Thus says the Lord God: Clap your hands and stamp your foot, and say, Alas for all the vile abominations of the house of Israel! For they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. Those far off shall die of pestilence; those nearby shall fall by the sword; and any who are left and are spared shall die of famine. Thus I will spend my fury upon them. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when their slain lie among their idols around their altars, on every high hill, on all the mountain tops, under every green tree, and under every leafy oak, wherever they offered pleasing odor to all their idols. (NRSV 6:11-13)
Thus saith the Lord God; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence. He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish my fury upon them. Then shall ye know that I am the Lord, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they did offer sweet savour to all their idols. (KJV 6:11-13)
This is God in quintessential wrath mode—he's going to punish everyone for idolatry by killing them. Classic and dramatic. Nobody does it like Ezekiel.
Then he said to me, Mortal, dig through the wall; and when I dug through the wall, there was an entrance. He said to me, Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here. So I went in and looked; there, portrayed on the wall all around, were all kinds of creeping things, and loathsome animals, and all the idols of the house of Israel. Before them stood seventy of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the fragrant cloud of incense was ascending. Then he said to me, Mortal, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of images? For they say, "he Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land. He said also to me, You will see still greater abominations that they are committing. (NRSV 8:8-13)
Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold a door. And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here. So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about. And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up. Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, the Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth. He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do. (KJV 8:8-13)
These "rooms of images" seem to be more than just a literal representation of idolatry. They also indicate the inner idolatry going on within people, in secret. Their hearts are set on their own images, not on God. The language here shows just how horrible and disgusting God considers idolatry to be.
Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord; women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, 'Have you seen this, O mortal? You will see still greater abominations than these.' And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord; there, at the entrance of the Temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the Temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, prostrating themselves to the sun toward the east. (NRSV 8:14-16)
Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these. And he brought me into the inner court of the Lord's house, and, behold, at the door of the Temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the Temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. (KJV 8:14-16)
God holds up sun worship as particularly bad, since it's worshipping a created thing instead of the Creator. As for Tammuz, he was a Babylonian and Sumerian god of vegetation who would die and be reborn with the seasons.
But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. You took some of your garments, and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore; nothing like this has ever been or ever shall be. You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and my silver that I had given you, and made for yourself male images, and with them played the whore; and you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. (NRSV 16:15-18)
But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was. And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot thereupon: the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so. Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them, and tookest thy broidered garments, and coveredst them: and thou hast set mine oil and mine incense before them. (KJV 16:15-18)
The House of Israel—represented as a harlot wife—takes all the precious gifts God has given her and used them to worship other gods and make sex toys out of them. Strong language.
How sick is your heart, says the Lord God, that you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen whore; building your platform at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square! Yet you were not like a whore, because you scorned payment. Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! Gifts are given to all whores; but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from all around for your whorings. So you were different from other women in your whorings: no one solicited you to play the whore; and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; you were different. (NRSV 16:30-34)
How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord God, seeing thou doest all these things, the work of an imperious whorish woman; In that thou buildest thine eminent place in the head of every way, and makest thine high place in every street; and hast not been as an harlot, in that thou scornest hire; But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband! They give gifts to all whores: but thou givest thy gifts to all thy lovers, and hirest them, that they may come unto thee on every side for thy whoredom. And the contrary is in thee from other women in thy whoredoms, whereas none followeth thee to commit whoredoms: and in that thou givest a reward, and no reward is given unto thee, therefore thou art contrary. (KJV 16:30-34)
God exposes the illogic of Judah's treason with other gods. It didn't even receive any payment for its adulterous behavior. Some feminist writers have commented that the woman's sin wasn't so much prostitution as it was crossing gender boundaries. That is, the prostitute acted the aggressor and not the victim, refused to be submissive to God and even paid her lovers.
