Yesterday we met the prophet Ezekiel, whose ministry occurred during some of Israel’s years of exile in the land of Babylon. Who was Ezekiel?
Ezekiel was the son of a priest, and before the exile, he likely grew up in Jerusalem, where it would have been expected that he, like his father, would become a priest one day. But Ezekiel was growing up, unfortunately for him, during the time when Judea was growing in wickedness to the point where God allowed the regional superpower Babylon to conquer the land. In approximately 597 BCE, Ezekiel, along with many others, was exiled to Babylon. He was probably 25 years old. Five years later, still in Babylon, God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet, which we will read about next week in Ezekiel chapter 1. Eventually we will learn that Ezekiel was married, but he would experience the sudden tragic death of his wife. There in Babylon, he would be in prophetic ministry for about 23 years.
What was life like for Ezekiel? In exile in Babylon, the Jews for the most part were not persecuted or enslaved. They could preserve their national identity, practice their religion, etc. But they were still in exile, forced to live away from their land, from their homes, families and friends. Babylon had not emptied Judea of all people, so a remnant remained in the land of Palestine. Those in exile certainly longed to return to their homes, their friends and family. Scholars tell us that they began to ask serious questions: “Was God’s divine presence limited to Palestine? Was God impotent against the gods of Babylon? Could Yahweh be worshiped in a strange land? The theology of Ezekiel was suited to this new situation.” (Lasor 358)
Before we look at some of the theological themes of Ezekiel’s prophecy, themes that will help us answer these questions, it is important to understand a bit about Ezekiel’s attitude about himself.
We’ll notice Ezekiel calls himself “Son of Man” quite often. When you read the Gospels, you might notice that Jesus also calls himself “Son of Man.” But there is almost certainly no connection between the two. Quite literally a son of man is a human, a mortal. What this indicates is likely that Ezekiel wants his audience to be clear that, though he is a prophet and thus a mouthpiece for God, he is a mere person like the rest of us. Ezekiel is humble. He doesn’t want to be a celebrity, he doesn’t want to be the focus of attention. This is important because you can imagine that the prophets could easily be worshiped as celebrities. Think about it…they were hearing messages from God. That alone puts them in a really unique role, one in which they would have been viewed by others as special and privileged. They could turn that role into an opportunity for fame and fortune if they wanted to. But not Ezekiel. He repeats over and over the proper view, that he is a Son of Man, and thus, the people should focus their attention on God and the message from God.
How about you? Do you practice humility, pointing people to God? Or think about what might have enamored you? What do you worship? Who do you worship? It is easy to become focused on celebrity rather than on God.
Ezekiel’s message from God will call the people back to focus on God. Check back to the next post, as we’ll look more closely at the content of those important prophetic messages. Let me give you a preview…Ezekiel’s messages were bizarre!