The prophet Ezekiel was taken into exile with thousands of other Judeans in 597 B.C. A few years later (593 B.C.) the Lord called him as a prophet. Ezekiel’s ministry lasted 22 years and he never got to return home. The other exiles in Babylon kept hoping for an early release from captivity and they listened to false prophets who told them they would return home shortly. But Ezekiel told the exiles the truth; they would return to their homeland only after they turned to the Lord in repentance and faith. The first 32 chapters of the Book of Ezekiel speak mostly law to God’s people. These chapters were written before Jerusalem was sacked and burned by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Once the temple lay in ruins the people finally began to repent. Ezekiel then wrote chapters 33-48 to comfort God’s penitent people. His name means “God strengthens”. And God did. He gave Ezekiel strength for his ministry, and He gave His people the gifts of repentance and patience in captivity. More than any book in the Old Testament, Ezekiel describes the work of the Holy Spirit in creating faith and energizing the believers for their mission to make God known. Much of this book is written in apocalyptic style, meaning it looks towards the end times. The word apocalyptic means unveiling or revealing. John used a similar style in the Book of Revelation. Both Ezekiel and John reveal powerful truths about our Lord and about the future He has in store for us and for all of humanity. Writers who use an apocalyptic style convey more than facts. They use strange words and pictures to stir up strong feelings in the hearts of readers. These things are not literal, but symbolic. Some 65 times in his book Ezekiel tells us the goal God had in mind for everything that at was happening to His people: “then they will know that I AM the Lord.” This ‘knowing’ is more than knowing about God. Even the evil one knows about God. This knowing leads to living in a relationship of love and trust with our savior. That is Ezekiel’s message to all of God’s people of every place and time.
Ezekiel’s message served a purpose. From him God’s sinful people heard words of law. Repent! he thundered to the people. False shepherds were making promises the people wanted to hear and believe. None of them would come true. Ezekiel told the people the only road to freedom led through confession and forgiveness. From Ezekiel, God’s repentant people heard words of gospel. The covenant making, covenant keeping Savior God would lead His people home, just as He had promised. And He would send the true Prophet, the Good Shepherd, just as He had promised all of His faithful people throughout history. Ezekiel’s words ring true for us today as well. We too need to remember what the Lord has done and that means “then they will know that I AM the Lord.” Our Lord adopted us in our baptism and He will never abandon the covenant He has made with us there. The Lord wants us to know the truth about His anger at sin, His glory and power in judgement, and the work His Spirit does to call people into His family, and keep us there. God also wants that knowledge to live in our hearts and change our lives. He wants us to rely on Jesus, our Good Shepherd, and to flee from false teachers. And, He wants us to look forward to the new heaven and new earth where we will live with Him and one another in joy and freedom forever.
We see a couple of glimpses in Ezekiel that show us our Savior. Ezekiel 34: 11-31 paints a beautiful picture of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Ezekiel 36:22-28 prophesies the washing of Holy Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit as fulfilled in the New Testament. There are several themes in the Book of Ezekiel. Know that I AM the Lord is used 72 times, son of man is used 93 times, and the word of the Lord came to me, 50 times in the Book of Ezekiel. Cherubim are referenced 30 times, abomination 42 times, and 237 times Ezekiel says, declares the Lord. Ezekiel was 30 years old when he was taken into exile, the year that he would have become a full fledged priest in the temple. He writes with priestly detail and elaborate visions, making his prophecies among the most challenging to study in the Old Testament. Ezekiel devoted nearly a fourth of his book to describing his vision of an ideal temple. Ezekiel frequently behaved in unusual, even outlandish ways. His actions were strange even in ancient Israel, not just from a modern perspective. Unlike modern readers who might think he was way beyond disturbed, ancient observers understood these sign acts as a regular part of a prophets communication style. Sign acts were dramatic visual aids performed in public to increase the impact of the message and help people feel the truth as much as hear it. Their purpose was to drive the message unforgettably into people’s hearts. Other prophets engaged in this behavior as well but none as much as Ezekiel. He was required to act out his messages more often than any other prophet, perhaps because he was communicating to an audience that was particularly hardened. The sign acts reinforced the content of his message and underlined the depth of his personal commitment to it. This dramatic form of communication is difficult for even a hostile audience to ignore or forget. For us, the ultimate sign act is the cross of Christ. There God visibly depicted His wrath against sin in the darkness, the earthquake, and the agony of the sinless one who was abandoned by His Father. God also depicted His profound love for the world in that He would rather die than let His people go. The cross is a confrontational message of God’s love and wrath that is hard to ignore or forget. And yet peopled do.
And one last idea today about God’s glory with His people. Ezekiel’s opening vision depicts God’s glory as powerful and majestic. In earlier times, this visible glory was the sign of God’s presence among His people. Now we see God’s glory appearing to Ezekiel in exile in Babylon. We see the reason for that in chapters 8-11, in which he sees the abominations that had polluted the temple in Jerusalem and forced God’s glory to depart. Without God’s presence, the temple had become an empty shell awaiting destruction. God was not forcibly evicted by the Babylonians. He voluntarily departed because His people were defiled. Their sin drove Him away from the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac , and Jacob. For a time the Lord went from Jerusalem to Babylon to become a sanctuary for the exiles there.
God would not abandon His temple forever. After pouring out His wrath in full measure, He would restore a remnant to their land and sanctify them by His Spirit so that He could once again dwell in their midst in a new sanctuary. God’s glory, dwelling among His people forever, is at the heart of Ezekiel’s vision of their restoration. The glory of God has come to live among us fully in the person of Jesus Christ. As John testifies, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son”. The aged Simeon saw the baby Jesus brought to the temple and described Him as a light to reveal God to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.” Jesus glory was veiled while He was here in earth, though for a brief moment on the Mount of transfiguration His glory was revealed to His closest disciples. He experienced His own abandonment by God as He hung on the cross, bearing the curse for our sin. Now, as the exalted and glorified Lord, He sits at the right hand of the Father. By His Spirit, He has promised never to abandon us, but to be with us to the end of time.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W