In you are those who slander to shed blood, those in you who eat upon the mountains, who commit lewdness in your midst. In you they uncover their fathers' nakedness; in you they violate women in their menstrual periods. One commits abomination with his neighbor's wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; another in you defiles his sister, his father's daughter. In you, they take bribes to shed blood; you take both advance interest and accrued interest, and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; and you have forgotten me, says the Lord God. (NRSV 22:9-12)
In thee are men that carry tales to shed blood: and in thee they eat upon the mountains: in the midst of thee they commit lewdness. In thee have they discovered their fathers' nakedness: in thee have they humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one hath committed abomination with his neighbour's wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter in law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father's daughter. In thee have they taken gifts to shed blood; thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbours by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God. (KJV 22:9-12)
Nothing too complicated about this—it's simply a long list of the ways in which God feels the people have betrayed him and violated his ethical laws.
The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, there were two women, the daughters of one mother; they played the whore in Egypt; they played the whore in their youth; their breasts were caressed there, and their virgin bosoms were fondled. Oholah was the name of the elder and Oholibah the name of her sister. They became mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem. (NRSV 23:1-4)
The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying, Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity. And the names of them were Aholah the elder, and Aholibah her sister: and they were mine, and they bare sons and daughters. Thus were their names; Samaria is Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah. (KJV 23:1-4)
God describes Jerusalem and Samaria as a pair of sisters who both end up metaphorically marrying God and then cheating on him. The image of the prostitute is predominant in Ezekiel as the ultimate in betrayal.
For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four deadly acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild animals, and pestilence, to cut off humans and animals from it! Yet, survivors shall be left in it, sons and daughters who will be brought out; they will come out to you. When you see their ways and their deeds, you will be consoled for the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, for all that I have brought upon it. They shall console you, when you see their ways and their deeds; and you shall know that it was not without cause that I did all that I have done in it, says the Lord God. (NRSV 14:21-23)
For thus saith the Lord God; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast? Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it. And they shall comfort you, when ye see their ways and their doings: and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord God. (KJV 14:21-23)
So, God's not going to totally finish everybody off. He'll leave survivors—this isn't a total, scorched-earth kind of deal. Once the people see the new improved generation of Israel, they'll understand why God did what he did. Do you think that would be enough consolation to the nation?
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. (NRSV 34:11-13)
For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. (KJV 34:11-13)
God transforms from bringer of wrath to shepherd leading his people back home. This is a key moment in Ezekiel. It's what the prophecy has been leading up to: the return to Israel as promised.
I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. (NRSV 34:14-16)
I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. (KJV 34:14-16)
God says he's specifically going to save people who are weak and lack power. He tends to attack people who have power as being the most corrupt. This is a powerful ethical statement. The most vulnerable of society will be protected.
I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 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 statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 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. (NRSV 36:24-28)
For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. (KJV 36:24-28)
God says that the House of Israel is going to undergo a truly radical transformation. After all these sufferings, they'll finally receive a new heart and actually be capable of doing what they weren't able to do before. This is a really beautiful passage. All's right with the world. The relationship between God and Israel was like it used to be.
I will save you from all your uncleannesses, and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field abundant, so that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you shall remember your evil ways, and your dealings that were not good; and you shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominable deeds. 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. (NRSV 36:29-32)
I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen. Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel. (KJV 36:29-32)
In Isaiah, everyone lives in a state of peace and total bliss after God restores Israel. In Ezekiel, God rewards people with more earthly things… Yeah, not quite as amazing, but it's definitely better than things were during the Babylonian conquest.
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, Mortal, can these bones live?' I answered, 'O Lord God, you know. Then he said to me, Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord. (NRSV 37:1-6)
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. (KJV 37:1-6)
This predicts the restoration of the House of Israel from a state that had seemed like death. But it also seems to hint at a real resurrection of the dead, probably the most consoling thing a person could imagine. We're not sure how the House of Israel understood this story when Ezekiel told it to them, but it had to give them reason to hope.
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.' I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. (NRSV 37:7-10)
So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. (KJV 37:7-10)
This continues the "Valley of Dry Bones" vision—here, it implies that the spirit of true prophecy helps revive people who were trapped in sin, a death-like state. It's also reassuring that the newly revived people were a pretty huge group, who could hold their own when they returned home and had to deal with other tribes.
He said to me, This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. (NRSV 47:8-9)
Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh. (KJV 47:8-9)
This vision could be interpreted as meaning that the Dead Sea will literally be turned into a freshwater sea. But it seems to mean that the land of Judah, which had once seemed dead will come to life again and be healed of all their wicked and polluted ways.
