A: Ezekiel’s Call & First Collection of Messages About Coming Judgment (Ezekiel 1-7)
B: Second Collection of Messages About Coming Judgment (Ezekiel 8-13)
C: Third Collection of Messages About Coming Judgment (Ezekiel 14-19)
D: Fourth Collection of Messages About Coming Judgment (Ezekiel 20-24)
E: Oracles Against The Nations (Ezekiel 25-32)
F: Messages About Israel’s Punishment and Future Restoration (Ezekiel 33-39)
G: Vision of the New Temple and New Land (Ezekiel 40-48)
Timeline (c. 593-573 BC)
2 Kings 24-25
2 Chronicles 36
Kings in Judah:
Jehoiachin (3 months)
Zedekiah (11 years)
Introduction to Ezekiel
The book of Ezekiel opens in the fifth year of King Jehoachin’s captivity (summer of 593 BC), this was about 7 years before the fall of Jerusalem. By this time, Daniel had been serving in Nebuchadnezzar’s court for about 10 years, and Jeremiah had already been prophesying for about 30 years. Ezekiel was likely a student of Jeremiah’s back in Jerusalem (along with Daniel) but had been taken off into exile in 597 BC along with men like Mordecai (Jer. 52:29, Ezek. 1:1-3, Esther 2:6-7). The message to Israel at this time was to repent and submit to the yoke of Babylon (Jer. 27:6-8). Nebuchadnezzar is God’s servant and hammer to judge the whole world (Jer. 25:9), and as a result the land of Israel is going to be desolate for seventy years. Just as the Canaanites were kicked out of the promised land for their idolatry, so now Israel is being kicked out for living like Canaanites.
Who Was Ezekiel?
The first verse in Ezekiel says, “Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Ezek. 1:1). We are told that these visions took place in the thirtieth year, and the question is, the thirtieth year of what? Calvin and other commentators take this as the 30th year in the Jubilee cycle, and since there are many Jubilee themes in this book, I think that is a likely interpretation. Another option (and one that can harmonize with the Jubilee view) is that this is also the thirtieth year of Ezekiel’s life. Thirty was the age that priests entered the ministry, and in these opening chapters, God is going to anoint Ezekiel as a sort of high priest for the exile. The actual high priest back in Jerusalem was Seraiah, but seven years after this opening vision, Seraiah will be executed by the king of Babylon (Jer. 52:24-27).
Ezekiel’s name means “God strengthens” or “God shall prevail,” and as with the other prophets, Ezekiel’s name signifies the message that God has for His people: He will be their strength. Despite being cast into the sea of exile and swallowed by the fish of Babylon (see Jonah), God will raise His people from the dead. He will breathe life into dry bones and resurrect the nation. Ezekiel’s priestly and prophetic ministry runs for about 20 years. Just like the priests around the tabernacle, their work began at the age of 30 (Num. 4:3) and they were required to stop at the age of 50 (Num. 8:25). Similarly, Ezekiel’s final vision of a new holy land and temple took place in his 50th year (the year of Jubilee). After that, we are not told anything else about him.
One of the things you will notice as you read Ezekiel is that God calls him by the name “Son of Man” or more literally “Son of Adam.” This name will be picked up by the Lord Jesus in the gospels as his favorite self-identification. But to understand who Jesus is as the “Son of Man,” we must first understand its Old Testament background. In Genesis, Adam was assigned the priestly duty of guarding and keeping God’s garden sanctuary. This meant not allowing serpents and other troublemakers into it. This duty of protecting holy space was assigned to the tribe of Levi and more specifically to the priests. The high priest was a new son of Adam. He bore on his head the name of the LORD, His garments and gemstones represented God’s people, He was a miniature version of the tabernacle. By calling Ezekiel, “Son of Adam,” God is bestowing upon him certain priestly and prophetic duties. When Aaron and his sons were ordained to the ministry, they had to stand guard for seven days without leaving the tabernacle lest they die (Lev. 8:33-36). On the eighth day, they were commanded to burn various sacrifices, and after this the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people (Lev. 9). We see a similar pattern in the opening chapters of Ezekiel. This new son of Adam sees the glory of the LORD, He sees the chariot throne, the four living creatures, wheels with eyes all around, fire and brightness and a rainbow. Ezekiel sees the heavenly reality of what the temple represented, and after He is given the Spirit he sits astonished for seven days (Ezek. 3:15). After this his prophetic ministry begins, God says to him, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me” (Ezek. 3:17).
