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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Some Key Chapters in the Book

In the vision of the throne chariot and the commission ( 1, 2–3, 15 ), the prophet stood alone beside the Chebar canal and saw a large luminous

Outline of the Book of Ezekiel
  • I. Impending Doom ( 1–24 )

    • A. Title and introduction ( 1, 1–3 )
    • B. Vision of the Enthroned One and Commission of Ezekiel
    • C. Symbolic Acts and Oracles
    • D. Vision of Divine Judgment on the Temple
    • E. Condemnation of Leaders and People
      • 1. Symbolic gesture foreshadowing the exile ( 12, 1–28 )
      • 2. Condemnation of false prophets ( 13, 1–23 )
      • 3. Idolatry versus right behavior ( 14, 1–23 )
    • F. Allegories and Metaphors of Judgment
      • 1. Allegory of the vine wood ( 15, 1–8 )
      • 2. Allegory of Jerusalem as God’s faithless wife ( 16, 1–63 )
      • 3. Allegory of the two eagles ( 17, 1–24 )
      • 4. Priestly decisions on intergenerational responsibility ( 18, 1–32 )
      • 5. Two allegories on the king ( 19, 1–14 )
    • G. Final Indictment and Condemnation
  • II. Restoration ( 33–48 )

    • A. Oracles against Foreign Nations
    • B. Justice in the Land
      • 1. The second commission of the prophet ( 33, 1–33 )
      • 2. The good Shepherd replaces false shepherds ( 34, 1–31 )
      • 3. Oracles against the mountains of Edom ( 35, 1–15 )
      • 4. Blessings on the mountains of Israel ( 36, 1–15 )
      • 5. Renewal of Israel ( 36, 16–38 )
      • 6. The people are brought back to life
    • C. The conquest of Gog of Magog
    • D. The New Temple and the New Worship
      • 1. Description of the new Temple
      • 2. Prescriptions for worship
      • 3. The river issuing from the door of the Temple ( 47, 1–12 )
      • 4. Boundaries of the new land
cloud moving in his direction. It was radiant ( 1, 4 ), like the luminous clouds that accompanied appearances of the Lord in such ancient traditions as Exodus 19, 9; 24, 16; 33, 9; and 34, 5 . As it came near, he discerned four creatures, all radiant, in its lower part; they had human feet and hands but with four wings and four faces. They moved as one; below and alongside each there was a wheel rimmed with eyes, and above them was a shining expanse. As the creatures' wings slackened and the apparition came to a halt, the prophet looked up and saw a sapphire throne upon which a human figure sat, glowing, ringed by a rainbow. It was the throne of God. The order of the narrative is the order of the prophet's perception: sights, then sounds; the lower part of the vision, then the upper; the movement of the apparition, then the halting. (These remarks do not apply to 1, 8b–12, which are dislocated.) Though unparalleled in its bold portrayal of divinity, the vision is also traditional; Psalms 18, 8–14 (parallel in 2 Sm 22 ) is a similar storm appearance; the composite creatures are found in Isaiah 6 and attested in Mesopotamian and Syrian religious symbolism. To perceive the full significance of the divine manifestation, one must take into consideration the commission in 1, 28–3, 15. As Moshe Greenberg points out, one can assume from the commission to preach to a hardhearted people that Ezekiel was already an outcast from his community. Instead of facing the impending disaster, the people put their faith in prophets who said the whole thing would soon be over. The majestic vision vindicated the prophet's minority view; the Lord told him his community would not believe his message and yet he must speak, saying, “Thus says the Lord God.” Further, in 3, 1–3 the Lord commanded him to eat the scroll like Jeremiah, “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart” (Jer 15, 16; cf. Pss 119, 103 ). Though the gesture of eating the scroll seems bizarre, it was typical of Ezekiel to use traditional material with unusual concretization and dramatization. In any event, Ezekiel's writings seem to have been arranged with exceptional artistry and confidence in the power of the written word to instruct and teach. One last point: the mobile throne shows the Lord able to leave the Jerusalem Temple and meet the exiles in their new residence; such mobility will be demonstrated negatively by the departure in chapter 11 and positively by the return in chapter 43 .

More than any other prophet, Ezekiel uses gestures to provoke his audience to question him (e.g., 4, 13.48.9–17; 5, 1–4; 12, 1–11; 37, 15–24 ). The gestures are a kind of street theater to capture the attention of an unreceptive audience. On one occasion, Ezekiel was told to take a brick, sketch a city on it, build miniature siege works against it, and put a metal plate between himself and the city; he then was told to lie on his left side for 390 days, then on his right side for forty days. He had also to eat bread made of different grains (as one might in a siege) and ration his water. This action was an anticipation of the disasters lying ahead for the people when Jerusalem would be destroyed (chapter 4 ). The prophet was evidently acting out the disaster that the people were refusing to face as they clung to hopes of a speedy return to their normal lives in Judah. The people will lie helpless as they “bear their punishment.” The prophet's sign of not mourning one's wife in 24, 15–27 is an example of a sign provoking a reaction: “Then the people asked me, ‘Will you not tell us what all these things that you are doing mean for us?'‐” ( 24, 19 ).