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. (NRSV 34:23-24)
And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it. (KJV 34:23-24)
God says he'll grant his people their dream of perfect rulership: David as king again. But, in this case, it probably refers to a righteous descendant of David or, at least, to someone as good as David. David's always held up as the ideal monarch, even though he had his share of lapses, like killing off Bathsheba's husband so he could marry her. But he was repentant and anyway, he wrote those amazing Psalms.
I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely. I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase. They shall be secure on their soil; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and save them from the hands of those who enslaved them. (NRSV 34:25-27)
And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing. And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land, and shall know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bands of their yoke, and delivered them out of the hand of those that served themselves of them. (KJV 34:25-27)
God promises a perfectly domesticated land to his people: most of the attributes of wildness will be weeded out. The country will be more perfectly adjusted to human needs. What a turnaround from the previous 34 chapters, right? It's things like this that made The Onion wonder about God's state of mind.
Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the towns to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. The land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined towns are now inhabited and fortified. Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places, and replanted that which was desolate; I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do it. (NRSV 36:33-36)
Thus saith the Lord God; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited. Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the Lord build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate: I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it. (KJV 36:33-36)
God promises to make the land like Eden—which makes sense, in a way, because the people will (supposedly) have overcome the same tendencies towards disobedience that got humanity expelled from Eden in the first place. The House of Israel does this a lot. There's an ongoing cycle of disobedience and reconciliation.
Then he said to me, Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely. Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord. (NRSV 37:11-14)
Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord. (KJV 37:11-14)
God's saying that he'll resurrect Israel as a kingdom and a nation. Since part of the plan all along has been to make the descendants of Abraham as numerous as the stars, grains of sand, etc. etc. , he can't very well count on just the returned exiles and exhausted survivors to replenish the nation. One new idea in Ezekiel is that both the Northern Kingdom and the Southern (Judah) will be restored. Since the northern Kingdom had already been gone for 150 years, this was a pretty amazing idea.
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. (NRSV 38:21-23)
And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord God: every man's sword shall be against his brother. And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord. (KJV 38:21-23)
Gog is a representation of evil human power at its absolute worst—a kind of forerunner of the Anti-Christ who would appear in the Book of Revelation (although Gog appears in Revelation too). The way this confrontation is described, it's clear that God has this all planned out from the get-go, and Gog was just a puppet in the plan.
Therefore thus says the Lord God: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for my holy name. They shall forget their shame, and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they live securely in their land with no one to make them afraid, when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies' lands, and through them have displayed my holiness in the sight of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind; and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God. (NRSV 39:25-29)
Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Now will I bring again the captivity of Jacob, and have mercy upon the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for my holy name; after that they have borne their shame, and all their trespasses whereby they have trespassed against me, when they dwelt safely in their land, and none made them afraid. When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies' lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations; then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there. Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord God. (KJV 39:25-29)
God promises that he won't abandon his people or turn his face from them, again. This passages poses certain problems, since disasters continue to befall the House of Israel (the Greeks conquer and persecute them, and the Romans later destroy the Temple a second time). Maybe God means this conditionally ("I won't turn my face from you again, if you behave well"). Anyway it sounds like an eternal plan.
In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me there. He brought me, in visions of God, to the land of Israel, and set me down upon a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. When he brought me there, a man was there, whose appearance shone like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand; and he was standing in the gateway. The man said to me, Mortal, look closely and listen attentively, and set your mind upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you; declare all that you see to the house of Israel. (NRSV 40:1-4)
In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten, in the selfsame day the hand of the Lord was upon me, and brought me thither. In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city on the south. And he brought me thither, and, behold, there was a man, whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed; and he stood in the gate. And the man said unto me, Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee; for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee art thou brought hither: declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel. (KJV 40:1-4)
The rebuilding of the Temple is a hugely important part of God's plans for the future. The Temple actually was rebuilt after the Persian King, Cyrus the Great, allowed the Hebrew exiles to leave Babylon. And talk about plans—bronze guy has some very detailed instructions for the building of this Temple. The completion of the Temple, and God's presence returning to Jerusalem, is the culminating event of the grand plan God's been laying out to Ezekiel.
