Let’s read another prolixitous prophet. Ezekiel saw some crazy things as he sat by the Chebar canal in Babylon with the first phase of Judean exiles. He’s in Babylon while Jeremiah is still in Judah. Here’s part 1 of an overview of the whole book that will get us through this week. Remember, the prophets are primarily concerned with calling Israel back to covenant faithfulness in accord with Moses’ prediction in Deuteronomy 30 that exile will be the punishment for disobedience. Ezekiel is no different. He wants Israel to put away her heart of stone and receive a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel is a priest who would know the things of the Lord. It’s striking in chapter 1 that when he sees the vision of the Lord, he can only use analogies (“like”, “as it were”) to describe God. The beauty and splendor of the Lord demands a flat-on-your-face response. In chapter 2, we see that hearing the voice of the Lord requires the Spirit of the Lord and yet Ezekiel’s commission to proclaim of those words will fall on deaf ears (much like Isaiah). In chapter 3, God calls Ezekiel to ingest his words and to speak them out, to receive them in his heart and hear them with his ears. Ezekiel’s call was to be the Lord’s mouthpiece to the people. In chapter 4, Ezekiel is prophetic through an arts-and-crafts model of the siege of Jerusalem, laying on his side to bear Israel and Judah’s punishment, and baking bread on cow’s dung to symbolize the shortage and uncleanness of eating bread in exile among unclean nations.
The object lesson from chapter 4 continues in chapter 5 with a picture of Jerusalem’s destruction. In chapter 6, we see a clear explanation of why the Lord’s wrath has broken out against Jerusalem: idolatry which led to the Lord’s broken heartedness over Israel’s whoring with idols. The Lord’s wrath is an outflowing of his love for his people – but the end result is for his people to know and acknowledge him as Lord. Chapter 8 reveals visions of the people back in Jerusalem who worship false gods because they believe the Lord cannot see them.
In chapter 9, those committing idolatry are committed to the sword – but those who grieve the idolatry in Jerusalem are given a mark on their foreheads and judgment “passes over” them (Biblereading side-note: You should note this passage and reference it when you consider the “mark of the beast” in Revelation 13. Revelation draws on all the OT prophets, which give important context for understanding Revelation). In chapter 10-11, a devastating thing happens: The glory of the Lord leaves the Temple and judgment comes on Israel’s wicked counselors because “they did not walk in the Lord’s statues or obey his rules.” But the conclusion of chapter 11 offers a glimpse of hope as the Lord promises to give the faithful remnant a new heart with a will to obey. In chapter 12, Ezekiel is a living parable of Jerusalem’s final captivity and exile.
No one who walk in open rebellion toward the Lord will be spared from his wrath. Neither the false prophets or the women who make magic bracelets, nor the elders who practice idolatry, nor even the city Jerusalem itself would be spared (even if Noah, Daniel, and Job prayed for it). Israel’s faithlessness has rendered them useless.
Read chapter 16 with the gospel in mind. This is a wonderful chapter, full of the Lord’s grace and ripe with opportunities to point to the Gospel. It is a picture of Israel’s failure, but of God’s determination to bring life to his unfaithful wife. Pay attention to the end of chapter 16 where we see Ezekiel’s primary concern for faithfulness to Yahweh’s covenant and his intention to atone for Israel’s unfaithfulness. Chapter 17 presents us with a parable of events in Jerusalem followed by a parable of the future – a new, tender branch which will become a tree under which many birds (aka: all nations) will find rest.
Chapter 18 offers a hopeful vision for those who practice righteousness and justice for those who sin. Pay attention to the Lord’s repeated question in this chapter. It reveals his heart. “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked and not rather that he should turn away and live?” “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone.” Yet, God is just. As we saw in Lamentations last week – he does not afflict from his heart. Lamentation is the natural response for Israel’s captivity, but God has a plan to restore his people and make them faithful to obey.
In response to Israel’s continued sinfulness, the Lord draws his sword for judgment. He will satisfy his fury both on Israel and on her neighbors the Ammonites. In chapter 22, pay attention to echoes of the ten commandments. Like we’ve said before, the prophets are primarily concerned with covenant faithfulness. Failure to keep the Ten Commandments is covenant disobedience at its most basic. The people’s unfaithfulness has caused them to become impure. But, the Lord – by his judgment – is actually purifying his people even if they don’t see it now. His furnace is burning away the impurities.