The Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament of the Bible is one of the books of the Major Prophets. Its name is drawn from Ezekiel, a priest - prophet who lived in Jerusalem and was one of the Jews deported by Nebuchadnezzar II to Babylon at the beginning of the 6th century BC. The book is divided into three parts: (1) the threats against Judah and Jerusalem before the fall of Jerusalem (chaps. 1 - 24); the threats against foreign nations (chaps. 25 - 32); and (3) promises for the future restoration of Israel and the Temple (chaps. 33 - 48).
The Book of Ezekiel describes the prophet's many visions and symbolic actions with vivid literary imagery. The following well - known passages demonstrate the author's extraordinary imagination and gift for allegory: the vision of Yahweh's chariot (chap. 1); Ezekiel's symbolic acts of eating the scroll (2:1 - 3:15) and shaving his hair and beard (5:1 - 4); the sword of God's wrath (21); the allegory of the rusty pot (24:1 - 14); the lament over Egypt (31 - 32); and the vision of the dry bones (37:1 - 14).
Written during the Babylonian Captivity (586 - 38 BC), the book links preexilic Israel and the Judaism of the restoration. Ezekiel stressed the interior qualities of religion, as the earlier prophets had, but in the manner of later writers he looked to the Temple and to cultic observances. He described life in exile and preached a message of hope, striving to sustain his fellow deportees in their faith and traditions. This message culminates in the final vision of the temple in the new Jerusalem and the restoration of Israel.
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W Eichrodt, Ezekiel: A Commentary (1970); P Fairbain, Ezekiel (1988); H Jacobson, The Exagogue of Ezekiel (1983); R W Klein, Ezekiel (1988).
Ezekiel, God will strengthen.
The Book of Ezewkiel consists mainly of three groups of prophecies. After an account of his call to the prophetical office (1-3:21), Ezekiel (1) utters words of denunciation against the Jews (3:22-24), warning them of the certain destruction of Jerusalem, in opposition to the words of the false prophets (4:1-3). The symbolical acts, by which the extremities to which Jerusalem would be reduced are described in ch. 4,5, show his intimate acquaintance with the Levitical legislation. (See Ex. 22:30; Deut. 14:21; Lev. 5:2; 7:18,24; 17:15; 19:7; 22:8, etc.) (2.) Prophecies against various surrounding nations: against the Ammonites (Ezek. 25:1-7), the Moabites (8-11), the Edomites (12-14), the Philistines (15-17), Tyre and Sidon (26-28), and against Egypt (29-32). (3.)
Prophecies delivered after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar: the triumphs of Israel and of the kingdom of God on earth (Ezek. 33-39); Messianic times, and the establishment and prosperity of the kingdom of God (40;48). The closing visions of this book are referred to in the book of Revelation (Ezek. 38=Rev. 20:8; Ezek. 47:1-8=Rev. 22: 1,2). Other references to this book are also found in the New Testament. (Comp. Rom. 2:24 with Ezek. 36:2; Rom. 10:5, Gal. 3:12 with Ezek. 20:11; 2 Pet. 3:4 with Ezek. 12:22.) It may be noted that Daniel, fourteen years after his deportation from Jerusalem, is mentioned by Ezekiel (14:14) along with Noah and Job as distinguished for his righteousness, and some five years later he is spoken of as pre-eminent for his wisdom (28:3).
Ezekiel's prophecies are characterized by symbolical and allegorical representations, "unfolding a rich series of majestic visions and of colossal symbols." There are a great many also of "symbolcal actions embodying vivid conceptions on the part of the prophet" (4:1-4; 5:1-4; 12:3-6; 24:3-5; 37:16, etc.) "The mode of representation, in which symbols and allegories occupy a prominent place, gives a dark, mysterious character to the prophecies of Ezekiel. They are obscure and enigmatical. A cloudy mystery overhangs them which it is almost impossible to penetrate. Jerome calls the book 'a labyrith of the mysteries of God.' It was because of this obscurity that the Jews forbade any one to read it till he had attained the age of thirty." Ezekiel is singular in the frequency with which he refers to the Pentateuch (e.g., Ezek. 27; 28:13; 31:8; 36:11, 34; 47:13, etc.). He shows also an acquaintance with the writings of Hosea (Ezek. 37:22), Isaiah (Ezek. 8:12; 29:6), and especially with those of Jeremiah, his older contemporary (Jer. 24:7, 9; 48:37).
