Ezekiel (day 803-850)

Ezekiel 1 (day 803) 13 March 2012

            1-3: Fasten your seat belt; you’re in for a pretty wild ride compared to the prophets we’ve read so far. Ezekiel is among the exiles in Babylon. The river Chebar was actually a canal, part of an intricate system that watered the area around the capital. Scholars believe the Judean exiles were put there in a locale known as tel Abib, an area perhaps demolished during previous wars, making it a mound, which in Hebrew is “tel.” “In the thirtieth year” can best be understood as a reference to Ezekiel’s age. He was a priest, a descendent of Aaron, and as such would be eligible for ordination at the age of thirty (Leviticus 4:3, 23, 30). His “ordination,” however, will be a strange and powerful vision, quite different from the ordination ritual that would have been the case at the temple in Jerusalem. Verse 2 gives us a more specific date: it is during the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin, which places Ezekiel’s premiere vision sometime in the year 593 B.C. You will notice that Ezekiel is the speaker in verse one, but an observer/narrator is speaking in verses 2 and 3, leading scholars to speculate that these two verses were added later to help clarify the “thirtieth year” reference.

            4-14: The vision is powerful and strange. Keep in mind that what he is describing is not an actual storm but the vision of a storm within a sort of window frame (“the heavens were opened,” — verse 1) allowing him to look into God’s abode. He sees a storm approaching from the north (the direction from which God’s judgment comes) that carries within it four “living creatures” of fantastic appearance. Their appearance is described in great detail, yet in such a way that we cannot envision exactly what they looked like.

            15-21: The four creatures are grounded by something that looks like gigantic wheels with eyes in their rims. These wheels contain the life force — the spirit — of the four creatures, and Ezekiel is treated to a weird ballet between the creatures and their motivating wheels, now rising and falling, now darting this way and that.

            22-25: A shiny dome (“firmament” as in Genesis 1:6) appears in the space above the heads of the creatures and a sound accompanies the creatures when they move, a sound like rushing waters. He hears a voice above the dome, but as yet no distinct words.

            26-28: Now Ezekiel sees the “likeness of the glory of the LORD;” not the actual glory of the LORD but merely a likeness of that glory. Indeed, everything he sees at this juncture is described as being the “likeness” of something and not the actual thing itself. Above something that looks like a shining dome he sees something that looks like a throne over which is something that looks like a human being with fire for legs and upper body, only the midsection actually discernible. The whole thing is surrounded by a splendor that resembles a rainbow. All of this together, he says, was something that looked like the glory of the LORD, and he hears the voice of “Someone” speaking.

            At this point Ezekiel falls to his knees. What took him so long?


Ezekiel 2 (day 804) 14 March 2012

            1-7: Ezekiel is given his prophetic task. “Someone” orders him to his feet and he finds himself standing. “Someone” tells him that he is to go to the people of Israel – presumably those who are now living in exile since that’s where we are at the moment – and speak whatever the LORD wants him to speak, the content of which is not yet specified. They are a stubborn people bent on rebellion, “Someone” says, but Ezekiel is not to be afraid of them and not to be concerned about whether they listen to him or not. His job will simply be to tell them what the LORD wants him to tell them.

            8-10: That same “Someone” spreads out a scroll before Ezekiel on which is written “words of lamentation and mourning and woe,” and tells him to eat the scroll. Of course, there can be no doubt as to the identity of “Someone.”


Ezekiel 3 (day 805) 15 March 2012

            1-3: “Someone” gives Ezekiel a scroll, but let’s remember that this is a vision, not an actual physical encounter. Ezekiel eats the scroll and finds it to be a sweet taste in his mouth (see Psalm 119:103).

            4-11: Ezekiel is told that God doesn’t want him to prophesy to the Babylonians, even though they would be open to his words. He is to go only to his own people, the house of Israel. They won’t listen to him, but his job is simply to go and to tell them what God wants him to say. (Isn’t that our job, too?)

            12-15: With the deafening noise of heavenly machinery grinding away, Ezekiel finds himself transported from wherever he was (somewhere in the vicinity but apparently alone) to a public place where some of his fellow exiles are gathered, and there he sits in a trance for seven days. The original rules for the ordination of priests for the tabernacle in the wilderness required that they remain sequestered in the tabernacle for seven days (Leviticus 8:33); so here is another comparison between the call to Ezekiel and the original establishment of the priesthood to be mediators between God and the people.

            16-21: Using the imagery of a sentinel on guard, Ezekiel is told again that his job, his only job, is to warn the people. He will not be held responsible for their response to the warning. Those who heed the warning will live, those who don’t will die, but Ezekiel won’t be responsible for their deaths.

            22-27: It seems clear to me that everything that has occurred to this point is part of the vision with which the book began. In the vision he saw the four creatures. In the vision he heard the voice. In the vision he sat stunned for seven days. Now, still in the throes of the prophetic vision, he wanders out into a valley where he again sees “the glory of the LORD,” and essentially gets repeat instructions for everything he has been told to do, with one addition: He is to expect that he will for a time be prevented – by the leaders of the people and by God – from speaking God’s warning in public.


Ezekiel 4 (day 806) 16 March 2012

            1-3: We are reminded of the sign of the stones that Jeremiah performed in Tahpanhes when he was trying to convince the refugees to return to Judah (Jeremiah 43:8-13). In a similar vein, Ezekiel uses a brick as a model of the city of Jerusalem. He is told to put ramps against it with battering rams, and an iron band around it to symbolize the reality that the exiles are forbidden to return.

            4-8: He is to lie on his left side for 390 days to symbolize the number of years for the punishment of Israel (the northern kingdom), then on his right side for 40 days to symbolize the number of years for Judah’s punishment. There are too many difficulties in the text to even summarize in this kind of guide. Suffice it to say that no one yet has figured out exactly what 390 or 40 are meant to symbolize; no periods in this part of the history of either Israel or Judah lend themselves neatly for those time frames. As to the difficulty of imagining Ezekiel lying on his side with a brick on top of him for 390 days, well, remember that this is a vision he is having.

            9-17: The voice tells Ezekiel that during his ordeal he is to eat about 8 ounces of bread made from a mixture of grain and beans, and drink about 11 ounces of water each day. This is to symbolize the scarcity of food and water the people in the city will have during the siege and the rationing they will have to endure. All of this so far seems impossible enough, but cooking the bread over a fire fueled with human dung is more than Ezekiel can bear. He begs off, and the voice changes the fuel to cow dung instead. However, the point is made: during the siege the people will be forced to resort to ways and means that are humiliating.


Ezekiel 5 (day 807) 17 March 2012

            1-4: Okay, we have now a kind of riddle. Ezekiel is to shave his head and his beard with a sword so that he will look sort of like Howie Mandell. He is to divide the hair by weight in thirds. One third is to be burned on top of the brick that represents Jerusalem. One third is to be chopped up around the brick with the sword. The remainder is to be tossed into the air to let the wind take it wherever with God in hot pursuit. But a few of these whiskers he is to catch and attach them to his robe. Some of them in turn are to be burned in the fire on the brick.

            5-12: And now we are given the key to the riddle. The hair represents the people of Judah. God has become their enemy because they have rejected the covenant and worshiped other gods. One third of them will die in the city in awful circumstances, one third will be cut down by the sword and one third will be scattered to the winds.

            13-17: God’s anger will erupt in unimaginable destruction. The surrounding nations (particularly the Amonites, Edomites and Moabites, who came in after the city was destroyed to loot and pillage) will taunt and mock them, and they will be tormented until God’s anger is sated.

Ezekiel 6 (day 808) 18 March 2012

            1-7: Obviously their worship of idols is the primary sin for which God will punish them. The land will be overrun and the “high places,” the altars on which sacrifices were being made to other gods, will be thrown down and sacked and the people slaughtered around them.

            8-10: A remnant will be preserved, however, because God wants someone left who will be able to remember what has happened — what God has done to them.

            11-14: These verses basically repeat the calamities described in 1-10.


Ezekiel 7 (day 809) 19 March 2012

            1-27: God gives the word which follows to Ezekiel without specific instructions about what Ezekiel is to do with it. In content this chapter is not much different from what has gone before. God is going to destroy the land of Israel/Judah and the people left in it. There are certain specific emphases: 1) God’s fierce anger will destroy all that is left of Judah and Israel; 2) the destruction will be punishment for their iniquities; 3) other nations, “the worst of the nations,” will settle the land in their place; 4) the temple (“their beautiful ornament”) will be plundered and made unclean; 5) their pagan shrines will be profaned; 6) and last, but perhaps most important, “they shall know that I am the LORD.”

