned, there is everywhere the proper proportion in Ezek 45:18 through 46:15, while in Nu 28 this is regulated according to a different principle. Then in Ezekiel are found in the description of the sanctuary (Eze_42:15-20; Eze_45:2), of the inner and outer courts (Eze_40:23, Eze_40:17, Eze_40:47; compare also Eze_40:19; Eze_48:16 f), square figures in places where they are not found in the tabernacle according to P. To this must be added that no other ordinances of Ezekiel would be carried out in actual practice. Even the ordinances in Eze_44:4, according to the views of the critics, would be changed in the Priestly Code (P), in so far as the establishment and work of the lower cult officials and the enlargement of the powers of the higher cult officials are concerned (compare (1)). The Day of Atonement, whose roots are said to be found in Eze_45:18, would be materially changed in number, length and ritual (compare DAY OF ANTONEMENT I I, 1 and III, 1). When the Israelites returned from captivity, they did not think at all of building the temple or the tabernacle in accordance with Ezekiel's scheme, or dividing the land according to the directions of his book (both of these subjects have great prominence in Ezek 40 through 48; compare 40:5 through 43:12; 47:13 through 48:29), or of harmonizing Ezekiel with the Priestly Code (P), or of carrying out the latter practically. The Wellhausen hypothesis is then in conflict with all ritual legislation, whether real or constructed by Wellhausen himself.
(D) Correct Interpretation of Passage
Ezek 40 through 48: These chapters dare not be made a part of the development of the law in the Old Testament. Ezekiel's was not a program that was under all circumstances to be carried out or even could be carried out, for it presupposes conditions that were beyond the control of Israel. For inEze_40:2, a new geographical or geological situation is presupposed, which the country up to this time did not possess (compare the “very high mountain,” Eze_40:2), and the same is true in Eze_47:1 in reference to the miraculous temple fountain with its equally miraculous powers, and in Eze_47:13 in the division of the land. Only after these changes had been effected in the character of the localities by Yahweh, and Yahweh should again have entered the holy city according to Eze_43:1 if, would it be possible to carry out also the other injunctions. It is impossible, either, to interpret these chapters as an allegory. This interpretation is out of the question on account of a large number of directions and measurements. It is, however, true that the whole is an ideal scheme, which portrays to the eye the continuation of the kingdom of God, and represents symbolically the presence of Yahweh, which sanctifies all around about it and creates for itself a suitable outward form. This is particularly apparent in the new name which is assigned to Jerusalem, namely, “Yahweh at that place,” or the conclusion of this section and at the same time of the entire book. This, finally, leads us to a brief account of the views presented.
(3) Ezekiel's Leviticism
In (1) and (2) above, it has been shown that Ezekiel was not the starting-point of Leviticism in Israel: it rather represents the extreme development of this tendency. It was in harmony with the elementary stage of the Old Testament to give the thoughts and demands of God, not in a purely abstract form, but to clothem in objective and external materials, in order to prepare and educate Israel to understand Christianity. (The negative side of Leviticism, which is not to be overlooked by the side of the positive, is discussed in the article LEVITICUS) It is a matter of utmost importance for the correct understanding of the Old Testament, that we recognize that the prophets too throughout think Levitically; in their discourses, too, sacred trees, sacrifices, times, persons, tithes, play a most important role, notwithstanding all the spiritualization of religion on their part; and where it is thought possible to show an absolute opposition on the part of the prophets to the Levitical system, namely, in the matter of sacrifices, a close consideration, but especially, too, the analogy of the other external institutions, shows that we have in these cases only a relative antithesis (compare Are the Critics Right? 