While the man was standing beside me, I heard someone speaking to me out of the temple. He said to me: Mortal, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet, where I will reside among the people of Israel forever. The house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they nor their kings, by their whoring, and by the corpses of their kings at their death. (NRSV 43:6-7)
And I heard him speaking unto me out of the house; and the man stood by me. And he said unto me, Son of man, the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever, and my holy name, shall the house of Israel no more defile, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoredom, nor by the carcasses of their kings in their high places. (KJV 43:6-7)
Throughout Ezekiel God's been withdrawing his presence from his people, until they reach the ultimate low and are trapped in exile. Here, he promises to restore his presence and even grants Ezekiel a vision of his return to the Temple.
People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. (NRSV 47:10-12)
And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from Engedi even unto Eneglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many. But the miry places thereof and the marshes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt. And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine. (KJV 47:10-12)
Part of the restoration plan is that there will be plenty to eat and drink, plus some of those herbal remedies if you get sick. But again, this vision has a symbolic meaning as well, of spiritual plenty and health.
Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it; you shall bear their punishment for the number of the days that you lie there. For I assign to you a number of days, three hundred ninety days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment; and so you shall bear the punishment of the house of Israel. When you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah; forty days I assign you, one day for each year. You shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and with your arm bared you shall prophesy against it. See, I am putting cords on you so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have completed the days of your siege. (NRSV 4:4-8)
Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year. Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it. And, behold, I will lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another, till thou hast ended the days of thy siege. (KJV 4:4-8)
This "performance art" is meant to provoke a reaction, where people are suddenly made aware of their behavior and are forced to change it. It's a more dramatic and maybe more effective way of changing their hearts and minds than simply denouncing them. At least we hope it is, for poor Ezekiel's sake.
My anger shall spend itself, and I will vent my fury on them and satisfy myself; and they shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken in my jealousy, when I spend my fury on them. Moreover I will make you a desolation and an object of mocking among the nations around you, in the sight of all that pass by. You shall be a mockery and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious punishments—I, the Lord, have spoken—when I loose against you my deadly arrows of famine, arrows for destruction, which I will let loose to destroy you, and when I bring more and more famine upon you, and break your staff of bread. (NRSV 5:13-16)
Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted: and they shall know that I the Lord have spoken it in my zeal, when I have accomplished my fury in them. Moreover I will make thee waste, and a reproach among the nations that are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by. So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment unto the nations that are round about thee, when I shall execute judgments in thee in anger and in fury and in furious rebukes. I the Lord have spoken it. When I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, which shall be for their destruction, and which I will send to destroy you: and I will increase the famine upon you, and will break your staff of bread… (KJV 5:13-16)
This is God acting as judge, jury, and executioner—a good example of the threatened punishments he's leveling at Judah. What makes this judgment worse is that it's done in full view of the other nations. A public execution.
See, the day! See, it comes! Your doom has gone out. The rod has blossomed, pride has budded. Violence has grown into a rod of wickedness. None of them shall remain, not their abundance, not their wealth; no pre-eminence among them. The time has come, the day draws near; let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn, for wrath is upon all their multitude. (NRSV 7:10-12)
Behold the day, behold, it is come: the morning is gone forth; the rod hath blossomed, pride hath budded. Violence is risen up into a rod of wickedness: none of them shall remain, nor of their multitude, nor of any of theirs: neither shall there be wailing for them. The time is come, the day draweth near: let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn: for wrath is upon all the multitude thereof. (KJV 7:10-12)
God provides some more justification for his wrath: the people and their leaders have become too proud, which leads only to acts of oppression and violence. God needs to set them straight so they know without a doubt that all that pride and confidence is unjustified.