The vision of the corruption of the Temple and the departure of the glory ( 8, 1–11, 25 ) can be confusing. Chapters 8 through 11 are linked to the opening vision in Chapters 1 through 3 in reverse order: the luminous figure in 8, 2 is linked to 1, 27; the throne in 10, 1, to the throne in 1, 26; the sounds of wings in 10, 5, to the sounds of wings in 1, 24; the wheels in 10, 9–13, to the wheels in 1, 15–18, and the faces in 10, 14, to the faces in 1, 10. The “cherubim” in chapter 10 are the same as the “living creatures” in chapter 1 . According to Greenberg, a chiasm, or sandwich structure, shapes chapters 8 through 11 :

  • A. Ezekiel converses with the elders ( 8, 1a )

    • B. The hand of the Lord fell upon him ( 8, 1b )
    • B'. The spirit lifted him up ( 11, 24b )
  • A'. Ezekiel tells the exiles what the Lord has revealed to him ( 11, 25 )

In the section framed by this chiasm ( 8, 4–11, 21 ), the angelic guide gives Ezekiel a tour of the corrupt practices that have polluted the Temple and the social wrongs that have ruined the people ( 8, 5–18 ). Punishment is imposed ( 9, 10–11 ). Meanwhile, the glory of the Lord begins to move, on its way to leave the Temple ( 10, 4–5 ); the cherubim stop at the entrance of the east gate ( 10, 8–22 ). Next, in a passage that balances the description of the first group of men in Chapter 8 , the spirit brings Ezekiel to the east gate to view more evidence of wicked behavior ( 11, 1–13 ). In 11, 14–21 , a reassuring word comes to Ezekiel that the exiles will not lose their property back in Judah. Though the Lord removed them far away among the nations, yet he has been a sanctuary to them for a little while in the countries where they have gone ( 11, 16 , different translation from NAB). The Lord abandons his Temple. At the time of this vision, perhaps not too long after the prophet's commission in 593, the exiles were unprepared for the possibility that the Temple might be destroyed.

Chapter 18 , one of the most famous chapters in Ezekiel, gives priestly decisions (torah) on questions that had become especially pressing because of the people's situation. Though sometimes misinterpreted as a charter of religious individualism, chapter 18 makes two distinct points: (1) 18, 1–20 teaches that one generation will not have to suffer for the sins of a previous generation, contrary to an older view preserved in Exodus 20, 5, “For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation”; (2) 18, 21–28 teaches that past sins do not encumber a person currently leading a good life. These teachings were provoked by a fashionable proverb of the time, “Fathers have eaten green grapes, thus their children's teeth are on edge.” The proverb implicitly accused God of punishing the innocent descendants of wicked forbears. The prophet denies any “vertical” guilt (between generations) but insists on “horizontal” guilt, that is, the present generation must bear its own guilt. The people are not simply victims of someone else's sin.

Other chapters of the book are long essays detailing the history of the Lord's relationship with the people—chapters 16 (the Lord's relationship with personified Jerusalem), 20 (the retelling of the Exodus), and 23 (the story of the two sisters, Oholah and Oholibah, respectively Samaria and Jerusalem). In the two allegories (16 and 23), the Lord came upon helpless women and made them noble, yet they fought him every step of the way. What is the purpose of these exceedingly negative retellings of Israel's history? One must be aware that Israel found its identity by telling its national story. A comparison may be helpful. A modern person's identity arises largely from his or her own story: who one's parents were and of what social class; where one grew up, went to school, where one worked, and whom one married. If one becomes unhappy or dysfunctional, one examines one's story and seeks to find a new and more productive way of telling that story. Similarly, Ezekiel felt the people misunderstood their national story; they had to be shown that their version no longer made sense; it was not uniformly glorious as the people commonly believed. So Ezekiel retold the story in new and perverse ways. He said that the people were unfaithful from the beginning; their history gave them no reason for pride.

