Ezekiel was an Israelite priest living in Jerusalem during the first Babylonian attack on the city. Ezekiel was among the first Israelites exiled from Jerusalem, and this book was written after God revealed Himself to Ezekiel while he was in exile. Ezekiel’s message is, like the other prophets, one of the realities of God’s divine judgment, covenant love and faithfulness intertwined.
The book begins with a vision Ezekiel saw of God. Ezekiel describes in detail the glory of God’s presence. “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God” (Ezekiel 1:28).
In chapters 2-11, God speaks to Ezekiel and commands him to speak on His behalf to the Israelites, to call out their sin and warn them of God’s judgment because of it.
Ezekiel describes Israel’s injustice and their worship of idols and false gods. In chapters 8-11, he describes that the Temple in Jerusalem has been defiled by idol worship, thus God’s presence will leave His Temple and He will let it be destroyed.
Though God’s presence has left the Temple, He has gone with the Israelites into exile. God has not abandoned His people.
Chapters 12-24 develop God’s plan for carrying out His judgment against Israel. These chapters are full of allegorical stories, explaining just how far Israel has separated itself from God.
Chapters 25-32 describe God’s judgment against other nations, including the nations surrounding Israel and world powers like Egypt and Tyre (modern-day Lebanon). God accuses their leaders of viewing themselves as gods, and foretells their destruction by Babylon because they, too, have rejected God.
In chapter 33, Ezekiel receives a message from Jerusalem: God’s judgment has come to pass and Jerusalem and the Temple have been destroyed.
But in chapters 34-48, the narrative shifts, and God reveals a message of hope for the future of Israel, the nations and all of creation.
Chapters 33-37 speak of God’s promises to raise up a Savior King and give them a new heart, new life and a new Spirit that could make it possible for them to love and worship God fully.
Chapters 38-39 speak of God’s plan to defeat evil among the nations using vivid symbols and imagery.
In the last section of the book, God shows Ezekiel a vision of the new Temple. There is some debate among readers as to whether these Temple visions are a literal or symbolic representation of God’s plan to rebuild the Temple. Ezekiel then uses imagery similar to descriptions of the Garden of Eden to paint a picture of God’s plan to restore all of creation.
Israel’s hard heart: In the first few chapters of Ezekiel, God gives His prophet some bad news: No one is going to listen to his warnings. God explains throughout the book that Israel’s sin is not an issue of behavior, but an issue of the condition of their hearts; the Israelites, like Pharaoh in Exodus, have hearts of stone. But in chapter 36, God promises to remove their stony hearts and give them hearts of flesh, symbolic of a new, transformed life.
God’s presence: In the beginning of the book, God reveals His presence to Ezekiel while he is in captivity in Babylon. In chapter 11, God explains that because of Israel’s rebellion, His presence will leave the Temple and go to Babylon to be among His people. And in chapters 36 and 37, God reveals His plans to breathe the breath of His own Spirit—His presence—into His people.
Symbolism: Throughout Ezekiel’s ministry, God spoke to Him in visions that were symbolic of deeper meanings about Israel’s rebellion, God’s judgment against sin and His plans to restore the world.
Ezekiel 3, 11, 36-37
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
The exile was the most horrendous thing to happen to the nation of Israel. It made the Israelites question whether or not God had abandoned them forever.
But Ezekiel’s vision of hope for the whole world shows the reader that God will not only redeem His chosen people Israel, but will restore all of creation by sending a Savior King, transforming the hearts of His people and giving them the gift of His Spirit.