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
Ezekiel, whose name, Yehézq'el signifies "strong is God", or "whom God makes strong" (Ezek. i, 3; iii, 8), was the son of Buzi, and was one of the priests who, in the year 598 B.C., had been deported together with Joachim as prisoners from Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:12-16; cf. Ezekiel 33:21, 40:1). With the other exiles he settled in Tell-Abib near the Chobar (Ezek. i,1; iii, 15) in Babylonia, and seems to have spent the rest of his life there.In the fifth year after the captivity of Joachim, and according to some, the thirtieth year of his life, Ezekiel received his call as a prophet (Ezek. i, 2, 4 etc) in the vision which he describes in the beginning of his prophecy (Ezek. i,4; iii, 15). From Ezek. xxix, 17 it appears that he prophesied during at least twenty-two years. Ezekiel was called to foretell God's faithfulness in the midst of trials, as well as in the fulfilment of His promises. During the first period of his career, he foretold the complete destruction of the kingdom of Juda, and the annihilation of the city and temple. After the fulfilment of these predictions, he was commanded to announce the future return from exile, the re-establishment of the people in their own country and, especially, the triumph of the Kingdom of the Messiah, the second David, so that the people would not abandon themselves to despair and perish as a nation, through contact with the Gentiles, whose gods had apparently triumphed over the God of Israel. This is the principal burden of Ezekiel's prophecy, which is divided into three parts. After the introduction, the vision of the calling of the prophet (Ezek. i-iii, 21), the first part contains the prophecies against Juda before the fall of Jerusalem (Ezek. iii, 22-xxiv). In this part the prophet declares the hope of saving the city, the kingdom, and the temple to be vain, and announces the approaching judgment of God upon Juda. This part may be subdivided into five groups of prophecies.
After a second revelation, in which God discloses to the prophet His course of action (iii, 22-27), the prophet foretells by symbolic acts (iv, v) and in words (vi-vii), the siege and capture of Jerusalem, and the banishment of Juda.
In a prophetic vision, in the presence of the elders of Israel, God reveals to him the cause of these punishments. In spirit he witnesses the idolatry practiced in and near the temple (viii); God commands that the guilty be punished and the faithful be spared (ix); God's majesty departs from the temple (x), and also, after the announcement of guilt and punishment, from the city. With this the judgment which the prophet communicates to the exiles ends (xi).
In the third group (xii-xix) many different prophecies are brought together, whose sole connection is the relation they bear to the guilt and punishment of Jerusalem and Juda. Ezekiel prophesies by symbolic actions the exile of the people, the flight of Sedecias, and the devastation of the land (xii, 1-20). Then follow Divine revelations regarding belief in false prophecies, and disbelief in the very presence of true prophecy. This was one of the causes of the horrors (xiii, 21-xiv, 11), to be visited upon the remnant of the inhabitants of Jerusalem (xiv, 12-23). The prophet likens Jerusalem to the dead wood of the vine, which is destined for the fire (xv); in an elaborate denunciation he represents Juda as a shameless harlot, who surpasses Samaria and Sodom in malice (xvi), and in a new simile, he condemns King Sedecias (xvii). After a discourse on the justice of God (xviii), there follows a further lamentation over the princes and the people of Juda (xix).
In the presence of the elders the prophet denounces the whole people of Israel for the abominations they practiced in Egypt, in the Wilderness, and in Canaan (xx). For these Juda shall be consumed by fire, and Jerusalem shall be exterminated by the sword (xxi). Abominable is the immorality of Jerusalem (xxii), but Juda is more guilty than Israel has ever been (xxiii).
On the day on which the siege of Jerusalem began, the prophet represents, under the figure of the rusty pot, what was to befall the inhabitants of the city. On the occasion of the death of his wife, God forbids him to mourn openly, in order to teach the exiles that they should be willing to lose that which is dearest to them without grieving over it (xxiv).
