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Ezekiel 1-4 Listen
An introduction to Ezekiel
The Babylonian army began their attack on Jerusalem in 598 B.C. King Jehoiakim died, and his eighteen-year-old son, Jehoiachin, became the new king (II Kings 24:8, see notes). He surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar just three months after his reign began. The king, his mother, his wives and his officials along with the leading men of the land were exiled in 597 B.C. Ezekiel was a priest and was among the exiles (Ezekiel 1:1-3). That's when Zedekiah, Jehoiachin's uncle (Josiah's son) was elevated to the throne of Jerusalem/Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. However, Zedekiah was just a puppet, a regent vassal, over Judah. While in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar kept Johoiachin in prison for 37 years, but according to administrative documents found in the excavations at Babylonia (Babylonian text 28122, ANET, p. 308), was still regarded by Nebuchadnezzar to be the King of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar's successor, Evilmerodach, released Jehoiachin from prison and took care of him until his death.
Ezekiel's prophecies were given from exile in Babylon. Unlike Jeremiah, Ezekiel is quite meticulous in giving us the dates of his prophecies.
1 Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.
2 In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity,
3 The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.
4 And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
5 Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.
6 And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
7 And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.
8 And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.
9 Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
10 As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.
11 Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.
12 And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.
13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
14 And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.
15 Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.
16 The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.
17 When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went.
18 As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.
19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.
20 Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
22 And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.
23 And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one toward the other: every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two, which covered on that side, their bodies.
24 And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings.
25 And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.
26 And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.
27 And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.
28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.
Now, don't see things that aren't in this chapter; there are no flying saucers. Ezekiel describes the sensational appearance of the glory of God with his best metaphors. What these beings and wheels were is clear in verse 28 - the glory of God. As we see in verse 1, Ezekiel was 30 years old when he had this vision, and he places himself in the land of the Chaldeans (aka Babylonians). King Jehoiachin's captivity is used to date this vision; he was deported to Babylonia in 597 B.C. Therefore Ezekiels commission here in chapter 1 was received in 593 B.C., 7 years before the final fall of Jerusalem. The fact that he received his first vision five years after the deportation is probably significant, inasmuch as that was the year Ezekiel turned 30. We see in verse 3 that he was a priest. Traditionally, according to Numbers 4 (see notes), Levite priests began ministering at age 30. And keep in mind, Ezekiel is ministering and prophesying to the exiles in Babylonia while Jeremiah is back in Jerusalem prophesying to the inhabitants there.
Ezekiel's very detailed description of the glory of God extends from verse 4 through the end of the chapter. Some have sought to equate his vision here with something tangible and contemporary, but it's neither; it's his glimpse of God's glory - nothing more. So, why all the detail from Ezekiel here? Well...he's just reporting what he saw. Volumes have been written trying to break this vision down into components with an attempt to rationalize each speculation. Let's face it, the manifestation of the glory of God is beyond comprehension.
Of course, God has been manifested before Israel previously in the form of the Shekinah Glory. We have far less detail given to us in those manifestations. See the article to the right of this window for more explanation. This much is for certain, verse 4 says, "And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire." That certainly fits the description of the Shekinah Glory. Then, the last verse of chapter 1, verse 28 says, "As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake."
Within this description of the glory of God, beginning in verse 5, Ezekiel gives us the details of four living creatures. We'll see them again in Ezekiel 10 (see notes) where they appear as cherubim (angels). These fit the same basic description found in Revelation 4 (see notes) describing the living creatures around God's throne.
Now that God has Ezekiel's attention (Ezekiel 2)
1 And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.
2 And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me.
3 And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day.
4 For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD.
5 And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.
6 And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.
7 And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious.
8 But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; Be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee.
9 And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein;
10 And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.
God called Ezekiel to the prophetic ministry. Ezekiel was already a displaced priest; being a prophet of God was not a stretch for him. God told Ezekiel (paraphrased), "I'll give you the words, and you give them to the rebellious people of Israel." Keep in mind, Ezekiel's audience is living in Babylon here. Ezekiel is prophesying to these exiles about their rebellion and the resulting judgment of God. God is using Ezekiel to make certain these exiles know why the demise of Judah happened. God clearly gives Ezekiel direction in verse 8, "But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; Be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee."
Verse 1 is the first time in his prophecy that Ezekiel refers to himself as the "son of man." However, for the balance of the book, he does so 93 times altogether. That particular title gave the Jewish leaders in Jesus' day fits. Jesus frequently referred to himself as the "son of man" in his earthly ministry; the term is used 84 times in the Gospels. These Jewish leaders wanted to charge and convict Jesus on grounds of blasphemy, but since Ezekiel had consistently referred to himself as "the son of man," it was impossible for them to charge that Jesus was claiming anything more than being a prophet...just like Ezekiel. In fact, Jesus was very God in the flesh, but the term "son of man" suggested, but stopped short of proclaiming the same. However, Daniel used the term "son of man" to refer to the Messiah:
Daniel 7:13-14 (see notes) - I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
You can see the dilemma for those Pharisees and Sadducees who wanted to entrap Jesus for blasphemous words.
