The date of Jerusalem's destruction by the conquering Babylonian armies was 586 b.c., but Jerusalem had already been effectively annexed by Babylonia a decade earlier (597 b.c.). At that time, the king of Judah and much of the leadership had been carried into exile in Babylonia in a first wave of deportation, and a puppet king was set in place in Jerusalem. Ezekiel was a priest from Jerusalem and was among that earliest wave of deportees taken to Babylonia in 597 b.c. In 593 Ezekiel received a vision (1.1—3.27) in which God called him to be a prophet who would speak the needed words of judgment and explanation that would help the despairing people come to terms with what had happened. His prophetic messages were similar to those of Jeremiah, his contemporary, in that he interpreted the Babylonian conquest as a judgment from God on the leaders and people for their idolatry and indifference both to God and to the needs of the poor and marginalized. It is of great significance that his call to be a prophet came to him in a vision of God's throne which has the form of a spectacular chariot equipped with many wheels. Later in chapter 10, he envisions that same throne-chariot lifting up and coming to where the exiles were, a powerful symbol that God had not been conquered as some people had feared, and that God was not going to abandon the exiles but would forever continue to be present among them (see Ps 137.1-4).
Ezekiel was a person of deep faith and a capacity for communicating brilliant and helpful visions that provided hope and new perspectives for the despondent exiles. His vision of a battlefield littered with the dry and bleached bones of defeated warriors that are miraculously resurrected to life by God was a powerful symbol of hope that helped the exiles see that with God there is always hope for restoration and renewal. He envisioned God breathing life into this devastated people and letting them return to rebuild their city and temple, but they needed to face reality and repent. Ezekiel was bitingly critical of Judah's kings, saying that they were supposed to be shepherds who feed and care for their people, but instead had preferred to feed on the people (chapter 34). This prophet has much to say about God's judgment, both against Judah and the other nations, but in chapters 33–39 he also brings words of hope and promise. And in the final section of the book (chapters 40–48), he gives an exalted and detailed vision of the restored temple and land of Judah, a vision of hope for that future day when the divine glory returns to the restored Jerusalem. Centuries later, John of Patmos would recall and revise Ezekiel's image of a “new Jerusalem” to bring a similar message of comfort to another persecuted community of God's people (Rev 21.9—22.5).
Ezekiel's Call Vision (1.1—3.27)
Almighty God Brings Judgment on Jerusalem and Judah (4.1—24.27)
Words of Judgment on Other Nations (25.1—32.32)
God's Promise to Restore Jerusalem and Judah (33.1—39.29)
A Vision of the Future Temple and the Return of God's Glory (40.1—48.35)
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