In the second part (xxv-xxxii), are gathered together the prophecies concerning the Gentiles. He takes, first of all, the neighbouring peoples who had been exalted through the downfall of Juda, and who had humiliated Israel. The fate of four of these, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites, and the Philistines, is condensed in chapter xxv. He treats more at length of Tyre and its king (xxxvi-xxviii,19), after which he casts a glance at Sidon (xxviii, 20-26). Six prophecies against Egypt follow, dating from different years (xxix-xxxii. The third part (xxxiii-xlviii), is occupied with the Divine utterances on the subject of Israel's restoration. As introduction, we have a dissertation from the prophet, in his capacity of authorized champion of the mercy and justice of God, after which he addresses himself to those remaining in Juda, and to the perverse exiles (xxxiii). The manner in which God will restore His people is only indicated in a general way. The Lord will cause the evil shepherds to perish; He will gather in, guide, and feed the sheep by means of the second David, the Messiah (xxxiv).
Though Mount Seir shall remain a waste, Israel shall return unto its own. There God will purify His people, animate the nation with a new spirit, and re-establish it in its former splendour for the glory of His name (xxxv-xxxvii). Israel, though dead, shall rise again, and the dry bones shall be covered with flesh and endowed with life before the eyes of the prophet. Ephraim and Juda shall, under the second David, be united into one kingdom, and the Lord shall dwell in their midst (xxxvii). The invincibleness and indestructibility of the restored kingdom are then symbolically presented in the war upon Gog, his inglorious defeat, and the annihilation of his armies (xxxviii-xxxix). In the last prophetic vision, God shows the new temple (xl-xliii), the new worship (xliii-xlvi), the return to their own land, and the new division thereof among the twelve tribes (xlvii-xlviii), as a figure of His foundation of a kingdom where He shall dwell among His people, and where He shall be served in His tabernacle according to strict rules, by priests of His choice, and by the prince of the house of David.
From this review of the contents of the prophecy, it is evident that the prophetic vision, the symbolic actions and examples, comprise a considerable portion of the book. The completeness of the description of the vision, action and similes, is one of the many causes of the obscurity of the book of Ezekiel. It is often difficult to distinguish between what is essential to the matter represented, and what serves merely to make the image more vivid. On this account it happens that, in the circumstantial descriptions, words are used, the meaning of which, inasmuch as they occur in Ezekiel only, is not determined. Because of this obscurity, a number of copyist mistakes have crept into the text, and that at an early date, since the Septuagint has some of them in common with the earliest Hebrew text we have. The Greek version, however, includes several readings which help to fix the meaning. The genuineness of the book of Ezekiel is generally conceded. Some few consider chapters xl-xlviii to be apocryphal, because the plan there described in the building of the temple was not followed, but they overlook the fact that Ezekiel here gives a symbolic representation of the temple, that was to find spiritual realization in God's new kingdom. The Divine character of the prophecies was recognized as early as the time of Jesus the son of Sirach (Eccles. xlix, 10, 11). In the New Testament, there are no verbatim references, but allusions to the prophecy and figures taken from it are prominent. Compare St. John x etc. with Ezek. xxxiv, 11 etc.; St. Matthew xxii, 32, with Ezek. xvii, 23. In particular St. John, in the Apocalypse, has often followed Ezekiel. Compare Apoc. xviii-xxi with Ezek. xxvii, xxxviii etc., xlvii etc.
Publication information Written by Jos. Schets. Transcribed by Sean Hyland. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
"Dooms" of the Nations.
Ezekiel's book is one of the most original in the sacred literature of Israel. Its principal features are its systematic arrangement and homogeneity. The book falls into two principal parts, i.-xxiv. and xxv.-xlviii., corresponding to the two principal themes of Ezekiel's prophetic preaching-repentance and salvation, judgment and restoration. It is introduced by a vision, i. 1-iii. 15. At the River Chebar the glory of the Lord appears to Ezekiel on the chariot of the cherubim and consecrates him a prophet, sent to a "rebellious house" to preach only wailing, sighing, and misery. Chaps. iii. 16-xxiv. 27 show the prophet fulfilling this mission. Here Ezekiel is merely a "reprover" (iii. 26); he confronts the people as if he were not one of them; he shows no emotion, not a suggestion of pity, throughout the delivery of his dreadful tidings. He symbolizes the siege and conquest of Jerusalem, the leading of the people into exile (iv.-v.); on all the hills of Israel idolatry is practised (vi.), and therefore "the end" will come (vii.). The Temple is defiled with abominations of every description; therefore the glory of the Lord departs from it and from the city, and dedicates them to flames (viii-xi.). Ezekiel represents the final catastrophe symbolically; judgment will not tarry, but approaches to immediate fulfilment (xii.). No one will mount into the breach. On the contrary, prophets and prophetesses will lead the people completely astray (xiii.); even a true prophet could not avail now, as God will not be questioned by idolaters.
