Ezekiel — Lesson 3

Ezekiel Chapters 1 – 3

1) An introduction containing dating for the beginning of Ezekiel’s ministry. 1:1-3.

a) The book begins with a typical introductory formula – “and it came to pass.”

i) The formula is typical of narrative, but introduces only the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Esther, and Jonah.

ii) It focuses attention on the date and circumstances surrounding Ezekiel’s call.

b) The meaning of the 30th year is unclear.

i) It may refer to the time elapsed since the beginning of the exile, but this does not fit in well with the chronology in the remainder of the book.

ii) The rabbinic interpretation was that it referred to the time elapsed since the last observance of the Year of Jubilee, which was observed after seven sabbatical years (Lev. 25:8-17).

iii) It may refer to the 30th year since the discovery of the law by Hilkiah the priest. (622 BC.)

iv) It may refer to Ezekiel’s age at the time of his call.

(1) Some reject this because it is not the normal manner of dating prophetic writing; well known historical evens are more common. See, Isa. 1:1; 6:1. But see, Gen. 7:6, 11.

(2) The 30th year would be significant to a man with priestly connections. Numbers 4:3, 23, 30, 39. It is also the year that Christ entered upon his public ministry. Luke 3:23.

(3) The year was also the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin.

(a) This was a crucial time in the history of Judah.

(b) Inhabitants in both Jerusalem and Babylon taught that the captivity was only short-term, and they plotted against Babylon to restore independence to Israel.

(c) Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah warned that the exile would be much longer and that Jerusalem would be destroyed, not restored.

c) Ezekiel was a captive by the River Chebar.

i) No man is a captive unless he chooses to be.

ii) The Cheber was a man-made canal used for irrigation.

(1) It brought water from the Euphrates for irrigation.

(2) Excavations at Babylon have revealed evidence of Jewish settlements along such a canal.

d) There Ezekiel saw the heavens opened and saw visions of God.

i) While this was a special vision, one of the mark’s of God’s people is that they are able to see the invisible. Heb. 11:27; 2 Cor. 4:18.

ii) Ezekiel was able to lift his eyes above the miseries of exile and see visions of God.

e) It was at this time and in this place that God called Ezekiel.

i) The word of the Lord came (Heb. justifies “indeed came”).

(1) The emphatic marks a point of absolute beginning.

(2) Ezekiel the priest became Ezekiel the prophet of God.

(3) Those who declare today that God has spoken to them do not have Ezekiel’s credentials.

ii) The hand of the Lord was upon him.

(1) This expression occurs seven times in Ezekiel (3:14, 22; 8:1; 33:22; 37:1; 40:1) and suggests a state of divine possession in which the prophet received his supernatural revelation – he was a man seized by God.

(2) It may also denote the divine compulsion of the call of God upon Ezekiel.

2) A vision of the glory of God providing the necessary context for Ezekiel’s call. 1:4-28.

a) Related comments.

i) Israel became a theocracy at Mt. Sinai. Ex. 19:1-8.

ii) It became a theocratic state in the days of Samuel. 1 Sam. 8:4-22.

iii) During its history an exclusive nationalism developed that viewed God as absolutely tied to Israel.

(1) Jonah rejected the idea of preaching to foreigners, and fled Israel to get away from God. Jonah 1:3.

(2) Ezekiel and the exiles had been removed from Israel, leading them to conclude that in some sense they had been removed from the Lord’s presence.

iv) So where was God?

(1) If he was in Israel, how could he allow foreign armies to occupy the land?

(2) If the occupation was allowed to stand, it would mean that the gods of Babylon were greater than the God of Israel.

(3) Thus, the exiles could not believe that the exile would be long.

(4) Ezekiel declared Jehovah to be God of the whole world, that he cared for his people, and that he was with them even in exile.

(5) Ezekiel declared Jehovah to be free to use whomever he chose, including pagan kings (cf. Isa. 45:1; Hab. 1:5-11), to accomplish his purposes.

b) Five elements of the vision of the glory of God.

i) The Windstorm. 1:4.

(1) When Ezekiel saw God, the revelation came in a great thunderstorm. (cf. Job 38:1; 40:6; Ps. 29:3-5; 1 Kgs 19:11-13.)

(2) The display of nature captured Ezekiel’s attention as the burning bush captured Moses’ attention. (Ex. 3:1-5.)

