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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Commentary on Ezekiel

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

40.1–48.35 :

The vision of the restored Temple in Jerusalem. The date formula identifies 40.1–48.35 as the thirteenth and culminating major section of the book of Ezekiel. In the twenty‐fifth year…at the beginning of the year, the tenth day of the month, 10 Tishri, 573–572 BCE, Yom Kippur. Ezekiel's vision of the Temple builds upon God's earlier promises ( 37.24–38 ) to make a covenant of friendship (peace) with Israel and to place the sanctuary among them forever. This vision provides a literary and conceptual envelope for the book that complements the visions of God's departure and the Temple's destruction in chs 1–7; 9–11 with one of the Temple's restoration and God's return. Ezek. 40.1–43.12 relates instruction concerning the building of the Temple and the return of God's glory; 43.13–47.12 provides instruction concerning the associated structures and activities of the Temple complex; and 47.13–48.35 guides the reestablishment of the land and people of Israel around the Temple. The details of the Temple, its courts, furnishing, and laws and the technical terminology presented here differ in many respects from those for the wilderness Tabernacle (see esp. Exod. chs 25–30; 35–45 ), Solomon's Temple (1 Kings chs 6–7; 2 Chron. chs 3–4 ), and the Second Temple (m. Mid. 5). It is unclear if certain of these details reflect the Temple standing in Jerusalem when Ezekiel was exiled in 597, or if they are fanciful. Indeed, the differences in the portrayal of the Temple were, according to the Rabbis, a major discrepancy that Hananiah son of Hezekiah reconciled so that Ezekiel could be included in the biblical canon (b. Shab. 13b). Because of the discrepancies, Jewish tradition regards these chs as Ezekiel's vision of the Third Temple to be built in the days of the Messiah (Seder Olam 26; Rashi; Radak).

1.1–7.27 :

Introduction to the prophecy of Ezekiel: oracles concerning his inaugural vision. The first major section of the book begins with a date formula, which places the prophet's initial visions, symbolic actions, and oracles in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, i.e., 5 Tamuz, 593 BCE (see 1.1–3 n. ). The introduction includes a series of four narratives in 1.1–3.15; 3.16–5.17; 6.1–14; 7.1–27 , each of which begins with a version of the formula the word of the Lord came to me ( 1.3; 3.16; 6.1; 7.1 ). These narrate his initial prophetic experiences in which God commissioned him to speak as a prophet. They include an account of his inaugural vision in 1.1–3.15 , in which God commissions him to speak; his commission as a watchman in 3.16–5.17 ; his commission to prophesy against the hills of Israel in 6.1–14 ; and his commission to speak about the end of the land of Israel in 7.1–27 . The date formula in 8.1 marks the beginning of the next major section of the book.

1.1–3.15 :

The inaugural vision and commissioning of Ezekiel. Ezekiel's first prophetic experience is stunningly graphic when compared to other inaugural visions of the prophets (that of Moses in Exod. ch 3 and of Isaiah in Isa. ch 6; cf. also 1 Kings 22.19–22 ). Ezekiel comes as close as possible to actually seeing God. He sees God's throne, in technicolor detail, hears it move, and is literally swept away by the divine Presence. Ezek. 1.1–28; 3.12 serves as the πaftarah reading for Exod. 19.1–20.23 (and Num. 28.26–31 ), read on the first day of Shav‘uot (the Festival of Weeks) to commemorate the revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Rabbinic tradition refers to this narrative as “the episode of the chariot” because it employs the imagery of the Ark of the Covenant, referred to as God's chariot in 1 Chron. 28.18 (see also Pss. 68.18; 18.11 ), to depict the Presence of God. Because of the theologically sensitive nature of this material, the Mishnah requires that it be expounded only by a “sage that understands his own knowledge” (m. ag. 2.1 ), i.e., by a sage with full competence in Jewish tradition. M. Megillah 4.10 states that the ch of the chariot should not be read at all, but R. Judah permits it. T. Megillah 4.34 also indicates that it could be read, but without the Aramaic Targum or translation that enabled many ancient Jewish congregations to understand the text. Ezekiel's vision of God's Presence later became the basis for a great deal of esoteric and mystical speculation concerning the nature of God and the hidden meanings of Scripture. Such works as 3 Enoch; the Heikhalot Rabbati (“the great palaces”); the Heikhalot Zutarti (“the lesser palaces”); Re’eyot Yeπezkel (“the visions of Ezekiel”); and others depict attempts to ascend through the seven “palaces” or levels of heaven to behold the presence of God. Such works laid the foundation for the medieval kabbalistic and modern Hasidic traditions that continue to develop mystical notions concerning God, Scripture, and the world at large.

