1902 Encyclopedia > Ezekiel


EZEKIEL (_____ i.e., to ____ God will strengthen, or to ____, God will prevail; ____.; Ezechiel) was the son of Buzi a priest, probably of the line of Zadok, who appears to have lived in Jerusalem, and to have held a position of some prominence there. According to an ancient and not impossible interpretation of his own words (chap. i. 1), Ezekiel was born in 624 B.C. This interpretation is at least preferable to that which reckons "the thirtieth year" from a hypothetical era of Nabopolassar; but it is not free from all objection, and if it fail us we have no data for precisely determining the prophet's age. Notwithstanding the expression made use of by Josephus (irals Ssv, Ant., x. 7, 3) we may reasonably assume, however, that he had at least attained to early manhood, and already had read and observed much, when, along with King Jehoiachin and many other prisoners of the better class (2 Kings xxiv. 12-16; Jer. xxix. 1) he was carried into exile by Nebuchadnezzar in 599 B.C. With others of his com-patriots he was settled at a place called Tel-Abib (" Corn-hill "), on the banks of the river Chebar, by which most probably the Nahr-Malcha or " Grand" Canal of Nebuchadnezzar is meant, though some still think of the Chaboras (modern Khabur), an affluent of the Euphrates more to the north. We are left almost wholly to precarious inference and conjecture for all further de-tails of his history. We learn incidentally, indeed, from his writings that he was a married man living in a house of his own, and that his wife died in the ninth year of his exile. But of the nature of his ordinary employments, if he had any, we are not informed. His life, as a priest whose heart was thoroughly absorbed in priestly work, could hardly fail to be tinged with sadness, condemned as it was to be spent in an " unclean land " far away from " the inheritance of the Lord." He seems to have been of a brooding temperament, and to have passed much of his time in silence and solitude. A recent writer o(in the Studien u. Kritihen for 1877) has ingeniously sug-gested and endeavoured to show that he was an invalid, suffering much from some chronic nervous malady. In the fifth year of his exile (594 B.C.) he had a remarkable vision, of which he has given a very full description in the oopening chapters of his book. On this occasion he was divinely called to the prophetic office. Thenceforward, for a period of at least 22 years, both orally and in writing, he continued to discharge prophetic functions at frequent if somewhat irregular intervals ; and whatever may have been the force and bitterness of the opposition he originally had to face, he ultimately, as a " watchman " and acknowledged leader of public opinion, came to exercise an incalculably powerful influence in keeping alive the Jewish national feeling, and also in quickening and purifying the religious hopes and aspirations of his time. The last date mentioned in his writings is the 27th year of his exile (572 B.C.). It is not probable that he lived long after that time. Nothing authentic, however, has been handed down to us as to the time, place, or manner of his death. Several unimportant traditions may be found in the work of the Pseudo-Epiphanius, Be vit. et mart, proph., in the Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, and elsewhere.

In the present Massoretic canon the book of Ezekiel stands third in order among those of the so-called Nebi'im Aharonim (latter prophets), being preceded by those of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and followed by that of the twelve minor prophets. In the list of canonical books given in the Talmud (Baba bathra, 14, 2) it is the second of the four, being followed by " Isaiah " and " the twelve." Its arrangement is unusually simple, the chronological cor-responding for the most part with the natural order. Its three divisions date respectively from before, during, and after the siege of Jerusalem.