When we think of about the ministry of Jesus and compare him with Ezekiel, we can start to see the ways that Jesus is a new Adam, a new Ezekiel, the ultimate “Son of Man.” Like Ezekiel, Jesus will be ordained by a river at the age of 30. He will be set as a watchman over Israel to warn them of the coming judgment. He will prophesy of Jerusalem’s destruction, but he will also like Ezekiel carry the blueprints for a new temple and new city, one built from his own flesh and blood. The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost, He comes as the good shepherd, the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34:11, “For thus says the Lord God: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.’” There are many other parallels between Ezekiel and Christ, so as you read this prophetic book, allow it to fill out what it means for Jesus to be a new Ezekiel, “the God who strengthens,” the Son of Man.
Literary Structure of Ezekiel
Ezekiel is a well-organized book.
- The first 24 chapters contain prophesies of judgment upon Israel.
- Chapters 25-32 are oracles against the nations.
- Chapters 33-39 are prophesies of a future restoration.
- And then chapters 40-48 are a vision of a new temple and land.
The book can also be arranged into seven sections where each section is further divided into seven more sections (see below). We might call this a Jubilee pattern where 7 x 7 = 49, and then you have 50th year, the year of Jubilee. The 50th year was a holy year (a sabbath of sabbaths) in which every family was to return to their tribal land, debts were cancelled, and slaves were set free. For a whole year the land was to rest, and God’s people in it. In Ezekiel 48 (the final chapter), we see a new division of the land with its tribal allotments. Both the structure and message of the book anticipate a future Jubilee, when every family will return to the land and experience release from the bondage of exile. This is ultimately fulfilled by the coming of Christ, who comes “to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (Luke 4:19). Jesus is the Jubilee Ezekiel points to.
Detailed Outline (by David A. Dorsey)
A: Ezekiel’s call and first collection of messages about coming judgment (1:1-7:27)
(1) vision: Ezekiel’s commissioning near the Chebar River (1:1-3:11)
(2) vision: Ezekiel’s second message of commissioning (3:12-21)
(3) vision: Ezekiel’s third message of commissioning (3:22-27)
(4) symbolic act: siege of Jerusalem and the clay tablet (4:1-17)
(5) symbolic act: exile and judgment and Ezekiel’s hair (5:1-17)
(6) message against the mountains of Israel (6:1-14)
(7) message about the coming disaster upon Israel (7:1-27)
B: second collection of messages about coming judgment (8:1-13:23)
(1) vision, part 1: idolatry in the temple (8:1-18)
(2) vision, part 2: slaying of Jerusalem’s wicked citizens (9:1-11)
(3) vision, part 3: burning of Jerusalem (10:1-22)
(4) vision, part 4: corrupt rulers of Jerusalem (11:1-25)
(5) symbolic act: exile and Ezekiel’s luggage (12:1-16)
(6) symbolic act: coming disaster and Ezekiel’s eating (12:17-20)
(7) message about false visions and divinations (12:21-13:23)
C: third collection of messages about coming judgment (14:1-19:14)
(1) message against idolatry (14:1-11)
(2) message about coming judgment and God’s justice (14:12-23)
(3) allegory of the useless vine (15:1-8)
(4) allegory of the adulterous wife (16:1-63)
(5) allegory of the two eagles and the vine (17:1-24)
(6) message about individual responsibility and God’s justice (18:1-32)
(7) lament over the kings in exile (19:1-14)
D: fourth collection of messages about coming judgment (20:1-24:27)
(1) message about Israel’s rebellion and the impending judgment (20:1-44)
(2) message against the south (20:45-49 [21:1-5])
(3) message about Yahweh’s sword of judgment (21:1-32 [21:6-37])
(4) message of indictment against Jerusalem (22:1-31)
(5) allegory of Oholah and Oholibah (23:1-49)
(6) allegory of the boiling pot (24:1-14)
(7) message involving death of Ezekiel’s wife (24:15-27)
E: oracles against the nations (25:1-32:32)
(1) Ammon (25:1-7)
(2) Moab (25:8-11)
(3) Edom (25:12-14)
(4) Philistia (25:15-17)
(5) Tyre (26:1-28:19)
