God appointed Ezekiel as a watchman with a sobering prophetic message. Do his messages of warning and hope have implications for people and nations today?
The Bible Handbook by Joseph Angus makes this comment in its introduction to the book of Ezekiel: “Ezekiel (God will strengthen, or prevail) was, like Jeremiah, a priest as well as a prophet. He was of the great company of captives carried to Babylon, with the young King Jehoiachin, by Nebuchadnezzar, B.C. 597, ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem. These captives were distributed into different settlements throughout Babylonia, forming small communities with a certain organization, and freedom to worship.”
About five years later, at the age of 30 and still in captivity, God called Ezekiel into service as a prophet roughly six years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. His prophecies continued for another 16 years after Jerusalem’s overthrow, covering a period of around 22 years.
Ezekiel’s major commission was to act as a “watchman” on God’s behalf. His message was directed to Jerusalem (mentioned 23 times in the first 24 chapters) and Judah then, as well as to Israel.
Interestingly, the phrase “house of Israel” occurs in 78 verses in the book, while “house of Judah” is found in only five. Many people assume those terms refer to the same group of people, but they do not. All Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews. The 10 tribes of the house of Israel had been taken captive to Assyria close to 130 years earlier, but the house of Judah remained. (Learn more about where the so-called lost 10 tribes of Israel are today in our article “12 Tribes of Israel Today.”)
At times Ezekiel seemed to use the term “house of Israel” somewhat loosely. In the early part of the book, especially in the first 24 chapters, the context clearly shows that he was addressing the Jews and Jerusalem. But in other places he is not, and is clearly speaking directly to the Jews’ sister nation, the house of Israel.
Why is this important? Because much of biblical prophecy is dual, meaning it has application to both a former and a latter time. One must ask in this case, why would God have Ezekiel pronounce a warning message to Israel over a century after they were taken captive and were no longer on the scene? Could it be because his warning messages were intended both for a historical audience and for the modern descendants of Israel and Judah?
God, through Ezekiel, was warning them of impending destruction unless they repented and turned from their idolatrous and sinful practices. The people were told in no uncertain terms that if they did not hearken to God’s admonitions, they would be held accountable and suffer the consequences of their own actions.
The principle of prophetic duality—a former and a latter fulfillment—means the houses of both Israel and Judah should still heed Ezekiel’s message today!
Individual responsibility is one of the major themes of the book. One sobering lesson from the Bible is that when people or nations turn away from God and reject His laws, there will be dire consequences.
When the nations of the Western world turn away from God and the Christian principles they once espoused and on which they were founded and built, then they only have themselves to blame for their increasing disquiet, distress and afflictions. Prophecy clearly indicates that the antibiblical values taught by religious and political leaders today will lead to a rapid decline and ultimate breakdown of the structure of our Western nations.
As a point of interest, at the same time Ezekiel was prophesying in Babylon, Jeremiah was proclaiming a similar warning message to the Jews in Jerusalem. Other contemporaries were Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Daniel, who was likewise in Babylon.
Predictions of happiness, peace and abundance
As with all the prophets, Ezekiel did not come with a message of only doom and gloom. Through him, God proclaimed that after the Israelite peoples suffer national humiliation and deprivation because of their disobedience to His laws, Christ will return to usher in a time of unparalleled peace and harmony among all nations. As King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He will return to establish His righteous government over the nations (Ezekiel 36:22-38; Revelation 11:15). Only then will peace and an abundant life for all humans increase and thrive.
Outline of Ezekiel
The book of Ezekiel may be divided into three sections:
Chapters 1-24. Judgment on preexilic Jerusalem, Judah and Israel.
- Chapter 1. Ezekiel’s vision of God.
- Chapters 2-3. Ezekiel’s commission.
- Chapters 4-7. Symbolic siege of Jerusalem.
- Chapters 8-11. Visions shown to Ezekiel.
- Chapters 12-19. Jerusalem’s sins: judgment pronounced (“the soul who sins shall die”).
- Chapters 20-24. Signs to Jerusalem of impending doom.
Chapters 25-32. Judgment on the nations of Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and Egypt.
- Chapter 28. Satan the devil identified and ultimately restrained.
Chapters 33-48. The fall and restoration of Israel.
- Chapter 33. The fall of Jerusalem.
- Chapter 34. The shepherds led Jerusalem astray.
- Chapter 35. Edom doomed as Obadiah predicted.
- Chapter 36. Future restoration of the land of Israel and Judah.
- Chapter 37. The vision of the dry bones.
- Chapters 38-39. Future prophecy of Gog and Magog.
- Chapters 40-48. The millennial temple described.
One of the features of Ezekiel’s prophecies is the use of dramatic symbolic actions, also referred to as “enacted prophecy.”