That the judgment is fully merited will be demonstrated by the godliness of the few who survive the catastrophe (xiv.). Jerusalem is a useless vine, good only to be burned (xv.). And thus it has ever been: Jerusalem has ever requited the mercies and benefits of the Lord with blackest ingratitude and shameless infidelity (xvi.). The ruling king, Zedekiah, particularly, has incurred the judgment through his perjury (xvii.). God rewards each one according to his deeds, and He will visit upon the heads of the present generation, not the sins of the fathers, but their own sins (xviii.). Therefore the prophet is to sound a dirge over the downfall of royalty and the people (xix.). In an oration he once more brings before the people all the sins committed by them from the Exodus to the present time (xx.). Nebuchadnezzar approaches to execute the divine judgment (xxi.). Jerusalem is a city full of blood-guiltiness and impurity, all classes being equally debased (xxii.), and far lower than Samaria's (xxiii.). The city is a rusty kettle the impurities of which can be removed only by fire. The exiles, who still boast of the sanctity and inviolability of Jerusalem, will be amazed by the news of its fall (xxiv.).
"Dooms" of the Nations.
Then follows (xxv.-xxxii.) a group of threatening prophecies against seven foreign nations: the Ammonites (xxv. 1-7), Moabites (xxv. 8-11), Edomites (xxv. 12-14), Philistines (xxv. 15-17), Tyrenes (xxvi.-xxviii. 19), Zidonians (xxviii. 20-23), andEgyptians (xxix.-xxxii.). This division belongs to the promise of salvation as detailed in xxviii. 24-26; for it refers to the punishment visited on the neighboring nations because of their aggressions against Judah. It also indicates that Israel may yet be restored to fulfil its sacred mission, a mission which can be accomplished only when the nation lives in security. Ch. xxxiii. announces the downfall of Jerusalem, and the prophet now freely speaks words of consolation and promise to the people. The shepherds hitherto placed over Israel have thriven, but have neglected their flock, which God will now take under His protection, appointing a new David as a shepherd over it (xxxiv.). The Edomites, who have seized certain portions of the Holy Land, will be annihilated (xxxv.); Israel will be restored (xxxvi.); that is, Judah and Joseph will be merged into one (xxxvii.). The last on-slaught of the pagan world against the newly established kingdom of God will be victoriously repelled by the Almighty Himself, who will manifest His sanctity among the nations (xxxviii.-xxxix.). The final division, xl.-xlviii., embodying the celebrated vision of the new Temple and the new Jerusalem, contains a description of the future era of salvation with its ordinances and conditions, which are epitomized in the final sentence: "And the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there" (xlviii. 35).
The evident unity of the whole work leaves only one question open in regard to its authorship: Did Ezekiel, as some maintain, write the whole book at one time, or is it a homogeneous compilation of separate parts written at different times? A number of pieces were dated by the prophet himself, in accordance with the number of years after the abduction of Jehoiachin: i. 1, in the fifth; viii. 1, in the sixth; xx. 1, in the seventh; xxiv. 1, in the ninth; xxix. 1, in the tenth; xxvi. 1, xxx. 20, xxxi. 1, xxxiii. 21 (LXX.), in the eleventh; xxxii. 1, 19 and xxxiii. 21 (Hebr.), in the twelfth; xl. 1, in the twenty-fifth; and xxix. 17, in the twenty-seventh year. The last-mentioned passage (xxix. 17-21) is evidently an appendix to the already completed book; and the twenty-fifth year (572), the date of the important division xl.-xlviii., is probably the date when the work was completed. If it were true, however, that the whole book was written at that time all previous dates would be merely literary embellishments, and this view is difficult because of the importance of the dating in several instances where the prophet claims to transcend ordinary human knowledge. Examples of such instances are: xi. 13, where Ezekiel at the Chebar is cognizant of the death of Pelatiah, the idolater, in Jerusalem; xxiv. 2, where he knows the exact day on which the siege of Jerusalem will begin; and xxxiii. 21, where he predicts to a day the arrival of the messenger bearing tidings of the capture of Jerusalem.