(a) In the wilderness God led the Hebrews by a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud. (Ex. 13:17-22.)

(b) When God came down on Sinai, he came in lightning, smoke, and fire. (Ex. 19:16-18.)

(c) God is characterized as a consuming fire. (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:28-29.)

(d) Fire not only represented the presence of God, but it also was a symbol of the refining and purifying elements of judgment (e.g., Mal. 3:1-6).

(3) The captives had lost their sense of the awe and majesty of Jehovah, so Jehovah presented himself to the prophet in power, majesty, and holiness so that Ezekiel could sense God’s character as he communicated his message to the captives.

(a) The storm was immense – not only large, but intense.

(b) It came from the north.

(i) God is the God of the north.

(ii) It was from the north that the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army would come. (cf. Jer. 1:14.)

ii) The four living creatures. 1:5-14.

(1) The four living creatures emerged from the storm as Ezekiel watched. (They return in 10:5 and 10:20 where they are called “cherubim.”)

(a) The cherubim were appointed to guard the holiness of God.

(b) Their mission was to prevent anything unholy from coming into the presence of God.

(c) They were indicators of the presence of God in the storm.

(i) Most familiar with them as guardians of Eden to prevent the reentry of sinful humanity. (Gen. 3:22-24.)

(ii) Their likeness was embroidered on the curtain of the tabernacle to guard the holy of holies against unauthorized entry. (Ex. 26:31.)

(iii) Within the holy of holies, their likeness stood atop the ark of the covenant, and they affirmed God’s presence there. (Ex. 25:18-22.)

(2) This passage lists ten characteristics of the cherubim.

(a) They had the form or appearance of a man. (1:5.)

(i) They were not human. (1:6-7.)

(ii) Their human qualities reminded that humans are the crown of God’s creative work (Gen. 1:26-28) and the central focus of his creation (Gen. 2:8-25).

(b) They had four faces, one on each side (1:8), that are described in detail (1:10).

(i) Each face represented the highest form of life in a general category – lion, undomesticated animals; ox, domesticated animals; eagle, winged creatures; human, the crown of God’ creation that exercised dominion over the rest of God’s creation (Gen. 1:28).

(ii) These creatures show God as the Lord of all of his creation.

(c) They had straight legs (1:7) with feet like a calf.

(i) “Straight” apparently means unjointed; the feet were rounded for easy turning (?).

(ii) This characteristic may suggest stability in the performance of God’s will.

(d) They had hands like a human under their wings (1:8).

(i) Each of the four wings touched those of the creature next to it.

(ii) The wings of the creatures in the holy of holies also touched (1:11; cf. Kgs. 6:27).

(iii) Each was related closely to his neighbor and united as one in performing assigned tasks.

(e) They went straight when they moved (1:9, 12).

(i) Since there was a face in any direction, they went straight in whichever direction they moved.

(ii) This suggests a sense of purpose, commitment, and availability for assignments.

(f) They had four wings each (1:11; cf. 1:8).

(i) Two were extended up to support the throne and/or in praise to God (these two touched the wings of each neighboring creature (cf. 1:8, 23)).

(ii) The other two were used to cover the body, a sign of humility and modesty.

(iii) Isa. 6:2 and Rev. 4:1-11 describe the creatures with six wings.

1. The additional two wings were used to shield the face of the creatures from the face of God.

2. One commentator suggested that Ezekiel’s creatures did not need the additional wings since they were under the platform (1:22) and looked straight ahead (1:9), thus being unable to see the face of God.

(g) They followed the “spirit” in their movement. (1:12, 20.)

(i) This refers to the divine spirit of the one who sat on the throne above them and who directed and enabled their movements.

(ii) The cherubim were divinely appointed and empowered to do the will and work of God.

(h) They appeared like burnished bronze (1:7) and coals of fire or torches (1:13).

(i) This characteristic, mentioned again in 10:7, was associated with a theophany.

(ii) The brightness of their appearance suggests their close relation and proximity to Jehovah.

(iii) The skin of Moses’ face was radiant with light after having been in the presence of God. (Ex. 34:29-35.)

(i) They moved as quickly as a flash of lightning (1:14), Suggesting instantaneous action that resulted in immediate implementation of God’s will.

(j) Their wings made an awesome sound (1:23-25) like rushing waters.