            Perhaps a brief recounting of history will help at this point. Ezekiel is prophesying in 593 B.C., the interim period between the first and second exiles. The first exile took place in 597 B.C. when King Jeconiah was taken captive to Babylon along with some of the citizens of Jerusalem. Ezekiel was among those who were exiled to Babylon on that occasion. We have been reading the account of a vision he saw by the river Chebar which contains prophesies about a second siege of Jerusalem which will result in a second exile in 587-586 B.C. This second exile will come as a result of the total destruction of Jerusalem. The city will be practically abandoned and the administrative functions of what will then be a Babylonian province will be transferred to Mizpah, where Governor Gedaliah will be assassinated by one Ishmael who then will flee the country. In other words, although Jerusalem has already been conquered by Nebuchadnezzar once, the prophecies we are reading now predict another, much more devastating, attack.

            Chapter 7, it seems to me, brings us to the end of the first visionary trance that began at 1:1.


Ezekiel 8 (day 810) 20 March 2012

            1-4: Two years plus a month have passed since that first vision, and now Ezekiel falls into another trance and a second vision comes to him. He must have presented the warnings to the elders because now they are in his house conferring with him. While they are there, as if to provide credence to his witness, he falls into another prophetic trance in which God gives him a vision of what is to come. Again he uses similes: the figure “looked like” a man; it had what “appeared to be” a midsection, above which is the “appearance” of brightness which is “like” polished amber. The figure stretches out “the form of” a hand. He is transported in some mysterious way to Jerusalem and deposited at the entrance to the inner court where there is “the seat of the image of jealousy,” probably an allusion to a statue of the goddess Asherah which King Manasseh had placed there during his reign (2 Kings 21:7). King Josiah later had the statue removed (2 Kings 23:6), but the seat or pedestal may have remained. The “glory of the God of Israel” was in the temple, of the same appearance as he had seen in Chapter 1 beside the river Chebar.

            5-6: In the vision Ezekiel sees the Asherah statue as if it were still in place.

            7-13: He is told to dig into the wall of the inner court where there was already a hole. He does, and finds seventy elders worshiping all kinds of pagan symbols and idols. God charges them with pretending they can hide from God’s sight by doing such things in their inner chambers. Their apostasy is made even worse by the presence of “Jaazaniah son of Shaphan,” for Shaphan had taken part in the reforms undertaken by King Josiah. The iniquity of Judah was indeed deep.

            14-15: Next he is taken to the north gate where he sees a group of women “weeping for Tammuz,” a Mesopotamian fertility deity who was believed to enter the abode of the dead each year when nature “died.”

            16-18: The fourth abomination he witnesses is a group of men in the inner court before the great altar worshiping the sun. King Manasseh had also set up altars and shrines dedicated to the “hosts of heaven,” the sun God Shamash being the primary one. Their backs are turned on the temple and therefore on God. Even worse, Ezekiel is told that the people who engage in such worship also “fill the land with violence.” “They are putting the branch to their nose” is an obscure colloquialism. It may have something to do with the use of aromatic herbs to mask foul odors; if so it means something akin to “hiding their eyes” from the suffering taking place throughout the land because they have turned away from God’s laws which protected the poor and weak.


Ezekiel 9 (day 811) 21 March 2012

            1-2: Ezekiel hears God call for executioners and sees six men approach with weapons, coming from the upper gate in the northern part of the temple compound, plus one man dressed in linen carrying writing paraphernalia.

            3-10: Ezekiel hears God giving instruction to the seven. The scribe is to go out and mark the foreheads of those who grieve the pagan worship going on in the city. The six with weapons are to follow him and slay all who do not receive the mark. Ezekiel protests, but God will not relent.

            11: The linen-clad scribe returns, his job done. The implication is that the six warriors have also done their work, although they are not mentioned again.


Ezekiel 10 (day 812) 22 March 2012

            1-5: Now Ezekiel sees a sapphire throne above the dome over the heads of the cherubim. This description sounds like the vision he had earlier (Chapter 1:22), with the cherubim replacing the “four living creatures” of that earlier vision. The linen-clad scribe is told to take embers from the “wheelwork” (see 1:15-21) beneath the cherubim and scatter them over the city. A loud sound accompanies the wings of the cherubim as the glory of the LORD rises, again recalling the earlier vision (1:24).

            6-8: The linen-clothed man goes in and is handed coals by a cherubim with what “appeared” to be a human hand.

            9-14: The cherubim, it turns out, are the four “living creatures” of Chapter 1, except that the forward-looking face is now described as being that of a cherub rather than a human. Are you wondering what the face of a cherub might look like? Read on. The description of the wheelwork is the same as the earlier description (1:15-21).

            15-17: Aha, these are indeed the same “living creatures” Ezekiel encountered by the river Chebar!

            18-19: Now the glory of the LORD, accompanied by the cherubim, rises up and takes a new station at the east gate of the temple.

            20-22: The faces of the cherubim look like human faces (compare 10:20 with 1:10).

            I want to remind you at this point that we are reading a description of a vision which foretells an event, not a vision of the actual event itself. The vision presents in arcane symbols a look ahead at what God is planning.


Ezekiel 11 (day 813) 23 March 2012

            1-4: We have met the 25 men before, at 8:16-18. They were up to no good then and are up to no good still. Jaazaniah we have also met (at 8:11) but this may or may not be the same man because in the earlier passage he is called the son of Shaphan. He is a leader of the 25, along with another chief priest named Pelatiah (who will die in verse 11). Based on the earlier vision in chapter 8 we can surmise that they are engaging in the worship of things other than God. Jaazaniah and Pelatiah are also advising the people not to build houses amidst the ruins because “this city is the pot and we are the meat,” meaning they are still being cooked, so there is no need to rebuild. Perhaps the underlying motive is that they want to get their hands on the funds that would be used in such rebuilding projects.

            5-12: God’s response to them is that they are responsible for the calamity that has befallen the city; they are responsible for the many that have been slain. Those innocent people are the “meat,” but these “religious” leaders will be taken out of the city and be judged “at the border,” that is, on their way out of the country.

            13: Pelatiah dies while Ezekiel is prophesying and his death alarms Ezekiel. He fears that God will completely destroy what little is left of Israel.

            14-21: Jaazaniah and his companions are telling the people that the land is left for them to enjoy, that the others have gone so far that they will never return. Ezekiel is to tell them that God will bring the people back from all the places to which they have been dispersed, will transform them with new hearts, and renew the covenant with them. Those among the remnant left in Jerusalem who have gone after other gods will be punished.

            22-25: All of this has been part of the vision that Ezekiel saw at the beginning of chapter 8. The cherubim (see 10:1) “transport” him back to the river Chebar where he recounts to the exiles everything he has seen in the visions.


Ezekiel 12 (day 814) 24 March 2012

            1-7: God gives Ezekiel instructions to perform what will be a sign-act pointing to the coming exile of those remaining in Jerusalem. He is to take a bundle, dig through the wall, and carry the bundle out as one being exiled, in full view of the people who are themselves living in exile. Ezekiel does as God says.

            8-16: When the people ask Ezekiel what he’s doing he is to tell them that this is what God will do to the people and to “the prince who is among them,” a reference to Zedekiah. Zedekiah will pack a bag, dig through the wall and try to slip through the encampment thrown up around the city by Nebuchadnezzar. He will be captured, and they will kill his sons in his sight and then put out his eyes and take him to Babylon where he will die in exile (see 2 Kings 25:1-7). The people remaining in the city will be scattered, but a few will be allowed to escape and tell the story among the nations.

            17-20: Another sign-act: Ezekiel is to eat and drink, visibly shaking in fear, to depict how the people remaining in Jerusalem will eat and drink in fear because of the destruction approaching.

            21-28: There are those who hear of the vision of approaching punishment, whose reaction is, “That’s what they keep saying, but nothing has happened yet.” God’s response is that what they are saying will be proved wrong; God will fulfill the vision, and soon.


Ezekiel 13 (day 815) 25 March 2012

            1-7: It is an interesting dynamic that, while the religious leaders — priests and prophets alike — have been castigated for turning the people to the worship of false gods and idols, they also have been in a situation in which prophets have been spouting off pronouncements which they claimed were from the LORD, the God of Israel! The word for this is syncretism, the mixing and combining of differing religious traditions.

