An Introduction to the Book of Ezekiel
An Introduction to Ezekiel from The Gospel Transformation Bible...
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The book of Ezekiel records the preaching and message of the sixth century Hebrew prophet of the same name. Ezekiel’s name literally means “God strengthens,” appropriate for a man who’s call was to prophesy to a people who had been carried into exile by a foreign power.
Ezekiel prophesied in the years following the exile of the Israelite people to Babylon that began in 597B.C. In fact, Ezekiel himself was one of those carried from Jerusalem to Babylon and settled along the Chebar canal. Many of Ezekiel’s prophecies are explicitly dated, with the earliest coming in the summer of 593B.C., about four or five years after the exile, and the latest about 22 years after that.
Ezekiel prophesied to a people in exile, who were tempted to doubt both the power and the justice of their God. His messages, therefore, stress God’s universal reign and the absolute rightness of His judgement of His own people. Ezekiel’s message is not all about judgement, though. Grace shines through, as he also gives the exiled Israelites a series of beautiful messages about God’s ability and determination to restore them, to bring them out of exile, and to give them life where there has been only death. Most of all, however, He reveals to God’s people that even though they are currently in exile, God has determined that one day He will dwell among them forever. Thus the book ends with a description of God’s city, and the name of it is “The LORD Is There”.
The Gospel and Ezekiel:
Many Christians approach the book of Ezekiel and see little more than an obscure mass of judgment oracles, within which are a few random passages that speak of God’s grace. Compared to the other Major Prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel - Ezekiel has probably the fewest obvious messianic passages anticipating Christ, so it is not the first book that comes to mind when one wants to see the gospel expounded in the Old Testament.
Understood rightly, however, Ezekiel contains and continues a beautiful story of God’s grace to His underserving people. It is a compelling Old Testament witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The whole structure of the book, in fact, points to God’s grace to His people in spite of their sin. In the first 24 chapters, the book contains a succession of oracles that promise judgement against the people of Israel. Jerusalem will be placed under siege and destroyed, Ezekiel warns, and this will happen because of the people’s sin. The exile has not happened by accident, and neither will the destruction of Jerusalem. All of it comes from the hand of God in response to the people’s rebellion against Him.
In chapters 24-33, the focus changes as God turns His attention to judging the nations around Israel. He is sovereign not only over His people but over all the nations of the world. None of them will be excused for their rebellion.
In chapter 33, the focus of the book changes again. With God’s judgement against Jerusalem carried out in full, and with judgement pronounced against Israel’s enemies, God now begins to promise His people that they will be restored. Life will reign where there has only been death. God will pour out His Spirit on the people. The destroyed temple, the central symbol of God’s presence among His people, will be restored. God will once again dwell with His people.
Not only does Ezekiel promise God’s presence, He also indicates over and over again that God will accomplish this restoration of His people through the work of a king of Israel who will sit yet again on David’s throne. This was an extraordinary prophecy, because Jehoiachin - the last of the Davidic line of kings - had himselfbeen carried into exile. The throne, therefore, was empty. God promises through Ezekiel, however, that it will not remain so forever. One day, God will restore His people and a new ruler will sit on David’s throne. This king will not only reign for eternity but will also make atonement for His people’s sins and bring them back into God’s presence.
In all of this, Ezekiel points powerfully both to the coming of Jesus Christ and to the grace of God in forgiving sinners. All human beings - not just Israel - are sinners who deserve God’s judgement. Therefore the first 32 chapters of the book are not without relevance to us. We learn from them about God’s holiness, the wickedness and consequences of rebellion against Him, and the divine wrath such sin deserves. At the same time, though, we learn also of God’s love for His people despite their rebellion, and of His promise to send a Savior who would restore them, give them life, and bring them to live in His presence forever.