1. The first 24 chapters carry the reader from the time of the prophet's consecration down to the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem, i.e., from 594 to 590 B.C. They are made up of some 29 distinct oracles, all of which, with the trifling exception of xxi. 33-37 [28-32], have direct reference to the religious and political condition of Ezekiel's compatriots in Babylonia and in Palestine. First in order stands the famous "chariot" (comp. 1 Ch. xxviii. 18) vision, which has been so variously estimated, both from theaesthetie and from the theological point of view, by different critics. Bightly interpreted, as a mere description, it cannot justly be called vague or obscure, and it is hard to account foi the strange stories told of the difficulties felt by the Jews in expounding it. The prophet sees in a storm-cloud coming out of the north a group of four living creatures (cherubs), each with four wings and four different faces. Together they are borne upon four wheels which are full ol eyes. Besting upon their heads is a firmament, supporting a sapphire throne, whereon is seated a man-like figure, which is almost hidden in a blaze of light. Hereupon Ezekiel receives and eats the bitter-sweet roll in which are written " lamentations and mourning and woe;" he is now ready to go forth to his fellow-countrymen fearlessly declaring the truth as it is revealed to him, however unwelcome it may be. The recorded oracles that follow belong to the fifth, sixth, seventh, and ninth years of his exile. They can be understood only when viewed in connexion with the general history of that period. Soon after his accession to the throne, Zedekiah, the uncle and successor of Jehoiachin, had begun to intrigue against his suzerain the king of Babylon, and had entered into secret relations with the king of Egypt. Ezekiel, like his older contemporary Jere-miah, had insight and sagacity enough to see the unwisdom of such a policy. By various symbolical actions (iv. 1-8; iv. 9-17; v. 1-4; vi. 11; xii. 1-16; xxi. 11 [6]), and also by unequivocal words, he repeatedly declared the certainty of the doom that was impending over Jerusalem, Judah. and all the mountains of Israel; he insisted on the uselessness of any struggle against Babylon, and distinctly predicted Zedekiah's captivity, blindness, and death. In language of the severest invective he rebuked the sins and idolatries, worse than those of Sodom, which had brought this ine ci-table ruin upon the land and people of the Lord; at the same time he held forth the hope of ultimate restoration and final happiness for both Judah and Ephraim at the end of " forty years," under the guidance of the coming prince "whose right it is" (chaps, xi. 14-21 ; xvii, 22-24; xx. 40-44 ; xxi. 32 [27]).

2. The eight chapters which follow (xxv.-xxxii.) belong to the period which elapsed between the beginning of the siege and the announcement of the capture of Jerusalem; xxix. 17-21 is an exception, belonging to the 27th year of the prophet's exile, and perhaps also chap, xxv., which has no date. During this period the prophet had no word to speak concerning Judah and Israel. In these chapters the divine woe is pronounced against the seven neighbouring nations which had shown most hostility to Judah and Israel, namely, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, and Egypt. The oracles relating to Tyre and Egypt are of great length. The others are comparatively brief. With regard to Tyre its capture and ruin by Nebuchadnezzar are foretold: and it is predicted that within a very short time Egypt shall be desolate forty years. The addition (xxix. 17-21) made seventeen years afterwards is apparently due to the fact that the earlier prediction regarding Tyre (xxvi. 7-14) had not been literally fulfilled. This section contains several passages that are specially interesting from a literary point of view. The description of the great merchant city in chap, xxvii. is noticeable for the richness of its details, and also for the vigour with which the comparison to a ship is carried out in ver. 5-9, 26-36. Striking also is the dirge (chap, xxviii. 12-19) upon the king: "Thou deftly made signet-ring, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty—thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, the topaz, and the diamond. . . . Beside the overshadowing cherub did I place thee ; thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou walkedst up and clown in the midst of stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned ; therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God, and the overshadowing cherub shall destroy thee from the midst of the stones of fire." As Tyre had been likened to a ship, so is Egypt with great minuteness of detail likened to a cedar in chap. xxxi. In chap, xxxii. follows a corresponding dirge, in which the assembled nations., are represented as mourning women singing their lament over Egypt's grave.

3. The remainder of the book (xxxiii.-xlviii.) dates from after the fall of Jerusalem. In chap, xxxiii. we read how the prophet's dumbness was taken away in the twelfth (more probably the eleventh2) year of his exile, on the day when tidings were brought of the ruin of the city. Thereupon chap, xxxiv. opens with a brief retrospect, in which the former avarice, idleness, and cruelty of Israel's shepherds which have led to such disaster are exposed and rebuked.
But the future—the immediate and the distant—chiefly occupies the prophet's mind. He tells of a coming shepherd, " David," under whose rule great and uninterrupted prosperity is to be secured. Edom is to be finally destroyed, but the twelve tribes are to be resuscitated and gathered together in their own land once more. A final battle has yet to be fought with Gog from the land of Magog, who shall come up against the chosen people with a great army,
but only to be utterly destroyed, that Israel may thenceforward dwell in safety, wholly secure from gny possible repetition of former calamities. Then follow in detail the final arrangements of the reorganized theocracy. The new temple, its dimensions, construction, furniture, are described; new laws as to sacrifice and festival are given for the priests, prince, and people of the new commonwealth. Directions are given for the equitable partition of the Holy Land among the twelve tribes, and for the building of the new city, which is to be called by the new name Jahveh Shammah, " the Lord is there." In all these regulations a general formal resemblance to the Pentateuchal legislation is abundantly manifest; but the differences of detail are no less striking. The following may be mentioned among others. Ezekiel's temple is larger, but simpler, than that of Solomon. The distinction between the Holy and the Most Holy Place is much less marked. Both ark and high-priest are passed over in silence. The priesthood is specifically Zadokite. The "prince" has priestly functions assigned him. The morning burnt-offering is brought into special prominence; of the great festivals, the passover and the feast of tabernacles alone are noticed. The feast of pentecost is omitted, nor is any mention made of the great day of atonement, but an observance unknown in the Pen-tateuch, on the 1st and 7th of the first month, is proposed instead.