            8-16: Ezekiel is confronted in the exiled community with the same kind of opposition in Jerusalem with which Jeremiah had to deal — prophets who proclaim what the people want to hear instead of what God wants them to hear. I believe the imagery of the wall is figurative. The people build a “wall,” that is, a barrier to the truth. They don’t want to hear that God has more punishment in store. They want to hear that the worst is over, and steeped in that desire they refuse to listen to prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The false prophets have “whitewashed” the “wall” by pronouncing the word of peace the people want to hear. But the “wall” is weak and will collapse at the first onslaught of a storm.

            17-19: The previous diatribe was leveled against male prophets; now we turn to certain women in the exiled community who are interfering with Ezekiel’s (and God’s!) work. Their interference is of a different and more deadly sort, however. The mention of wristbands and veils hints at dark arts of magical incantations and spells. “Handfuls of barley and pieces of bread” are probably the fees they charge for their services, although some scholars think these things, too, were part of their rituals. They have the power to put to death “persons who should not die,” which reminds me of some contemporary stories of the fantastic effects reported in the practice of Voodoo and the like. The particular complaint about them, however, is that they have profaned God, apparently using the name of the God of Israel in their magical incantations thus reducing God to no more than one of the pagan deities.

            20-23: The judgment against these women is not as violent as we might have expected. Somehow God will see that their veils and wristbands are removed (or perhaps simply discredited) and that they will no longer receive even false visions (or perhaps the people will cease paying attention).


Ezekiel 14 (day 816) 26 March 2012

            1-8: Some of the elders approach Ezekiel to seek a word from the LORD, but these are people who have also been consulting idols. This is the syncretism of which we spoke earlier — they aren’t sure which religion holds the truth, so they dabble in all of them. They are living in difficult times when fears and anxieties are high, and the situation makes them desperate to “cover all the bases” religiously. God wants to make it clear that they must turn away from the idols they worship and depend on God alone. Otherwise God will do nothing to help them.

            9-11: God is determined to nullify the effect of so-called prophets speaking false words which they have been deceived into thinking is the truth. In that way God hopes to bring the “house of Israel” back to himself.

            12-20: God is perhaps acknowledging here that there are at least some among the house of Israel who are righteous, but not enough to constitute a critical mass that would dissuade God from judgment. Three legendary paragons of faith, Noah, Job and Daniel are mentioned. Even the presence of these three would not halt the coming destruction. The assertion is much like that in Jeremiah 15:1 where Moses and Samuel are named as examples of righteous ones. We remember also the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 where God agrees to not destroy the cities if as few as ten are found there. They weren’t.

            21-23: Thus God justifies the total destruction that will befall Jerusalem. However, there will be survivors. This is insisted upon over and over. Somehow God will see to it that the righteous, though few in number, will survive.


Ezekiel 15 (day 817) 27 March 2012

            1-8: God compares the “usefulness” of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to the usefulness of the grape vine as wood. The vine has no structural strength. It cannot be carved and shaped into anything useful. It is not used for anything except making a fire. Likewise, the inhabitants of Jerusalem are not good for anything except to be consumed like the vine. It is a striking illustration, especially in lieu of the fact that the house of Israel has been described elsewhere as God’s beloved vineyard (see Isaiah 5:1). When the vines stop bearing fruit, though, it is only good for firewood.


Ezekiel 16 (day 818) 28 March 2012

            1-5: I’m not sure how Ezekiel is to “make known to Jerusalem her abominations” since he is in Babylon; nevertheless that is his task. Jerusalem was originally called Jebus and was settled by indigenous Canaanites who are often referred to as Amorites. Hittites were also present in the land, settlers having migrated there following the collapse of the Hittite empire. These people were looked down on by the Israelites, and here they are pictured as primitive people who don’t even know how to take care of a newborn baby.

            6-7: As time passed Jerusalem became the capital of the Kingdom of David. As a city it “grew up” and was a desirable place to live.

            8-14: God betrothed the city and made it his “wife.” Jerusalem was for a time, particularly during Solomon’s reign, renowned for its wealth and architecture and beauty.

            15-22: However, Solomon also introduced pagan religions into the city by marrying a number of princesses from around the Middle East — his way of arranging treaties and trading pacts. These wives were allowed to worship the gods of their countries which gave those gods prominence among the general populace, and Israelites also began to worship them. The reference to sacrificing her sons and daughters to them is Ezekiel’s way of referring to the growing presence of pagan worship in Israel and Judah.

            23-29: They “played the whore” with Egyptians and Assyrians, a reference to the alliances the kings of Judah tried to orchestrate to prevent the city from being completely overrun (as it eventually was). Their behavior was so bad even the Philistines were ashamed of them.

            This has been a very nice and very bland summary of verses 1-29. Ezekiel’s imagery is really vivid and really disgusting.

            30-34: When the Judean kings made alliances with Assyria and Egypt they did so by paying them exorbitantly. Ezekiel mocks the practice, comparing it to the prostitute who has to pay her lovers instead of the other way around.

            35-43a: Suffice it to say that God is pretty angry with the house of Israel.

            43b-52: Jerusalem is compared unfavorably to Samaria and to Sodom.

            53-58: God will allow them to rebuild, but only so that they can be destroyed again as a judgment against them for their sins.

            59-63: Still, as always, when God’s wrath is spent he will restore them. The “sisters,” Sodom and Gomorrah, once independent cities, will become “daughters,” towns that are dependent upon Jerusalem for its greater commerce and status. There will be a begrudging forgiveness for Jerusalem, a forgiveness that will put them to shame because they will realize the gravity of their sinful, idol-worshiping past.

Ezekiel 17 (day 819) 29 March 2012

            1-8: God gives Ezekiel a riddle for his people. It is quite confusing until we read the solution in verses 11-21, and even then details of the riddle are left unexplained. Basically, though, we can say that the riddle has to do with Nebuchadnezzar conquering Jerusalem, taking Jehoiachin to Babylon (the “city of merchants”) and putting Zedekiah (a “seed from the land”) on the throne in Judah. He becomes a spreading vine, meaning that the area prospered under his administration and with Babylonian assistance. At first Zedekiah “turned toward” Nebuchadnezzar. However, another great eagle appeared, not quite as magnificent as the first. This is clearly Egypt. The “vine,” Zedekiah, turned to Egypt as an ally against Babylon. (This is exactly the situation going on in Jerusalem at the time.)

            9-10: Now Ezekiel is to ask a series of rhetorical questions. The positive questions (“Will it prosper?” “Will it thrive?”) are obviously to be answered in the negative: “No.” The negative questions (“Will he not…” etc.) are obviously to be answered in the positive: “Yes.”

            11-15: Now God explains the riddle as outlined above, again ending with a series of rhetorical questions — this time all of them are obviously to be answered “No.”

            16-21: “… surely in the place (Babylon) where the king resides (Nebuchadnezzar) who made him (Zedekiah) king (of Judah) will be brought to Babylon where he will die because he will have broken his oath to Nebuchadnezzar. His army will be defeated and the people left in the land will flee in every direction.

            22-24: The final portion of this word from God retells the first part, only this time God is the eagle who takes a shoot from the tall tree and plants it on a high mountain, obviously Mt. Zion, where it will become a great tree that offers protection to all the birds. If the eagles represent the two most powerful nations of the day, the birds must represent all the other, smaller ones. The “high tree” and “green tree” is Babylon; the “low tree” and “dry tree” is lsrael in its current state. God will take charge of the affairs of nations instead of leaving it up to human empires, and God will choose to raise Israel to a new status. But notice that the act of God “planting” the shoot that will grow into a revitalized Israel is a hint that the nation will be restored not by the remnant that is left there, but by the exiles who will be returned.

Ezekiel 18 (day 820) 30 March 2012

            1-4: We have seen this proverb before, at Jeremiah 31:29-30. The sins of the parents will no longer be visited on the children, says God. This is a revocation of the old rule that God is “a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me” (see Deuteronomy 5:9). However, God apparently intended that rule to be applied to children who continue to behave as their parents behaved. Later on it is clearly stated that children will no longer be punished for the sins of their parents (Deuteronomy 24:16).

            5-9: The righteous man is described. Not “eating upon the mountains” is a reference to the altars on the high places dedicated to the worship of pagan deities.

            10-13: If such a righteous one has a son who behaves in the opposite fashion he will surely die, and his father will not be held responsible for the son’s iniquities.

            14-18: Just so, if the father lives sinfully and the son lives a righteous life the father will be punished but the son exonerated.

            19-20: The popular idea is that it is fair that children should pay for their parents’ mistakes, but God insists that is not the case, or perhaps I should say no longer the case.

