Introduction to the Book of Ezekiel

Chronological Markers
The book of Ezekiel has a series of dated material, in order, which includes the day, month, and year, these dates span from 593 BCE to 571 BCE. The “thirtieth year” in 1:1 is unclear. It could be the prophet’s age, an important date, the time from Ezekiel’s call, thirty years after the first oracle, or something else. The Targum notes it as the thirtieth year since Hilkiah found the book of the Torah in the temple (2 Kgs 22) (the thirtieth year corresponds with the fifth year of 1:2). A common suggestion is that it is the prophet’s age since Zadokite priests served from ages thirty to fifty (see notes on heading).[1] All other dates are relative to the exile of king Jehoiachin (597 BCE), with whom the prophet and others were apparently exiled.[2]
1:2                               year 5, month ?, day 5 of king Jehoiachin’s exile       593 BCE
3:16                             year 5, month ?, day 12
appointed as lookout
8:1                               year 6, month 6, day 5
vision of defiled temple 
20:1                             year 7, month 5, day 10
24:1                             year 9, month 10, day 10
beginning of Jerusalem siege 
26:1                             year 11, month ?, day 1
beginning of Tyre’s siege 
29:1                             year 10, month 10, day 12
oracle of Egypt's doom
29:17                           year 27, month 1, day 1
Tyre’s doom amended, Egypt substituted 
30:20                           year 11, month 1, day 7
31:1                             year 11, month 3, day 1
32:1                             year 12, month 12, day 1
32:17                           year 12, month 12, day 15
33:21                           year 12, month 10, day 5                                            586 BCE
news of fall of Jerusalem 
40:1                             year 25, month 1, day 10
vision of new temple 
What do you notice about the dates in general? How does the number seven play a role?
Why are three of the dated oracles out of chronological sequence?
Purpose, Themes, Literary Character
Some of Ezekiel’s concerns come from his background as a Zadokite priest. Has God forsaken his city and his temple? Is there a purpose for the suffering of Judah? What hope do the people have in the face of captivity and the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem? According to the holiness code the people could be judged and even exiled without annulling the God’s word to Israel (Lev 26:42).
The purpose of Ezekiel’s teachings may run along the lines of 36:22-23. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. (NRSV)
The book is almost entirely in the first person (except 1:3) and contains many direct discourses from Yahweh to the mortal (“son of a human being”). The book of Ezekiel more often uses prose to poetry, with the latter mostly occurring in the middle section devoted to oracles against the nations. The book uses several different literary forms including four vision reports (chaps. 1-3; 8-11; 37:1-14; 40-48) many symbolic acts (eating the scroll 2:8-3:3; bound and dumb 3:22-26; modeling the siege of Jerusalem on a clay tile 4:1-3; lying on his left side 390 days and his right side forty days 4:4-8; rationing his food 4:9-11; cooking it over cow dung 4:12-14; shaving head and disposing of hair 5:1-3; clapping hands and stomping feet 6:11-14; digging through wall 12:1-16; eating meals nervously 12:17-20; sighing 21:6-7; hitting thigh 21:12; clapping hands and sword 21:14-17; setting up signs on road 21:18-24; not mourning death of wife 24:15-24; putting two sticks together 37:15-28), and five parable-messages (chaps 15; 16; 17; 19; 23). As one of my colleagues says, “It’s good theater.”[3]
There are examples of balanced material in the beginning and ending sections of Ezekiel. Note the 1-2-3, 1-2-3 format of the following: Ezekiel’s call to be a watchman of divine judgment (3)/call to be a watchman of the new age (33); the mountains of Israel are rebuked (6)/they are consoled (36); vision of the temple fit for destruction (8-11)/a new temple (40-48).
Selected Elements that Bind the Book Together
(1) There is strong irony in commissioning Ezekiel as watchperson in 3:16-17, who is made mute in 3:26-27 to prevent him from warning the rebels of judgment for their sin. A disability like this normally precludes one from being a watchperson. The predicted release from muteness in 24:25-27 frames the first segment of the book (1-24). In 33:21-22 Ezekiel is informed of the fall of Jerusalem and his muteness is lifted. the lifting of his disability after the city falls further strengthens the irony. The placement also reinforces the major structure of the book (1-24, 25-32, 33-48).
(2) Vision of glory 1:4-28 (see 1:22 with Exod 24:9-10); glory departed 10:18-19; 11:22-25; glory returned to new temple in 43:1-5.
(I) Oracles of Judgment Against Jerusalem (1-24)
(II) Oracles of Judgment Against the Nations (25-32)
(III) Oracles of Hope for Israel’s Restoration (33-48)
See detailed view of contents.

[1] Sweeney thinks the priest’s service could be twenty or twenty-five years, which could include all of Ezekiel’s dated oracles except the one beginning in 29:17 (see 129).
[2] On dated materials see Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel, 1-20, Anchor Bible (Doubleday, 1983), 8-11. Also see Lawrence Boadt, “Ezekiel, Book of,” ABD, 2: 713.
[3] The comment comes from Brian Toews. For the lists see Harper Collins Study Bible; NIV Study Bible; Bullock, Prophetic, 232, n. 14.

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