Ezekiel 45: Ezekiel With the Captives
We are to get acquainted with another prophet of the Lord, Ezekiel. He was a priest in Jerusalem at the same time as Jeremiah. He did not stay in Jerusalem with Jeremiah, but was taken with the captives to Babylon, and spoke to them there messages from the Lord. To get acquainted with Ezekiel, we must take the long journey to Babylon and find where he is living, with a company of the captives by the river Chebar. This probably was one of the many canals which led water from the Euphrates River through the flat country near Babylon. On the journey from Jerusalem, we see much of the Euphrates and of the rich gardens along its banks. Babylon was a great, rich city. It had great buildings, and it had its gardens. The captives from Jerusalem were not slaves in Babylon but had their homes and their work in the country and their business in the city. They were far away from their temple, but the Lord gave them a prophet, Ezekiel, to teach them and encourage them. Without such a teacher, they might forget the Lord in this far-off country where other gods were worshiped.
We will read one of Ezekiel's chapters, 34. It is about sheep and shepherds. It is about bad shepherds who have been neglecting the sheep. Who are the shepherds and the sheep that the prophet is speaking of? Who is the Good Shepherd who will seek out the sheep and bring them together and tenderly care for them? Read the last verse of the chapter: "And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord God."
With Jeremiah, we were in Jerusalem and saw the people of the city taken captive to Babylon. This did not happen all at once. Three times captives were led away: at the fall of Jehoiachin, at the fall of Zedekiah, and after the death of the governor Gedaliah. First, many of the important people and craftsmen were taken away (2 Kings 24:10-14); then most of the remaining people (2 Kings 25:11); and still a third company (Jer. 52:30), till only a mere remnant of the people was left. Ezekiel, a priest in Jerusalem, and Daniel, then a young man, were taken away with the first company of important people.
Follow the long journey on the map, going far to the north and then down the Euphrates River to avoid crossing the desert. Pictures show beautiful gardens and fruit trees along the Euphrates. Further south, the country is flat and marshy, crossed by canals from the river. The river Chebar in our chapter was probably one of these.
Ruins remain, showing the size and strength of old Babylon. Walls and pavements of Nebuchadnezzar's palace can still be seen. Notice in pictures the beautifully made raised figures of animals on the walls. Records found among the ruins show the culture of the people and their careful business methods. Here the Jewish captives lived, for the most part comfortably, in the great city and in the country near, enjoying their homes and doing business. Only they were not allowed to go back to their own land.
So far away from Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord, the people might easily forget His worship and His laws and fall into the worship of the people of Babylon. They would very likely have done so, but for the prophets, especially the prophet Ezekiel, who gathered the people about him and spoke to them from the Lord. We read in the first chapter of Ezekiel of the vision that came to him and of his call to be a prophet. It reminds us of the call of Isaiah (Isa. 6) but has more of strange symbols. This is characteristic of Ezekiel. The early chapters of Ezekiel are largely predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem because of its disobedience. There were also promises that the Lord would gather again His people and make them a glorious nation. The book closes with visions of the temple restored and glorified. In the middle of the book are chapters of prophecy against other nations, some of them very eloquent, as the chapter against Tyre. (Ezek. 27) The preaching of Ezekiel did much to keep remembrance of the Lord alive among the captives and to prepare them for going back to Jerusalem when the time should come.
We read in chapter 34 a story of sheep and shepherds which we can well understand, after all the stories and lessons that we have had about shepherds and flocks in Palestine. With these we must put the verses that we are soon learning from Isaiah: "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd," What meaning would this prophecy of Ezekiel have for the captives in Babylon? What promise does it bring to us?
Ezekiel was an instrument of the Lord in keeping alive the religious life and hope of the Jews in their captivity, making possible their return to Jerusalem and the re-establishment of their worship. Letters to the captives from Jeremiah, and the glowing prophecies of the later chapter, of Isaiah contributed to this. In general, Divine prophecy and heavenly vision keep faith and hope alive, making possible the fulfillment of promise in its time.
It is of interest to compare the vision and call of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1) with the vision and call of Isaiah (Isa. 6). There are features in common, with fuller development in Ezekiel's vision. As before, the winged creatures represent the power of the Lordís truth supporting and protecting. The wheels, like the chariots of the Elijah and Elisha visions, represent the power of the Lord's truth in application. See the explanation of wheels and chariots in A. 8215. The visions associated with the call of Isaiah and Ezekiel both represent the power of the Divine truth into whose service the men were called.
Several chapters of Ezekiel predict the destruction of Jerusalem near at hand, for its rejection of the Lord. See chapter 4 where the prophecy is also accompanied by symbolic action. Several chapters give beautiful promise of the gathering of the captive people and their restoration and reviving by the Lord. Nowhere in Scripture is the opportunity for repentance and the appeal to repent put more strongly than in Ezek. 18. "Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves and live ye." Nowhere is the gathering up and revivifying of a people or a soul that seems without life and without hope more strikingly described than in the vision of the resurrection of the dry bones. (Ezek. 37)
The chapter of Ezekiel rebuking the evil shepherds and promising the care of the Good Shepherd breathes the spirit of our Lord's parables of the lost sheep and of the Good Shepherd. The chapter is a plain lesson to those who attempt to teach from a selfish motive and who lead others to an evil life. So the church is utterly destroyed. "The bad pastors destroy everything of the church and corrupt the simple, verses 18-2l." Such is the comment on the chapter in Prophets and Psalms. Read in A. 10794 of priests who teach truths and by them lead to the good of life and thus to the Lord, and are good shepherds of the sheep; and of those who teach and do not lead to the good of life, who are evil shepherds. Notice the beauty of verses 13-15. David is promised as the Shepherd long after King David had lived and died. (Verses 23-24) Like so many chapters of Scripture, this chapter cannot close without handing us the key to its universal spiritual lesson (verse 31).