We see beginning in verse 8 that Ezekiel was to symbolize his complete acceptance of the Lord’s message by eating the scroll containing the words of the prophecies he was to administer. This eating-of-the-roll symbol continues down through 3:3.
1 Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.
2 So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll.
3 And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.
4 And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them.
5 For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel;
6 Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee.
7 But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.
8 Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads.
9 As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.
10 Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears.
11 And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.
12 Then the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the LORD from his place.
13 I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing.
14 So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.
15 Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.
Ezekiel had just experienced an awesome call to the prophetic ministry, topped off by the eating of the scroll containing the prophetic words he was to utter. What do you even say after you've talked with God and seen the glory of God? Ezekiel had his mission from God, but he was simply speechless. He went to the exiles, but he just sat with them without speaking for seven days. Two unidentified locations are mentioned here in Babylonia, Telabib and a river named Chebar. That's where Ezekiel joins the Jewish exiles.
Incidentally, what is the probability that Ezekiel's prophetic messages will be received by these exiles. There's your answer in verse 7, "But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted." Whoa...that's gotta be a tough call to the ministry; Ezekiel knows in advance that his message will not be heeded by his audience. Oh...well...a call is a call. GOD TOLD HIM TO GO!
The scroll ("roll") contained the prophecy that Ezekiel was to speak. Ezekiel's prophecy was not his own, but had come directly from God. It is interesting that John, in Revelation 10 (see notes), is also told to eat a scroll containing the prophecy that was to follow.
16 And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
17 Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
18 When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
19 Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
20 Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
21 Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.
22 And the hand of the LORD was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee.
23 Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river of Chebar: and I fell on my face.
24 Then the spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet, and spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thine house.
25 But thou, O son of man, behold, they shall put bands upon thee, and shall bind thee with them, and thou shalt not go out among them:
26 And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house.
27 But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house.
God gives Ezekiel a pretty strong commission here. He basically tells Ezekiel to do a good job speaking God's Word to his people. Doing so fulfills his responsibility whether they heed his word or not. However, if he does not prophesy to them as commanded by God, their blood is on his hands.
Some have taken these verses out of context and applied them as principles of witnessing by Christians. That's a reckless use of scripture. This is a specific commission given to a specific man for a specific people. God commissioned a ministry of prophetic reproof by his prophet Ezekiel to disobedient and exiled Israel/Judah. Likewise they have done the same with Ezekiel's comments about his responsibility to warn the Jews in Ezekiel 18 (see notes) and Ezekiel 33 (see notes).
Then we see some special instructions for Ezekiel; he is not to engage in idle conversation with the exiles of Israel. He is to remain in his house and silent until God gives him a word to speak to the people - talk about a lonely job! That's not all. We see in verses 26-27 that Ezekiel would experience muteness except when God spoke through him. That means he couldn't go back and elaborate on his prophecies. This muteness would last seven years until the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
1 Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem:
2 And lay siege against it, and build a fort against it, and cast a mount against it; set the camp also against it, and set battering rams against it round about.
3 Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.
4 Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity.
5 For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.
6 And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.
7 Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it.
8 And, behold, I will lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another, till thou hast ended the days of thy siege.
9 Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentiles, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof, according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side, three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof.
10 And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it.
11 Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink.
12 And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.
13 And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them.
14 Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth.
15 Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow’s dung for man’s dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.
16 Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment:
17 That they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.
Ezekiel was to act out the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem presumably in his front yard with a small constructed model of Jerusalem. The whole process was to attract attention...for 430 days. Whoa! Propheting, Ezekiel style, is hard work...and by many standards, a little weird also. Keep in mind, Jerusalem, at this time, had not yet been destroyed, but Ezekiel and others have already been captured and exiled to Babylon. Ezekiel is prophesying that the city will fall. The 430 days (390+40) are puzzling. Various theories have been taught regarding this time period representation. Each day represents a year; that much is clear. Are these future years or past years? Exodus 12:40 (see notes) fixes the Egyptian bondage at 430 years. Was he bringing up this past? Perhaps he was talking about the total number of years that Israel and Judah were in idolatry. Or maybe it had something to do with the timing of events that would be yet future to Israel/Judah. If so, that would take them to the Maccabean revolt era against the Syrians in the second century B.C. Whatever the years mean, the object lesson is clear; Jerusalem will experience famine and the onslaught of a tremendous army (Babylonian) before their fall.
This prophecy would have been about seven years before the actual fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. This must have been quite a sight for the people passing by - sort of like a guy sitting on a flagpole. Even his position of lying on his left side while prophesying against the sins of Israel and on his right side when prophesying against the sins of Judah was very specifically designated by God. As a priest, Ezekiel felt he had to draw a line with all of this imagery in verses 12-15, "Cook my food over a fire made with what!?" That was just more impression than Ezekiel wanted to make. God allowed Ezekiel to make a substitute. Still, you can imagine the odor coming from a fire fueled by manure! Well...there's no question about this: It was God's purpose for Ezekiel to be noticed and heeded by the Jewish exiles.