Therefore thus says the Lord God: I am against your bands with which you hunt lives; I will tear them from your arms, and let the lives go free, the lives that you hunt down like birds. I will tear off your veils, and save my people from your hands; they shall no longer be prey in your hands; and you shall know that I am the Lord. Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not disheartened them, and you have encouraged the wicked not to turn from their wicked way and save their lives; therefore you shall no longer see false visions or practice divination; I will save my people from your hand. Then you will know that I am the Lord (NRSV 13:20-23)
Wherefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against your pillows, wherewith ye there hunt the souls to make them fly, and I will tear them from your arms, and will let the souls go, even the souls that ye hunt to make them fly. Your kerchiefs also will I tear, and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand to be hunted; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life: Therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the Lord. (KJV 13:20-23)
Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will set my face against them; although they escape from the fire, the fire shall still consume them; and you shall know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them. And I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, says the Lord God. (NRSV 15:6-8)
Therefore thus saith the Lord God; As the vine tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will set my face against them; they shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them; and ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them. And I will make the land desolate, because they have committed a trespass, saith the Lord God. (KJV 15:6-8)
God compares Jerusalem to a worthless vine—one that doesn't give any fruit but is only good for fire. These verses make it clear that there's nowhere to hide.
Yet you say, Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father? When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own. (NRSV 18:19-20)
Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. (KJV 18:19-20)
Here, Ezekiel revises Moses. A bold move. Earlier, Moses' God had said that children would suffer for the crimes of their parents (Exodus 34:7). But Ezekiel says that this won't happen: individuals are only responsible for their own sins. How does this concept square with the fact that God destroyed all of Judah despite the fact that there had to be at least a few righteous people in it? Even Ezekiel was exiled, and he was a pretty righteous guy.
Therefore, mortal, speak to the house of Israel and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: In this again your ancestors blasphemed me, by dealing treacherously with me. For when I had brought them into the land that I swore to give them, then wherever they saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices and presented the provocation of their offering; there they sent up their pleasing odors, and there they poured out their drink offerings. (NRSV 20:27-28)
Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed me, in that they have committed a trespass against me. For when I had brought them into the land, for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to them, then they saw every high hill, and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering: there also they made their sweet savour, and poured out there their drink offerings. (KJV 20:27-28)
Making sacrifices to other gods right under God's nose in his own home? Not good. God brings this up a lot—that even in the beautiful land he gave them, with its trees and rivers and his personal dwelling place, they still forget him.
The word of the Lord came to me: You, mortal, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city? Then declare to it all its abominable deeds. You shall say, Thus says the Lord God: A city! Shedding blood within itself; its time has come; making its idols, defiling itself. You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made; you have brought your day near, the appointed time of your years has come. Therefore I have made you a disgrace before the nations, and a mockery to all the countries. Those who are near and those who are far from you will mock you, you infamous one, full of tumult. (NRSV 22:1-5)
Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Now, thou son of man, wilt thou judge, wilt thou judge the bloody city? yea, thou shalt shew her all her abominations. Then say thou, Thus saith the Lord God, The city sheddeth blood in the midst of it, that her time may come, and maketh idols against herself to defile herself. Thou art become guilty in thy blood that thou hast shed; and hast defiled thyself in thine idols which thou hast made; and thou hast caused thy days to draw near, and art come even unto thy years: therefore have I made thee a reproach unto the heathen, and a mocking to all countries. Those that be near, and those that be far from thee, shall mock thee, which art infamous and much vexed. (KJV 22:1-5)
God continues to condemn his people's actions, here focusing on their persecution and murder of the innocent.
…[S]peak, and say, Thus says the Lord God: I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon sprawling in the midst of its channels, saying, 'My Nile is my own; I made it for myself.' I will put hooks in your jaws, and make the fish of your channels stick to your scales. I will draw you up from your channels, with all the fish of your channels sticking to your scales. I will fling you into the wilderness, you and all the fish of your channels; you shall fall in the open field, and not be gathered and buried. To the animals of the earth and to the birds of the air I have given you as food. (NRSV 29:3-5)
Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself. But I will put hooks in thy jaws, and I will cause the fish of thy rivers to stick unto thy scales, and I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers, and all the fish of thy rivers shall stick unto thy scales. And I will leave thee thrown into the wilderness, thee and all the fish of thy rivers: thou shalt fall upon the open fields; thou shalt not be brought together, nor gathered: I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven. (KJV 29:3-5)
Ezekiel depicts Pharaoh like the Leviathan from Isaiah 27:1—a wicked being that God will yank out of its watery abode and kill. This is another of those dramatic passages with graphic and fearful imagery that makes Ezekiel so unique.