For example, in Ezekiel 5:1-2, he is told to shave his head with a sword, weigh and divide the hair, burn a segment of it, smite a second section with a sword and scatter a third portion into the winds.
Though the prophecy addresses Jerusalem (verse 5), the principle of duality in biblical prophecy shows us that this is also a future prophecy for “all the house of Israel” (verse 4). Only a small remnant will survive (possibly only a 10th of those who are led into captivity). These prophecies have both a historical and an end-time fulfillment.
Take heed to these words
As with all the prophets of God, Ezekiel’s message was twofold.
The first part is a warning that if the people persist in their unfaithfulness and rejection of the laws of God, they will suffer unimaginable consequences.
The second part declares that when they finally come to their senses and humbly cry out to God in genuine repentance, they will be the recipients of God’s choicest blessings.
While in Babylonian captivity, Ezekiel was stressing the unparalleled time of Israel’s future troubles.
Below is a selection of passages that illustrate these future troubles:
- Ezekiel 2:3-7; 3:17-19; 33:7. Ezekiel is commissioned to be “a watchman” (like a sentry on guard duty), especially to rebellious Israel. The message had immediate relevance in Ezekiel’s day, and it has an urgent message of warning for us in the end time.
- Ezekiel 5:12; 6:12. God warns of a horrific time of unsurpassed suffering and tremendous human atrocities (see also Matthew 24:21-22; Daniel 12:1). Yet God in His mercy will allow a “remnant” of those who go into captivity to survive (Ezekiel 6:8), and they “will remember Me among the nations where they are carried captive” (verse 9).
- Ezekiel 7:19. Wealth will not deliver them “in the day of the wrath of the LORD.”
- Ezekiel 8:12. People act as if “the LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land.”
- Ezekiel 9:4. God will place a mark on those godly people who experience profound grief, heartbreak and sorrow over the terrible spiritual condition of the people. They appear to be few in number!
- Ezekiel 13:10, 22. God indicts religious leaders who bring a false message of hope when there is none.
- Ezekiel 18:4. “The soul who sins shall die.” However, God pleads for a contrite and repentant attitude so that He can bless rather than punish: “‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord GOD, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’” (verse 23; see also verses 30-32).
- Ezekiel 20:11-13, 16-26. God proclaims His anger with those who “profaned My Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols” (verse 16). They committed these sins when they came out of Egypt, which served as a warning to those who violated God’s Sabbaths in Ezekiel’s day and for those who do so today.
- Ezekiel 22:25-26. The religious leaders “have violated My law and profaned My holy things … [including] My Sabbaths” (verse 26).
As people change their ways, God is ready and prepared to forgive and bless.
- Ezekiel 34:2, 10. “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! … Behold, I am against the shepherds.” God does not look kindly on ministers who take advantage of people or misrepresent His Word.
After correction, blessings will abound
As people change their ways, God is ready and prepared to forgive and bless. As stated in Romans 11:26-27, “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob [Israel]; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’”
Consider these passages:
- Ezekiel 6:9. “They will loathe themselves for the evils which they committed in all their abominations.”
- Ezekiel 11:19-20. “Then … I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh … that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.”
- Ezekiel 14:23. God will extend comfort: “‘And you shall know that I have done nothing without cause that I have done in it,’ says the Lord GOD.”
- Ezekiel 34:23-24. David will be resurrected to lead Israel as a true shepherd: “My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God.”
- Ezekiel 36:24-38. As the people obey God and walk in His ways, blessings will abound and the land will become like the garden of Eden.
- Ezekiel 39:21-29. Their inheritance will be restored to Israel as they submit to God’s laws. “‘And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,’ says the Lord GOD” (verse 29).
- Chapters 40-45. Ezekiel records visions and description of the temple to be built in the Millennium and talks about the observance of the feasts of God (45:18-25).
- Chapter 47. Healing waters will proceed from the temple. Wherever the waters flow, healing of the land will occur (verses 1-12).
- Chapter 48. All 12 tribes of Israel will be reassigned their own regions within the Promised Land. They will no longer be separate nations, but one nation under God.
The scriptures above represent the good news of the coming Kingdom of God.
Preparing for the future
We live in dangerous times and in a world of ever-increasing strife and troubles. We face the threat of world war, violence, global financial instability, moral decay, extreme weather patterns and many other disorders.
How will these issues be resolved?
The Bible gives clear solutions for the problems facing humanity. By searching and studying the Scriptures, we can come to understand God’s plan and purpose for humanity. Those who act on the truths contained in the Bible will be given an opportunity to escape the turmoil of end-time events (Luke 21:36).
God has given us free will, so He will not force us to follow His way of life. But His innermost desire is that we “choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
May we be granted the wisdom to make the choice that leads to life eternal (Proverbs 4:7-8, 13).
For further study, read the articles in “The Major Prophets” section.
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.