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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Person of the Prophet.

1.

Ezekiel is identified in the book's superscription as a priest, and his deportation with the first exiles to Babylon in 597 BCE suggests his prominence, either because of family connections or because he was a priest of some importance. Whether Ezekiel functioned as a prophet as well as a priest before his vision of 593 BCE (chs. 1–3 ) is unknown. Ezekiel was recognized as a prophet by the Judean community in exile, and was apparently highly enough regarded that the elders assembled before him, perhaps even on a regular basis, to enquire of YHWH (Ezek 8:1; 20:1 ). Although the book provides some autobiographical information it is difficult to form a clear picture of the prophet or of how he was perceived by his contemporaries. To the modern reader Ezekiel seems to exhibit symptoms typical of mental illness. He experiences disorienting and overwhelming visions, undergoes paralysis and muteness, and attributes these debilitating occurrences to YHWH's direct intervention in his life. Attempts to diagnose the prophet's condition (see esp. Halperin 1993 ), while intriguing, fail to engage the question of how such a figure, however bizarre by modern standards, would have functioned or have been understood within his own society. Ezekiel himself expresses misgivings about his role as prophet ( 20:49 [MT 21:5 ]; cf. 9:8 ), but his concern seems to stem from people not taking his words seriously enough, rather than from resistance to taking on the prophetic role per se.

2.

Ezekiel is remarkable for his personal involvement in accomplishing numerous symbolic actions. At times playing the role of the people (eating meagre food as if during a siege; 4:9–15 ), Ezekiel more often plays the part of YHWH himself, setting his face against Jerusalem ( 4:3 ), and even experiencing his own wife's death as a sign of YHWH's temple's demise ( 24:15–24 ). Most frequently, however, Ezekiel is called upon to act as YHWH's witness, observing and certifying, first the people's abominations (thereby justifying their destruction; 8:1–18 ), then YHWH's command for Jerusalem's annihilation ( 9:5 ), and finally, each detail of YHWH's new and purified temple (chs. 40–8 ). Ezekiel is a witness in an almost legal sense, noting and attesting YHWH's actions (cf. the calls for Ezekiel to ‘judge’ in Ezek 20:4; 22:2 ). In this regard Ezekiel's appointment as sentinel over Israel in 3:16–21 is apt. Ezekiel is literally appointed to ‘look out’, to warn Israel against YHWH's wrathful approach, and he is told that his own life depends on his watchfulness.

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