1.1–3 :

The introduction. Many prophetic books begin with a superscription that relates the identity, historical setting, and other relevant data about the prophet (Isa. 1.1; Jer. 1.1–3 ). Others begin with narrative statements by the editor of the book (Jonah 1.1; Zech. 1.1 ). Ezekiel is atypical in that it begins with a first‐person autobiographical narrative, supplemented by an editor, that relates this information.

1 :

The thirtieth year: The reference point of this is unclear. It may refer to the thirtieth year after the prophet's commission, the thirtieth year after Josiah's reform, the year of Jehoiachin's exile, or the date of the book's composition. The reference more likely refers to Ezekiel's age at the time of his commissioning. Ezekiel is a priest of the Zadokite line ( 1.3 ), and the age of Levitical priestly service begins at thirty (Num. 4.3; but Num. 8.23–25 states that it begins at twenty‐five) and concludes at fifty. The dated oracles of the book extend from the fifth ( 1.2 ) to the twenty‐fifth year of the exile ( 40.1 ), so that the book correlates Ezekiel's prophetic oracles with the twenty years of active priestly service. The fifth day of the fourth month would be 5 Tamuz, the month in which the Babylonians later made the first breaches in the walls of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25.3–4; Jer. 52.6–7 ). The river Chebar is a canal known in Akkadian sources as “nar Kabari” that left the Euphrates River north of Babylon and continued for some 60 miles, passing through the city of Nippur and rejoining the Euphrates south of Warka or biblical Erech.

2 :

The fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin, 593 BCE. Jehoiachin was exiled to Babylonia at the age of eighteen after only three months on the throne (2 Kings 24.8–17; cf. 2 Chron. 36.9–10 ). This v. is written by an editor, who apparently sought to relate the prophet's date to Jehoiachin's exile, a crucial and well‐known event to his audience.

3 :

The formula, the word of the Lord came to the priest Ezekiel, is based on the typical formula for introducing prophetic oracles (see 1 Sam. 15.10; 1 Kings 6.11; Jer. 1.4; Hos. 1.1 ). Other examples appear in Ezek. 3.16; 6.1; 7.1 . According to the Mekhilta to Exod. 12.1 , this statement employs an emphatic past tense verb to indicate that Ezekiel had already prophesied earlier in the land of Israel, since according to rabbinic tradition, the Shekhinah (divine presence) does not rest on a prophet outside of the land of Israel unless it has first rested upon the prophet in the land of Israel. The Mekhilta to Exod. 15.9 speculates that Ezek. 2.1 or 12.1 begin earlier prophecies received by Ezekiel while he was still in the land. Had he not been exiled, Ezekiel would probably have served as a Zadokite priest in the Temple. The land of the Chaldeans: Babylonia, so named after the Chaldeans, a tribe related to the Arameans that had become especially prominent in Babylonia by this time.

1.4–28a :

The inaugural vision. The imagery of God's throne chariot (see 1 Chron. 28.15 ) is based on the Holy of Holies in the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant is kept under the cherubim (1 Kings ch 6; Exod. 25.10–22; 37.1–9 ). The Bible frequently refers to “the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD of Hosts enthroned on the Cherubim” (1 Sam. 4.4; 2 Sam. 6.2; 1 Chron. 13.6 ). Cherubim are composite creatures that combine features of different types of animals and human beings, e.g., the body of a lion or a bull, the wings of an eagle, and the head of a human being. Such creatures frequently appear in ancient Near Eastern art and architecture as the guardians of royal thrones, temples, and city gates and may have been well known to Ezekiel, who lived in Babylonia. Ezek. 10.1 later refers to the four creatures of this vision as cherubim.

