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Five Old Testament books of prophecy are known as the Major Prophets. They
are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Four of them are named for the
prophet who wrote them. Lamentations is included because it was written by the prophet
Jeremiah. Isaiah prophesied to the nation of Judah in the eighth century before Christ.
Jeremiah prophesied to Judah during the time its people were being carried into the
Babylonian Captivity. Ezekiel was taken into Babylon with the second group of captives. He
was called by God to prophesy to the captives in Babylon. Daniel was in the first group
who were taken captive. He served God as a prophet in the courts of the king of Babylon.
Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel were contemporaries. This means that their lives overlapped. However, Isaiah lived about one hundred years earlier. Isaiah foretold the coming of the Babylonian Captivity (Isaiah 39). Jeremiah preached to the people of God and told them to accept the period of captivity as just punishment from God for their sins (Jeremiah 25). Ezekiel spoke of the return from Babylon (Ezekiel 20:39-44). Daniel foretold what would happen to the Jews after the time of the Babylonian Captivity (Daniel 8-11).
We must keep in mind there were three times the Jews were carried into Babylon. In 606 B.C. certain of the royal family including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were taken (Daniel 1:1-6; 2 Kings 24:1). In 596 B.C. many of the skilled craftsmen, priests and other leading people were taken (2 Kings 24:1-17). Ezekiel was among these. Finally, in 586 B.C. the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzars army. The rest of the Jews were taken as slaves to Babylon (Jeremiah 39; 2 Kings 25:1-11). A small group remained in the land.
The book of Ezekiel is a unique book. It has long been regarded as one of the most difficult books, if not the most difficult book, in the Old Testament. Ezekiel is written in apocalyptic language. This is highly figurative speech. It contains many signs, symbols, and allegories. There are several key phrases which occur in Ezekiel. Ezekiel is called the son of man about one hundred times. The phrase, The word of the Lord came to me is found forty-nine times. Another phrase, and you shall know I am the Lord, is found more than sixty times.
It appears from reading the book that Ezekiel had three purposes in mind when writing: (1) The people of Judah needed to understand the reason for the captivity; (2) They needed to turn from the worship of idols and return to worshiping God; (3) They also needed to have corrected the mistaken idea they would speedily return to their homeland. Before they could return to their homeland, they had to first return to God!
Ezekiel was truly Gods spokesman to His people in their hour of greatest need! He was well prepared for this task. He was the son of Buzi, a priest (Ezekiel 1:3). His name means God will strengthen. This tells us that God was the Source of His spiritual strength. Ezekiel was probably born about 622 B.C. This was during the reign of the good king, Josiah. It is very likely that Ezekiel had heard Jeremiah preach in his youth. He may have met Daniel in Babylon (Ezekiel 14:14, 20).
Ezekiel was taken to Babylon when he was a very young man (2 Kings 24:14-16). His call to be a prophet was in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar (Ezekiel 1:3). He was a married man, but his wife died the day the final siege of Jerusalem began (Ezekiel 24:1,2,15-18). He prophesied to the captives at Tel Abib by the River Chebar (Ezekiel 3:15). Tel Abib was about sixty miles south of the city of Babylon. The River Chebar was possibly a canal between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
Ezekiel was about thirty years of age when he was called to be a prophet (Ezekiel 1:1, 2). It was in the fifth year of the Captivity. He continued to prophesy until the twentieth-seventh year of the Captivity. This was a total of twenty-two years. We do not know what happened to him after this. Perhaps he died at the age of 52.
The prophecies of the book of Ezekiel all center around the fall of Jerusalem. The forty-eight chapters of Ezekiel can be divided into two main sections. Chapters 1-24 were delivered before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Chapters 24-48 were delivered after the fall of Jerusalem. The prophetic messages delivered before the fall were filled with condemnation for Judahs sins. The prophetic messages delivered after the fall were prophecies of hope and encouragement.
There are many wonderful lessons to be learned from the book of Ezekiel. These lessons can be of help to us today as we seek to teach Gods Word to others (Roman 15:4). First, we learn from Ezekiel what it takes to be a successful preacher. A successful preacher must continue preaching even when people will not hear or respond (Ezekiel 2:3-10). He must preach nothing but the truth (Ezekiel 3:17-21; 2 Timothy 4:1-5). He must also learn to sit where people sit if he is going to be effective (Ezekiel 3:15,16). In other words, he must live with them so that he can understand their problems and needs. He needs to have a vision of God in order to preach with power. Isaiah saw the Lord in the temple when he was called to prophesy (Isaiah 6). Ezekiel saw a vision of the Lord also (Ezekiel 1:4-28). Today, we see the Lord through the Bible, His inspired Word.
Another great lesson to be learned from Ezekiel is that each person is responsible for his own sins. The Jews of Ezekiels day had a saying among them: The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the childrens teeth are set on edge (Ezekiel 18:2). This is the idea that children inherit the sins of their parents. Many religious people believe this today. This is why they baptize babies. They believe they are born as sinners. This is not true according to the Word of God. Ezekiel said: The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him (Ezekiel 18:20). Sin is not something one receives. It is something he does. A person becomes a sinner when he sins (1 John 3:4).
Still another important lesson taught in the book of Ezekiel is that Gods promises are conditional. The Jews who were in Babylon thought Jerusalem would be spared because of Gods promises concerning it. They had forgotten that Gods promises are conditional (Deuteronomy 4:25-31).
The book of Ezekiel teaches us also that all people are subject to Gods will. Even though the Jews were Gods chosen people in the Old Testament, the Gentiles were also accountable to God for their sins. Eight chapters of the book of Ezekiel are filled with condemnation of the Gentiles for their sins (Ezekiel 25-32).
Finally, the book of Ezekiel clearly teaches that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:3-5). This means that He will not tolerate His people worshiping idols. Just as a man who loves his wife will not tolerate her committing adultery, so God will not permit His people to follow after other gods. Ezekiel taught that worshiping idols was spiritual adultery (Ezekiel 23). Today, we are guilty of spiritual adultery when we put anything ahead of God in our lives (Matthew 6:24; Colossians 3:5).
One writer said of the book of Ezekiel: Probably no book of the Old Testament is as little read as this, and it may well be the least popular, as it is the least known of the Old Testament (John Paterson). Christians must not fail to read and study Ezekiel. It is a part of the Word of God. It has valuable lessons for us today.
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