“In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1).
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Ezekiel is a remarkable book filled with history, prophecy, lessons, and rich symbols. Bible Students and many in the world are acquainted with this book through the prophecy of the Valley of Dry Bones and the end-time prophecy of Gog and Magog.
Ezekiel was a prophet of God to Israel at the time of their fall into Babylonian captivity. Ezekiel was not the only prophet at this time. In addition to Ezekiel, there were Daniel and Jeremiah. Israel had three major prophets during this tumultuous period, showing God’s care and grace, even to a stiff-necked people that worshiped heathen idols.
As always, many in the world question the authenticity of the Bible. This is refuted in the book of Ezekiel by looking at the fulfillment of prophecy and the historical record. We can look at prophecies concerning Edom and Tyre along with past and present-day prophecies concerning Israel. This provides clear evidence that Ezekiel was divinely inspired. Furthermore, archaeologists have substantiated the history of Ezekiel. They have confirmed the events as well as their sequence.
To us, this shows that our God is a God of history. He tells us history before it happens. If the history has not been fulfilled, we call it prophetic. In God’s eyes it is history because He sees man’s future as if it has already happened. Because of this, we can have full trust in the sure word of prophecy found in Ezekiel and throughout the Bible.
History Surrounding the Last Kings
What is the history surrounding this time period that covers the lives of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah?
This history involves five kings that ruled in Judah over a 22-year period starting with Josiah and ending with Zedekiah. Josiah was a good king. The others were not. The four after Josiah were Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.
During this time, Babylon grew to be a dominant power, the world’s first large power to have conquered Jerusalem. In the beginning Egypt saw Babylon as a threat. Consequently, there were battles between the two powers and ultimately Babylon won out. Israel, through unwise and foolish leadership, supported Egypt at various points in the conflict, suffering the consequences inflicted upon them by Babylon.
The sequence of events concerning these five kings involves four main captivities by Nebuchadnezzar, if we count Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of the Jews who escaped into Egypt as the fourth one. (1) Daniel and his friends were taken to Babylon in the third year of Jehoiakim. (2) Ezekiel was taken in the second captivity after Jehoiachin had been king for only three months. (3) At the end of Zedekiah’s reign he was taken to Babylon and the kingdom of Judah ceased. Subsequently Jeremiah went to Egypt with other escaped Jews and apparently died there. (4) A fourth captivity of refugee Jews is indicated in Jeremiah 43:8-11, 52:30.
What makes all this so interesting is how this history is recorded by Ezekiel. Ezekiel is our historian. Of course, God is the real historian, telling Ezekiel about how He viewed these events, using graphic and dramatic illustrations. What underscores this point is that God struck Ezekiel mute. He only talked when God wanted him to reveal an event or a prediction (Ezekiel 3:26,27).
The events concerning this time period involving Israel, Egypt, and Babylon are recorded for us in chapters 4-32. Let us take a look at one of these in Chapter 19. Chapter 19 is a sad story involving the nation of Israel and her kings.
“And you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, and say: What was your mother? A lioness! Among lions she crouched; in the midst of young lions she reared her cubs. And she brought up one of her cubs; he became a young lion, and he learned to catch prey; he devoured men. The nations heard about him; he was caught in their pit, and they brought him with hooks to the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 19:1-4 ESV).
Verse one tells us that Ezekiel is giving us a lamentation. A lamentation is a sad story. In this case, it is a funeral dirge for the nation and her kings. This lamentation involves princes, a mother lioness, young lions, and lion cubs or whelps. The princes are the kings of Judah. The mother lioness is the nation of Israel and the young lions are the other neighboring nations. The cubs that are brought up by the mother lion are the future kings of Judah or heirs apparent.
Normally we would not think of Israel as a nation being represented by a lion. But in this case, she took on the nature of the other pagan countries that surrounded her. She wanted to be like them. She adopted their practices.
Something happened to one of the young cubs. He became a young lion that was caught in a pit and was brought to Egypt. This describes exactly the first king after Josiah, King Jehoahaz. King Jehoahaz raided other nations purely upon his own whim, that is, for no particular reason. He caught men. Although he was king for only three months, he began to practice evil immediately.
Jehoahaz made a fatal mistake by rebelling against Egypt. This rebellion led him to be taken in chains back to Egypt, where he died, as recorded in 2 Kings 23:24.
Next, Ezekiel tells us in verse five about King Jehoiachin. “When she saw that she waited in vain, that her hope was lost, she took another of her cubs and made him a young lion” (Ezekiel 19:5 ESV).
Ezekiel actually skips Jehoiakim. This is probably done because the people viewed Jehoiakim more as a usurper rather than the official king of the people.
From verse five, the nation waited for Jehoahaz to return from Egypt. They wanted Jehoahaz to be their King but this was not to be. They gave up their hope and Jehoiachin now became their king. Jehoiachin is the cub who becomes the young lion. This king proved no less unworthy than the two preceding him. He was taken to Babylon as it states in verse nine. “With hooks they put him in a cage and brought him to the king of Babylon; they brought him into custody, that his voice should no more be heard on the mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 19:9 ESV).
Jehoiachin fared better than his uncle Zedekiah who followed him on the throne as Judah’s last king. Zedekiah, when captured, saw his sons killed before his eyes, had his eyes poked out, and himself carried in chains to Babylon, where he died in prison. On the other hand, Jehoiachin was placed in prison to be released 37 years later upon the death of Nebuchadnezzar and the accession of his son, Evil-merodach, to the throne of Babylon
(2 Kings 25:27-29).
Graphic Symbols and Pantomimes
Thus we have a lamentation that covers three of the four last kings of Israel. Ezekiel throughout the first 32 chapters of the book explained the downfall of Judah, using graphic symbols mixed in with pantomimes and acting. God wanted Israel to realize that God’s judgment against them was due to their own immoral and depraved conduct, not seeking God’s advice and favor. God’s words are to be heeded and not ignored.
But as always, God is not one of merely doom. He has many favorable notes in His messages to go along with the unfavorable ones. There is always hope. These favorable notes are found throughout the book of Ezekiel as well as throughout the Bible. One such note is in Ezekiel 34:23-31.
“And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken. I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods” (Ezekiel 34:23-25 ESV).
What a day that will be! We know this to be our Lord from the kingly line of David. He is the Good Shepherd while the heavenly Father is the Great Shepherd. No longer will Israel or the world have poor rulers, because Jesus will take over. He ill install a covenant of peace, a new covenant, bringing life, justice, peace, and love to earth.
Ezekiel was blessed by God to see things not only near but far away. He saw many things concerning Israel. He saw the bad, as outlined, but he also saw the good that would come. Not only did he see amazing details about the kings of Israel, but he saw amazing things concerning Pastor Russell, the Time of Trouble, the restoration of Israel, and the glorious kingdom His book really is an Old Testament revelation (Ezekiel 9, 37-48).
Some might dismiss the historical knowledge of the past. Some might think it is boring. There is nothing boring with the history lesson that Ezekiel is giving us when we think about their dramatic presentations with water boiling and swords flying through the air (Ezekiel 24 and Ezekiel 5).
The Lesson for Us
The real lesson for us is that we have to touch very lightly the things of this world. We cannot allow ourselves to become contaminated like Israel became contaminated with the worldly and religious spirit of the pagan / secular world. God had great care and patience with Israel, sending them prophets like Daniel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. God has even greater care for us. He wants us to succeed.