(i) To Ezekiel this was like the voice of God.

(ii) This further confirms that this was a theophany.

iii) The wheels. 1:15-21.

(1) Associated with each cherubim there were wheels described more in terms of function than of construction.

(2) They were described as the lowest part of the chariot-throne and sat on the ground beneath the cherubim (1:15).

(3) Their appearance was like chrysolite (perhaps topaz or other semi-precious stone).

(4) Each wheel was actually two in one, with one apparently set inside the other at right angles, permitting movement in any direction.

(5) The wheels had outer rims had an outer edge that was inset with eyes (1:18).

(6) The wheels gave mobility to the chariot-throne of God.

(a) When the cherubim moved, the wheels moved, activated by the spirit.

(b) 1:21 is a recap of 1:19-20 and forms a conclusion to the section, emphasizing the unity and coordination between the cherubim, the wheels, the spirit, and the throne-chariot.

(7) The mobility of the wheels represents God’s omnipresence; the eyes represent his omniscience; the elevated position represent his omnipotence.

iv) The platform. 1:22-27.

(1) The “expanse” (1:22) is the same word used in Gen. 1:6 to describe the creation of the heavens.

(2) Here it refers to some kind of platform above the cherubim; it’s appearance was like ice and it supported God’s throne.

(3) Under the platform, the wings of the cherubim produced a sound like that of a rushing river like the voice of God (1:24).

(4) Parallel to that sound, the voice of God came from above the firmament. (See Rev. 1:15.)

(5) Positioned on the platform was a throne that appeared like sapphire.

(a) The vision was similar to that of Moses and the 70 elders. (Ex. 24:10.)

(b) The throne is mentioned again in Ezek. 10:1.

(6) Upon the throne was a figure like that of a man whose appearance was like fire described in other theophanies. (See Ex. 3:2-15; 24:17; Rev. 4:1-5.)

(7) This vision portrays two important concepts about God that his people seemed to have neglected, if not forgotten.

(a) He is a God of splendor and great power.

(b) His is not bound to the land of Israel.

(8) God came to Ezekiel and thus to his people in their exile and reminded them of his holiness and power as the Lord of creation.

(a) They were not overlooked; they were not forgotten.

(b) As terrifying as the vision was, it had a redemptive function – God uses and permits crises to draw people to him.

v) The prophet’s response. 1:28.

(1) When people are consumed by insurmountable problems and buffeted by the storms of life, they usually do not need another perspective on their problems, they need a new perspective on God as Lord of life and larger than all difficulties.

(a) Humanity in peril needs a sense of the majesty of God.

(b) There needs to be an awareness that God is greater than adversity, that he is with his people in the midst of their problems.

(c) This was the need of both Ezekiel and his hearers – they needed a new vision of and commitment to the holiness and majesty of God.

(d) This need was met in the first revelation of God in the call of Ezekiel to be a prophet to the exiles.

(2) The cherubim, as protectors of God’s holiness, were a reminder that humankind was sinful.

(a) People often want to blame God for the storms of life and forget that human sin brought chaos into the world.

(b) The only hope for humanity is to recognize God in the midst of the storms as the one who can restore the calm. (See Luke 8:22-25.)

(3) Ezekiel fell on his face when he saw the vision of God. (See Isa. 6:1-9.)

(a) Ezekiel may have wondered who could speak for God to such a people in such a place.

(b) The answer came in his call.

(4) The opening vision of Ezekiel affirmed three significant truths about God that are summarized in 1:28.

(a) It reaffirmed the nature of God as holy, powerful, and majestic.

(b) It reaffirmed in the rainbow God’s promise-making and promise-keeping character. (Gen. 9:16.)

(c) It reaffirmed that nothing, including geographic location, separated one from God (cf. Rom. 8:38-39.)

(5) Through this vision Ezekiel received a message of hope.

(a) God was still at work among the exiles.

(b) This meant that he knew about them and was concerned about their plight.

(c) People need a vision of hope, but such hope is always dependent on a willing response and a humble, repentant attitude.

3) The call itself, with specific directives. 2:1-3:15.

a) The prophet’s mission. 2:1-7.

i) God uses the designation “son of man” 93 times to address Ezekiel, and never calls him by his name.

(1) The expression “son of” could mean “having the characteristics of,” as in “son of a night” (Jonah 4:10) and “son of peace” (Luke 10:6).