(6) Sidon (28:20-26)
(7) Egypt (29:1-32:32)
F: messages about Israel’s punishment and future restoration (33:1-39:29)
(1) message about individual responsibility and Yahweh’s judgment (33:1-20)
(2) message on the eve of Jerusalem’s fall (33:21-33)
(3) good news: shepherds and sheep (34:1-31)
(4) good news: Edom’s fall and Israel’s restoration (35:1-36:38)
(5) good news: valley of dry bones (37:1-14)
(6) good news: one future nation under one king (37:15-28)
(7) good news: Gog and Magog (38:1-39:29)
G: vision of the new temple and the new land (40:1-48:35)
(1) measurements of the temple (40:1-42:20)
(2) arrival of the glory of God from the east (43:1-12)
(3) temple regulations (43:13-44:31)
(4) measurements of land’s sacred sector (45:1-12)
(3) temple regulations (45:13-46:24)
(2) departure of river to the east (47:1-12)
(1) measurements of the land of Israel (47:13-48:35)
Ezekiel 1-7 – The Appearance of the Likeness of the Glory of the LORD
Many people have puzzled over Ezekiel’s opening vision. And although it is fantastic and stretches the limits of language and imagination, we are told explicitly in verse 28 that “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” When we examine the details, we find that this is the chariot throne of God. This is the heavenly substance of which the earthly tabernacle and sanctuary was a copy. As it says in Hebrews 9:23, “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” Ezekiel’s vision is a glimpse of this heavenly glory, the fiery throne of God, this is an image that the book of Revelation will further unveil.
In chapters 2-3, Ezekiel will be filled with the same Spirit that animated God’s throne. He will become a “fifth living creature” of sorts that does exactly what God tells him to do. In beholding God’s glory, Ezekiel will be transformed into a similar image. His face and forehead will become hard as adamant, like the metal of God’s throne. He will be lifted and taken to different places, just like the wheels. He will go in the heat of his spirit, like the fire of God. After seven days in astonishment, God sets Ezekiel as a watchman over the house of Israel. His job will be to warn the wicked and the righteous of God’s judgment. If he does not warn them bloodguilt will be upon his head.
In chapters 4-7 we have the first of Ezekiel’s prophetic sign-acts which are accompanied by oracles to explain them. He is told to build and portray in miniature form a siege against Jerusalem. He is to lay on his left side for 390 days, and then lay on his right side for 40 days, one day for each year of Israel and Judah’s iniquity. This raises the difficult question of what is real and literal in Ezekiel’s actions, versus what was only visionary and then written down. Commentators differ on how to explain this.
In favor of Ezekiel’s actions being real life events, we know that prophets are sometimes asked to do unusual and miraculous things. Although it would be nearly impossible for Ezekiel to lay on his side for 430 days without moving, this is not beyond the realm of possibility with the help of the Spirit. One commentator observes that there have been paralytics who have lain for as long as 16 years on one side, and this without a miracle. Is it so inconceivable that Ezekiel could not do the same?
Against this being a real-life event, but rather something Ezekiel experienced in a vision and then wrote down, we are told in chapter 8 that Ezekiel was sitting in his house among the elders, and that this was “in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month.” If we calculate the difference between chapter 8 and chapter 4, we find that this was only 406 days after Ezekiel was told to lie on his side, which would seem to contradict the 430 days he was supposed to have lain there. In response to this, some posit an intercalary month to make up the difference, but this is uncertain. Another possibility is that Ezekiel carried out these actions but only for a portion of each day, so he went out and performed the sign act, and then was able to go home and sit in his house with the elders. However, this leaves another problem unsolved, namely the lawfulness of these actions.
