Ezekiel lived in a time of international crisis and conflict. Assyria was the world power in the area under the rule of Tiglath-pilesar III. In 724 B.C Israel raged war upon Assyria, and Israel was no match for Assyria. In 627 B.C the last of the able Assyrian rulers, Ashurbanipal died. Following the death of Ashurbanipal, Babylon under Nebuchadrezzer II wanted independence from Assyria. In 614 B.C the Assyrians under Nineveh surrendered to the rising Babylonians. In 605 B.C the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians and established themselves as the leading power in the area. During all of this warring, Judah allied itself with Babylonia and kept her independence. However, in 597 BCE, after failing to continue their payment of tribute, Babylonia besieged Jerusalem. Nebuchadrezzer II, king on Babylonia, installs a puppet king, Zedekiah, in order to keep the Judeans in line. Nevertheless, Zedekiah rebels also. In 586, Babylonia exiles the most of the rulers and people of Judah to Babylonia, leaving only the poorest, and decimates Jerusalem, including the temple. Since the people believed the Zion Theology, which said Jerusalem is Gods choice of Zion and the monarchy comes from David, exile left the Judeans completely lost. The responses varied among the exiled Judeans, since they assumed that they were safe, after the temple wasnt destroyed during the first destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of Israel.One response was lament, a feeling or an expression of grief, over their loss. Another was anger towards the Babylonians. A further response was anger toward neighbors who failed to aid them. Moreover, some Judeans turned to Marduk, chief god of the gods of Babylonia, figuring that he overpowered Yahweh, the god of the Judeans. Finally, the Judeans thought judgment had befallen them for their sins against Yahweh and Yahweh revoked his protection of Jerusalem. The Judeans remained in exile, until 538 BCE.
Ezekiel, son of Buzi, a Zadokite priest, received his call to prophesy at around 593 BCE, along the Chebar River at the village of Tel-abib. As I [Ezekiel] looked, a stormy wind can out of the north; a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continuallyHe said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel. (Cook 1182-1184). Carried captive during the 597 BCE Exile, Ezekiel by some accounts made the torturous trek to Mesopotamia (Howe 203), where some of the Hebrews settled along the Canal of Chebar at Tel-abib. In this account, Ezekiel may have returned to Jerusalem after his call and lived there, prophesizing to the inhabitants until the exile. Other accounts state that Ezekiel went to Babylonia where he kept in touch with Judah, thereby addressing both communities in a single entry. Nevertheless, whether in Judah or Babylon, Ezekiel continued to prophesize to the Judeans, before and after the exile of the remaining Hebrews. Before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, Ezekiel prophesized about the total destruction of Jerusalem, brought on by the Judeans guilt.
Ezekiel, at first, was a reluctant prophet. Unlike other prophets he was married, therefore had responsibilities to people other than himself. The symbolic scroll, mentioned in the second and third chapters of Ezekiel. But you mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like the rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. I [Ezekiel] looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it (Cook 1187), was at first bitter but soon turned sweet. This was a metaphor for Gods words, which Ezekiel was reluctant to speak, that in time became easier to swallow. Ezekiel after this point became the watcher of the house of Israel, responsible for their survival (Howe 204). Ezekiels call meant if the Judeans did not heed Ezekiels word and repent, Gods wrath would overtake them. However, since the chief priesthood of the day, Zadokites, controlled the temple and believed in the Zion Theology, Judah was doomed. Ezekiel expressed his message in a variety of methods including signs visions, allegories, denunciations, and legal arguments (Cook 1180). During the years of trying to save Judah from her impending doom, Ezekiel also had a mishap, his wife died. Instead of going into himself, he used the grief to exemplify Yahwehs message. In 586, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and sent the Judean ruler and people into exile, the theology changed, since it called into question Gods promise of Zion. Ezekiel answered the need for hope with a transition from messages of judgment to messages restoration. Having spoken doom, he looked to the future with great hope, because Gods spirit could blow on death to bring life, and because in the restored land God was there (Howe 204) Ezekiel seems to have a background in the priesthood, by his writings, in which he has inspired fear, awe, and wonder in readers because he attempts not merely to name, but also to embody, Gods sovereignty, holiness, and mystery in words that come close to the limits of expression. (Cook 1180). This makes Ezekiel a multifaceted book, which is hard to read and interpret. However, because of the structure and ideas Ezekiel is thought of as the founder of Judaism.