Moreover, it can be shown from the contradictions which the various divisions of the Book of Ezekiel contain that they were written at different periods. This is particularly true of the Messianic prophecy, which, although kept somewhat in the background in Ezekiel, is nevertheless directly expressed in xvii. 22-24, xxi. 32, xxxiv. 23-24, xxxvii. 22-24, and xxv. 14 (where Edom is referred to: "And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel"). In xl.-xlviii.-that grand panorama of the future-this feature has entirely disappeared. There is still some reference to a prince, but his sole function is to defray from the people's taxes the expenses of worship; there is no longer room for a Messianic king. Nevertheless, Ezekiel permitted the earlier passages to remain. Even more significant is xxix. 17-21, which can be understood only as an appendix to the already complete book. In xxvi.-xxviii. Ezekiel had positively prophesied the capture and destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar, but after thirteen years of fruitless labor the latter had to raise the siege and to arrange terms of peace with the city. Thereupon, in the above-mentioned passage, Ezekiel promises Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar as an indemnity. Here, then, is an oracle the non-fulfilment, of which the prophet himself is destined to see. Yet he does not venture to change or to expunge it. Incidentally it may be stated that the transmission of oracles of which the prophets themselves were doomed to see the non-fulfilment is the strongest proof that they regarded these as messages for which they were not personally responsible, and which, consequently, they did not venture to change; they regarded them as God's word, the responsibility for the non-fulfilment of which rested with God, not with themselves. In view of these facts it must be assumed that although Ezekiel completed his book in 572, he availed himself of earlier writings, which he allowed to remain practically unchanged.
Not only is the whole artistically arranged, but the separate parts are also distinguished by careful finish. The well-defined and deliberate separation of prose and poetry is particularly conspicuous. The poetic passages are strictly rhythmical in form, while the didactic parts are written in pure, elegant prose. The author prefers parables, and his use of them is always lucid. In xx. 49 he even makes his audience say: "Doth he not speak parables?" Very striking are the numerous symbolical actions by which the prophet illustrates his discourse. Nine unique examples may be distinguished; indeed at the very beginning of his prophetic activity there are not fewer than four by which he describes the siege, capture, and destruction of Jerusalem and the banishment of the people (iv. and v.). The two in xii. and the two in xxiv. refer to the same subject, while that in xxxvii. refers to the future redemption. Here, also, there is no question of mere literary embellishment, for Ezekiel undoubtedly actually performed the symbolic actions; indeed, he was the first to introduce symbolism into Hebrew literature, and therefore has been called the "father of apocalypse." The picture of the chariot ("merkabah") in i., and the concluding division of xl.-xlviii., are full of deep symbolism; and, according to the Rabbis, neither should be read by any one younger than thirty. The celebrated vision of Gog, the Prince of Rosh Meshech (A. V. "the chief princeof Meshech") and Tubal (xxxviii. and xxxix.), is also symbolical. The Book of Ezekiel shows throughout the touch of the scholar.
The Talmud (Ḥag. 13a) relates that in consequence of the contradictions to the Torah contained in xl.-xlviii. Ezekiel's book would have remained unknown had not Hananiah b. Hezekiah come to expound it. Nevertheless it has never been appreciated as it deserves; and it is probably due to this fact that the text of the work has been transmitted in a particularly poor and neglected form. The Septuagint, however, affords an opportunity to correct many of the errors in the Hebrew text.
The statement of Josephus ("Ant." x. 5, § 1) that Ezekiel wrote two books is entirely enigmatical. The doubt cast upon the authenticity of the book by Zunz, Seinecke, and Vernes has rightly never been taken seriously; but the authorship of several parts, such as iii. 16b-21, x. 8-17, xxiv. 22-23, and xxvii. 9b-25a, has, with more or less justification, sometimes been questioned. That the book consists of two divergent versions compiled by an editor, a hypothesis recently advanced by Kraetzschmar, has yet to be demonstrated.
