Ezekiel - Session One
II. Verses to Study
Note: all of the scripture passages are available on the study guide page
A. 1:1-24. We’re not going to study these verses. But I encourage you to read and ponder them on your own. The details and the drama are amazing. The images, the sights, the sounds, the motion and the halting - all is quite dazzling. And it sets the stage dramatically for the amazing events that follow. What do you make of this remarkable “show?”
This vision appears to have been on the banks of the Kevar River in Babylon, among the exiles, either 30 years after Josiah’s finding the Sefer Torah (thus, around 590 BCE, or 30 years into a Jubilee cycle).
He sees visions of God, which make this very “dangerous” text, both for the location outside of Israel and the seeing of the “unseen.”
He sees a stormy wind (destructive power) coming from the north (Babylonia), and fire (to destroy the Temple), and brilliance (perhaps the ultimate light ahead of salvation).
There were four living beings with wings, who were gathering coals to heap upon Jerusalem (according to Rashi).
He saw images of wheels, suggesting mobility, movement at the direction of God. They had wings that made a sound like that of God.
They seem to be bearing a throne and, upon it, “a likeness like the appearance of a man upon it from above.”)
B. 1:25-28 - We’re taught in the Hebrew Bible not to objectify God, yet we get this phenomenal account of God. What could this be, and what does it teach? What’s the significance of this vision to Ezekiel at this particular time, and to us?
(There really is nothing quite like this in the Hebrew Bible. There are scenes with Moses, Isaiah, Micah, et. al., but in their visions God is really not seen.
Here there seems to be visualization, though there are many words that qualify the experience - “like” a human being, “like” the appearances of torches or sapphires, and the “bow,” which as in the rainbow, refracts the true light through the atmosphere. This was a vision.
A semblance of a Chashmal suggests that the Essence of God cannot be anthropomorphically perceived since this word contains two Hebrew words that mean silent (Chash) and word (melah). Rashi says verse 26 cannot be reflected on.
Further, this is on the appearance of the Glory of God, not God per se.
Interestingly, this compositeness, especially of the creatures, fits with ancient iconography in Syria and Mesopotamia. And there are also Midrashic foundations, both as to the beings and the locomotion.
The eyes suggest divine watchfulness, for example.
What’s perhaps most important in the vision is that God could “come out” of Israel to be with the exiled people, to speak to them through the vision of Ezekiel. Divine revelation may be anywhere, as may be His presence. Here we also see crucially that God is universal!
Further, though, Ezekiel will oppose the cheap ideas of the false prophets that God will facilitate an easy and quick return.
Perhaps the vividness of God’s presence was designed to be powerful and convincing in order to turn the attention of those in exile to the true God and His true message.
There will be more!)
C. 2:4-7 - What’s the problem with the people? What role is Ezekiel to play?
(The people are “brazen-faced” (showing insolence, perhaps even impassively, to the people who rebuke them, even to God), “tough-hearted,” (refusing to submit, obdurate, obstinate, incapable of receiving impressions) and a “rebellious house” (they had been created as a diverse nation with many different talents to allow for people to be different and yet abide together as one and sanctify God’s name, united; yet, knowing God’s expectations and generosity, they still rebelled and went the way of idols - defiant, disobedient, not listening.
The first generation just sinned. The second became unreceptive to rebuke, even insolent. Later generations were so weak in their belief in God they couldn’t withstand at all the bad temptations.
Ezekiel must make sure they know there’s a prophet in their midst and that God is with them in exile and cares so that they be comforted that His providence is still extended to them. They must hear God’s message. Further, whether they may be rebuked and punished for such rebelliousness and action, they will still be loved, and with mercy.
Finally, Ezekiel must not fear them or their words, though they are “thorn- and thistle-like” and it will be like dwelling “among scorpions” to him, and must speak God’s words to them whether they obey or whether they desist.
God makes his face tough to match their faces, brow tough to match theirs. Yet, this will be highly distressing and isolating work.
In other words, they must know first that God was still with them (with expectations!) in exile and second that, when punished for doing wrong and transgressing the covenant, they had been warned.
(This appears to be to the exiles, but it may very well be seen as a message to a broader Israel.))
D. 2:9-3:3 - What does it mean that Ezekiel is to open his mouth and eat the scroll?
(Ezekiel is to open his mouth and eat “what I give you,” “a scroll of a book,” “inscribed lamentations, moaning and woe. What?
Eating? Does this mean a careful consideration and absorption of it? The root of the Hebrew word (petzay) for opening his mouth suggests that this is unpleasant in certain ways.
So, it’s as if the prophet must absorb the whole of the Jewish experience, including the Jews’ waywardness in the promised land and the exile, with its extreme unpleasantness, and with the burden assumed lovingly, as sweet as honey. This also includes a sense of the way to a better place in the future when the people return.
It suggests a demand for unconditional obedience. Ezekiel will then experience his inner parts suffused with the scroll and God’s will.
Is this only that of God’s message here? Does it include God’s woe and sadness over the people’s waywardness? Or is it the pain of the people? Or all of Jewish experience, going backward and forward, headed to better? Or is it several of the above?
What’s on the scroll? Is it solely and narrowly God’s message here? Or does it include God’s will more broadly? Indeed is it all of Torah and God’s expectations?)