99ff; Messianische Erwartung der vorexilischen Propheten, 333ff). Thus e.g. Jeremiah who, inJer_6:20; Jer_7:21, engages as sharply as possible in polemics against the sacrificial system, and in Jer_31:31, in the passage treating of the new covenant, spiritualizes religion as much as possible, has assigned to sacrifices a place in his predictions of the future (compare Jer_17:19,Jer_17:26; Jer_31:14; Jer_33:18), just as the abiding-place and the revelation of God for this prophet too, are always found connected with the Holy Land, Jerusalem or Zion (compare Jer_3:17; Jer_12:15; Jer_30:18; Jer_31:6, Jer_31:11, Jer_31:12; Jer_32:36; Jer_33:9). That in this the ultimate development of the kingdom of God has not yet been reached, but that the entire Old Testament contains only a preliminary stage, cannot be too sharply emphasized. In so far Ezekiel, in whose book Leviticism appears in its most developed state, more than others, shares in the limitations of the Old Testament. But just as little can it be denied that the Levitical system was really one stage, and that, too, an important and indispensable stage in the development of the kingdom of God; and that in this system, the question at issue is not only that of a change of a religion into a stereotyped formalism or externalism, which is the case if this system loses its contents, but the fact that it contained a valuable kernel which ripened in this shell, but would not have ripened if this shell had been prematurely discarded. The external conditions, their harmonious arrangement, the ceremonial ordinances, keeping clean from external pollution, are indeed only forms; but in them valuable contents succeed in finding their expression; through these Israel learned to understand these contents. The kernel could not be given without the shell nor the contents without the form, until in Christianity the time came when the form was to be broken and the shell discarded. This significance of the Levitical system becomes more evident in Ezek than is the case, e.g. in the Priestly Code (P), where indeed a few passages like Exo_25:8; Exo_29:45; Exo_40:34; Lev 16; Lev_19:18; Lev_26:31, Lev_26:41 clearly show in what sense the entire legislation is to be understood; but the mere fact that there are so few of these passages makes it easy to overlook them; while in Ezekiel, in addition to the purely Levitical utterances, and in part more closely connected with these, the entire work is saturated with the emphasis put on the highest religious and ethical thoughts, so that both must be in the closest harmony with each other (compare on this subject also Ezekiel's conception of God under 5 below). That Ezekiel and the Law of Holiness stand in such close relations to each other is not to be explained from this, that Ezekiel is in any way to be connected with the composition of the law in Lev 17 through 26, but on the ground of the tendency common to both. The fact that Ezekiel shows a special liking for these chapters in P does not, accordingly, justify the conclusion that Lev 17ff ever existed as a separate legal codex. We must in this connection not forget the close connection of the prophets with the rest of P mentioned under (2) above (compare LEVITICUS). We close this part of the discussion with the statement that Ezekiel constructed his system on the basis of the Levitical ordinance, but as priest-prophet (compare under I, 1) utilized this material independently and freely.
3. Ezekiel and the Messianic Idea
Chs 40 through 48 treat of the future, and furnish us the transition to another matter, in which Ezekiel by modern theology has been forced into a wrong light, namely, in regard to the Messianic idea. After the critics had, as a matter of fact, eliminated from the entire preëxilic prophetical writings nearly all of the passages speaking of the Messiah on the ground that they were not genuine (e.g.Amo_9:8; Hos_1:10, Hos_1:11; Hos_3:5; Mic_2:12 f; 4 f; Isa_4:2-6; Isa_7:14; Isa_9:1-7; Isa_11:1-10, etc.), Marti and Volz have now completed this task. While the former declared as not genuine all the Messianic predictions down to Deutero-Isaiah, the latter has, in his work, Die vorexilische Jahwe-Prophetic und der Messias, halted at Ezekiel, but for this works up the entire material into a uniform fundamental conception with pronounced characteristics. He declares that prophecy and the Messianic idea are two mutually exclusive phenomena, by regarding the Messiah as a purely political and national fact, but the prophetic expectation of the future as something purely religious. Ezekiel he regards as the first prophet with whose views on other matters the Messianic idea indeed did not harmonize, but who, nevertheless, yielded to the tendencies of his times and to the general national feelings, and submitted to the influence of the false prophets, who had created the carnal national expectation of a Messiah and constantly fed this, and accordingly received into his book the Messiah passages in Eze_17:22-24; Eze_21:25 f; Eze_34:23 f; Eze_37:22, Eze_37:24, Eze_37:25. But this too is, all in all, simply a monstrous assumption. It is exegetically incorrect to regard the Messiah merely as a political, national and particularistic person, whenever the religious and ethical and universalistic characteristics of the Messiah are portrayed by prophecy; and it is also incorrect to regard prophecy as abstractly religious, when the national and external side of the kingdom of God is ignored. It is impossible to eliminate the different Messianic passages preceding the time of Ezekiel, as these are proved to be genuine by their contents and form, their close connection with the context, the structure of the prophetic writings, and by the