4 :

Wind, cloud, and fire appear frequently in texts that depict theophany or divine appearance in the world (Exod. ch 19; 1 Kings ch 19 ). The imagery of radiance reflects the gleaming gold with which the Ark and other Temple implements were overlaid (Exod. 25.10–22; 37.1–9 ). The exact meaning of the term “πashmal,” translated here as a gleam as of amber, is uncertain. It may be derived from Akkadian or Egyptian terms for polished bronze. Talmudic tradition identifies it as a name for an angel or a combination of terms, such as “πayot” (“living creatures”), “’esh” (“fire”), or a combination of “πashot” (“silent”) and “mimalelot” (“speaking”). The modern Heb “πashmal,” “electricity,” derives from this passage.

5 :

The four creatures are the four cherubim that surround the Ark. Exod. 25.18–22; 37.7–9; 1 Kings 6.23–28; 1 Chron. 3.10–14 each mention only two cherubim, but this passage combines the totals. The combination is justified because the former texts mention two cherubim in relation to the Ark and the latter mention two cherubim as features of the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Ezekiel's total could be based upon his observation of the Ark in the Temple or his reading of earlier texts. The number four also presupposes the four horns of the Temple altar (Exod. 27.2; 38.2; Zech. 2.1–4 ), which represent the four “winds” or cardinal directions, indicating God's presence in the Temple at the center of creation.

7 :

Like: The use of similes throughout this vision emphasizes that the prophet can only attempt to describe the divine Presence indirectly, as the limits of human understanding permit; the images are not to be understood as a literal representation of the divine Presence. This passage thus takes a middle position concerning the corporeality of God's representation; some texts describe God as having a human body (Exod. 24.10–11; Dan. 7.9 ), while others insist otherwise (Deut. 4.15 ).

10 :

The four faces may represent the divine qualities of intelligence (human), royalty (lion), strength (ox), and mobility (eagle).

13–14 :

The burning coals of fire presuppose the sacrificial altar of the Temple (Exod. 27.1–8; 38.1–7) or the incense altars (Exod. 30.1–10; 37.5–28 ).

15–21 :

The wheels depict divine motion in all four directions. They are based on the image of the cart that carried the Ark of the Covenant from Philistia to Jerusalem (1 Sam. ch 6; 2 Sam. ch 6 ) and the rings that held the poles by which the Levites carried the Ark (Exod. 25.12–15; 30.4–5 ).

16 :

The wheels cutting through each other represent either a wheel with a hub or another attempt to depict wheels that could travel in any direction.

22 :

An expanse, with an awe‐inspiring gleam as of crystal: The priest Ezekiel is drawing on the Priestly Gen. 1.6–8 , which uses the same term, “raki‘a” (expanse, “firmament”), to depict the distinction between heaven and earth. The term “keraπ” (crystal) also means “ice,” which would draw upon the image of creation or manifestations of divine power as the congealing of waters (Gen. 1.8–9; Exod. 14.21–29; 15.8–9 ).

24 :

The sound of mighty waters metaphorically portrays the vi‐ sion as both auditory and visual.

26 :

Sapphire (possibly lapis lazuli), see Exod. 24.10 , which employs the imagery of blue sapphire or lapis to depict the pavement under God's feet, which humans see as the sky.

27 :

Gleam as of amber and fire convey the power and incor‐ poreality of the divine Presence.

28 :

The rainbow symbolizes God's covenant with creation (Gen. 9.8–17 ). The Presence of the Lord, a Priestly term for God's glory (Exod. 16.6–7; 40.34–38 ). The voice of someone speaking: Cf. 1 Kings 19.12 , which portrays the divine Presence as “a still small voice” or “a soft murmuring sound.” Ezekiel, in a sign of reverence and fear, lies prostrate before God just as one would lie prostrate before the Ark in the Holy of Holies of the Temple (1 Kings 8.54; Pss. 5.8; 99.5; 132.7; 138.2; 1 Chron. 16.29; 2 Chron. 20.5–18 ).

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