E. 3:14, 15, 21, 25-27; 4:4-7 - What do we learn here about the life of a prophet, specifically that of Ezekiel?
(Ezekiel was taken over and carried away (literally and figuratively) by God. While he had eaten the scroll fully and joyfully, it’s very hard to follow through. It’s bitter, and with anger in his spirit, to do the work of rebuking his fellows. Indeed he was with them for days, desolate and apparently silent - silent because of the pain of the assignment and the pain of the message, that the Holy Presence was departing the Temple.
This being silent may have reflected an incapacity that may have lasted awhile. And some think God was momentarily displeased.
In 21, he learns, as do we, that in warning, we give the righteous a chance through the rebuking to get right, and save a soul.
Yet, God sees that Ezekiel is tied up and prevented from rebuking further because the people have repulsed him and will not listen. Ultimately, they must suffer the punishment. Finally and later, God will open his mouth (25-27). (This is hard!)
(What does this mean? The prophet is shackled and silenced (by God? Or is it by them, or their sins, or their refusal to do right?).
Here in 4:4-7, we see a drama played out in the interim with God expecting Ezekiel to “lay siege to Jerusalem” while laying on one side of his body (representing God’s angry purpose toward it) and then the other for designated periods of time, and then issuing the prophecies.
Only after the destruction would the people be open to it. They ignored him before. Now they’ll see that God is in charge AND they’re not protected but rather doomed to this destruction. Also, the image of him suggests that he is suffering in a way alongside the people’s suffering.
Ezekiel is thus a sort of mute accuser.)
F. 7:10-11, 34:1-6 - There are many accounts here of how the people stray and bring on their fate, but none may be finer than these. How do we understand these verses?
1. (From our waywardness, a “rod” blossoms, as injustice blossoms into wickedness and arrogance buds as well.
Or the rod can be seen as the tool that inflicts our punishment! That is, that the consequences of punishment also arises from our wrongdoing. Its fruit can be the harm or punishment that results from what we’ve done wrong.
Exile comes after deluge or destruction, which comes after harm done to others and God, which comes from wrongdoing uncorrected and un-atoned. The time is ripe for punishment.
The rod could also be that which is lifted to accuse the wrongdoer before God.
Nebuchadnezzar might be seen as the resulting rod that arises.
2. In the later verses, we see that the leaders have not tended to the sheep, strengthened the frail, cured the ill, bound the broken, retrieved the banished, sought the lost (look at all the possible meanings here!).
But rather they subjugated them with force and rigor. They fleeced their subjects.
This poor leadership (not the only problem, of course, but a serious one) caused people to be scattered without leadership, as “food for the beasts.” “No one searches or seeks.”
(There are so many possible meanings here - spiritually, physically, militarily, etc. Discuss.)
G. In 7:17-19, 8:12 - These verses describe the consequences of sinfulness. To continue this theme, let’s look at these verses.
(Hands, slack (incapable of work or self-defense; knees will flow water (fearful, as in peeing in one’s pants); gird themselves in sacks, trembling all over (as in mourning). Shame is on every face and “baldness on the head” (as by a prohibited mourning practice). Silver and gold will be for discarding (idols? or, of what value are these precious metals when there is no food or stability in the midst of destruction by the Babylonians, etc.)
Yet, in 8:12, the people, not in public or together, but rather in dark, alone places) say God does not see them, as if to make an excuse for their poor situation. He’s not responding “as he was supposed to!” He was now cold, remote, and inaccessible. They pushed Him away, yet they have the gall to act as if God was distant and not fulfilling promises.)
H. 9:4-6 - Is it sufficient that a person “sigh and groan for all the abominations that are done?” What does that require of us? (Study with B in next session.)
(It helps! These are people who have been affected by the wrongdoing and its consequences. They are sad about it and bemoan it. Does that mean they’re righteous? Perhaps, it’s so somewhat, but perhaps not completely, as in their only feeling concern internally. Only the people who protested and/or acted would be completely.
Righteous people are included within the community when judgment is made against the community unless they demonstrate disapproval. So, the ones who sighed and moaned did demonstrate disapproval and would be saved. Some sages argue, no, that the sighing and moaning must be accompanied by specific protest to merit being saved.
The Talmud acknowledges that righteous people may be hurt, and hurt first, as a result of others’ wickedness. This is worthy of further consideration.
Those who served idols within the Temple area would be punished first.
Looking at section B. in the next lesson, we see that having righteous people (such as Noah, Daniel, and Job, as in 14:14) in the midst of the community does not per se save the community. They may simply be saved themselves.
BUT, if they’re permitted to be in its “open places”, woven in its midst, and the community allows it to be made better through prayer and “putting up fences” in the open, yes, it may. In other words, if the community moves to repentance because of the deeds of these good people, it can benefit from their merit and prayers. This is echoed in 22:30 as well.)
I. 12:1-3 - First Ezekiel was silent; then he prophesied; yet, the people still sin. What does verse 3 mean?
(The people had been shown and had been told, yet they acted oblivious to what was clear, or should have been clear. They were of the family “of rebellion.”
Ezekiel was told to “make implements of exile.”
This sounds a bit like Noah’s making the ark. Or, even better, it’s like God’s providing Adam and Eve with clothes. God punishes, but God loves. God provides Ezekiel to the people and “arms” him with “implements” for exile that he can use in exile.
This might be light, a dish, and a mat – objects he’ll personally need, but also objects he can use to help them since they will be going without – obviously – preparing.)
As we study God’s departure from Jerusalem, it’s worth pondering: is it possible for us to chase God away in our lives?