mutual relation of these passages to each other. But we must here refer to our book, Die messianische Erwartung der vorexilischen Propheten. We draw attention to this only because since the publication of Gressmann's book, Der Ursprung der israelitisch-jüdischen Eschatologie, the critics have begun to be a little less skeptical in reference to the genuine character of the Messianic passages in the older prophetical writings. We here point to the fact, that the positive contentions of Volz, which ascribe to Ezek the introduction of the Messianic idea out of the popular faith, are exceedingly inconsiderate. The different passages mentioned above, which in Ezekiel speak of the Messiah, can scarcely be said to add any new features to the picture of the Messiah as it is found in earlier literature (of one exception to this we will speak later). If the Messiah was not yet portrayed in the earlier prophetic literature, then Ezekiel had the less occasion to introduce this new feature, if this feature did not harmonize with his other views, as Volz claims. And, if this is only a mistake, it is yet a fact that in Ezekiel the Messianic idea is not relatively a prominent feature; he, as it were, only recalls the pictures known from the predictions of the earlier prophets; he accepts these pictures as revealed truth, because they, in his conviction, evidently originated in the development of prophecy. Compare for the idea that the Messiah is to come forth from small origins and from a lowly station Eze_17:22-24; Isa_10:33, Isa_10:14; Isa_11:1; Mic_5:1. Eze_21:32 only hints at the general expectation of a Messiah; Eze_34:23 f; Eze_37:22, Eze_37:24, Eze_37:25 connect especially with the promises given to David in 2 Sam 7. Then the reunion of the two kingdoms into one scepter is found also in Amo_9:11; Hos_2:2; Hos_3:5; Isa 8:23 through Isa_9:1; Isa_11:13 f; Mic_5:2; Jer_3:18; Jer_23:5 f; 1Ki_11:39; the blessing of Nature, Isa_11:6-8; Amo_9:13; Hos_2:20; Hos_14:6. At all events the Messianic expectations of Ezekiel exhibit too few peculiar features and are too little prominent in the body of his prophecies to justify the belief that he was the first prophet to have introduced this so important Messianic figure. On the other hand, let us remember too that Ezekiel opposes the national feelings as sharply as possible by representing the entire past history of Israel as an unbroken chain of heathenish abominations (Ezek 1 through 24; 33, especially 16 and 23), and remember it was just he who like Jeremiah saw his most bitter opponents in the false prophets (Eze_13:1; Eze_14:9; Eze_22:28), and that in the most pronounced antithesis to these he proclaimed before the fall of Jerusalem that this fall would and must come. And now it is claimed that he borrowed his Messianic idea from these very people, although this Messianic conception is everywhere represented as being a Divine revelation and not a natural product of the popular consciousness. A greater blunder in theological thought could scarcely be imagined.
In one point, however, we do find in Ezek a further development of the Messianic idea, namely, that in His work, in addition to His characteristics as a king, the Messiah has also those of a high priest, as this is shown at the same period by Jeremiah (see under I, 1, and 2, 3; compare laterZec_3:1-10 f, and possibly Zec_6:9). The micnepheth, which the Messiah bears according to Eze_21:26, is in other connections always the mitre of the high priest (compare Ex 4, 39; Exo_29:6; Exo_39:28, Exo_39:31; see above II, 2, 1a and 2c). At the Passover feast, at least, the prince conducts a purification through a bullock for a sin offering, which, through the fact that this is done for himself and for the entire people of the land, reminds us of the ceremony of the high priest on the day of atonement (Eze_45:22; Lev_16:17, Lev_16:24, Lev_16:33; compare DAY OF ATONEMENT, I, 1, and Messianische Erwartung der vorexilischen Propheten, 356ff). Over against the current view, we finally emphasize the fact that Ezekiel's expectations of a Messianic feature are not confined to Israel, but like those of Isaiah (Isa_2:2; Isa_11:10 : Mic_5:3, Mic_5:1) and of other prophets are universal in their scope (compare Eze_17:23; Eze_16:53, Eze_16:11; Eze_34:26).
4. Ezekiel and Apocalyptic Literature
Ezekiel is also, finally, regarded as the creator of apocalyptic literature, which in prophetic garment sought to satisfy the curiosity of the people and picture the details of the last times. In this connection the critics have in mind especially Ezek 38; 39, that magnificent picture of the final onslaught of the nations under Gog and Magog, which will end with the certain victory of the Divine cause and the terrible overthrow of the enemies of Yahweh. On the mountains of Israel the hosts will fall (Eze_39:4); seven years it will be possible to kindle fires with the weapons of the enemies (Eze_39:9); it takes seven months to bury the dead (Eze_39:12); a great feast is prepared for the birds (Eze_39:17).