            21-24: Now we run into a bit of difficulty. If a sinner reforms he won’t die but will live. The problem is this; if the judgment was that he should die for his sins, why is he still alive long enough to change his ways? The answer appears to be that God will allow sinful people to live long enough to determine whether or not they will turn from their sinfulness. In a similar vein, the righteous who forsake their faithful ways will die — or perhaps the meaning is that they will be marked for death but will be allowed a time to see if they repent. I don’t like this whole chapter very much, but it’s in the Bible anyway.

            25-29: Those who question the fairness of God’s judgment in this regard are themselves unfair.

            30-32: God urges them to turn from their wickedness so that they will live. One way of interpreting the chapter is to say that the terms “living” and “dying” are used here to refer to the disposition of the soul when this life is over. The righteous will survive their death, the wicked will not; but that is reading Christian ideas into a text that was written nearly 600 years before the birth of Christ.


Ezekiel 19 (day 821) 31 March 2012

            1-9: A confusing chapter: The last line identifies it as a “lament,” a funeral song sung at someone’s death, but also used as a form with which to mourn the “death” of a city or a nation — in this case, Jerusalem and Judah. The reference to “princes” in verse 1 is probably Ezekiel’s way of demeaning the last few kings of Judah, for whom he had little respect. The lioness is probably the city of Jerusalem, Judah’s “bride.” Judah, son of Jacob was referred to as a “lion’s whelp” in Genesis (Genesis 49:9). The reference to her lying down among young lions may be taken as a metaphor of the worship in Jerusalem of the gods of other “lions” (nations). The cub that became a young lion is a reference to Jehoahaz whose rule was judged to be evil. He was the only king of Judah to be exiled to Egypt (2 Kings 23:31-34). His successor was Jehoiakim, who tried to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar. In the resulting war the nations around Judah — Aram, Moab and Ammon (verse 8) — were sent by God to harass Judah (2 Kings 24:1-20). Nowhere does the 2 Kings account say that Jehoiakim was deported to Babylon, but that conclusion is nevertheless a likely one.

            10-14: The last part of the lament is even more confusing and we can only guess at the identity of the vine and the historical setting of this strange imagery. Here is my best guess: the vine is Judah. Under David and Solomon, and momentarily under later kings, the “vine” spread and thrived. The agent of destruction in verse 12 is probably to be understood as God. The image of being transplanted in the wilderness I take to be a description of the lands of Judah and Israel after their destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. In verse 14, note that the fire originates in the vine’s stem — a poetic way of saying that Judah was the cause of its own demise.


Ezekiel 20 (day 822) 1 April 2012

            1-8a: In this chapter Ezekiel gives a history lesson to certain elders with him in exile who come to consult with him. It is the seventh year now of Zedekiah’s reign in Jerusalem; in the ninth year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar will have had enough and will send his army back to destroy the city (2 Kings 25:1). God tells Ezekiel he will refuse to advise these elders, and tells Ezekiel to remind them of the story of Israel’s past, how God planned to bring them out of Egypt, even though they never cast away their idols and even took part in the Egyptian cults.

            8-26: The story of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings is recounted, with a heavy emphasis on the people’s constant rebellion and God’s repeated attempts to reform them. The phrase “for the sake of my name” occurs 3 times.

            27-32: God tells Ezekiel he will not be questioned by such people.

            33-38: God has scattered the people in the “wilderness of nations,” where they will undergo a purging of their wicked ways.

            39: Ezekiel is to tell the elders to go on and serve their idols. God doesn’t want them to worship him anymore; God will not be just one of many gods.

            40-44: There will come a day of restoration. The people will be returned to the land, where they will worship God and only God.

            45-49: The chapter ends with a strange reference to a fire (God’s wrath?) spreading through the forest of the Negeb, the shrub-strewn desert south of Judah. Why God would want to afflict that place is unexplained, and perhaps Ezekiel doesn’t understand it either, because he objects. People will think I’m nothing more than a “maker of allegories,” he says. The meaning of this unusual phrase is probably that Ezekiel fears they will see him as a good side show but not take him seriously.


Ezekiel 21 (day 823) 2 April 2012

            1-7: The calamity yet to befall Jerusalem — the siege by Nebuchadnezzar — will be an unsheathing of God’s sword. In other words, God is allowing it to happen. Because it will be a pagan king who mounts the attack no distinction will be made between the righteous and the wicked. Ezekiel is to make the pronouncement, complete with wailing and tears, before the Judeans in exile with him.

            8-17: Ezekiel is to act out the battle, making sword thrusts with his hands right and left to show the relentless carnage that will overtake Jerusalem.

            18-23: In another demonstration he is to demonstrate, apparently with “roads” marked out on the ground, how Nebuchadnezzar is coming to a decision of whether to proceed to Rabbah, principal city of Ammon, or to Jerusalem. He is to show how Nebuchadnezzar will cast lots, with the lots pointing him to Jerusalem. The elders of the people will think Ezekiel’s demonstration a hoax, but then God will cause them to remember how they had been captured and taken into exile.

            24-32: As they remember their own guilt they will begin to believe that Ezekiel’s pronouncements are true. The king of Judah will be conquered and disposed of, but then Ammon is suddenly brought back into the picture. When Jerusalem has been dealt with, Ammon will themselves be dealt a fatal blow.

Ezekiel 22 (day 824) 3 April 2012

            1-5: Ezekiel is the most graphic of all the prophets, scarcely trying at all to make his descriptions respectable. Jerusalem is in for a blood bath.

            6-12: A catalogue of the criminal excesses that have been taking place under Zedekiah’s rule.

            13-16: God’s wrath against the city is extraordinary.

            17-22: God can find no one of value in Jerusalem, nothing but impurity.

            23-31: Each category of citizenry is denounced, beginning with the royal house, then on to the priests, the government functionaries, the prophets, even the common people. No one there will try to uphold the way of the LORD.


Ezekiel 23 (day 825) 4 April 2012

            1-4: We have already noted that Ezekiel was very much against any attempt to form alliances with other nations; he sees such alliances as signs of unfaithfulness to God, for only God should be relied upon. This chapter is an extended metaphor depicting Jerusalem and Samaria as two sisters who have prostituted themselves to other lovers although they belonged to God. Their names are curious: Oholah means “her tent,” and Oholibah “my tent is in her.” One explanation is that the names refer to Samaria’s worship of false gods and the erection of shrines (often tents) on every high hill; while Jerusalem is the place where God has place his “tent,” or sanctuary.

            5-10: Oholah (Samaria) made alliances with Assyria. As a result God summoned the Assyrians to conquer Oholah and her country (Israel) and inflict great devastation on her sons and daughters (the towns and villages).

            11-21: Jerusalem knew very well what was going on in Samaria but chose to commit the same sins, not only with the Assyrians but with the Babylonians and Egyptians as well — referring of course to the alliances the kings of Judah had tried to form with those nations. Again we note that Ezekiel uses very raw and descriptive language and you may be sure some of these verses are not among the readings in the Common Lectionary.

            22-35: Oholibah gets the greater attention in the tale and her destruction is described in more detail (which in my opinion should have been truncated at least a bit). Her crimes are threefold: she did not learn from the demise of her sister Oholah, she played the whore with other nations (and their false gods), and she turned her back on the LORD.

            36-39: Ezekiel is to pronounce the charges against them but notice that the charge has now been reduced to one: they have been unfaithful to the LORD. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” was the first commandment, after all.

            40-45: A curious vignette that involves other “lovers” who are unidentified. The sisters prepare elaborate preparations to receive their new “clients,” but the charade is spoiled by the drunken rabble around them. Some scholars suggest that there may have been overtures to more distant empires, but the reality of Judah and Israel’s condition at that stage (“she is worn out with adulteries”) made them undesirable for any kind of alliance. These lesser nations (the “raucous multitude” — Edom, Ammon and Moab) come anyway, but only to plunder.

            46-49: The moral of the story is that the two sisters will be punished, and let that be a lesson to all the other cities in Judah and Israel.


Ezekiel 24 (day 826) 5 April 2012

            1-2: The date is the same as that reported in 2 Kings 25:2

            3-5: God tells Ezekiel to utter an allegory about putting on a pot for stew into which is placed the pieces of an animal to boil. The pieces represent pieces of Jerusalem, including its people.

            6-14: The allegory continues, now weaving back and forth from allegory to actual event as the soiled city and its people are cooked but do not make a decent stew and so are thrown out “until,” God says, “I have satisfied my fury upon you.”

            You know, it is hard for me to imagine God doing this. I want God to be nice, like I imagine Jesus was nice.

            15-18: The horrors continue, only this time Ezekiel himself will experience it. God tells him, “I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes.” He is not to grieve visibly or audibly. Ezekiel goes on to tell us bluntly that his wife dies the next evening. The next morning he goes about business as usual.