The genuineness of the book of Ezekiel has seldom been questioned. Some perplexity has been caused by the state-ment in the Talmud (Baba bathra 15, 1) that the men of the great synagogue " wrote" Ezekiel. This obscure expression, by which most probably mere editing was meant, has been deprived of some of its importance by Kuenen's demonstration of the unhistorical character of the entire tradition regarding the great synagogue. To-wards the close of last century some doubts were ex-pressed by Oeder, Vogel, and an anonymous English writer in the Monthly Magazine (1798), with regard to the genuineness of the last nine chapters, which were supposed rather to be of a Samaritan origin, and by Corodi with respect also to chaps, xxxviii. and xxxix.; but these doubts were unanimously set aside by the not too conservative critics of that period. Zunz (Gottesdienstliche Vorträge, 1832 ; also Gesammelte Schriften, i. 217/., 1875) was the first to impugn the genuineness of the entire work, his thesis, in its most recent form, being that no such prophet as Ezekiel ever existed, and that the present work bearing that fictitious name was written somewhere between the years 440 and 400 B.C. His arguments are partly of the a priori kind, such as that the special predictions contained in it (xvii. 16, xxiv. 2, 16, &c.) are inconsistent with the genuineness of the book, and that it is inconceiv-able that in 570 B.C. any prophet could ever have thought of suggesting a new division of the Holy Land, or of drafting a new law-book, or of sketching the plans of a new temple and city. He argues further from the silence of other scriptures, particularly of Jeremiah and of the book of Ezra, with regard to Ezekiel; from certain allusions in the book itself, such as those to Daniel, to the wine of Halybon, &c.; also from its grammatical and linguistic peculiarities. There is still practical unanimity, nevertheless, among critics of all schools in the opinion that the stamp of Ezekiel's in-dividuality is unmistakably and even obtrusively visible in every page of the book that bears his name. Keil and Kuenen agree in holding him to have been its author, and its editor as well. He is believed indeed not to have reduced it to its present form till near the close of his life; and many have embraced the opinion of Ewald, that the earlier dates have in some cases been incorrectly given by him. The text, it ought to be remembered, however, has reached us in a somewhat impure state.

The question principally discussed in recent years, and likely to be discussed for some time to come, in connexion with Ezekiel's name is not whether he wrote less than tradition has assigned to him, but rather whether he may not possibly have written more. In connexion with his theory of the late origin of the priestly legislation in the Pentateuch, Graf, in 1866, arguing from admitted simi-larities of style, gave it out as his belief that Ezekiel was the author of certain chapters of Leviticus (xviii.-xxiii., xxv., xxvi.). This view, which in substance has subsequently been adopted by Colenso and a few others, is manifestly one which does not admit of anything like demonstration. On the other hand, the larger and more interesting inquiry as to the relative priority of the Levitical and Deuteronomic legislations does not fall to be discussed in this place (see PENTATEUCH).

