|Topical Bible Study||January 1963|
The People in God’s Plan—Lesson XVIII
The Prophet Ezekiel
EZEKIEL was one of the four major prophets. He was taken captive to Babylon before the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 606 B.C., at which time the typical kingdom of Israel was overthrown. It was in the fourth month of the thirteenth year of his captivity that Ezekiel received his commission to be a prophet for the Lord. (Ezek. 1:1-3 Rotherham; Leeser) The thought has been advanced, although not definitely established, that Ezekiel was a member of a community of Jewish exiles which settled on the banks of the Chebar, a small river in the land of Babylonia.
In common with the other Old Testament prophets, much of Ezekiel’s writings are directed to the natural house of Israel, and to a large extent in the nature of reprimands for the sins of the people. Special attention is given to this aspect of his forthcoming ministry in the outline of the commission given to him.—Ezek. 2:1-5
But in addition to these prophecies which have a local setting, Ezekiel was also used by the Lord to forecast important events in the outworking of the divine plan for the recovery of mankind from sin and death. One of these assures us that the people of Israel, of Sodom, and of Samaria, are to be released from their captivity in death.—Ezek. 16:53
In this prophecy it is revealed that the Israelites as a whole—all who were not, as individuals, faithful to the Lord—will be much ashamed when awakened from the sleep of death. This will be true of the people of other nations also, but the more distressing for those who, in the present life, professed to be the people of God.—Ezek. 16:54-59; Dan. 12:1, 2
Ezekiel reveals that the purpose of delivering the Israelites from their captivity in death, and the people of other nations as well, is that they might be brought into covenant relationship with the Lord. (Ezek. 16:60-63) This prophecy is one of the definite proofs given to us in the Word of God that those who die in wickedness will have an opportunity to reform and turn to the Lord after they are awakened from the sleep of death in the great resurrection day of the future.—Rom. 11:26,27
The experience of all mankind throughout the ages has been that children often suffer for the sins of their parents. Indeed this is universally true in the sense that all are dying because of Adam’s transgression. It was true in the experiences of the Israelites. But the Lord used Ezekiel to prophesy that a time was coming when this would no longer be true, that those who then die will die for their own sins, and not for the sins of another.—Ezek. 18:1-32; Jer. 31:27-30
During the period when Israel was ruled by kings, these kings, by the Lord’s arrangement, represented him. This meant that the Lord was their ruler, although they frequently disobeyed him. (I Chron. 29:11,23) However, this arrangement came to an end in 606 B.C., when their last king, Zedekiah, was overthrown, and Ezekiel prophesied that it would not again exist “until he comes whose right it is.” (Ezek. 21:25-27) The One “whose right it is” is Christ, and the reference is particularly to the time of his second presence when he would set up the messianic kingdom of promise.
One of the important signs of the second presence of Christ and the setting up of his kingdom is the long-promised restoration of the natural descendants of Abraham, the Israelites, to their Promised Land. We have seen this gradually taking place over a period of many years. Ezekiel foretold it, describing the uprooting of this people from the lands in which they were domiciled with great “fury.”—Ezek. 20:33,34
Undoubtedly this prophecy of “fury” was partially fulfilled by the bitter persecutions which came upon the Jews during the Hitler regime. We know that this did result in many of them going to Palestine. The interesting part of this prophecy is that the Lord, through Ezekiel, reveals that this would represent his rule over this people. This would indicate that he has come “whose right it is” to rule, and that the restoration of Israel is related to the setting up of his kingdom.
Ezekiel’s prophecy clearly indicates that this work of restoring the Israelites to their land, and to favor with God, would be spread out over a considerable period of time. First they would find themselves in “the wilderness of the people”—the confusion and chaos that today is world-wide. Ezekiel also wrote that the Lord will plead with them as in the day he took them out of the land of Egypt, and into the wilderness; that they were to pass under his “rod,” and finally be brought into the “bond of the covenant.”—Ezek. 20:35-38
Through Ezekiel the Lord explained that he would not restore the Israelites to the Promised Land for their sake, but for his own name’s sake, (Ezek. 36:21-24,32) He foretold that when restored to their land he would sprinkle clean water upon them, and give them a new heart.”—Ezek. 36:25-29
The Lord gave Ezekiel a vision in which he saw a valley of dry bones, which depicted “the whole house of Israel.” (Ezek. 37:1-11) In the vision, Ezekiel saw the bones come together, then covered with flesh and skin, and given breath. This is a symbolic prophecy of the restoration of Israel to their land and to the favor of God.—Ezek. 37:11-14
While the prophecy speaks of graves being opened, and the people of Israel being brought up out of their graves, the reference is not to the resurrection of the dead as individuals, but to the restoration of a people from a state of alienation from God to a position of favor before him.