            19-24: It is such a strange and unexpected reaction to personal tragedy that the people question him about it. His explanation is that he is acting as they will when they learn that the sanctuary in Jerusalem will fall. It is God’s sanctuary, but here God calls it the delight of their eyes and the desire of their hearts. (I wonder how many of the sanctuaries we build mean more to us than they do to God.) The people are to react as they see Ezekiel now reacting, but I find the illustration offensive.

            25-27: This paragraph is not clear. When the sanctuary in Jerusalem falls, someone will come and tell them. Then Ezekiel can speak. The only sense I can make of it is that he must have been commanded to remain silent after he spoke to the people the words in verses 21-24. He just hasn’t told us about that command. Prophet’s prerogative, I suppose.


Ezekiel 25 (day 827) 6 April 2012

            1-7: Because the people of Ammon cheered when Jerusalem fell God will destroy them as well. Nebuchadnezzar may have bypassed their capital, Rabbah, in an earlier campaign (see 19:19-22) but that was but a temporary reprieve for Ammon. The “people of the east” is likely a reference to roaming nomadic tribes of the Arabian Desert who were known for encroaching into settled territories.

            8-11: Moab, like Ammon, was a kingdom on the east side of the Jordan. They also taunted Jerusalem when it fell and so they also fall under God’s wrath.

            12-14: Edom in particular took advantage of the remnant in Jerusalem after Nebuchadnezzar departed. They too are doomed to destruction, but in their case the instrument of destruction (the “people of the east,” for example) is not named.

            15-17: The Philistines took advantage of the situation in Judah as well, although they pillaged the countryside rather than the city of Jerusalem. The Cherethites have not been identified absolutely, but seem to have had some relation to the Philistines. In some passages it appears that the two are interchangeable. Again, the agent of destruction of the Philistines is not named.


Ezekiel 26 (day 828) 7 April 2012

            We have no way of knowing how current the news coming to the exiles from Babylon, but we know from 2 Kings 25:2 that the siege of Jerusalem, which began in the 9th year of Zedekiah’s rule, on the 10th day of the 10th month, lasted until the 9th day of the 4th month. In other words, the siege lasted for eighteen months. The oracles in this and the next chapter were given to Ezekiel shortly before the end of the siege.                 

1-6: This is the first of seven oracles against Tyre. It is hard to explain why so much more ink should be spilled against Tyre than the other surrounding nations. Tyre was a seafaring city on a promontory off the coast of Lebanon about 80 miles north of Mt. Carmel in Israel. The early kings of Israel, particularly David and Solomon, traded with Tyre (see 2 Samuel 5:11, 1 Kings 5:1) and the two countries were great allies. In time Israel and Judah’s fortunes diminished while Tyre’s fortunes never waned. This first oracle says that Tyre exhibited a haughty attitude when Jerusalem fell, and that is the cause of the punishment that will come to them.

            7-14: The second oracle states that Nebuchadnezzar would come and lay waste to the city of Tyre. Nebuchadnezzar did indeed come and lay siege to Tyre, but it was not a quick victory. Tyre reportedly had walls 150 feet high and according to the ancient historian Josephus Nebuchadnezzar’s siege lasted 13 years, from 585 B.C to 572 B.C. In spite of the sentiment in verse 14 Tyre was rebuilt and is one of Lebanon’s largest cities today.

            15-18: Tyre was often at war with the coastlands opposite its location, but they were also trading partners. The fall of Tyre will cause those on-again off-again enemies/allies to tremble with fear.

            19-21: The utter destruction pictured here apparently did not take place, although Tyre was certainly put out of commission for awhile.


Ezekiel 27 (day 829) 8 April 2012

            1-11: Following the judgment on Tyre Ezekiel is to raise a lamentation. Tyre is described as a sturdy sailing vessel clad with planks of fir, mast of cedar, oars of oak, decks of boxwood (or pines) inlaid with ivory, and sails of finest linen. Foreigners, each group no doubt renowned for their special abilities, man the oars, guide the rudders, repair the leaks, market the goods, and provide protection. Verse 11 abandons the ship imagery and describes the walls and towers of the city.

            12-25: Here we (surely) have an exhaustive list of Tyre’s customers and wares from all over the known world of the day — some of the places mentioned are unknown today. Tyre’s traders bring in a rich supply of every known commodity: metals of every kind, slaves, animals, ivory and ebony for their pianos (just kidding), fine cloths, gems, food, wine, spices, and so forth.

            26-36: Now it is all lost to the sea that brought it. Their great “ship” is sunk in the waves, and everyone is aghast at the calamity, certain that such a terrible thing has never happened to any other nation.

Ezekiel 28 (day 830) 9 April 2012

            The third movement in the section on Tyre is addressed to the crown ruler of Tyre. Following the same progression we have first the proclamation against the ruler and then will follow the lamentation which contains a description of the glory of the king of Tyre followed by a description of his destruction.

            1-10: The bottom line: the king of Tyre thinks too highly of himself. Indeed he thinks he is a god. So the true God will prove he is not by sending conquerors to his little island state, and the king of Tyre will die.

            11-19: The lamentation is next. The king is described decked out in his expensive finery, rich and secure, actually favored by God and able to do incredible things. He was thought blameless by all – until God pointed out his iniquity. The last verses describe a conflagration that destroys the city.

            20-23: The prophetic barrage turns to Sidon, up the coast of Lebanon from Tyre. Sidon will also be struck with “pestilence,” undoubtedly a reference to the imperial ambitions of the Babylonians.

            24: Finally Ezekiel is done with all Judah’s and Israel’s immediate neighbors.

            25-26: And so God’s people will be able to live in peace when God brings them back from all the places to which they have fled or been exiled.


Ezekiel 29 (day 831) 10 April 2012

            1-12: We go back in time again, for just a few months, to hear the oracles against Egypt. Again, there will seven oracles in all, Egypt receiving a bit more attention than did Tyre. Egypt did not share a border with Judah as did Edom, Philistia and some of the others. Egypt is several hundred miles away from Judah, all the way across the Sinai Peninsula and beyond. The prophecy against Egypt is primarily against the Pharaoh, but includes the whole country. The crime of Egypt is much the same as that of Tyre – haughtiness and arrogance. The Egyptians claim that their gods made the Nile, and what’s worse, when Judah called on them for help Egypt was not helpful. The judgment against Egypt is that it will become a wasteland, that no one will live there for 40 years, and that the people of Egypt will be scattered among the nations — another example, perhaps, of the hyperbole which characterizes many of Ezekiel’s pronouncements.

            13-16: However, in a curious double reversal of fortune, Egypt will be restored. The people are allowed to return after 40 years but their return will be no cause for great rejoicing because Egypt is condemned to forever be a second-rate nation.

            17-21: Skip ahead some years. The mention of the 27th year is likely intended to refer to the 27th year of King Jehoiachin’s exile (2 Kings 24:12), and that being the case, we can place this one pretty accurately: it is 571 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Tyre has been less than successful. The Tyrean king has surrendered to him but the expected riches from sacking the city never materialize. This is in contrast to what Ezekiel predicted (26:21). To compensate, the Babylonians will sack Egypt, and that will be Nebuchadnezzar’s army’s wages for their labors against Tyre. Verse 21 is obscure. The “horn” is normally a reference to kings in the line of David (see Psalm 132:17), and it may be that Ezekiel intends that there will be a restoration of the throne of David. “I will open your lips among them” would then mean that Ezekiel will live to see the day.


Ezekiel 30 (832) 11 April 2012

            The same sequence is evident again: first the judgment against Egypt, then a lamentation for Egypt, followed by a judgment against Egypt’s king.

            1-5: Here begins the lamentation, wailing for the familiar “sword” that is to befall now Egypt. Other nations are mentioned in verse 5; many scholars think these are the places which supplied Egypt with mercenary soldiers. Arabia is out of place and the Hebrew word used may be intended rather as a reference to groups of “mixed people.”

            6-9: By now the reader is desensitized to the carnage described. We’ve read about such horrors before – more than once. Ethiopia is looked upon as an extension of Egypt, occupying as it does the upper regions of the Nile.

            10-12: God has spoken. Nebuchadnezzar will be God’s instrument of punishment for Egypt.

            13-19: God’s judgment is described sweeping through Egypt. The place names don’t seem to be in any particular order, but do represent a pretty thorough random sampling of Egypt’s cities and fortresses. Destruction and exile are the orders of the day; all of this so that “they shall know that I am the LORD.”