(2) “Son of man,” then, can mean “member of humanity.”

(3) But characteristic of humanity, and perhaps the focus in its use in Ezekiel, is frailty and mortality, in contrast to the eternality and awesome majesty of God (cf. 31:14).

(a) While used in Num. 23:19 as an equivalent to “man,” the focus is on human unreliability.

(b) In Job 25:6 it is associated with “maggot” and ”worm.”

(c) It describes man’s apparent insignificance in Ps. 8:4.

(4) But in Ps. 80:17 the reference is to the Davidic dynasty as God’s appointed agent on the throne of Israel; it would be through him that God would renew his favor toward his people.

(5) In addition to a reminder of his dependence upon God, it may also have reminded him of his responsibility as God’s watchman and messenger of redemption.

(6) The same phrase was used of the messianic figure in Dan. 7:13 who appeared before the Ancient of Days and of Daniel himself in Dan. 8:17.

(7) It was often used in the N.T. about Jesus himself (see Matt. 8:20; 9:6; 11:19; Mark 2:28).

(8) Thus, one may conclude that when “son of man” is used of an individual who is spoken of as Jehovah’s agent, it points to humankind created royal, restored to a regal position, and called to serve as Jehovah’s human representative on behalf of human beings.

ii) Ezekiel’s response to the vision was to fall prostrate in an act of worship and reverence (v. 28).

(1) God commanded him to stand to receive his call and commission (compare Dan. 10:11), indicating his acceptance of Ezekiel and his intention to call him to service.

(2) The Spirit entered Ezekiel enabling him to speak God’s message with authority, confidence and courage.

iii) Ezekiel was sent to the Israelites, including those captive in Babylon and those in the homeland, and to the rebellious nations (2:3-5).

(1) God also described the character of those to whom Ezekiel was sent.

(a) Rebellious.

(b) Transgressors.

(c) Impudent or obstinate.

(d) Stubborn or stiff hearted.

(2) Ezekiel was encouraged at the beginning of his mission not to fear opposition. 2:6-7.

(a) His hearers were described as briers, thorns, and scorpions.

(b) He was not responsible for their lack of receptivity; success was measured by his faithfulness to his charge.

b) The prophet’s motivation. 2:8 – 3:3.

i) How could one be motivated for a ministry that would be rejected, for a mission that was bound to fail?

ii) Ezekiel was instructed to indicate his obedience by eating what God offered to him.

(1) When it was unrolled, Ezekiel saw that it was written on both sides.

(a) May indicate the fullness of coming judgment.

(b) May suggest that there was no room for Ezekiel to add personal opinion; his message was to be God’s alone.

(2) Three words were used to describe the contents of the scroll – lament, mourning, and woe.

(a) Lament – funeral song written in specific meter and sung in time of bereavement.

(b) Mourning – words and moans uttered by bereaved family or professional mourners upon death of loved one.

(c) Woe – exclamation of distress over great loss of any kind.

(3) Ezekiel was to assimilate the message and proclaim its contents.

(4) He would proclaim good news as well, but he did not need to be warned about that.

(a) The part of the mission that he might like to avoid was the proclamation of bad news.

(b) Faithfulness demands that God’s whole message be delivered. (See Acts 20:27.)

iii) Ezekiel was commanded four times to eat the scroll, and then to go and preach God’s message.

(1) The message originated with God; it was not discovered by logic or deduction but through divine revelation.

(2) When eaten, it was sweet to the taste. (3:2-3.)

c) The prophet’s divine preparation. 3:4-11.

i) Israel was the primary recipient of Ezekiel’s message.

(1) Even the message that Ezekiel was to deliver to the “nations” centered on the relationship of those countries to Israel and especially atrocities committed against Israel.

(2) Ezekiel was sent to the people of Judah who spoke his language but whose decadence had surpassed that of the foreign nations (v. 6; 5:6-12; 16:47-52).

ii) Rejection of Ezekiel’s mission and message was not so much a rejection of Ezekiel as a renunciation of God – the people refused to listen to Ezekiel because he spoke God’s message. (3:7.)

(1) This was similar to the rejection of Samuel’s leadership. (1 Sam. 8:4-7.)

(2) Ezekiel’s hearers are here described as being of a “hard forehead” and a “stiff heart.”

