Ezekiel is all about God promising his people a new life. The book opens at a dark time of despair and hopelessness but it describes a future bright with joy and fulfilment. Through the words of his prophet, Yahweh commits himself to giving Israel a life that is as good as it can possibly be. A life of security, intimacy, enjoyment and harmony. It’s in this respect that Ezekiel so clearly points the way for the arrival of Jesus Christ.
God really gets out the megaphone in Ezekiel. It’s full of vivid images, designed to shake Israel from its complacency. They’re sinning against God, and they don’t care!
Setting & Structure:
Ezekiel was one of the first prisoners taken by Babylon during the horror of the Exile. The book covers a time-frame from 593 – 571 BC. The setting is therefore a time of unprecedented despair in the life of Israel. It is this despair which tes the first half of the book. As Ezekiel sits in Babylon, hearing reports of the Babylonian juggernaut rolling across the countryside towards Jerusalem his prophecies are full of gloom and judgment as Yahweh explains the spiritual reasons behind the military tragedy.
What makes Ezekiel so interesting, however, is the way in which the historical events at the time of Ezekiel are so closely interwoven with the theme of his message and therefore the structure of the book. This is notably seen in the way that the tone of the book changes radically at several keys points, all of which correspond to significant events within the Exile.
For example after 23 chapters of judgment oracles against Israel Ezekiel hears word that Zion has been surrounded (Ezekiel 24:1-2). At this point there is a sudden change in subject matter. Judgment is still the nt theme but now Israel is dropped from being the centre of attention. Now God’s judgment is described upon all the nations.
God’s judgment on the nations continues until Ezekiel again hears news of Jerusalem. This time the news is even worse. The siege which started in Ezekiel 24 has finally broken the back of the city. Zion is now overrun with Babylonian troops (Ezekiel 33:21-22). At this point the book again sharply changes tone. The nations are forgotten and once more the focus swings back to Israel. Yet now the mood is different. Ironically, despite the gloom of Zion falling, God now delivers messages of hope. It is this theme which will now te the remainder of the book as Yahweh piles promise upon promise regarding future blessings for his people.
Ezekiel shows us the justice and mercy of God. The first half of the book, which is ted by oracles of judgment, reveals that God’s sense of justice demands that sin be punished.
Alternatively the second half of the book, which is ted by oracles of hope, reveals that God is immensely gracious and generous.
However it is Ezekiel ‘s opening vision which prepares the way for God’s justice and mercy to be taken to a whole new level within the book. On the banks of the Kebar River Ezekiel sees a God who knows everything and who goes everywhere. It is these characteristics of God which transform his justice and mercy to both terrifying and thrilling proportions.
The fact that God knows everything and goes everywhere means that his judgment are inescapable. No sin is secret. Everything is uncovered. The plight of the sinner before God is therefore pitiful. Be it Israel or the nations, no one can stand before the thoroughness of God’s scrutiny.
Alternatively, the fact that God knows everything and goes everywhere, means that his mercy is wonderfully liberating. God’s grace is not jeopardised by him discovering something new about us. There is nothing new for him to discover. Furthermore, no one can give blessings to match those of God’s. There is nothing good that we need which God is ignorant of. Life under God’s love really is life as good as it possibly could be.
It’s not too hard to now see how Ezekiel points us so unambiguously to Jesus. Certainly Jesus comes as the specific fulfilment of certain promises made in the book. For example Jesus is the good shepherd promised in Ezekiel 34 (cf John 10). But even more than these specific examples of promise-fulfilment, Jesus is the one who comes to ultimately satisfy the all encompassing dimensions of God’s justice and love.