Ezekiel's retellings of the story in chapters 16 and 23 can offend modern readers. Two things must be noted. First, Ezekiel has a peculiar strategy of dramatizing a reality and, to modern tastes, exaggerating it. His use of the marital metaphor for the relationship of the Lord and Israel is an example. The metaphor was at least as old as Hosea 1–3; Ezekiel makes it concrete far beyond any usage in Hosea, drawing out the personification and dwelling on its sexual aspects. Second, Ezekiel describes the infidelity of Israel as flagrant sexual misconduct: she is a prostitute and deserves to be humiliated and punished. The prophet is a child of his time, portraying the broken relationship as a woman's betrayal of a man, and the deity's act of justice as satisfying his male rage and jealousy (e.g., 16, 23–24 ). Furthermore, either Ezekiel or an editor in 23, 46–49 goes on to make the story a warning against all women's lewd behavior. The warning, of course, makes a legitimate point: lewd conduct is wrong in women (as well as in men). One must be careful, however, not to imply that women are usually unfaithful. In speaking about such biblical passages, it is pastorally advisable to speak of the marriage metaphor as a favored metaphor for the relationship of the Lord and Israel. The metaphor expresses a relationship that is mutual, passionate, self‐giving, nurturing, and faithful.

Unlike chapter 16 and 23 , chapter 20 speaks without allegory about the people's past and future. The occasion for this essay is an inquiry to Ezekiel by some of the elders for an oracular response. Instead, the Lord tells the prophet to indict them, to make known to them the abominations of their ancestors (v. 5 ). To indict them, he tells the history of the people in four stages: Egypt (vv. 5–10 ), the first wilderness generation (vv. 11–17 ), the second wilderness generation (vv. 18–26 ), and in the land (vv. 27–29 ). Verses 30–44 are the application and consequences: God refuses again to respond to an inquiry (vv. 30–31 ) and then reveals a new exodus (vv. 32–44 ): “I will lead you to the desert of the peoples, where I will enter into judgment with you face to face” (v. 35 ), and the people will finally come into the land and serve the Lord on the holy mountain (v. 40 ). The prophet retells the history in such a way as to take away all cause for pride. The people's task is to allow the Lord in the future to redo the Exodus so that the result will be a faithful people.

The oracles against the foreign nations are in chapters 25 through 32 , the center of the book, the same placement as Isaiah (chapters 13–27 ) and the Greek text of Jeremiah (25, 13; 31 ). Ezekiel's arrangement is careful: chapters 25–28 are oracles against six nations (Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, and Sidon), beginning with the nation directly east (Ammon) and then proceeding clockwise ending in the direction of northwest (Sidon). Geographically, one would expect the list to end with the north, the direction from which the enemy of Israel at this time, Babylon, would invade. Jeremiah 25, 9 even calls Babylon the “the enemy from the north.” For Ezekiel, however, Babylon is not the enemy but the instrument of the Lord's judgment, even exercising judgment against the seven nations (e.g., Ez 26, 7; 19, 18; 30, 10 ). Instead, the book places Egypt in the seventh and climactic arrangement. Moreover, there are seven oracles against Egypt (29–32). One is prepared for the concentration on Egypt by the lengthy oracles against Tyre (26–28). The placement of the oracles in this part of the book contributes to the meaning of the prophet's message in at least three ways: (1) since the Lord of all the world has judged Judah and Jerusalem, surrounding nations are affected by that judgment; (2) the punishment of the nations that persecuted Judah is the first step in the restoration of Judah, which will be announced in more positive form in chapters 33–37 ; (3) chapters 25 through 32 prepare for chapters 38 and 39 : just as the defeat of the nations makes possible the restoration of Judah upon its land, so the defeat of all human and cosmic evil in chapters 38 and 39 makes possible the definitive kingdom in chapters 40 through 48 .

chapters 33 through 37 contain a message of restoration. The opening chapter recalls earlier passages and moves one into a new age for Israel. The prophet as watchman ( 33, 1–9 ) harks back to 3, 16–21 and Ezekiel's initial call; the passage on individual retribution ( 33, 10–20 ) has relevance for chapter 18 , which treats sin, guilt, and punishment; the arrival of the fugitive from Jerusalem and the end of Ezekiel's muteness ( 32, 22 ) alludes to 3, 22–27 and 24, 25–27. Ezekiel 33, 23–33 insist that salvation is reserved for those in exile who have been transformed. It anticipates 36, 16–38. Chapter 34 , the divine king as shepherd, stands in the tradition of referring to kings as shepherds: 2 Sm 5, 2; Mi 5, 4; Jer 2, 8 ; 3, 15; 23, 1–6. Ezekiel's passage in turn influenced Zec 11, 4–17, and together they helped to form New Testament passages on the divine shepherd like Mark 6, 34 and John 10 .

Ezekiel 36, 16–38 makes points similar to those in Jeremiah 31, 31–37 . Both passages speak of an interior renewal. As a priest, Ezekiel introduces a number of ritual details to accompany the interior transformation: cease to profane my holy name; witness to my holiness; sprinkle with clean (or holy) water; be cleansed of idols; observe my decrees. Chapter 37 uses two different images to recount Israel's revival: dry bones scattered across a field are fitted together, covered with sinews and flesh, and brought to life by the breathing of the spirit and the two sticks brought together.