Some have also raised the moral question of the prophet being commanded to violate the law of God, which is something that would have discredited his message and undermined his status as a true prophet. For example, Leviticus 19:27 says, “You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard.” In Ezekiel 5, Ezekiel is told to do this very thing, the hair signifying God’s people as they are cast into judgment. Likewise, Ezekiel is told to defile himself by eating bread that is cooked over human dung. This appears to violate Deuteronomy 14:3, which says, “You shall not eat any detestable thing,” and Deuteronomy 23:12-14, which prescribes how human excrement is to be covered up outside the camp (see also Lev. 5:3 and Lev. 7:21). We might consider these exceptional circumstances and thus give Ezekiel a pass since God is the one commanding these actions, but this is a real problem we need to wrestle with. According to Talmudic tradition, this tension between Ezekiel and the Torah would be explained when Elijah came (Mal. 4:5), until then, that tension remained.
Taking these arguments together, I lean towards taking these as spiritual visions, not real-life actions, that Ezekiel then wrote down for Israel to learn from. This view is reinforced by some of the more obvious non-literal actions that Ezekiel does in these visions such as eating the scroll (Ezek. 3) and digging into the temple wall (Ezek. 8).
Ezekiel 8-13 – The Glory Departs
In Chapter 8, Ezekiel is taken by the tuft of his hair (if he did shave his head apparently his hair has grown back by now) and is shown the abominations in the temple. This is the inspection of leprosy as described Lev. 14 where a priest examines the walls of the house and determines whether the plague has spread or not. If the walls are infected, then the house is torn down. In chapter 10, Ezekiel sees “a man clothed in linen” (Ezek. 10:2) who scatters coals of fire over the city. We learn from Ezekiel 43:3 that this man in linen is Ezekiel, “It was like the appearance of the vision which I saw—like the vision which I saw when I came to destroy the city.” So Ezekiel is seeing himself destroy Jerusalem. After this, God’s glory departs (ichabod) from Jerusalem, but in chapter 11, God promises to be a sanctuary for the righteous.
In Chapter 12, Ezekiel is told to enact what will later happen to King Zedekiah when Babylon besieges them. He will dig thru the wall thinking he can escape, but they will be caught in Babylon’s snare. There is also a prophesy here of the king putting out Zedekiah’s eyes, “I will bring him to Babylon, to the land of the Chaldeans; yet he shall not see it, though he shall die there” (Ezek. 12:13). Josephus records how Zedekiah’s counselors played Ezekiel and Jeremiah off against each other, as if they contradicted. For Jeremiah says, “And you shall not escape from his hand, but shall surely be taken and delivered into his hand; your eyes shall see the eyes of the king of Babylon, he shall speak with you face to face, and you shall go to Babylon” (Jer. 34:3). How will Zedekiah see the king of Babylon but not see the land of Babylon? If Nebuchadnezzar plucks his eyes out and then drags him off.
Ezekiel 14-19 – An Everlasting Covenant
In Ezekiel 16 there is an extended discourse on Israel’s harlotry. Israel has become more perverse than Sodom when it was destroyed by fire. And yet despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God remains faithful and promises, “Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” Although God has every right to divorce His people and put them to death for adultery, He will save them from their sins.
Ezekiel 20-24 – The Death of the Wife
In chapters 20-24, God continues to detail the sins of Israel. He likens Jerusalem and Samaria to two harlot sisters who commit fornication with the nations. This section ends in Ezekiel 24 with the death of his wife. Ezekiel is not permitted to mourn. This is one of the reasons for regarding Ezekiel as God’s high priest during the exile. In Leviticus 21, regular priests are allowed to mourn for their immediate family, but the high priest was not allowed to mourn or defile himself for anyone.
