God presents himself in this book in no uncertain terms as completely in control of everything and everyone. Just to make sure that Ezekiel gets the message, he starts every sentence to him by addressing him as "Mortal." (In Hebrew, ben-adam, which means son of man.)
As hard as it is to understand Ezekiel's character—with his strange visions and actions—it's probably even harder to deal with the version of God which Ezekiel presents. He pulls up in Chapter 1, seated on a throne perched above a chariot with mystical wheels drawn by four-faced ox-lion-eagle-people. Even more intimidating than Manbearpig. Things only get more challenging from there. In Ezekiel, we get God's wrath at its most intense and in highly vivid language.
God shows up in this divine muscle car primarily to judge the House of Israel for its unjust and idolatrous ways, promising its destruction and exile in Babylon. His judgments are pretty harsh, but he's condemning people for some pretty bad crimes, like child sacrifice, shady business practices, and having illicit affairs with other unmentionable gods.
And his anger's raging not just at Israel, but at all the nations. How's this for divine wrath:
On that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel, says the, my wrath shall be aroused. For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare: On that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and the animals of the field, and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all human beings that are on the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground. I will summon the sword against Gog in all my mountains, says the Lord GOD; the swords of all will be against their comrades. With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him; and I will pour down torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur, upon him and his troops and the many peoples that are with him. So I will display my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the LORD. (38:18-23)
Because God's so angry at Israel, he lets it be known that it's pointless to grovel. He won't answer.
Mortal, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and placed their iniquity as a stumbling block before them; shall I let myself be consulted by them? (14.3)
Mortal, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them: Thus says the Lord: Why are you coming? To consult me? As I live, says the Lord, I will not be consulted by you. (20:3)
In other words, talk to the hand.
At times, Ezekiel's God even uses pretty appalling, even obscene, language. It gets pretty graphic, totally not what you'd expect in a book of scripture. We're even a little hesitant to quote this, but what's a Shmoop Learning Guide without textual evidence? Weak and boring. Anyway, God says that Israel lusted after foreign gods when she was in Egypt:
There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled. (Ezekiel 23:19-21)
We must have been absent on the day they taught this in Sunday School.
Some feminist religious scholars feel that God comes across as an abusive and jealous husband when he's describing what he plans to do with Israel for all her "whoring" with other gods.
In Ezekiel, God's constantly pointing out that he's doing what he's doing to Israel for one reason: to let all the nations know that he's God. There are countless phrases that are variations on the theme that "Thus all the nations shall know that I am the Lord." All the actions he takes either for or against the House of Israel, he does in public, in the sight of all the nations, who'll then see his power and his identity. To paraphrase theologian Daniel Isaac Block, God's ways might be mysterious, but they're sure not secret.
Block even believes that punishing Israel for its sins is less important to God than showing his great name to the nations:
And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways, or corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, says the Lord. (20:44)
God also makes it abundantly clear that the pain he's raining down on Gog is so that he can show off his awesome powers. His plan is to bring Gog down from the far north and have them attack Israel just so he can destroy them in the sight of everyone.
In the latter days I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I display my holiness before their eyes. (38:16)
Is it strange that the Creator of the Universe would seem so concerned about his reputation? The deity business was pretty competitive back then, we guess. Plus, it doesn't look good for the God of Israel when his people are doing all those awful things that profane his name. It's a public humiliation. If he can't even get his chosen people to listen to him, what kind of God is that? So he has to really bring it on in front of the whole world to let them know that he's still got the right stuff.
In the end, God shows his faithful side by upholding the promises he made to Abraham and Moses to restore his people in the land of Israel. He doesn't exactly get all warm and fuzzy, but he does what he said he was going to do back in the day.
They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children's children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (37:25-27)
However, just in case Israel gets the idea that this compassion has anything to do with how they've changed their ways, he ends with:
Then the nations shall know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is among them forevermore. (37:28)
That is, the purpose of restoring the nation is to show everyone that he's God. Sure, God's committed to Israel, but even when he restores Israel to life and makes them clean again, he lets them know that it's not because of their behavior. He just decided it was time.
It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and dismayed for your ways, O house of Israel. (36:32)
It's only God's grace that will restore the nation.