I. The Prophet.
- II. The Book.
- Divisions and Contents (§ 1).
- Literary Peculiarities (§ 2).
- Symbolic Actions (§ 3).
- Other Characteristics (§ 4).
- Theological Character (§ 5).
- Relation to the Priest Code (§ 6).
I. The Prophet:
Concerning Ezekiel, the earliest exilic prophet, his book teaches (i. 2, 3, iii.15, xxix. 17, xl. 1) that he was the son of Buzi, of priestly descent (through the Zadokites), that he lived by the river Chebar not far from Tel-Abib among the captives whom Nebuchadrezzar had deported with King Jehoiachin, and that he labored there as prophet from the fifth to at least the twenty-seventh year of this captivity (593-571 B.C.). The statement of Josephus (Ant. X., vi. 3) that he was still a boy when carried into captivity is not probable, since he was well acquainted with the temple and its service. The river Chebar must not be confused with the Habor of II Kings xvii. 6, xviii. 11 (the modern Khabur), which empties into the Euphrates (q.v.) near Carchemish, on which the exiles of the Northern kingdom were settled; it must be sought in Babylonia and is probably the canal Kabaru, not far from Nippur. Ezekiel enjoyed the authority of a prophet among the exiles, and they often sought his counsel though it was generally contrary to their desire, and in secret they gave vent to their wrath (ii. 6). He exercised a pastoral care among his people and formed a spiritual center for those who were cut off from their land and its temple (viii. 1, xiv. 1 sqq., xx. 1, xxiv. 18, xxxiii. 30-31).
II. The Book:
1. Divisions and Contents.
The prophecy of Ezekiel, the third of the books of the major prophets in the arrangement of the English Version, was no doubt put in systematic form by the prophet himself; it divides into two main parts which correspond to the two periods in which Ezekiel prophesied. The first (i.-xxiv.) closes with the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar (588 B.C. ); the second (xxxiii.-xlviii.) begins after the destruction of the city (586 B.C.). The interval is filled in by prophecies against foreign nations not arranged in strict chronological order (xxv.-xxxii.). Each main part opens with utterances upon the importance and responsibility of Ezekiel's office. The contents vary in a characteristic manner. As long as Jerusalem was standing, the announcement of coming judgment predominated; what had been God's kingdom was to fall utterly; when that had come to pass, the work of reconstruction was to begin. "While in the first half Ezekiel buried the material hope of Israel, which rested on the continued existence of Jerusalem and the Temple, in the second he rebuilt in spirit land and people, city and temple" (Klostermann). Pronouncement of judgment on the world-nations formed the transition to the establishment of the theocracy in Israel; the episode belongs therefore to the second part.
2. Literary Peculiarities.
The literary peculiarities of Ezekiel's book are connected with his position as an exile during its composition. He differed from the earlier prophets, even from his older contemporary Jeremiah, by being removed from the actual theater of history, thus being denied an immediate influence in the developments of his time, and this affected the form of his oral and written speech. His prophecies were no casual addresses to fit passing events, but were worked out in quiet meditation and prepared with literary art, for which he had an evident liking. Not that the short, striking, oracular utterance is wholly wanting; but Ezekiel more often discusses his subject at leisure and his deliverance develops deliberately before his prophetic eye (compare the detailed description of his first vision chap. i. with the brief sketch of the similar vision in Isa. vi.). He is not satisfied with a few characteristic strokes, but rather aims at a perfect picture which affects the spectator less by its immediate power and warmth than by its grandeur and harmonious finish. The frequency of the visions attests also his inclination toward quiet meditation. That he could not come into immediate contact with the concrete objects may, furthermore, have helped to cause the figurative descriptions which are peculiar to him. His contemporaries complained of his figurative speech (xx. 49), and the enigmatic character of his writing has always tried the patience of Jewish as well as Christian interpreters, while it has yielded the richer material to mysticism. Figurative utterance is found in Ezekiel in various forms now as simple metaphor, now approaching the parable (xv.; xxii. 18 sqq.), now as true allegory (xvii.). He delights especially in personifying nations and countries or in representing them under the image of animal or plant. Thus he portrays Judah (Jerusalem) and Samaria as prostitutes (xvi., xxiii. 1 sqq.); the house of David as a lion's den (xix. 1 sqq.), or a vine (xix. 10 sqq.; cf. xvii. 6), or a cedar (xvii. 3); Egypt as a cedar (xxxi. 3 sqq.), or a crocodile (xxxii. 1 sqq.); the Chaldean power as a great eagle full of feathers of diverse colors (xvii. 3). After giving the meaning of his cryptic utterances, he again takes up the allegoric form. He shows himself a master in describing the great and sublime, and some portions of his book are specimens of the most beautiful and the most tender lyric poetry e.g., the elegies, characteristic of him as of Jeremiah, in which he laments the lot of the foreign powers (xix. 1 sqq., xxvi. 17 sqq., xxvii. 2 sqq., xxviii. 12 sqq., xxxii. 2 sqq.). To consider Ezekiel only a writer, however, who did not actually deliver his addresses, is not admissible; but it is true that the written form was of special importance to him, particularly as his spoken words could benefit only a small part of his people.