It remains that something should be said of Ezekiel's place as an author and as a religious teacher. His work may be judged from the purely literary point of view more fairly perhaps than that of any of the earlier prophets,—for, unlike them, he was a writer much more than he was a preacher. His oracles were sometimes written before they were spoken; sometimes he wrote what he had no intention of speaking at all. He may be called one of the first sopherim or scribes, if we use that word in its higher sense as denoting " bookmen," and not mere readers or copyists. As a leader of public opinion, he handled a variety of subjects in a corresponding variety of styles, but always with a manner entirely his own. His prose is invariably simple and unaffected; if there be any obscurity at all, it is really caused by his excessive desire to make it impossible for his reader to misunderstand him. His poetry has suffered much at the hands of translators, and the student who is wholly dependent on our Authorized Version will be often at a loss to understand the comparisons to Aeschylus, Dante, or Milton which have occasionally been suggested. More than that of any other prophet, it has been subjected to the extremes of exaggerated praise and undue depreciation by its critics. The sympathetic modern reader, however, will be able to find in it a sublimity, a tenderness, a beauty, a melody, wholly peculiar to itself. Chapter xix., which even Schrader pronounces "masterly," may be specially referred to; also chapters xxviii. and xxxii.

As a religious teacher, it is natural to compare Ezekiel with Jeremiah, his older contemporary, on the one hand, and with his immediate successor, the author of Isa. xl.-lxvi., on the other. It has frequently been said (most strongly perhaps by Duhm) that the contrast is very great, and very much to the disadvantage of Ezekiel. The three men, nevertheless, have much that is common to them all. If Ezekiel sometimes (and especially in his closing chapters) shows a preponderating externalism, a tendency to delight in the fulness and minuteness of his ceremonial details, it must not be forgotten that Jeremiah too looked forward to a restored sanctuary and a reorganized priesthood as essen-tial elements in the perfected theocracy of the future. And if the " Great Unnamed " be justly regarded as one of the loftiest and purest exponents of the spiritual religion of coming days, we must at the same time ramember that Ezekiel too had bidden men seek above all things that city, open only to the pure in heart, of which the glory is that " the Lord is there."
Ezekiel is nowhere mentioned by name in the New Testament, and the direct traces of his writings there, apart from those in the Apocalypse, are comparatively few. Matt, vii. 24-27 compared with Ezek. xiii. 10-13, and John x. 16 compared with Ezek. xxxiv. 22, 23, may be referred to. Both directly, however, and also through the writer of the Apocalypse, his influence upon Christian thought, and especially upon Christian eschatology, has been con-siderable.

Literature.—For the ancient, mediseval, and earlier modern commentaries, see Carpzow and other works of introduction. The .most important works of recent date are those of Ewald, Die Propheten des alten Bundes, vol. ii. 2nd. ed., 1868, Engl. tr. 1877; Havernick, Commentar ii. d. Proph. Ezechiel, 1843 ; Hitzig, D. Proph. Ezechiel, 1817 ; Fairbaim, Exposition of the Book of Ezekiel, 1851 ; Kliefoth, D. Buch Ezechiels, 1865 ; Hengstenberg, D, Weissagnngend. Pr. Ezechiels, 1867 ; Keil, D. Proph. Ezechiel, 186S ; The Speaker s Commentary, vol. vi., 1876. See also Ewald's Geschichte d. V. Jsr., iv. 18 lb; Kuenen, Godsdienst van Israel, vol. ii., and Profeten en Profetie, 1875, Eng. tr. 1877 ; Schrader's
article "Ezekiel" in Schenkel's Bibel-Lexikon; Duhm, Die Theologie der Propheten, 1875. On the critical questions see Zunz, Gottesdienstliche Vortrage, p. 157-299, and Gesammelte Schriften, 1875; Graf, D. geschichtliche Bücher des A. B. 1866 ; Kuenen, in Theol. Tijdschrift for Sept. 1870; Colenso, Tlie Pentateuch and Book of Joshua critically examined, part vi., 1872 ; Klostermann on "Ezekiel" in the Studien u. Kritiken for 1877. The English reader may be referred to The Holy Bible with various renderings and readings, London, 1876. Bunsen's Bibelwerk will also be found useful by the ordinary reader of German. (J. S. BL.)


Bleek (Einl. § 221, note), is probably wrong in identifying both 1J3 and Chaboras with the TOn of 2 Kings xvii. 6, which is most probably the Khabur, a tributary of the Tigris (Delitzsch, Jesaja, j>. 16, note).

The language of xxiv. 27, taken along with that of xxxiii. 22, has led many to the conclusion that Ezekiel was literally dumb during this period, and that the oracles belonging to it must necessarily have been written, not spoken. But xxix. 21, dating from a much later period, re/mires to be also considered in this connexion. He may possibly have been speechless on certain subjects only.

* So the Peshito and a few of the MSS. See Ewald, Hitzig, Bleek.

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