We’ve come now to the third preacher in our study of the Old Testament prophets. All three of these preachers have spoken to the city of Jerusalem. Each of them has been in a different place in time and has approached it from a slightly different angle. Isaiah preached during the reign of King Hezekiah and then watched the wicked turn made by King Manasseh. Jeremiah began his ministry during Josiah’s reign and ended with the destruction of Jerusalem. Both of these prophets preached their messages on the streets of Jerusalem.
Ezekiel spoke to Jerusalem, but from a very different perspective. Ezekiel was born during the reign of Josiah, as Jeremiah was preaching about reformation and the King was cleansing the Temple. Ezekiel was born the son of a priest and was most likely trained from an early age to know the Law (especially since Josiah had just found the book of the Law and reformed the Temple) and the rituals of the priestly sacrifices. As this young priest-in-training grew up, he watched the heat of reform grow colder and fires of Jeremiah’s preaching grow hotter. At 25 years of age he was taken with the first wave of exiles, along with King Jehoiachin, to Babylon. Ezekiel’s ministry took place completely in the foreign country of Babylon, among the exiled Jews.
For five years after his deportation, he lived as a priest without a Temple. His people were dazed and confused. They were captives in a foreign land and their king had been deposed. They were beaten down and all had been lost; all except one glimmer of hope. Even though their king had been deposed, the Temple was still standing. God was still on His throne. It was just a matter of time before God would raise up His mighty arm and vindicate them, pushing the Babylonians back into their own country and exalting Jerusalem once again. Or so they thought.
The young Ezekiel was most likely inclined to believe in this line of thinking. After all, he knew the promises that Yahweh had made to Abraham and David. He knew that God would not be mocked by pagan Gentiles. As Ezekiel was taking a walk that day along the Kebar canal in his exiled detention camp, he may have been envisioning the defeat of the Babylonians and the restoration of his beloved city. Then it happened. God got hold of Ezekiel. God came to him in a terrible, dumbfounding vision of power and glory. But it wasn’t the fiercesome image of beasts and fire that left Ezekiel dumbfounded. No, it was something far worse. God had told Ezekiel that all hope was lost for Jerusalem; that their worst fears were about to come true. Ezekiel was commissioned by God to be the bad guy and deliver a message of destruction to the people in Exile. The people had completely misunderstood their relationship with God and had treated His covenant with contempt, using it to elevate their own social standing and keep the poor and the foreigners out. God would no longer tolerate their syncretistic, watered-down, self-serving religion, and was going to finally remove His presence from the Temple and let the Babylonians completely destroy Jerusalem.
Ezekiel’s style was unconventional and memorable, to say the least. For the next few years this young priest-turned-prophet would use bizarre visuals (like starving himself, knocking down a model of the city, and burning a cooking pot), point his finger at the social elite, and ultimately watch the love of his life die, in order to get the point across. His words were powerful, his message was harsh, but his heart was pure and focused completely on the reality of the Yahweh he met by the canal. “We may be sure that the encounter at the water’s edge transformed what may have been for Ezekiel a matter of intellectual worldview and professional training into the most intensely personal and experiential core of his whole life and identity.”1
The book of Ezekiel can be divided into three major sections
Part 1: Ezekiel preaches to the Exiles about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Doom and Gloom. (chs. 1-24)
Part 2: Ezekiel preaches against the sins of all the nations surrounding Jerusalem. “Jerusalem may have fallen, but you’re next!” (chs. 24-32)
Part 3: Ezekiel preaches a message of hope and a vision for a resurrected and restored Jerusalem. Hope is reborn! (chs. 33-48)