On that day I will give to Gog a place for burial in Israel, the Valley of the Travelers east of the sea; it shall block the path of the travelers, for there Gog and all his horde will be buried; it shall be called the Valley of Hamon-gog. Seven months the house of Israel shall spend burying them, in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land shall bury them; and it will bring them honor on the day that I show my glory, says the Lord God. (NRSV 39:11-13)
And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will give unto Gog a place there of graves in Israel, the valley of the passengers on the east of the sea: and it shall stop the noses of the passengers: and there shall they bury Gog and all his multitude: and they shall call it The valley of Hamongog. And seven months shall the house of Israel be burying of them, that they may cleanse the land. Yea, all the people of the land shall bury them; and it shall be to them a renown the day that I shall be glorified, saith the Lord God." (KJV 39:11-13)
The burial of Gog is more than just the aftermath of Gog's defeat—it's a symbol for the end of human power, a sign that the people are entering a world where there is only divine power, triumphing over everything else. The judgment on Gog is the ultimate demonstration of God's power.
He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. (NRSV 2:1-3)
And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. (KJV 2:1-3)
The power of God physically knocks Ezekiel over. From the first moment, we see that Ezekiel is totally in God's power. He loses control over his mind (those crazy visions) and his body.
When he commanded the man clothed in linen, Take fire from within the wheelwork, from among the cherubim, he went in and stood beside a wheel. And a cherub stretched out his hand from among the cherubim to the fire that was among the cherubim, took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out. The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under their wings. (NRSV 10:6-8)
And it came to pass, that when he had commanded the man clothed with linen, saying, Take fire from between the wheels, from between the cherubims; then he went in, and stood beside the wheels. And one cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubims unto the fire that was between the cherubims, and took thereof, and put it into the hands of him that was clothed with linen: who took it, and went out. And there appeared in the cherubims the form of a man's hand under their wings" (KJV 10:6-8)
All of this imagery—fire, wheels, weird cherubim with human hands—seems to demonstrate how divine power isn't only really powerful but also comes from a transcendent source, way beyond the possibilities of human power. All this supernatural imagery seems to say, "Don't even try to understand this."
Say: Thus says the Lord God: A great eagle, with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colors, came to the Lebanon. He took the top of the cedar, broke off its topmost shoot; he carried it to a land of trade, set it in a city of merchants. Then he took a seed from the land, placed it in fertile soil; a plant by abundant waters, he set it like a willow twig. It sprouted and became a vine spreading out, but low; its branches turned toward him, its roots remained where it stood. So it became a vine; it brought forth branches, put forth foliage. (NRSV 17:3-6)
And say, Thus saith the Lord God; A great eagle with great wings, longwinged, full of feathers, which had divers colours, came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar: He cropped off the top of his young twigs, and carried it into a land of traffick; he set it in a city of merchants. He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field; he placed it by great waters, and set it as a willow tree. And it grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned toward him, and the roots thereof were under him: so it became a vine, and brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs. (KJV 17:3-6)
The eagle in this passage represents King Nebuchadnezzar, carrying off the shoot (King Jehoiachin,) before replacing him with the seed, Zedekiah. Even though these kings brought about catastrophic events for Israel, God was the real power behind their actions. Ezekiel doesn't let Israel forget that the solutions to their problems can't be found in political alliances.
He prowled among the lions; he became a young lion, and he learned to catch prey; he devoured people. And he ravaged their strongholds, and laid waste their towns; the land was appalled, and all in it, at the sound of his roaring. The nations set upon him from the provinces all around; they spread their net over him; he was caught in their pit. With hooks they put him in a cage, and brought him to the king of Babylon; they brought him into custody, so that his voice should be heard no more on the mountains of Israel. (NRSV 19:6-9)
And he went up and down among the lions, he became a young lion, and learned to catch the prey, and devoured men. And he knew their desolate palaces, and he laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the fulness thereof, by the noise of his roaring. Then the nations set against him on every side from the provinces, and spread their net over him: he was taken in their pit. And they put him in ward in chains, and brought him to the king of Babylon: they brought him into holds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel. (KJV 19:6-9)
Who's more powerful than the King of the Jungle, right? This is another allegory to show that, regardless how fierce and powerful, kings and princes can be brought down pretty easily.