            20-26: Suddenly we are back in the 11th year. The siege of Jerusalem is in full swing. Egypt has made an attempt to stop Babylon, planning no doubt to have Jerusalem themselves. The attempt will utterly fail, says Ezekiel. God is against them. Babylon’s star is rising; Egypt’s is falling.


Ezekiel 31 (day 833) 12 April 2012

1-14: About 7 weeks have passed. Ezekiel is again instructed to speak to the Pharaoh although he is nowhere near the man, and the words he is to speak are all about Assyria, not Egypt — except that Egypt is being compared to Assyria. Assyria is described metaphorically as a tall cedar, taller than the cedars of Lebanon, taller even than the cedars in the Garden of Eden. So God gave it to Nebuchadnezzar (“the prince of the nations” — verse 11) to deal with. The great cedar and all the other beautiful trees (Assyria’s allies) were cut down and perished.

15-17: The trees of the Garden and of Lebanon were consoled when the cedar that is Assyria joined them in Sheol — a curious thought to be sure, but remember this is a poem. The author presumes the trees of Lebanon and Eden have long since died and are already in Sheol to greet Assyria.

18: Blink hard to catch the shift in targets: The “you” is now Egypt


Ezekiel 32 (day 834) 13 April 2012

            1-16: Nine months have passed. We come now to the lamentation over Pharaoh, king of Egypt. The description of the subject is a regular opening feature in a lament, where the subject of the lament is usually praised but in this case Egypt is denigrated as an alligator that has fouled its own rivers and streams. Most of the lament describes what God is going to do to Egypt. Considering the previous laments, we are hardly surprised by what is said regarding Egypt’s fate.

            17-32: The funeral song for Egypt is curiously placed nearly a year prior to the lament in the previous verses. The dirge draws a picture of the hordes of Egypt descending into the great pit Sheol, abode of the dead, to join the company of all the others God has deposed through the sword of Nebuchadnezzar: there is Assyria, Elam, Meshech, Tubal, Edom, the “princes of the north” (Tyre?) and Sidon. Pharaoh is curiously consoled by the presence of all these other “uncircumcised” (not part of the covenant with God) nations.


Ezekiel 33 (day 835) 14 April 2012

            1-6: God explains the function of the sentinel; to sound the warning. The sentinel is not responsible for the people’s response.

            7-9: Ezekiel is named the sentinel; that’s his job.

            10-16: Ezekiel is given the warning he is to sound. The wicked may live if they turn from their sins, and the righteous will die if they turn from their righteousness. If all this sounds familiar, look back at 3:16-21 and 18:21-24.

            17-20: These verses hearken back to 18:25-29.

            21-22: Word comes that Jerusalem has fallen. Ezekiel had been in a prophetic trance the night before, but had regained his voice just that morning. When the news arrives about Jerusalem, he is able to speak again.

            23-29: God tells him to prophesy to the remnant in the torn land of Judah and Israel. Those folks are saying they will inherit the land because God gave it to Abraham. Nothing doing, says God. You lost the land because you worshiped other gods and behaved in a way not in keeping with the Law.

            30-33: Meanwhile, the exiles at the river Chebar in Babylon love to gather around Ezekiel and hear the word of the LORD, but they do not obey the word that is given.


Ezekiel 34 (day 836) 15 April 2012

            1-6: The “shepherds” are the leaders of the people and in this context probably are specifically the spiritual leaders of the people. They have made themselves fat at the people’s expense.

            7-10: God is against these leaders because they have failed to protect the sheep.

            11-16: God himself will become the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep and brings them home. Jesus surely was thinking of this passage when he told the beautiful parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7).

            17-19: Still, the sheep have not been blameless, either.

            20-22: Those who have gotten “fat” on the suffering of the others will receive the judgment of the shepherd.

            23-24: Finally the name “David” is uttered. He has been barely in the shadows on a number of occasions and finally steps into the open. Of course, Ezekiel is likely referring to an expected restoration of the throne of David, with a descendant of David sitting on it, as they believed God had promised long ago.

            25-31: The restoration of the land is described in idyllic terms, with even nature and wild animals dwelling in peace there.


Ezekiel 35 (day 837) 16 April 2012     

            Mt. Seir is often used as a reference to all of Edom (see verse 15). Israelites and Edomites are the Bibles’ version of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Edom was settled by the family of Esau (Deuteronomy 2:12, 22) while Israel was settled by the family of his brother Jacob. They were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah and began fighting before they were born (Genesis 25:22-23). There are several places where Edom is accused of gloating over the fall of Jerusalem (Psalm 137:7, Lamentations 4:21-22), taking part in looting the city after its fall and capturing fugitives to hand over to the Babylonians (Obadiah 1:11-14). Ezekiel made a brief pronouncement over Edom at 25:12-14; here the treatment is extended with the focus on Mt. Seir to provide a sort of platform from which to launch the blessings on the mountains of Israel in chapter 36.

            1-9: The first of three charges against Edom is laid out. They “gave over the people of Israel to the power of the sword,” instead of coming to their aid to help against the Babylonians. Their punishment is therefore that they in turn will be given over to the sword.

            10-13: The second charge against Edom is that they coveted the territory of “these two nations,” Judah and Israel. Their punishment is that they will be dealt with accordingly.

            14-15: The third charge against Edom is that they “rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate.” Their punishment is that they will be made desolate while “the whole earth rejoices.”


Ezekiel 36 (day 838) 17 April 2012

            1-7: Ezekiel now is to prophesy to “the mountains of Israel,” which have been desolated by God’s wrath to the delight of the Edomites (verse 5) and all the nations. First of all, those nations are themselves to suffer the wrath of God.

            8-12: The mountains of Israel, however, will thrive. Crops will be harvested, the population of people and domestic animals will increase, villages will again be settled and vibrant, and they will be possessed by the people of Israel rather than foreigners like those awful, awful Edomites.

            13-15: Israel’s reputation for mistreating its own people will be reversed.

            16-21: In a sense, the tables have been turned on God. God punished the people for profaning his name by scattering them among the nations, but then the nations reached another conclusion: this is how the LORD treats his own people!

            22-32: So God is going to bring them back to the land he had given them, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s own reputation. God is going to change them by removing their “hearts of stone,” and putting a new spirit within them so that they will be ashamed for their sinfulness. This is similar to the sentiment expressed by Jeremiah, that God will give them a new heart (Jeremiah 32:33).

            33-36: When the rebuilding and the resettling takes place the other nations will know that the LORD has done it.

            37-38: On more than one occasion God has refused to allow them to consult with him to do anything for them (see 14:3, 20:3 and 20:30). That prohibition will be removed and God will welcome their petitions and fill the land so that it is like a festival that is always in progress.


Ezekiel 37 (day 839) 18 April 2012

            1-10: Ezekiel has another “out of body” experience in which he is transported to a valley littered with bones. God asks him if the bones can live, and Ezekiel’s unusual and wise answer is “O LORD God, you know.” He is then told to “prophesy to the bones,” and tell them God is going to restore them. When he does, the bones come together with a great rattling sound and are enfleshed in a sequence that would inspire a special effects studio in Hollywood. Ezekiel has to prophesy again to make breath enter them so they will live and stand up. There he is, in a remote valley, surrounded by the living dead. That’s quite a trip.

            11-14: The meaning of the experience is explained. The bones are the people of Israel, scattered now around the world and cut off from life in covenant with God. God will bring them out of their grave-like existence and return them to their home so that they will know that God is still God.

            15-23: God gives Ezekiel another object lesson to present to the people, two sticks representing Judah and Israel. He is to hold them together as an image of what God wishes to do; reuniting the kingdom once again under one king.

            24-28: That king is David, of course, or one belonging to David’s line. God still longs for Israel to live in a covenant relationship with him in a nation in which everyone is respectful and obedient to that covenant. God wants to bless and multiply them and dwell with them as a sign to all the nations. This is what God has wanted all along, isn’t it?


Ezekiel 38 (day 840) 19 April 2012

            1-6: Of course, that heavenly state cannot be expected to exist without challenge, for the nations stubbornly worship other gods and sooner or later war must come. Gog, the prince of a land called Magog, will be a future threat to the existence of Israel and to God’s sovereignty. Gog and Magog appear in other ancient near-eastern literature, and basically represent the ultimate threat that all nations fear. God tells Ezekiel to prophesy against this threat and the alliance of nations with it — Persia and Ethiopia most notably, for they are in opposite directions from Israel.

            7-9: But Israel is not alone. Many nations gather in the mountains of Israel and advance against Gog.