The resurrection of the dead will, of course, be associated with the restoration of Israel to God’s favor, for the promises of God assure us that not only the living generation of Israelites will be restored to God’s favor, but all the past generations as well. This, as a matter of fact, will also be true of Gentiles, for the promise is that through the seed of Abraham all the families of the earth will be blessed.—Gen. 12:3; 22:18; Gal. 3:8,16,27-29
Ezekiel’s prophecy reveals that the restoration of Israel to the Promised Land, and to God’s favor, was to be accompanied by much tribulation, in that aggressor hordes from the “north” would mount an attack upon them with the view of taking a spoil, and apparently also bent on destroying them as a people. Ezekiel foretold, however, that God would intervene on behalf of his people in time to prevent these designs of their enemies from being accomplished. As a result of this, the prophecy shows that the eyes of many nations will be opened to know the Lord; and that God will also thus make himself known in the midst of his own people.*—Ezek. 38 – 39:7
* “The Battle of Armageddon,” pages 552-558
The demonstration of God’s power and glory in the deliverance of Israel from her enemies will result in the understanding by the Gentiles that this people was scattered among them throughout the ages because of God’s judgments. And from that day forward the house of Israel will know that Jehovah is their God, and that obedience to him is the only means by which they can attain peace and joy. (Ezek. 39:21-29) The promise is that the Lord will not hide his face from them any more. This means that the messianic kingdom will then be fully established.
Ezekiel was directed by the Lord to “take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus.” There are many things in this “lamentation” which indicate that the reference is really to Lucifer, who became the great adversary of God and men. A symbolic description is given of Lucifer which pictures him as glorious and bright, and having been in Eden, the garden of God.—Ezek. 28:11-19; Isa. 14:12-15
In another vision Ezekiel sees a mighty “river,” with fruit-bearing trees on its banks. (Ezek. 47:1-12) This river is seen to flow from under the threshold of the house, or temple, of which the prophet had also been given a vision. In Revelation a similar river is pictured, flowing from the “throne of God and of the Lamb. (Rev. 22:1,2,17) In a general way the visions of a river given to Ezekiel and John seem to picture the same great truths; namely, God’s kingdom arrangements for the blessing of all the families of the earth.*
* “The Battle of Armageddon,” page 655, paragraph 4 to page 656
Who was Ezekiel, during what period, and under what circumstances did he serve as a prophet of the Lord?
What is the general subject matter of much of the Book of Ezekiel?
How did Ezekiel prophesy the resurrection of the Israelites and of certain wicked Gentile nations?
Explain why, as Ezekiel foretold, the Israelites when awakened from death will be covered with shame.
What is the ultimate purpose of God in awakening the Israelites and the Gentiles from the sleep of death?
Will it always be true that children will suffer for the sins of their parents? What does Ezekiel say?
When did the nation of Israel cease to be a kingdom under God?
In this connection what is now one of the important signs of Christ’s second presence and the setting up of the messianic kingdom?
How was Ezekiel’s prophecy of “fury” against Israel partially fulfilled?
What is God’s ultimate purpose in restoring his ancient people to their Promised Land?
What does Ezekiel say as to God’s motive in restoring the Israelites to the Land of Promise?
Explain Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones, and what it signifies.
Does this prophecy in any way teach the resurrection of the dead?
How does Ezekiel’s prophecy reveal that further tribulation will come upon the Israelites now dwelling in Palestine? What will be the final outcome of this tribulation?
What lasting and important lessons will be learned by both Jews and Gentiles as a result of divine intervention on behalf of God’s ancient people?
What did Ezekiel write about Lucifer, who became the Devil and Satan?
Explain Ezekiel’s vision of a “river,” and how it corresponds with the vision given to the Apostle John of a “river of water of life.”
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANT THOUGHTS
Ezekiel served as a prophet while in captivity in Babylon. He was used by the Lord to forecast the resurrection of the dead and the restoration of Israel to the Promised Land. He also wrote of Satan as the prince of Tyrus, and was given a vision of the river of life.