Mortal, prophesy and say: Thus says the Lord; Say: A sword, a sword is sharpened, it is also polished; it is sharpened for slaughter, honed to flash like lightning! How can we make merry? You have despised the rod, and all discipline. The sword is given to be polished, to be grasped in the hand; it is sharpened, the sword is polished, to be placed in the slayer's hand." (NRSV 21:9-11)
Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus saith the Lord; Say, A sword, a sword is sharpened, and also furbished: It is sharpened to make a sore slaughter; it is furbished that it may glitter: should we then make mirth? it contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree. And he hath given it to be furbished, that it may be handled: this sword is sharpened, and it is furbished, to give it into the hand of the slayer. (KJV 21:9-11)
God talks a lot about his destructive sword—which isn't a literal sword, so much as it is the wrathful force he's unleashing on the world in the form of the Babylonian army. The suspense in these verses is incredible. You can almost see the swords being sharpened. To paraphrase that other master of horror, Alfred Hitchcock, the terror isn't in the slaughter, it's in the anticipation of the slaughter. God knows how to tell a story for maximum effect.
When your wares came from the seas, you satisfied many peoples; with your abundant wealth and merchandise you enriched the kings of the earth. Now you are wrecked by the seas, in the depths of the waters; your merchandise and all your crew have sunk with you. All the inhabitants of the coastlands are appalled at you; and their kings are horribly afraid, their faces are convulsed. (NRSV 27:33-35)
When thy wares went forth out of the seas, thou filledst many people; thou didst enrich the kings of the earth with the multitude of thy riches and of thy merchandise. In the time when thou shalt be broken by the seas in the depths of the waters thy merchandise and all thy company in the midst of thee shall fall. All the inhabitants of the isles shall be astonished at thee, and their kings shall be sore afraid, they shall be troubled in their countenance. (KJV 27:33-35)
Ezekiel predicts that Tyre will be utterly destroyed—mainly, as punishment for taking pride in its wealth and failing to behave justly. (Though God changes his mind later and destroys Egypt instead.)
"With an anointed cherub as guardian I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked among the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day that you were created, until iniquity was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you out from among the stones of fire." (NRSV 28:14-16)
Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. (KJV 28:14-16)
This story is in case we need any more proof that the power of the rulers can be fleeting and taken away whenever God feels like it. One sure way to lose your power as a ruler is to get too confident about it.
…[A]nd the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they shall know that I am the Lord. Because you said, 'The Nile is mine, and I made it,' therefore, I am against you, and against your channels, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Ethiopia. No human foot shall pass through it, and no animal foot shall pass through it; it shall be uninhabited forty years. (NRSV 29:9-11)
And the land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste; and they shall know that I am the Lord: because he hath said, The river is mine, and I have made it. Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia. No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years. (KJV 29:9-11)
Pharaoh finds out the hard way not to think of himself as all that. This is getting predictable: as soon as you're too stuck on your own power and fabulousness, the party's over. And You-Know-Who is the bouncer.
Be ready and keep ready, you and all the companies that are assembled around you, and hold yourselves in reserve for them. After many days you shall be mustered; in the latter years you shall go against a land restored from war, a land where people were gathered from many nations on the mountains of Israel, which had long lain waste; its people were brought out from the nations and now are living in safety, all of them. You shall advance, coming on like a storm; you shall be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your troops, and many peoples with you. (NRSV 38:7-9)
Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them. After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them. Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee. (KJV 38:7-9)
God tells Gog to go out and attack Israel. Of course, Gog's going to be defeated, and the good guys will finally win and rule. Gog only has the illusion of power. In reality, God calls the shots and the outcome is already determined. God really plays Gog here, appealing to Gog's sense of his own power.