In reply to this there are two things to be said. First of all Ezekiel is not the creator of these thoughts. There is a whole list of passages in the Prophets that already before his time picture how matters will be after and beyond the Messianic age (compareMic_2:12 f; Mic_4:11 f; Mic_5:4 f,7, 20; Joe_3:2, Joe_3:12 f; Isa_11:4; Isa_28:6; Hos_2:2). These are, however, all regarded by the critics as not genuine, or as the product of a later period, but they forget in this to observe that Ezekiel in these passages refers to older prophets (Eze_38:17; Eze_39:8), and thus they saw off the branch upon which he sits. In regard, however, to painting the fullest details of the picture, Ezekiel is equaled by none of his predecessors. In this matter, too, he represents the highest point of development, in which he is followed by Zec_12:1-14; Zec_13:7; Zec_14:1, and Daniel, and with direct dependence on Ezek 38 f by the Apocalypse of John (Rev_19:17). On the other hand, Ezekiel is entirely different from the later Jewish apocalyptic literature. The latter borrowed the prophetic form but possesses neither the Divine contents nor the Divine inspiration of the prophet. For this reason the apocalyptic literature appears anonymously or under a pseudonym. Ezekiel, however, openly places his name over his prophecies. In Ezekiel the eschatology is a part of his prophetic mission, and as he in his thoughts throughout remains within the bounds of the religious and ethical ideals of prophecy, this feature, too, of his work is to be regarded as a Divine revelation in a form in harmony with the Old Testament stage of the development of the kingdom of God. We are here indeed considering a matter in connection with which it is especially difficult to determine how much in reality belongs to the eternally valid contents, and how much to the temporary forms. Here too, as is the case in the exegesis of Ezek 40 through 48, Christian theology will vacillate between the extremes of spiritualism and realism, one extreme constantly correcting the other, and in this way constantly approaching the correct middle course, until at some time in the future we will reach the full truth in the matter.
5. Ezekiel's Conception of God
A prophet who, from the aesthetic side, enjoyed the highest appreciation of a Schiller and a Herder (see 1 above), who has brought the Leviticism of the Old Testament to the highest stage of development (compare 2 above), who in his portrait of the Messiah has introduced the high-priestly characteristics (compare 3 above), who in eschatology developed new features and laid the foundation for the development that followed in later times (compare 4 above), can scarcely with any right or reason be termed a “secondary character among the prophets.” This fact becomes all the more sure when we now finally examine the conception of God as taught in Ezk. In grandeur and variety of thought, in this respect only, Isaiah and Moses can be compared with Ezekiel. Already in the visions, we are struck by the sublimity of God as there pictured, especially in the opening vision, where He appears as the absolute ruler of all creation, over which He sits enthroned (compare II, 1, above). He is constantly called “the Lord Yahweh,” over against whom the prophet is at all times only “the son of man.” More than fifty times it is said that the purpose of the prophecy was that the heathen nations, as well as the Israelites, shall by His judgments and His promises recognize that He is Yahweh.
On this side Ezekiel stands in an especially close relation to the description of the exodus from Egypt (compareExo_7:5, Exo_7:17; Exo_8:10, Exo_8:22; Exo_9:14, Exo_9:29, Exo_9:30; Exo_10:2; Exo_11:7; Exo_14:4, Exo_14:18, and see EXODUS, II, 2, on 7:8 through 13:16). Above everything Yahweh's honor must be defended (Eze_36:23, Eze_36:12). Here again there is a place where the evolutionist hypothesis of the development of the idea of God is thoroughly put to shame. For in the preprophetic times it is claimed that God is, in the Old Testament, merely placed by the side of other gods and was regarded only as the God of Israel, with which He was indissolubly connected, because His existence had depended on the existence of the nation. As a proof, reference is made to the defense of His honor; and now we find the same thought in Ezekiel, in whose case it is impossible that any doubt as to his absolute monotheism can any longer arise (compare my Entwicklung der Gottesidee in vorexilischer Zeit, 138ff 152ff). The sublimity of this conception of God also appears in its universality. He is declared to be punishing the nations (compare Ezek 25ff; 35 f); He uses them for His purposes (compare Ezek 38 f; 17; 19; 24; 33); He intends to give them salvation (Ezek 17; 23; Eze_16:53, Eze_16:11; Eze_34:26; compare 3 above).