            10-13: God is speaking to Gog, reading his mind and analyzing his plans. Gog will see helpless villages in the mountains of Israel and covet them, joined by trading nations eager to examine the spoils.

            14-16: God summons Gog out of the north. It seems that, except for Egypt, all Israel’s threats have come from the north — Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and the Greeks under Alexander the Great. Gog is summoned so that God can display his holiness before all the nations. In other words, God’s might, indeed his very existence, is most evident when Israel is under attack. God had given them up to Assyria and Babylon because of their wickedness, but as a result the nations said Israel’s God was essentially worthless. God is looking for an opportunity to make a demonstration.

            17-23: God looks forward to the demonstration, an opportunity for God to display his greatness. Gog will be utterly defeated and God will be made known “in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the LORD.”


Ezekiel 39 (day 841) 20 April 2012

            1-6: Ezekiel is to prophesy against Gog that God is going to drive him into the mountains of Israel. He describes a soldier mortally wounded, dropping his bow and arrows and falling on the mountain along with his comrades, their dead bodies picked by the birds. Ezekiel uses such lovely and colorful descriptions.

            7-10: The outcome will be that Israel and all the nations will know the LORD. The people will come out and burn the weapons and use them for kindling for their fires. Ezekiel is assuring the exiles that, once Israel is restored, God will not allow another nation to conquer and plunder them as had Babylon.

            11-16: God will designate a certain locale as the graveyard of the bones of Gog’s soldiers. “The Valley of the Travelers” is an attempt to translate an obscure term in Hebrew. Suffice it to say that the location is unknown, at least to us. Elaborate plans are made for the bones to be gathered over a period of seven months. Almost comically, we see people putting up signs where they have spotted bones so the bone-gatherers will be sure to collect them — but remember that in their culture touching a human bone makes one unclean until the evening, so it makes sense for the job to be assigned to specific individuals rather than have the whole populace out searching for them.

            17-20: This section seems to be displaced; it is a description of the feast of the birds and animals on the enemy corpses as mentioned back in verse 4. Ezekiel can’t resist the most explicit descriptions of the bloodiest scenes.

            21-24: All of this, of course, is to demonstrate to all the nations that Israel didn’t go into captivity because the LORD was weak, but because the LORD arranged for them to be conquered because they disobeyed him.

            25-29: And the people of Israel will have ample reason to trust God more than ever. One reason modern “scholars” try to find the identity of Gog among modern foes (Gog is Russia, Gog is the United Arab States, etc.) is because the battle has never taken place as described in Ezekiel. They confuse the battle against Gog to be the same thing as the Battle of Armageddon in Revelation. Therefore some readers assume the defeat of Gog must still be in the future; they always imagine it to be in their immediate future. My take on these two chapters is simply that God is seeking to assure the exiles that once they are allowed to return to the land they will do so under God’s protection.


Ezekiel 40 (day 842) 21 April 2012

            1-4: The remainder of the book of Ezekiel will be concerned with describing the great restoration that will take place, first of the temple, then of the whole land. There is a bit of a problem with Ezekiel’s double date notices, but it seems this final vision takes place about 572 B.C., in the 25th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and 14 years after Jerusalem was destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar is still king of Babylon and this is the year in which the siege of Tyre ended in a compromise with Tyre accepting Babylonian authority without surrendering their city. Ezekiel is once again transported to Jerusalem where he is greeted by a divine architect who beckons him to observe him measure off the sections of the new temple.

            5-16: First he measures the outer wall of the temple compound and the recesses within the wall for storage and such.

            17-19: The outer court is measured.

            20-23: An elaborate gate in the north of the outer court wall is described and measured.

            24-27: Now he measures the massive and elaborate southern gate that leads into the outer court.

            28-31: Moving from the outside dimensions toward the inside, the gate at the southern end of the wall that leads from the outer court to the inner court is measured.

            32-34: The gate at the eastern side of the wall separating outer and inner courts is measured.

            35-37: The gate at the northern end of the wall that leads from the outer to the inner court is measured.

            38-43: The rooms where the offerings were to be slaughtered are measured along with the tables on which the offerings were butchered to separate the parts to be offered from the remainder to be disposed of.

            44-47: The spaces provided for the singers and other priests are described and measured.

            48-49: We finally reach the temple itself, where the man measures the vestibule at the entrance with the “pilasters,” columns partly in and partly out of the walls.

            Whew! Take a break.


Ezekiel 41 (day 843) 22 April 2012

            If you Google “Ezekiel’s Temple” you will find a number of attempts to depict what is described in these chapters; interesting but probably beside the point. The descriptions given here are nowhere nearly adequate to actually erect the buildings. All we have is a tally of the dimensions and the barest glimpse of the various buildings and rooms involved, which begs the question, “What’s the point?” Many have attempted an explanation, but none are completely satisfactory. Perhaps the best suggestion is simply that God is fixing firmly in Ezekiel’s mind the general idea that the temple will be rebuilt and the worship of God in Jerusalem re-established, an idea he can pass on to the exiles. A floor plan is presented in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VI, page 1535. Honestly, this is about as much as can be determined by Ezekiel’s description, and even this is conjectural at many points.

            1-4: The measurements continue into the vestibule and the holy of holies, the inner sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

            5-11: The temple building is measured next, with the passageways and the anterooms around the perimeter.

            12-15: Another building is measured, some 15-20 feet to the west of the temple. The purpose of this building is not mentioned.

            16-20: Finally some details of the design of the temple are given. There are windows, and wood paneling, and a (bas relief or engraved?) pattern of cherubim and palm trees around the walls.

            21-26: Right in the middle of this very precise-sounding “tour” of the new temple Ezekiel throws in a word that reminds us this is a vision, a sort of trance or waking dream. What he sees is not an altar of wood, but rather “something resembling” an altar of wood. The angel has to tell him that it is “the table that stands before the LORD.”


Ezekiel 42 (day 844) 23 April 2012

            1-14: The angel measures rows of “chambers” on the north and south sides of the temple and adds an explanatory remark that they are the rooms used by the priests — for eating their portion of the sacrifices, for vestment rooms, and for rooms where offerings are recorded.

            15-20: The external dimensions of the temple compound are measured, revealing that the area encloses well over half a million square feet. A wall separates the holy (inside the wall) from the common (the city outside). This is an important concept because it illustrates a basic premise of the covenant God made with Israel in the first place: God chose them to be a holy people.


Ezekiel 43 (day 845) 24 April 2012

            1-9: Ezekiel sees “the glory of the LORD” approaching from the east and entering the temple. It reminds him of the initial vision he had by the river Chebar (see 1:26-28). Ezekiel feels himself mysteriously lifted up and into the courtyard where he hears the LORD’s voice speaking to him from inside the temple. God tells him that Israel’s punishment was for not honoring the holy place. They were chosen by God to be a holy people, but they violated the covenant by which they were made holy. The vision Ezekiel is seeing represents God’s invitation for them to enter into the covenant again, so that once again God will live in their midst.

            10-12: Ezekiel is to report the vision to the exiles; in turn they will have a vision of what is to be, and will understand that the entire area around Mt. Zion will be holy.

            13-21: Instructions are to be given the exiles for the reconstruction of the altar for burnt sacrifices. When it is erected Ezekiel is to give the priests a bull to be sacrificed. He is to sprinkle the blood on the horns of the altar, clearly resembling the ritual by which Moses consecrated the first altar in the tabernacle in the wilderness (Leviticus 16:18).

            22-27: The ritual of purifying the altar is completed with the offering of a goat. The altar being purified, it is necessary then for the people to be purified through the sacrifice of a bull on seven consecutive days, thus completing the atonement of Israel which enables God to accept them once again.


Ezekiel 44 (day 846) 25 April 2012

            1-3: The east gate is a focal point in the visionary description of the temple-to-be. At the beginning of the vision Ezekiel and the angel/architect had entered through the east gate (40:6). After touring the whole temple compound Ezekiel had seen “the glory of the LORD” enter the temple through the east gate and take up residence in the temple (43:4). Now he finds the east gate sealed, and is told that it will remain closed. Only the “prince,” whom we have met before (34:23, 37:24) and will meet again in later chapters, may approach the gate, but only for ritual purposes and he must enter and leave the area through a side door. He is allowed this special permission “because he is a prince.” It is a privilege of office. The reason for the permanently closed gate may be to symbolize God’s promise never to forsake his people again. Some scholars think it also has to do with a Babylonian New Year’s ritual which involved the ceremonial opening of a gate for the entry of one of their gods. Israel’s worship of their God is not to resemble Babylonian worship.