The final part of the book begins with chapter 38 , not chapter 40 , for the battle of Gog of the land of Magog against the Lord is the necessary prelude to the construction of a new temple‐city, its regulations, and the positioning of the holy people around it. Chapters 38 and 39 presume that Israel has returned from exile and dwells peacefully on its own land ( 38, 12 ). In a grand finale, God, the divine warrior, musters the armies of the world and lures them into a massive battle that results in their annihilation and his glory. Such a divine initiative was, according to 38, 17, predicted in such earlier prophetic passages as Isaiah 29, 7; Micah 8, 11–13; Jeremiah 1, 14. Isaiah 14, 24–27 predicted that the great empire Assyria would be destroyed in the midst of the holy land. Furthermore, Exodus texts said that the Lord was glorified by the defeat of the Egyptians: “Thus will I make Pharaoh so obstinate that he will pursue them. Then I will receive glory through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (Ex 14, 4 ). Such a statement sounds very much like Ezekiel 39, 13 , which describes the victory as the day the Lord reveals his glory. To a first‐time reader, the text of chapters 38 and 39 seems confused, and indeed there may have been revisions or additions to underline the meaning. Its structure, however, seems clear: 38, 1–16, Gog's attack on Israel; 38, 17–23, God's war against Gog; 39, 1–16, God's victory ( 39, 1–3 is parallel to 38, 1–6 ); 39, 17–29, God's glory is revealed to all. Although based vaguely on historical characters (Gog seems based on the Lydian ruler Gyges; Magog, his homeland, was probably created to rhyme with Gog; Gomer is from the Cimmerians), the scene is transhistorical; it is an event that will happen at an unspecified future time. Divine initiative is stressed repeatedly, just as it is in the Exodus accounts. Gog does not attack on his own initiative; the Lord brings the army into the holy land so that he can destroy it on the mountains of Israel. The text seems to presume that there is some primordial evil, greater than any one empire that must be identified and destroyed before Israel can live in complete peace. In a sense, the composite battle and victory is a theological reflection on evil and a statement of the hope that God will someday eradicate every vestige of that evil.

According to the combat myth, after winning the cosmic battle, the victorious deity is recognized as the supreme god and builds his palace (temple), announcing his decrees for the ruling of the world. In chapter 40, 1–4 , the hand of the Lord brought Ezekiel in a vision to the land of Israel and set him down on a very high mountain on which there was a city and a temple. An angelic figure shows him the ground plan (there are no elevations in the plan) of the Temple area; the tour is a counterpart to the tour of chapters 8–11 . The order of topics in 40 through 48 follows generally those of the priestly writings of the Pentateuch (Ex 25–31; 33–40; Lv; Nm 1–10; 32; 34–35 ). The temple plan follows generally the latest form of the Solomonic Temple but with an emphasis on safeguarding the sanctity of the temple from profane contact. For example, the eastern gate (“the gate which faced the east,” 40, 5) is a military gate, like gates found in Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo, which contain four successive recesses so that guards can interrupt chariots rushing the gate. The nearness of the king's palace to the temple in the old system is vigorously criticized ( 43, 6–12 ). The Lord returns to the temple ( 43, 1–5 ), and Ezekiel sees “that the temple was filled with the glory of the Lord” (v. 5 ).

The next section of the vision ( 43, 13–46, 24 ) is concerned with the altar, the reorganization of the clergy making the Zadokites alone full priests ( 45, 15–31 ), the territory set apart for them ( 45, 1–9 ), and the prince's responsibilities for supporting the temple (46) and overseeing justice ( 45, 9 ). “Prince” is an ancient premonarchic title that Ezekiel revives in place of “king,” which for him had become a symbol of failed leadership. The third section is introduced by 47, 1–11, the water flowing from the temple throughout the land, which serves as a transition from temple to land. Water in Ezekiel is associated with the deity ( 1, 24 and 43, 2 ). The sacred mountain is the garden of God, the source of all fertilizing waters (Gn 2, 10–14; cf. Ez 28, 13; 31, 8–9; 36, 35 ). Mount Zion is also associated with that tradition (e.g., Ps 46, 4 and Is 12, 3; 33, 20–24 ). One of the four great rivers arising in the garden of Eden was the Gihon, which is, according to 1 Kings 1, 33 , the river of Jerusalem. The remaining chapters speak of the boundaries of the future land of Israel (essentially the same as Nm 34, 1–12 ), the redistricting of the tribes in equal east‐west strips, each with coastal land, uplands, and territory in the Jordan‐Dead Sea depression. The new name given to Jerusalem, “The Lord is there,” is the last verse in the book.

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