Emil G. Hirsch, Karl Heinrich Cornill
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
H. Ewald, Die Propheten des Alten Bundes, 1841; F. Hitzig, Der Prophet Ezechiel, 1847; S. D. Luzzatto, Perush 'al Yirmeyah we-Yehezeḳel, 1876; R. Smend, Der Prophet Ezechiel, 1880; Cornill, Das Buch des Propheten Ezechiel, 1886; D. H. Müller, Ezechielstudien, 1895; A. B. Davidson, The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Cambridge, 1896; A. Bertholet, Das Buch Hezekiel, 1897; C. H. Toy, The Book of Ezekiel in Hebrew, 1899; idem, The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, new Eng. transl. with notes, 1899; R. Kraetzschmar, Das Buch Ezechiel, 1900.E. G. H. K. H. C.
The Prophet's Spiritual Mission.
His Individualistic Tendency.
His Description of God's Throne.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
The Dead Revived by Ezekiel.
The Book of Ezekiel.
Concerning the life of Ezekiel there are but a few scattered references contained in the book bearing his name. He was the son of Buzi, a priest of Jerusalem (Ezek. i. 3), and consequently a member of the Zadok family, As such he was among the aristocracy whom Nebuchadnezzar (597 B.C.), after the first capture of Jerusalem, carried off to be exiles in Babylonia (II Kings xxiv. 14). Ezekiel therefore reckons the years from the abduction of Jehoiachin (Ezek. i. 2, xxxiii. 21, xl. 1). He lived among a colony of fellow sufferers in or near Tel-abib on the River Chebar (not the River Chaboras), which probably formed an arm of the extensive Babylonian network of canals (iii. 15). Ezekiel was married (xxiv. 16-18), and lived in his own house (iii. 24, viii. 1). On the fifth day of the fourth month in the fifth year of his exile (Tammuz, 592 B.C.), he beheld on the banks of the Chebar the glory of the Lord, who consecrated him as His prophet (i. 1-iii. 13). The latest date in his book is the first day of the first month in the twenty-seventh year of his exile (Nisan, 570); consequently, his prophecies extended over twenty-twoyears. The elders of the exiles repeatedly visited him to obtain a divine oracle (viii., xiv., xx.). He exerted no permanent influence upon his contemporaries, however, whom he repeatedly calls the "rebellious house" (ii. 5, 6, 8; iii. 9, 26, 27; and elsewhere), complaining that although they flock in great numbers to hear him they regard his discourse as a sort of esthetic amusement, and fail to act in accordance with his words (xxxiii. 30-33). If the enigmatical date, "the thirtieth year" (i. 1), be understood to apply to the age of the prophet-and this view still has the appearance of probability-Ezekiel must have been born exactly at the time of the reform in the ritual introduced by Josiah. Concerning his death nothing is known.
Ezekiel occupies a distinct and unique position among the Hebrew Prophets. He stands midway between two epochs, drawing his conclusions from the one and pointing out the path toward the other. Through the destruction of the city and the Temple, the downfall of the state, and the banishment of the people the natural development of Israel was forcibly interrupted. Prior to these events Israel was a united and homogeneous nation. True, it was characterized by a spirit totally unlike that of any other people; and the consciousness of this difference had ever been present in the best and noblest spirits of Israel. The demands of state and people, however, had to be fulfilled, and to this end the monarchical principle was established. There is undoubtedly an element of truth in the opinion that the human monarchy was antagonistic to the dominion of God, and that the political life of Israel would tend to estrange the nation from its eternal spiritual mission. The prophecy of the pre-exilic period was compelled to take these factors into account, and ever addressed itself either to the people as a nation or to its leaders-king, princes, priests-and sometimes to a distinguished individual, such as Shebna, the minister of the royal house mentioned in Isa xxii. 15-25; so that the opinion arose that the Prophets themselves were merely a sort of statesmen.
The Prophet's Spiritual Mission.