            4-8: The east gate being permanently closed, Ezekiel re-enters the temple compound by way of the north gate to the front of the temple where God’s glory now resides; in awe he falls on his face, and is told that he must see to it that foreigners will never again be allowed to enter the temple. It was the influence of foreign religions that caused Israel’s decline in the first place, and Ezekiel is being told that that contingency must be guarded against. When the exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, proof of lineage was required and the expurgation of foreigners from among the citizens was a primary emphasis of the reformers (see Nehemiah 13:1-3), as well as the expulsion of foreign wives (Nehemiah 13:23-25). While such exclusive requirements might offend the “inclusive” attitude of many moderns, it is in fact practiced throughout modern societies. In the Roman Catholic Church only the priests may administer the sacraments, and in most Protestant denominations only ordained or licensed clergy have that privilege. Clubs and lodges and other organizations have similar boundaries; it is simply a way of protecting the identity of the group. The concept of the “holy” is by its very nature exclusive.

            9-14: Not only must foreigners be excluded, but Levites may never serve as priests; that is, they may not perform the priestly functions of offering sacrifices or conducting other rituals. Levites may only serve as attendants. Curiously, this restriction is referred to as their “punishment” for having participated in the worship of idols.

            15-16: The priests are also Levites, of course, for they are descended from Levi, but they are more narrowly defined as being also descended from Aaron and here their number is even more narrowly defined as being descended from Zadok. Zadok’s ancestry can be traced back to Aaron through his son Eleazar. He was the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Miraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron (Ezra 7:2-4. Ezra was himself descended from Zadok.). There is evidence that he was the first high priest of the original temple in Jerusalem that Solomon built (see for example 1 Kings 1:39).

17-19: God gives Ezekiel (who was himself a priest [see 1:3] and likely a descendent of Zadok) strict regulations about the priests who are to serve in the temple. They must wear linen garments just as Aaron was instructed to do (Leviticus 16:4, 16:23), but whereas Aaron only wore the linen garments when in the most holy place of the sanctuary, the priests now will be required to do so whenever they are in the inner court where sacrifices are offered. Sweating is not allowed because sweat is a bodily emission that would render them unclean. They must not wear those linen garments in the outer court so as not to “communicate holiness to the people.” Holiness is a dangerous condition!

20: They may not shave their heads, a restriction not mentioned in the earlier books, but it is noted in Numbers 8:7 that mere Levites must shave when they are consecrated. Thus not shaving would serve to separate the priests from the other Levites.

21: The priests may not drink wine when they are to enter the inner court, a prohibition that goes back to Leviticus 10:8-9.

22: The restrictions about who they may marry date back to Leviticus 21:7.

23: Observing the division between clean and common is mentioned as early as Leviticus 10:10-11.

24: This order seems to place the administration of justice squarely in the hands of the priesthood, an arrangement that throws up lots of “red flags” for some of us. However, the very next line has to do with appointed festivals and Sabbaths, and so it is likely that the “judging” mentioned here has only to do with religious observances.

25-27: These prohibitions and rules date back to Leviticus as well.

28-31: The compensation received by the priests is to be as it was spelled out in Leviticus. Apparently in the intervening years some priests became wealthy and some became land holders as well, thus compromising their commitment to God.


Ezekiel 45 (day 847) 26 April 2012

            1-5: When the first allotment of the tribes was made (Joshua 13-19) there was no provision for a sacred area set aside for God. The new Israel will include such a provision. The holy realm is to be 25,000 cubits (about 8 miles) from east to west and 20,000 cubits (6.4 miles) from north to south. A strip in the middle of that is designated for the priests and the location of the temple compound. The outer strips on the north and south sides of this center strip, each 25,000 cubits east-to-west and 5,000 cubits north-to-south, are set apart for the Levites and their cities. So, rather than be scattered around the country as in the old Israel, in the new Israel the Levites will be grouped in that central area.

            6: This verse is a confusing addition that seems to designate another strip for all the people, but the purpose of such an area is not given. Our modern minds think of public parks, hospitals, educational facilities, government buildings and the like.

            7-8: The prince’s portion is apparently 20,000 cubits north to south, and stretching east-to-west to the far boundaries of the nation — the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the Jordan River on the east. This is an enormous holding, 8 miles north and south and about 80 miles east to west!

            9: This verse seems to indicate that the prince’s allotment is designed to satisfy his craving for land and wealth so that he will not oppress the people.

            10-12: Honest weights and measures are inveighed. A homer was about 5 bushels. The ephah was a dry measure, the bath a liquid one. Honest weights and measures help to insure that the people are not cheated.

            13-17: Mandatory offerings are described, the prince and the people both responsible.

            18-20: Sin offerings for the atonement of the people are stipulated.

            21-25: The observance of Passover is mandated.


Ezekiel 46 (day 848) 27 April 2012

            1-8: The outer east gate is permanently closed, but we learn now that the inner east gate which leads into the inner court surrounding the sanctuary where offerings are sacrificed is also kept closed except on the Sabbath. The required offerings to be made by the prince are enumerated. It is obvious that the purpose of these laws is to insure that the people see their prince engaged in the proper worship of God.

            9-10: Traffic in the outer court moves in one direction, either north to south or south to north, take your pick. Even the prince has to follow this rule.

            11-12: We learn now that the inner east gate may be opened during the week on the occasion of the prince presenting an offering; but only so long as it takes for the offering to be made.

            13-15: The regular daily offerings provided by the prince are listed. It is becoming clear that the prince will have little time to get into trouble.

            16-18: This is the only mention in Ezekiel of the “year of liberty.” It seems to correspond to what has been called the “year of jubilee” (Leviticus 25: 8-17), the provision by which every 50 years debts were to be excused and lands returned. Gifts bestowed by the prince to any but his sons are to be returned in that year.

            19-20: Guilt and sin offerings are prepared in a special area of the temple compound to avoid “communicating holiness” to the people (compare 44:19).

            21-24: We’re beginning to get some idea of the scope of the sacrifices carried out by the Israelites. It required an extraordinary number of animals and correspondingly enormous areas for the preparation of the animals for offering.


Ezekiel 47 (day 849) 28 April 2012

            1-12: In his trance Ezekiel is taken back to the entrance of the temple, where he sees a trickle of water flowing from beneath the threshold. The little stream flows around the south side of the altar, then under the outer east gate, the one that is closed forever. He is led out through the north gate and around to the east gate where he sees the water flowing from under the gate. As the angel/architect leads him along the course of the stream it grows ever deeper until it is too deep to walk across. He is led back, seeing this time many trees growing on the banks of this new stream. He is told that the water flows on toward the Arabah, a desert region to the east which will now begin to flourish. It flows into the Dead Sea, changing its stagnant water into fresh water. He pictures people lined up along the banks of the once Dead Sea, catching fish of all kinds. The marshes are left for salt, but the sea is fresh water. The angel explains that the trees along the stream produce food. It is a beautiful picture of new life flowing from Mt. Zion.

            13-23: Ezekiel, clearly now the new Moses, is to mark the outer boundaries of the land, now squarely between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and not all the way to the Euphrates (see Genesis 15:18). Then he is to allot territories to all the tribes and to aliens living among the tribes. Even the aliens will be given land within the tribal territory in which they reside. The reason for this surprising move is not difficult to see, however: God wants to be known among all the nations.


Ezekiel 48 (day 85) 29 April 2012

            1-14: The roll call of the tribes begins, with each tribe receiving its allotment of land: Dan, Asher, Naptali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, and Judah. Judah is to include the holy precinct described in chapter 45. The temple area, and all the priests and all the Levites live within this special district.

            15-22: The city (Jerusalem) is laid out, to include the holy precinct within its walls. The prince’s territory is defined as being between Judah and Benjamin.

            23-29: The allotment of the land concludes with Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, and Gad.

            30-35: Ezekiel’s vision (and his book) ends with a quick look at the city (Jerusalem). The city is to be 4500 cubits on each side, a square about 1.3 x 1.3 miles. Three gates are to be placed facing in each of the cardinal directions of the compass, the twelve gates representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Note that now there is a gate for the Levites, and to preserve the number of tribes at 12 Joseph is given one gate instead of being divided between Ephraim and Manasseh.

            Finally, the length of the four walls is added together to get a circumference of 18,000 cubits, or a little over five miles — not a very large area for the most important city in the world!

            Perhaps you have noticed that, although it is obvious that we are in Jerusalem, the name of the city has never been mentioned in Ezekiel’s final vision which began at 40:1. In dramatic fashion he saves the mention of its name to the last line. The city is called “God is there.”

            Jerusalem has a new name, and with that the book abruptly ends.

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