3. Symbolic Actions.
Once again, Ezekiel's position, his exclusion from all share as an active participant in the events of his time, was accountable for the symbolic actions with which he accompanied his discourses and made them impressive. His whole person was called on to serve his oracles in most varied pantomime. Dumbness (iii. 26), motionless constraint (iv. 4-8), eating and drinking (iv. 9 sqq.), cutting of the hair (v. 1 sqq.), stamping with the foot and clapping of hands (vi. 11), sighing (xxi. 11), and trembling (xii. 17) were all made "signs." What happened to the prophet was emblematic of the fate of his people (xxiv. 14 sqq.); in his own person he represented also that of his king (xii. 3 sqq.). Partly because of the triviality of such symbolic signs it has been denied that they were actually employed, and they have been regarded as mere literary devices. But considering Oriental skill in interpreting such symbols and the readiness of the Israelites to attach importance to the acts of a prophet, actual performance is the more natural assumption, though vii. 23 and xxiv. 3-5 are probably parables. In other cases a mere recital of what happened to the prophet would have lacked significance and contributed little as illustration. But what an impression it must have made when people found him in the condition described in iv. 1 sqq. with hostile look directed for weeks on Jerusalem and with arm uplifted against it! The picture was a most eloquent epitome of the fate of the city. Klostermann attempts to make the long immobility of the prophet more intelligible by finding here the symptoms of severe catalepsy. Dumbness, indeed, seems to have been imposed on the prophet, to judge from expressions which can not be referred to mere silence (cf. iii. 26-27, xxiv. 27). Such a disease might be considered a means God-ordained for prophetic purposes.
4. Other Characteristics.
To the solemnly ceremonial style of Ezekiel belongs also the stereotyped recurrence of certain solemn formulas. The sayings are generally introduced by "thus saith the Lord Yahweh" (117 times according to Zunz) or "the word of Yahweh came unto me." The prophet is always addressed by God and the angels with the elsewhere unusual name "son of man"; and many other recurring phrases give the book a uniform cast. Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel draws frequently from former prophets. His muse is inspired by the entire sacred literature of the past, especially by the "Mosaic" law, but also by sacred history and tales of prehistoric times (cf., e.g., Gen. ii. 8 and Ezek. xxviii. 13; Gen. i. 28 and Ezek. xxxvi. 11). Beside this is his artistic realism, which everywhere produces concrete forms from the material furnished by the historical, archeological, and literary store of the theocracy. He was no mere "scholar," as he has been called, but rather a creative genius who made his knowledge of the past useful for new ideas. His sentences are involved, often diffuse, and his language is more Aramaized than that of Jeremiah; but the clumsiness of expression in Ezekiel's book is partly due to corruption of the text, which in many passages can be corrected from the Septuagint.
5. Theological Character.
Passing to the spiritual significance and theological character of Ezekiel, he has marked points of contact with Jeremiah, who remained in Jerusalem. Both declare with all emphasis the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth to be unavoidable and near at hand, destroying relentlessly the illusory hopes of the patriots and strongly condemning the fraudulent policy of the princes who were trafficking with Egypt. The Levitical character of Ezekiel's prophecies, which portray the city of God and its cultus under a new régime and in its details, springs from his sacerdotal education and disposition. The Levitical side of Ezekiel in recent times has been exaggerated in two ways. In the first place it is asserted that he was the originator of the priestly legislation with its tabernacle, its orders of sacrifices and priests. In the second place he is charged with having pushed aside or destroyed by his formulas and outward injunctions the free ethical religion of the prophets, becoming the father of the bigoted postexilic Judaism and Pharisaism. It is true that for Ezekiel, as for the Mosaic law, external order and ethical communion with God are inseparably connected. He regards it as highly important that the holiness of God be preserved by the ceremonial purity of his ministers and by the exclusion of the profane. But chap. xviii., which exhibits Ezekiel's ethics, puts beside the first command, to worship God only, the other which is like unto it, to love one's neighbor, and emphasizes the truth that every one is judged by God according to his personal conduct. A parallel passage is found in xiv. 14 sqq. But how little the prophet expected salvation from mere formal fulfilment of commandments is shown by xi. 19-20, xxxvi. 26-27; complete obedience is the result of a new heart written over with God's law, which the Lord is to give with a new spirit (cf. Jer. xxxi. 33), so that regeneration and sanctification appear as God's work. With Ezekiel the glory of God was the highest good. The people's misfortune was a just punishment for great guilt. Future salvation, however, was to come not because of man's merit (xxxvi. 22), but for the sake of God's name. This sovereign God was not arbitrary or cruel; his will purposed the conversion and life, not the destruction, of his sinful people (xxxiii. 11). The awakening of the congregation to new life is exhibited in a hopeful allegory (xxxvii.). The Davidic royalty was again to be established. David, the servant of the Lord, i.e., a future heir of the mind and power of David, was to rule his entire people in the name of his God (xvii. 22 sqq., xxxiv. 23, xxxvii. 24). Ezekiel does not stop with the portrayal of a favored ruler from this family; he describes in detail a last attack by the heathen world upon the law of Yahweh already announced by former prophets. In this whole delineation the relation to Joel is to be observed (cf. C. V. Orelli, Die zwölf kleinen Propheten, Munich, 1896, p. 43). The closing vision (xl.-xlviii.) has no connection with these other prophetical utterances. The description of the new temple is not merely a sketch for its reestablishment. The seer is raised above existing conditions. On the other hand, his sketch and his arrangement are well considered and are so clear that one can as easily make a sketch of Ezekiel's as of Solomon's temple.
6. Relation to the Priest Code.
The question of the priority of Ezekiel to the Priest Code reenters here. Popper and Graf, breaking with tradition, declared the conception of the Mosaic tabernacle (Ex. xxvi.-xxvii. and xxxvi.- xxxvii.) to be later than Ezekiel's picture of the temple and they are followed by most of the critics. There are some, however, who with equal confidence advocate the preexilic origin of the Priest Code. A close relationship exists between the earlier addresses of Ezekiel and the so-called Law of Holiness (Lev. xvii.-xxvi.). Graf and Kayser consider the prophet the author of the latter, which Klosterman has exhaustively shown to be wrong. He prefers to consider this law a kind of catechism in use among the exiles, which the prophet also followed. Bäntsch also, though following Graf in the main, comes to the conclusion that a large part of the Law of Holiness was prior to Ezekiel and was used by him as a basis of his discourses. This being admitted, the same should also hold good for the rest. Otherwise it would be difficult to explain how later men imitated the prophet's style, but boldly opposed his revelations. Baudissin by an impartial comparison arrives at an essential affirmation of the priority of the Law of Holiness and the Priest Code (apart from Lev. xvi. which may be a later interpolation). Dillmann considers the Law of Holiness as much older than Ezekiel, which however (especially Lev. xxvi.) was revised during the exile with the use of Ezekiel's utterances. The main argument for the opposite view is found in xliv. 6-13, according to which only the Levitical priests of the house of Zadok are the priests proper; the Levites, however, who had worshiped in the high places, were to perform the lower functions. Here may be perceived the first distinction between classes of Levites. In Deuteronomy such a difference does not exist; the door to the sanctuary at Jerusalem was open for the priests of the high places (Deut. xviii. 6 sqq.). In the Priest Code, however, the sharp distinction between priests and Levites is traced back to Moses; Ezekiel stood between. But it must be remembered that Ezekiel nowhere stated in what respects the new temple was to resemble the present or differ from it. But he certainly censures as a transgression of the covenant, and as a breach of Mosaic order that strangers should perform the lower temple services. This supposes that that order provided for other temple servants, no doubt Levitical (see LEVI, LEVITES). Another obvious difference is that Ezekiel does not mention the high priest. But from this it can not be certainly inferred that the prophet did not know the office and that in the preexilic period a head of the priesthood did not exist. History proves the contrary. His silence may be explained from the same point of view as the fact that in place of the preexilic king he puts a modest prince (xliv. 3 sqq.). It is possible that xxi. 26 sqq. is an afterthought, where it is said: "Remove the diadem, and take off the crown." The prophet presupposes an ancient ordinance traced back to Moses (xx. 10-11, xliv. 7-8), according to which he reforms depraved practise, but with prophetical liberty he is not afraid to change ordinances to prevent future abuses or to give a purer expression to the spiritual idea. That Mosaic ordinance is nothing else than the Priest Code, whose directions Ezekiel intensifies in many points in the interest of the holiness of God. It is therefore untenable that he is the lawgiver who created this legislation. It must not be forgotten that he established neither a complete code nor one serving for an immediate use; as a teacher of the Mosaic law he could therefore move more freely in order to emphasize those things which served his prophetic purpose.
C. VON ORELLI.