With the Exile, monarchy and state were annihilated, and a political and national life was no longer possible. In the absence of a worldly foundation it became necessary to build upon a spiritual one. This mission Ezekiel performed by observing the signs of the time and by deducing his doctrines from them. In conformity with the two parts of his book his personality and his preaching are alike twofold. The events of the past must be explained. If God has permitted His city and His Temple to be destroyed and His people to be led into exile, He has thereby betrayed no sign of impotency or weakness. He Himself has done it, and was compelled to do it, because of the sins of the people of Israel, who misunderstood His nature and His will. Nevertheless, there is no reason to despair; for God does not desire the death of the sinner, but his reformation. The Lord will remain the God of Israel, and Israel will remain His people. As soon as Israel recognizes the sovereignty of the Lord and acts accordingly, He will restore the people, in order that they may fulfil their eternal mission and that He may truly dwell in the midst of them. This, however, can not be accomplished until every individual reforms and makes the will of the Lord his law.
His Individualistic Tendency.
Herein lies that peculiar individualistic tendency of Ezekiel which distinguishes him from all his predecessors. He conceives it as his prophetic mission to strive to reach his brethren and compatriots individually, to follow them, and to win them back to God; and he considers himself personally responsible for every individual soul. Those redeemed were to form the congregation of the new Temple, and to exemplify by their lives the truth of the word that Israel was destined to become a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. xix. 6). Law and worship-these are the two focal points of Ezekiel's hope for the future. The people become a congregation; the nation, a religious fraternity. Political aims and tasks no longer exist; and monarchy and state have become absorbed in the pure dominion of God. Thus Ezekiel has stamped upon post-exilic Judaism its peculiar character; and herein lies his unique religio-historical importance. Another feature of Ezekiel's personality is the pathological. With no other prophet are vision and ecstasy so prominent; and he repeatedly refers to symptoms of severe maladies, such as paralysis of the limbs and of the tongue (iii. 25 et seq.), from which infirmities he is relieved only upon the announcement of the downfall of Jerusalem (xxiv. 27, xxxiii. 22). These statements are to be taken not figuratively, but literally; for God had here purposely ordained that a man subject to physical infirmities should become the pliant instrument of His will.E. G. H. K. H. C. His Description of God's Throne.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, is said to have been a descendant of Joshua by his marriage with the proselyte Rahab (Meg. 14b; Sifre, Num. 78). Some even say that he was the son of Jeremiah, who was also called "Buzi" because he was despised-"buz"-by the Jews (Targ. Yer., quoted by Ḳimḥi on Ezek. i. 3). He was already active as a prophet while in Palestine, and he retained this gift when he was exiled with Jehoiachin and the nobles of the country to Babylon (Josephus, "Ant." x. 6, § 3: "while he was still a boy"; comp. Rashi on Sanh. 92b, above). Had he not begun his career as a prophet in the Holy Land, the spirit of prophecy would not have come upon him in a foreign land (Mek., Bo, i. ; Targ. Ezek. i. 3; comp. M. Ḳ. 25a). Therefore the prophet's first prophecy does not form the initial chapter in the Book of Ezekiel, but the second: according to some, it is the third (Mek., Shirah, 7). Although in the beginning of the book he very clearly describes the throne of God, this is not due to the fact that he had seen more than Isaiah, but because the latter was more accustomed to such visions; for the relation of the two prophets is that of a courtier to a peasant, the latter of whom would always describe a royal court more floridly than the former, to whom such thingswould be familiar (Ḥag. 13b). Ezekiel, like all the other prophets, has beheld only a blurred reflection of the divine majesty, just as a poor mirror reflects objects only imperfectly (Lev. R. i. 14, toward the end). God allowed Ezekiel to behold the throne in order to demonstrate to him that Israel had no reason to be proud of the Temple; for God, who is praised day and night by the hosts of the angels, does not need human offerings and worship (Lev. R. ii. 8; Tanna debe Eliyahu R. vi.).
Three occurrences in the course of Ezekiel's prophetic activity deserve especial mention. It was he whom the three pious men, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, asked for advice as to whether they should resist Nebuchadnezzar's command and choose death by fire rather than worship his idol. At first God revealed to the prophet that they could not hope for a miraculous rescue; whereupon the prophet was greatly grieved, since these three men constituted, the remnant of Judah. But after they had left the house of the prophet, fully determined to sacrifice their lives to God, Ezekiel received this revelation: "Thou dost believe indeed that I will abandon them. That shall not happen; but do thou let them carry out their intention according to their pious dictates, and tell them nothing" (Cant. R. vii. 8; comp. Azariah in Rabbinical Literature).
The Dead Revived by Ezekiel.
