Who was Ezekiel?

In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet to the nation of Israel.

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 ( Jeremiah 1:1 ) and Zechariah (Zechariah 1:1 ; compare Ezra 5:1 ; Ezra 6:14 ; Nehemiah 12:4 , Nehemiah 12:16 , and my article "Zechariah" in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary ) were priests and prophets; and in Zechariah 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 ( Ezekiel 21:25 f; Ezekiel 45:22 ; see II, 3 below).

We find Ezekiel in Tel-abib (Ezekiel 3:15 ) at the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1 , Ezekiel 1:3 ; Ezekiel 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 (Ezekiel 1:2 ) and continued to the 27th year (Ezekiel 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 (Jeremiah 29:5 ). Ezekiel himself is probably the owner of a house (Ezekiel 3:24 ; Ezekiel 8:1 ). They have also retained their organization, for their elders visit the prophet repeatedly (Ezekiel 8:1 ; Ezekiel 14:1 ; Ezekiel 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 (Ezekiel 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" (Ezekiel 1:1 , Ezekiel 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 (Numbers 4:3 , Numbers 4:13 , Numbers 4:10 , Numbers 4:39 ), and that later on, and surely not accidentally, both Jesus and John the Baptist began their public activity at this age (Luke 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 by Ezekiel 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 Ezekiel 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 of Ezekiel 3:14 f,26 f; Ezekiel 4:4 ; Ezekiel 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 (Ezekiel 3:24 ; Ezekiel 24:25 ); and this on account of the stubbornness of the house of Israel (Ezekiel 3:26 ). This latter expression which occurs with such frequency (compare Ezekiel 2:5 ; Ezekiel 3:9 , Ezekiel 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 (Ezekiel 2:6 ). Israel has a mind harder than a rock, firmer than adamant (Ezekiel 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 ( Ezekiel 20:49 ); and God in turn sums up the impression which Ezekiel has made on them in the words (Ezekiel 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.


IBSE, (in the public domain) with minor edits.