Ezekiel 25-32 – Oracles Against Seven Nations
In this section, Ezekiel pronounces judgment on Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, and Egypt. The charge against them is pride and mocking at Jerusalem’s fall. Because of their vengeful spirit, God will pour out his fury upon them. There is an extended oracle against the Prince and King of Tyre in chapter 28 which has generated much speculation about who is being referred to. Some see this is an oracle against Satan, or the anti-Christ. Following James Jordan, my view is that the first 10 verses against the Prince of Tyre are directed at the actual human ruler of Tyre at this time. Verses 11-19 are addressed to the King of Tyre and are directed at the spiritual ruler, which would have been the high priest in Jerusalem. This explains why this king is called a cherub who is covered in precious stones.
In chapters 29-32 are oracles against Egypt. God pronounces that they will be made desolate for 40 years, but then will be gathered back into the land, only this time they will be the lowliest of kingdoms. Egypt is going to be Babylon’s wages for working for God (Ezek. 29:19-20).
Ezekiel 33-39 – Resurrection of the Bones
In chapters 33-39 are promises of restoration. We have the famous valley of dry bones that miraculously come to life in Ezekiel 37. This is a prophesy of Israel’s return to the land under Ezra-Nehemiah. During this time Israel and Judah will also be reunited under a Davidic king. There will be a typological fulfillment of this in Zerubbabel, but of course Jesus is the ultimate Davidic King who unites the people.
In chapters 38-39 there is the battle of Gog and Magog. The burial place of these defeated foes is called the Valley of Hamon Gog (Ezek. 39:11) and there is a connection here to the book of Esther. In Hebrew, “Haman the Agagite” (הֲמ֥וֹן גּֽוֹג) and “Hamon Gog” (הָמָ֣ן הָֽאֲגָגִ֔י) are very similar. I take the events of Esther as a typological fulfillment of this great battle, but there is also a final fulfillment at the end of history when Satan is released from his prison (Rev. 20:7). Just prior to Christ’s return, those who died in the battle of Gog and Magog receive their resurrection bodies and make a final attempt to destroy the saints, but fire comes down from God out of heaven and devours them, and Satan is cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). This is just one of many parallels between Ezekiel and the book of Revelation. It is right after this great battle that Ezekiel sees a vision of the new temple (Ezek. 40-48), just as John sees a new heaven and new earth and the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven (Revelation 21-22).
Ezekiel 40-48 – The New Temple and Holy Land
This final section of Ezekiel is difficult to read and requires special attention and imagination to understand. We are told in Ezekiel 43:10 God’s purpose for giving this design, “Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern.” Whatever lessons we can learn from this section, the intended takeaway was to humble the Israelites living in exile. When God wants to teach us humility and holiness, he gives us heavenly architecture.
What does this temple vision signify?
This is a picture of the restoration era, which started in Ezra-Nehemiah and ended with John the Baptist. One of the most striking images is in Ezekiel 47 where water flows from under the temple and out into the sea. This is an image of the Jews during the intertestamental period as they evangelized and set up synagogues throughout the earth. Jesus’ first disciples are pictured as participating in this work as they become fishers of men.
I’ll give you a few reasons why this is not a picture of the church age or of some future millennial temple:
- Animal sacrifices (Ezek. 43:18-27) that are said to make atonement (Ezek. 45:15). Christ is the once for all atoning sacrifice (Heb 9:12).
- Observation of feasts (Ezek. 46:9). Christ fulfilled and ended these (Col. 2:16).
- The ministerial priesthood is limited to Zadokites (Ezek. 43:19). Christ is our Melchizedekian High Priest (Heb. 7), and he has made us all priests and kings unto God (Rev. 5:10).
- Land Divided by Tribe (Ezek. 45, 48). Christ gives us the whole earth (Matt. 5:5).
- Forbids foreigners and the uncircumcised in their flesh from entering the Sanctuary (Ezek. 44:9). Jesus tore down this dividing wall of hostility and has granted full access to the Father (Eph. 2:11-18).
Will this temple ever be built?
No. Israel was never told to build this structure but rather to “keep its whole design and all its ordinances, and perform them” (Ezek. 43:11). This is what Ezra and Nehemiah established as they rebuilt the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. Although what they built was not as externally glorious as what Ezekiel sees, the spiritual reality of it was still true. They reestablished sacrificial worship at this new temple and could take heart from the final words of Ezekiel that the name of the city is called, “THE LORD IS THERE.”