(a) The hardness of Pharaoh’s heart is given many times as the reason for his disobedience. (Ex. chs 7 – 10.)

(b) The use of that term to describe Israel was a serious indictment. (cf. 2 Chron. 36:13; Prov. 28:14.)

iii) Opposition was pictured as coming from people with hardened faces. (3:8-9).

(1) This implied a hardened will set against the word and will of God.

(2) God responded by promising the prophet that he would harden the forehead of Ezekiel so that it was like flint.

(3) Ezekiel was assured of divine protection in his mission.

iv) Ezekiel was instructed to listen with his ears and receive with his heart all that God said. (3:10-11.)

(1) This implies a continuous relationship in which Ezekiel was to keep on listening as God kept on speaking.

(2) Listening was not confined to the call, but was to characterize Ezekiel all through his ministry.

d) The conclusion of the call. 3:12-15.

i) Ezekiel was lifted by the Spirit (v. 12).

ii) As he was lifted he heard the sound of the creatures’ wings and the movement of the wheels, suggesting the movement of the chariot throne and the end of the vision. (v. 13.)

iii) The Spirit took Ezekiel to his place among the captives by the River Chebar at Tel Abib. (v. 15.)

(1) The name means city of ears.

(2) Its location is uncertain, but it is modern Tel Aviv.

iv) Ezekiel was in great distress (v. 14), and he sat among the people seven days (v. 15).

4) Ezekiel’s appointment as a “watchman,” affirming his personal responsibility. 3:16-21.

a) Seven day periods were common in Israel.

i) Mourning for the dead continued seven days. (Gen. 50:10; Num. 19:11.)

ii) Seven days was the time of consecration for a priest. (Lev. 8:1-33.)

b) When seven days had lapsed, God appeared and began giving Ezekiel the message that he was to deliver.

i) Ezekiel had been told that he was to deliver divine words (2:4, 7; 3:4, 11), but he had not been given those words.

ii) Here, “the word of the Lord came” to Ezekiel.

(1) This is the first use of that phrase.

(2) Used in some 41 verses, it was to characterize Ezekiel’s ministry.

(3) It is found elsewhere in the OT only in Jeremiah (9 times) and Zechariah (2 times).

c) Ezekiel was told that he was sent as a watchman to Israel (v. 17).

i) Although the concept is mentioned elsewhere (Isa. 21:6; 52:8; 62:6; Jer. 6:17; Hab. 2:1), only here are the duties of a watchman defined.

(1) The safety of the entire population rested with the watchman.

(2) If a watchman failed in his duty, he would be held personally responsible for any loss.

ii) Ezekiel was God’s watchman appointed to warn Judah and Jerusalem of impending destruction.

(1) He was to warn the wicked of their sin and of impending judgment (v. 18).

(2) The responsibility of the wicked was then upon them; it would be upon the prophet if he refused or failed to warn (vv. 19-21).

5) The reaction of the prophet. 3:22-27.

a) The hand of the Lord was on the prophet, suggesting receipt of a vision experience (v. 22).

i) This was a logical extension of his commission as a watchman.

ii) He went to the plain to receive further instruction. (Compare with Paul’s sojourn in the desert. Gal. 1:16-17.)

iii) When Ezekiel moved to the plain, he once more encountered the glory of the Lord’s presence, and, as before, he fell on his face. (v. 23.)

b) Ezekiel was given three restrictions.

i) He was to shut himself in a house. (v. 24.)

ii) He was to be bound with ropes to insure his seclusion. V. 25.)

iii) He was to be unable to speak. (cf. Job 29:10; Ps. 137:6.)

(1) He was to be silent except when the Lord enabled him to speak.

(2) Further instructions in ch. 24:25-27 may indicate that the silence would last until the fall of Jerusalem (about six years).

(3) The silence actually ended when “He that was escaped came” (33:22).

c) The call closed with what was a favorite saying of Jesus, “He that heareth let him hear; and he that forebeareth, let him forebear.” (See Matt. 13:10-17.)

d) As the nation faced days of judgment, their needs could not be met by offering a new perspective on their problems; what they needed was a new perspective on God.

i) The call of Ezekiel provided that new perspective by reinforcing the holiness and majesty of God.

ii) Ezekiel was able to share that viewpoint with the certainty of judgment.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)