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Ezechiel, whose name, Yehézq'èl (9Npirr) signifies "strong is God", or "whom God makes strong" (Ezech., i, 3; iii, 8), was the son of Buzi, and was one of the priests who, in the year 598 B.C., had been deported together with Joachim as prisoners from Jerusalem (IV Kings, xxiv, 12-16; cf. Ezech., xxxiii, 21, xl, 1). With the other exiles he settled in Tell-Abib near the Chobar (Ezech., i, 1; iii, 15) in Babylonia, and seems to have spent the rest of his life there. In the fifth year after the captivity of Joachim, and according to some, the thirtieth year of his life, Ezechiel received his call as a prophet (Ezech. i, 2, 4 etc.) in the vision which he describes in the beginning of his prophecy (Ezech. i, 4; iii, 15). From Ezech. xxix, 17 it appears that he prophesied during at least twenty-two years.
Ezechiel was called to foretell God's faithfulness in the midst of trials, as well as in the fulfillment of His promises. During the first period of his career, he foretold the complete destruction of the kingdom of Juda, and the annihilation of the city and temple. After the fulfillment of these predictions, he was commanded to announce the future return from exile, the reestablishment of the people in their own country and, especially, the redemption within the Kingdom of the Messiah, the second David, so that the people would not abandon themselves to despair and perish as a nation, through contact with the Gentiles, whose gods had apparently triumphed over the God of Israel. This is the principal burden of Ezechiel's prophecy, which is divided into three parts. After the introduction; the vision of the calling of the prophet (Ezech., i-iii, 21), the first part contains the prophecies against Juda before the fall of Jerusalem (Ezech., iii 22-xxiv). In this part the prophet declares the hope of saving the city, the kingdom, and the temple to be vain, and announces the approaching judgment of God upon Juda. This part may be subdivided into five group of prophecies.
(I) After a second revelation, in which God discloses to the prophet His course of action (iii, 22-27), the prophet foretells by symbolic acts (iv, v) and in words (vi-vii), the siege and capture of Jerusalem, and the banishment of Juda. (2) In a prophetic vision, in the presence of the elders of Israel, God reveals to him the cause of these punishments. In spirit he witnesses the idolatry practiced in and near the temple (viii); God commands that the guilty be punished and the faithful be spared (ix); God's majesty departs from the temple (x), and also, after the announcement of guilt and punishment, from the city. With this the judgment which the prophet communicates to the exiles ends (xi).
(3) In the third group (xii-xix) many different prophecies are brought together, whose sole connection is the relation they bear to the guilt and punishment of Jerusalem and Juda. Ezechiel prophesies by symbolic actions the exile of the people, the flight of Sedecias, and the devastation of the land (xii, 1-20). Then follow Divine revelations regarding belief in false prophecies, and disbelief in the very presence of true prophecy. This was one of the causes of the horrors (xii, 21-xiv, 11), to be visited upon the remnant of the inhabitants of Jerusalem (xiv, 12-23). The prophet likens Jerusalem to the dead wood of the vine, which is destined for the fire (xv); in an elaborate denunciation he represents Juda as a shameless harlot, who surpasses Samaria and Sodom in malice (xvi), and in a new simile, he condemns King Sedecias (xvii). After a discourse on the justice of God (xviii), there follows a further lamentation over the princes and the people of Juda (xix). (4) In the presence of the elders the prophet denounces the whole people of Israel for the abominations they practiced in Egypt, in the Wilderness, and in Canaan (xx). For these Juda shall be consumed by fire, and Jerusalem shall be exterminated by the sword (xxi). Abominable is the immorality of Jerusalem (xxii), but Juda is more guilty than Israel has ever been (xxiii). (5) On the day on which the siege of Jerusalem began, the prophet represents, under the figure of the rusty pot, what was to befall the inhabitants of the city. On the occasion of the death of his wife, God forbids him to mourn openly, in order to teach the exiles that they should be willing to lose that which is dearest to them without grieving over it (xxiv).
In the second part (xxv-xxxii), are gathered together the prophecies concerning the Gentiles. He takes, first of all, the neighboring peoples who had been exalted through the downfall of Juda, and who had humiliated Israel. The fate of four of these, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites, and the Philistines, is condensed in chapter xxv. He treats more at length of Tyre and its king (xxvi-xxviii, 19), after which he casts a glance at Sidon (xxviii, 20-26). Six prophecies against Egypt follow, dating from different years (xxix-xxxii). The third part (xxxiiixlviii), is occupied with the Divine utterances on the subject of Israel's restoration. As introduction, we have a dissertation from the prophet, in his capacity of authorized champion of the mercy and justice of God, after which he addresses himself to those remaining in Juda, and to the perverse exiles (xxxiii). The manner in which God will restore His people is only indicated in a general way. The Lord will cause the evil shepherds to perish; He will gather in, guide, and feed the sheep by means of the second David, the Messiah (xxxiv).
Though Mount Seir shall remain a waste, Israel shall return unto its own. There God will purify His people, animate the nation with a new spirit, and reestablish it in its former splendor for the glory of His name (xxxv—xxxvi). Israel, though dead, shall rise again, and the dry bones shall be covered with flesh and endowed with life before the eyes of the prophet. Ephraim and Juda shall, under the second David, be united into one kingdom, and the Lord shall dwell in their midst (xxxvii). The invincibleness and indestructibility of the restored kingdom are then symbolically presented in the war upon Gog, his inglorious defeat, and the annihilation of his armies (xxxviiixxxix). In the last prophetic vision, God shows the new temple (xl-xlii), the new worship (xliii-xlvi), the return to their own land, and the new division thereof among the twelve tribes (xlvii-xlviii), as a figure of His foundation of a kingdom where He shall dwell among His people, and where He shall be served in His tabernacle according to strict rules, by priests of His choice, and by the prince of the house of David.
From this review of the contents of the prophecy, it is evident that the prophetic vision, the symbolic actions and examples, comprise a considerable portion of the book. The completeness of the description of the vision, actions and similes, is one of the many causes of the obscurity of the book of Ezechiel. It is often difficult to distinguish between what is essential to the matter represented, and what serves merely to make the image more vivid. On this account it happens that, in the circumstantial descriptions, words are used, the meaning of which, inasmuch as they occur in Ezechiel only, is not determined. Because of this obscurity, a number of copyist mistakes have crept into the text, and that at an early date, since the Septuagint has some of them in common with the earliest Hebrew text we have. The Greek version, however, includes several readings which help to fix the meaning. The genuineness of the book of Ezechiel is generally conceded. Some few consider chapters xl-xlviii to be apocryphal, because the plan there described in the building of the temple was not followed, but they overlook the fact that Ezechiel here gives a symbolic representation of the temple, that was to find spiritual realization in God's new kingdom. The Divine character of the prophecies was recognized as early as the time of Jesus the son of Sirach (Eccles. xlix, 10, 11). In the New Testament, there are no verbatim references, but allusions to the prophecy and figures taken from it are frequent. Compare St. John, x, 10 etc. with Ezech., xxxiv, 11 etc.; St. Matthew, xiii, 32, with Ezech., xvii, 23. In particular St. John, in the Apocalypse, has often followed Ezechiel. Compare Apoc., xviii—xxi with Ezech., xxvii, xxxviii etc., xlvii etc.