Most of all, Ezekiel's conception of God, according to the preceding sketch, reminds us of that of Calvin. By the exalted character of God we find also a second feature. On the one side we find the holy God; on the other, sinful man. The entire development of the people is from the beginning a wrong one. Ezekiel's thoughts are to be regarded as those for days of penance when he, on the one hand, emphasizes the great guilt of the people as such (compare Ezek 16 and 23), and by the side of this maintains the principle that each one must be punished on account of his own sins (Eze_18:2), so that the individual cannot excuse himself, and the individual cannot be freed through the guilt of the people as a totality.
But now comes the highest conception. The exalted and holy God comes to be a God of love. What is it but love, that He does not reject His people forever, but promises them a future (compare Ezek 34 through 48, in which also the divided kingdoms are to be reunited,Eze_37:15)? As Exodus finds its culmination point in the indwelling of God among His people, which He promised in Ex 25ff (Exo_25:8; Exo_29:45 f), but seems to have become a matter of doubt again in Ex 32ff through the apostasy of the people, and nevertheless is finally realized in Ex 35ff (Exo_40:34), thus too in Ezek 10 f, Yahweh leaves the city, but in Eze_43:1 He again returns, and now the name of the city is “Yahweh is there” (Eze_48:35). But as every single member participates in the sin and the punishment of the people, so too he takes part in the deliverance.
Ezekiel is indeed, as little as is Jeremiah, the creator of individualism, which he has often been declared to be. Against this claim, e.g. the character of the patriarchs can be appealed to. But a deeper conception of individualism has actually been brought about by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The national organization as such was for the present dissolved. Accordingly, these prophets have now to deal more with the individual (compare 1, 2, 3, above). Ezekiel is actually the pastor of those in exile. He has been appointed the watchman of the house of Israel (Eze_3:16 and Eze_33:1). He can bear the responsibility for the individual souls (compare also Ezek 18). The wicked man who dies without having been warned is demanded from his hand by God. Yahweh does not wish the death of the sinner, but that he should repent and live.
Here such a clear mirror is given, that before it conscientious Christian preachers must all feel ashamed. Yahweh is the gracious God, who does not treat men simply according to the principle of retaliation, else what would become of man? God rather desires to bestow all things out of free grace; he that repents shall live. This is the highest ideal of the prophet, and with it we close.
The Feast of Weeks, the Pentecost of the Israelites, Ezekiel does not mention (compare II, 2, 2b, above). This festival has come to be one of higher importance since on Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out, and this Spirit Ezekiel knows. Besides, such passages asJer_32:15; Jer_44:1-6; Psa_51:12; Joe_2:28; Jer_31:31, it is Ezekiel which contains the clearest predictions of Pentecost. It is the Spirit who in Ezek 37 awakens to new life the dead bones of Israel.
And inEze_36:25-28 we read: “And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
Comm. of Keil, Hävernick, Hengstenberg, von Orelli, Smend, Bertholet, Kraetzschmar.
For the Messianic Prophecies, the works of von Orelli, Riehm, Delitzsch, Hengstenberg. Compare also Volz, Die vorexilische Jahwe-Prophetie und der Messias; Möller, Die messianische Erwartung der vorexilischen Propheten, zugleich ein Protest gegen moderne Textzersplitterung; Cornill, The Prophet Ezekiel; Klostermann, Studien und Kritken, 1877.
Introductions of Kuënen, Strack, Baudissin, König, Cornill, Driver.
Histories of Israel, by Köhler, König, Kittel, Klostermann, Oettli, Stade, Wellhausen.
Bible Lexicons, see under “Ezekiel.”
Against the Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis, Möller, Are the Critics Right? In this Encyclopedia, for further literature compare also the article LEVITICUS: Orr, The Problem of the Old Testament; Wiener, Essays in Pentateuchal Criticism, and The Origin of the Pentateuch; Hoffmann, Die wichtigsten Instanzen gegen die Graf-Wellhausensche Hypothese; Kegel, Wilhelm Vatke u. die Graf-Wellhausensche Hypothese; Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden; Seinecke, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, II.
Taken from: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia by James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor