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THE just interpretation of Ezekiel will turn very much upon his circumstances as a prophet. Hence the usual introductory questions respecting the author, his date, his residence, and his people, will, in his case, conduce greatly to disclose the main purposes of his prophetic life, and consequently the true sense of his prophecies. Let us then, in the outset, give these points our careful attention.—Of the early history of Ezekiel we know only that he was the son of Buzi, was a priest, and was taken as a captive to Chaldea in the second great deportation, which occurred in the first year of Jehoiachin, B. C. 600. In what part of Judea he had previously lived, under what circumstances he received his early training, and at what age he was made a captive, are points not on record. They can be reached only by doubtful conjecture. The fact that he was by birth and training a priest accounts for the remarkable type of the last nine chapters of his book. Such minute detail as we find in that vision of the temple, its rituals and surroundings, could by no means be expected in any prophet who was not perfectly familiar with those matters. The divine Spirit adapts himself to the prophets through whom he speaks, evermore using terms, figures, and modes
of illustration, with which each one severally may be conversant.
The date of his several prophecies is mostly given with care and thus placed beyond reasonable doubt. The captivity of Jehoiachin (B. C. 600) is his epoch. Prophesying and writing with and for the Jews in captivity, this epoch was for them altogether appropriate, and was doubtless their own in current use. -His book opens with another epoch in the words, “ In the thirtieth year,” etc. This has given rise to much speculation. I reject the three theories following, viz.: that this refers to his own age; that it dates from the discovery of the book of the law in the reign of Josiah; and that it dates from the last Jubilee. Either of these theories is too capricious to be adopted. I accede to the opinion that these words allude to the new Chaldean epoch of Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar, which dates from the fall of Nineveh, B. C., 625, and was the great epoch of the profane historians of those and of subsequent times. As Ezekiel wrote among the Chaldeans, it was pertinent that he should make so much allusion to their great national epoch. Yet since his prophecies were intended chiefly for the use of the Jews, it was fitting that after this brief allusion to the Chaldean epoch, he should drop it, and in all other cases use only the epoch of his own people. Such is the fact. Following this Jewish epoch, his prophecies commence with the fifth year (chap. 1 : 2), and close (chap. 29: 17) with the twenty-seventh. The last nine chapters date in the twenty-fifth year. Between these extremes are a large number of definite dates, to be noticed in their place.
Ezekiel's residence in Chaldea is said to have been "by the river of Chebar.” Some commentators have identified this river with the Chaboras of Upper Mesopotamia, which falls into the Euphrates at Circesium, while others have sought traces of its name in the province of “Habor by the river of Gozan” (2 Kings 17: 6), where the king of
Assyria located some of his captives when he subverted the kingdom of the ten tribes. I accept the more recent view, which finds this "river of Chebar” in the royal canal built by Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest of all those artificial water-courses which were among the stupendous works of his reign. The word Chebar implies something great and long. The Hebrew orthography is not the same with that of the word rendered Habor (2 Kings 17:6).
-The testimony of all history, sacred and profane, locates these Hebrew captives near Babylon, and not in the remote districts of Upper Mesopotamia. It scarcely admits of question that the Jewish captives were employed in excavating these immense canals, and hence would naturally have their homes along their line. This view may explain that inimitable ode (Ps. 137): “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down; yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.” Along side of those artificial water-courses, the scenes of their daily toil and weary tasks, how often had they sat down, exhausted and heart-sick, to weep as they thought of their dear but desolate Zion ! -It was among those exiles, and in the midst of such surroundings, that Ezekiel spent his prophetic life. His great mission from God was to bring moral appliances to coöperate with physical for the regeneration of those exiles. The Lord had thrown them into his crucible of sore affliction; he therefore sent Ezekiel with truths divine-warnings, exhortations, counsels, and promises, to perfect the work of moral renovation for which those afflictions were designed. -Let it not be forgotten that the great national sin of the Jews had long been idolatry. The history of the rent kingdoms from Jeroboam to Hoshea, and from Rehoboam to Zedekiah, coupled with the testimony of the Lord's prophets during those ages, shows this most conclusively. For this sin the people of Judah were doomed to captivity in Babylon. To cure them of this sin, the Lord first selected the better portion to go into captivity, and let the baser portion fall by the
sword, famine or pestilence, or remain in the land to 59 down madly into Egypt to perish miserably there.
Jer. 24 is a special prophecy indicating that this sifting process lay distinctly in the plan of God. But to make this plan successful, other agencies were requisite besides captivity in a foreign land.
Among these other agencies, the mission of Ezekiel was prominent. The Lord sent him forth among those captives to rebuke idolatry; to keep vividly before them the enormity of this national sin; to show them how horribly corrupt their brethren, yet remaining in Judah and Jerusalem, had become; and then (as in chaps. 8–11) to receive from the Lord a great panoramic vision of those sins, and of God's ministering and avenging angels, marking, and scourging, and slaying those hoary sinners; and then, by reporting, reproduce it to the eyes of his fellow captives. This was one striking method of making the judgments for idolatry inflicted in Jerusalem available for moral warning and impression upon the captives in Babylon. With a kindred moral aim, the Lord sent by Ezekiel many a tender, precious promise of mercy to the penitent, and of restoration to the faithful in the fullness of his own time.
Striking analogies appear between Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and for the obvious reason that both had the same idolatrous people to deal with ; both were sent of God to convict the people of the guilt of the same great national sin; both were God's instruments to supplement with moral warnings and promises the influence which his providences were exerting, yet needed those moral appliances for their more sure interpretation and best efficiency. Thus the major points in the life of these two prophets were analogous, yet there were minor points of unlike character. Jeremiah spent his prophetic life in Judea and in Egypt; Ezekiel, his in Chaldea. Jeremiah's public labors spanned the last eighteen years of Josiah's reign, the three months' reign of Jehoahaz, the eleven years' reign of Jehoiakim, and five