A computer can be programmed to respond to your command. And by conditioning a dog with rewards and punishments, you can teach it to obey. But as every parent knows, children are not so easily taught. People have wills and must choose to submit, to follow the instructions of their parents and leaders. Surely discipline is part of the process – boys and girls should know the consequences of disobedience – but there is a choice to be made. They are not machines or animals.
God’s children must learn to obey their heavenly Father. Created in his image, they have a choice, and God allows them to choose.
Ezekiel was a man who chose to obey God. Although he was a priest (1:3), he served as a Jewish “street preacher” in Babylon for 22 years, telling everyone about God’s judgment and salvation, and calling them to repent and obey. And Ezekiel lived what he preached. During the ministry God told him to illustrate his messages with dramatic object lessons. Some of these acts included (1) lying on his side for 390 days during which he could eat only one eight-ounce meal a day cooked over manure, (2) shaving his head and beard, and (3) showing no sorrow when his wife died. He obeyed and faithfully proclaimed God’s word.
The book of Ezekiel chronicles the prophet’s life and ministry. Beginning with his call as a prophet and commissioning as a “watchman for the house of Israel” (chapters 1-3), Ezekiel immediately began to preach and demonstrate God’s truth, as he predicted the approaching siege and destruction of Jerusalem (chapters 4-24). This devastation would be God’s judgment for the people’s idolatry. Ezekiel challenged them to turn from their wicked ways. In the next section, he spoke to the surrounding nations, prophesying that God would judge them for their sins as well (chapters 25-32). The book concludes with a message of hope, as Ezekiel proclaimed the faithfulness of God and foretold the future blessings for God’s people (chapters 33-48).
As you read this exciting record, watch Ezekiel fearlessly preach the word of God to the exiled Jews in the streets of Babylon and hear the timeless truth of God’s love and power. Think about each person’s responsibility to trust God, and about the inevitability of God’s judgment against idolatry, rebellion, and indifference. Then commit yourself to obeying God, whatever, wherever, and whenever he asks.
PURPOSE: To announce God’s judgment on Israel and other nations and to foretell the eventual salvation of God’s people.
AUTHOR: Ezekiel – the son of Buzi, a Zadokite priest
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The Jews in captivity in Babylonia, and God’s people everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: Approximately 571 B.C.
SETTING: Ezekiel was a younger contemporary of Jeremiah the people still in Judah. Ezekiel prophesied to those already exiled in Babylonia after the defeat of Jehoiachin. He was taken there in 597 B.C.
KEY VERSES: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (36:24-26).
KEY PEOPLE: Ezekiel, Israel’s leaders, Ezekiel’s wife, Nebuchadnezzar, “the prince”
KEY PLACES: Jerusalem, Babylon, and Egypt
Messages of Doom (1:1-24:27) While Jeremiah was prophesying in Jerusalem that the city would soon fall to the Babylonians, Ezekiel was giving the same message to the captives who were already in Babylon. Like those in Jerusalem, the captives stubbornly believed that Jerusalem would not fall and that they would soon return to their land. Ezekiel warned them that punishment was certain because of their sins and that God was purifying his people. God will always punish sin, whether we believe it or not.
- Ezekiel’s call and commission
- Visions of sin and judgment
- Punishment is certain
Messages Against Foreign Nations (25:1-32:32) Ezekiel condemns the sinful actions of seven nations. The people in these nations were saying that God was obviously too weak to defend his people and the city of Jerusalem. But God was allowing his people to be defeated in order to punish them for their sins. These pagan nations, however, would face a similar fate, and then they would know that God is all-powerful. Those who dare to mock God today will also face a terrible fate.
Message of Hope (33:1-48-35) After the fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel delivered messages of future restoration andhope to the people. God is holy, but Jerusalem and the temple had become defiled. The nation had to be cleansed through 70 years of captivity. Ezekiel gives a vivid picture of the unchangeable holiness of God. We too must gain a vision of the glory of God, a fresh sense of his greatness, as we face the struggles of daily life.
EXPLANATION: Ezekiel saw a vision that revealed God’s absolute moral perfection. God was spiritually and morally superior to members of Israel’s corrupt and compromising society. Ezekiel wrote to let the people know that God was also present in Babylon, not just in Jerusalem.
IMPORTANCE: Because God is morally perfect, he can help us live above our tendency to compromise with this world. When we focus on his greatness, he gives us the power to overcome sin and to reflect his holiness.
EXPLANATION: Israel had sinned, and God’s punishment came. The fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile were used by God to correct the rebels and draw them back from their sinful way of life. Ezekiel warned them that not only was the nation responsible for sin, but each individual was also accountable to God.
IMPORTANCE: We cannot excuse ourselves from our responsibilities before God. We are accountable to God for our choices. Rather than neglect him, we must recognise sin for what it is – rebellion against God – and choose to follow him instead.
EXPLANATION: Ezekiel consoles the people by telling them that the day will come when God will restore those who turn from sin. God will be their King and Shepherd. He will give his people a new heart to worship him, and he will establish a new government and a new temple.
IMPORTANCE: The certainty of future restoration encourages believers in times of trial. But we must be faithful to God because we love him, not merely for what he can do for us. Is our faith in him or merely in our future benefits?
EXPLANATION: Ezekiel condemned the shepherds (unfaithful priests and leaders) who led the people astray. By contrast, he served as a caring shepherd and a faithful watchman to warn the people about their sin. One day God’s perfect Shepherd, the Messiah, will lead his people.
IMPORTANCE: Jesus is our perfect leader. If we truly want him to lead us, our devotion must be more than talk. If we are given the responsibility of leading others, we must take care of them even if it means sacrificing personal pleasure, happiness, time, or money. We are responsible for those we lead.
EXPLANATION: An angel gave Ezekiel a vision of the temple in great detail. God’s holy presence had departed from Israel and the temple because of sin. The building of a future temple portrays the return of God’s glory and presence. God will cleanse his people and restore true worship.
IMPORTANCE: All of God’s promises will be fulfilled under the rule of the Messiah. The faithful followers will be restored to perfect fellowship with God and with one another. To be prepared for this time, we must focus on God. We do this through regular worship. Through worship we learn about God’s holiness and the changes we must make in how we live.
©Kingsway International Church, 1973.