Ezekiel's greatest miracle consisted in his resuscitation of the dead, which is recounted in Ezek. xxxvii. There are different traditions as to the fate of these men, both before and after their resurrection, and as to the time at which it happened. Some say that they were godless people, who in their lifetime had denied the resurrection, and committed other sins; others think they were those Ephraimites who tried to escape from Egypt before Moses and perished in the attempt (comp. Ephraim in Rabbinical Literature). There are still others who maintain that after Nebuchadnezzar had carried the beautiful youths of Judah to Babylon, he had them executed and their bodies mutilated, because their beauty had entranced the Babylonian women, and that it was these youths whom Ezekiel called back to life. The miracle was performed on the same day on which the three men were cast into the fiery furnace; namely, on the Sabbath and the Day of Atonement (Cant. R. vii. 9). Nebuchadnezzar, who had made a drinking-cup from the skull of a murdered Jew, was greatly astonished when, at the moment that the three men were cast into the furnace, the bodies of the dead boys moved, and, striking him in the face, cried out: "The companion of these three men revives the dead!" (see a Karaite distortion of this episode in Judah Hadasi's "Eshkol ha-Kofer," 45b, at foot; 134a, end of the section). When the boys awakened from death, they rose up and joined in a song of praise to God for the miracle vouchsafed to them; later, they went to Palestine, where they married and reared children. As early as the second century, however, some authorities declared this resurrection of the dead was a prophetic vision: an opinion regarded by Maimonides ("Moreh Nebukim," ii. 46; Arabic text, 98a) and his followers as the only rational explanation of the Biblical passage (comp. Abravanel's commentary on the passage). An account of the varying from these stories of the Talmud (Sanh. 92b), found in Pirḳe R. El. xxxiii., runs as follows: "When the three men had been rescued by God from the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar, turning to the other Jews who had obeyed his commands and worshiped the idol, said: 'You knew that you had a helping and saving God, yet you deserted Him in order to worship an idol that is nothing. This shows that, just as you destroyed your own country through your evil deeds, you now attempt to destroy my country'; and at his command they were all killed, to the number of 600,000." Twenty years later God took the prophet to the place where the dead boys were buried, and asked him whether he believed that He could awaken them. Instead of answering with a decisive "Yes," the prophet replied evasively, and as a punishment he was doomed to die "on foreign soil." Again, when God asked him to prophesy the awakening of these dead, he replied: "Will my prophecy be able to awaken them and those dead ones also which have been torn and devoured by wild beasts?" His doubts were unfounded, for the earth shook and brought the scattered bones together; a heavenly voice revived them; four winds flew to the four corners of the heavens, opened the treasure-house of the souls, and brought each soul to its body. One only among all the thousands remained dead, and he, as it was revealed to the prophet, had been a usurer, who by his actions had shown himself unworthy of resurrection. The resurrected ones at first wept because they thought that they would now have no part in the final resurrection, but God said to Ezekiel: "Go and tell them that I will awakenthem at the time of the resurrection and will lead them with the rest of Israel to Palestine" (comp. Tanna debe Eliyahu R. v.).
The Book of Ezekiel.
Among the doctrines that Ezekiel set down in his book, the Rabbis noted the following as especially important: He taught "the soul that sinneth, it [alone] shall die" (Ezek. xviii. 4), although Moses had said (Ex. xxxiv. 7) that God would visit "the iniquity of the fathers upon the children." Another important teaching of Ezekiel is his warning not to lay hands on the property of one's neighbor, which he considers the greatest sin among the twenty-four that he enumerates (Ezek. xxii. 2 et seq.), and therefore repeats (Eccl. R. i. 13) at the end of his index of sins (Ezek. xxii. 12). In ritual questions the Book of Ezekiel contains much that contradicts the teachings of the Pentateuch, and therefore it narrowly escaped being declared as "apocryphal" by the scholars shortly before the destruction of the Temple (Shab. 13b; Men. 45a). No one was allowed to read and explain publicly the first chapter of the book (Ḥag. ii. 1; ib. Gem. 13a), because it dealt with the secrets of God's throne (comp. Ma'aseh Merkabah).S. S. L. G.
Emil G. Hirsch, Karl Heinrich Cornill, Solomon Schechter, Louis Ginzberg
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
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