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statues and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Pfisterer Darr 1490)
Written after the exile, for the Hebrews in despair.Ezekiel wrote of Yahwehs restorative plan, rather than the second exodus of an enraged deity, as described in chapter twenty. According to the verses above, Yahweh intends to deal with the unruliness of the Hebrews in a different manner. In verse twenty-six of chapter thirty six, Ezekiel wrote, A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put with in you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Pfisterer Darr 1490). The heart of stone refers to the rebellious, obstinate nature of the Hebrews before the exile, when they abandon Yahweh and abused the covenant. They had worshipped other gods, and in the process broken other laws. Therefore, Yahweh is going to replace the heart hardened to him and his words, the heart of stone and replace it with a soft hear, the heart of flesh, which because Yahweh is the creator can mold into a heart made for Yahweh. This passage can be linked with an earlier writings of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. For example, Ezekiel 18:31, Ezekiel writes about casting away transgressions and getting a new heart and spirit. This contrasts of the later writing, makes an idea that the new heart is a theme, which Ezekiel uses in different ways depending on the context (Pfisterer Darr 1492).In verse twenty-seven, Ezekiel goes on to write: I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Pfisterer Darr 1490).The spirit of Yahweh is a recurring theme in the Old Testament. For example, Yahweh endows its spirit on the suffering servant of Israel, in Second Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1). In Isaiah forty-four, verse three, Yahweh pours out its spirit on Jacob of Israels seed. The spirit is also seen in Genesis 41: 38, Exodus 31:3, I Samuel 10:10; 11:6, and Numbers 11:17). The second part of the verse refers back to the heart of flesh; Yahweh insures that with a new heart its people with give obedience forever. Together verses twenty-six and seven, resemble the earlier restorative oracle, concerning the deported Judeans whose counterparts remained in Jerusalem claiming her for their own possession. Also, in the same context, Yahweh promises absolute compliance by saying, [I will] make you follow my statues and ordinances. (1490). Ezekiel sums up the passage with verse twenty-eight, Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Pfisterer Darr 1490). After being purified and transformed by the replacement of their hearts and made obedient by the new spirit, they can return to the promised land of their ancestors. In addition the covenant will be renewed. This could also be God not acting for Israels sake, but solely for the sake of Yahwehs holy name. (1490), by the fact that the Yahweh states, you will be my people, and I will be your God. (1490). This could also be a return to innocence, where God was their only God and they were his people (children).
Therefore, in Ezekiel 36: 26-28, Yahweh forgive the Hebrews and assures the grieving Hebrews of their return to the land in which they are exiled from. However, first, the Hebrew people need to adjust their attitude toward God. Consequently, Yahweh will remove the hearts that turned against him and give them new hearts that will not turn away and new spirits that will obey. Then they can renew their covenant with God and return to the land that he promise Abraham, then Moses. Furthermore, they can be once again Gods children, like the Prodigal son.
Brownlee, William H. “The Book of Ezekiel.” Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Ed: Charles Laymon. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971. 430.
Cook, Stephen L. Ezekiel. The New Oxford Annotated Bible Third Edition: new Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Ed. Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 1180-1182.
Howie, C.G.. “Ezekiel.” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Ed: George Buttrick. New York: Abingdon Press, 1962. 203-213.
May, Herbert G. “The Book of Ezekiel.” The Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Samuel Terrien. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 162+.
Pfisterer Darr, Katheryn. “Ezekiel 36:22-32.” The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol. IV. Ed: Leander Keck. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001. 1490-1493.
Vawter, B. “Book of Ezechiel (Ezekiel).” New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: McGraw-Hill Co, 1967. 776-779.
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