And you, mortal, prophesy against Gog, and say: Thus says the Lord God: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal! I will turn you around and drive you forward, and bring you up from the remotest parts of the north, and lead you against the mountains of Israel. I will strike your bow from your left hand, and will make your arrows drop out of your right hand. You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your troops and the peoples that are with you; I will give you to birds of prey of every kind and to the wild animals to be devoured. You shall fall in the open field; for I have spoken, says the Lord God. (NRSV 39:1-5)
Therefore, thou son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: And I will turn thee back, and leave but the sixth part of thee, and will cause thee to come up from the north parts, and will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel: And I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand, and will cause thine arrows to fall out of thy right hand. Thou shalt fall upon the mountains of Israel, thou, and all thy bands, and the people that is with thee: I will give thee unto the ravenous birds of every sort, and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. Thou shalt fall upon the open field: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God. (KJV 39:1-5)
This is the big moment—the moment when human power finally fully gives away to divine power. According to Ezekiel, this final showdown will take place in the future.
As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf's foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another; each of them moved straight ahead, without turning as they moved. As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle; such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. (NRSV 1:4-11)
And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. (KJV 1:4-11)
Commentators have struggled with various explanations for this vision, striking as it is. Regardless of its meaning, it's clearly an ecstatic experience for Ezekiel where's he's transported to a different realm of consciousness.
As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl; and the four had the same form, their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel. When they moved, they moved in any of the four directions without veering as they moved. Their rims were tall and awesome, for the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When they moved, the others moved; when they stopped, the others stopped; and when they rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (NRSV 1:15-21)
Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. (KJV 1:15-21)
The wheels are one of the most mysterious details in the vision. Their ability to roll in any direction might be meant to indicate God's omnipotence (his ability to be present anywhere and exercise power anywhere) and the eyes in the wheels might be meant to indicate God's awareness of everything. At this point, Ezekiel doesn't understand what he's seeing, but he knows he's being given access to a supernatural experience.
Over the heads of the living creatures there was something like a dome, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads. Under the dome their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another; and each of the creatures had two wings covering its body. When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army; when they stopped, they let down their wings. And there came a voice from above the dome over their heads; when they stopped, they let down their wings. And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form. (NRSV 1:22-26)
And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one toward the other: every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two, which covered on that side, their bodies. And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings. And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings. And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. (KJV 1:22-26)
Finally Ezekiel sees "the likeness of the glory of God"—or, "something that seemed like a human form." Since God himself is beyond human knowledge, this is as close as humans can get. The vision has been getting more and more intense, and it culminates in this likeness of God, which proceeds to speak to him.
He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. (NRSV 2:1-2)
And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. (KJV 2:1-2)
"Spake"—we love it. The power of God not only knocks Ezekiel over, but also picks him back up. By this point, Ezekiel doesn't even seem to be operating under his own power. He's on a totally different wavelength. At least he now realizes that the wheels and the cherubs and the flames were the path to this encounter with God.
I looked, and there was a figure that looked like a human being; below what appeared to be its loins it was fire, and above the loins it was like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming amber. It stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and the spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, to the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. And the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I had seen in the valley. (NRSV 8:2-4)
Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire: from the appearance of his loins even downward, fire; and from his loins even upward, as the appearance of brightness, as the colour of amber. And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy. And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain. (KJV 8:2-4)
At this point, even Ezekiel's geographic reality changes as he's whisked away from where he is and plunked down in front of the Temple in Jerusalem, his former home. The purpose of this mystical journey is probably getting clearer to Ezekiel. He's meant to be shown something in the holy Temple. Maybe it's all starting to make some kind of sense to him.
And there, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east; the sound was like the sound of mighty waters; and the earth shone with his glory. The vision I saw was like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and like the vision that I had seen by the river Chebar; and I fell upon my face. As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and the glory of the Lord filled the Temple. (NRSV 43:2-5)
And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory. And it was according to the appearance of the vision which I saw, even according to the vision that I saw when I came to destroy the city: and the visions were like the vision that I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell upon my face. And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east. So the spirit took me up, and brought me into the inner court; and, behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house. (KJV 43:2-5)
Just as he had seen God departing the Temple, Ezekiel sees God re-entering it, in the future. His vision goes from abandonment to restoration and renewal. He's been given a glimpse of two entirely versions of reality. After living with visions of destruction and wrath, what must it have been like for him to experience this dramatic change of direction?
Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; and I looked, and lo! the glory of the Lord filled the Temple of the Lord; and I fell upon my face. (NRSV 44:4)
Then brought me the way of the north gate before the house: and I looked, and, behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord: and I fell upon my face. (KJV 44:4)
We see, once more, Ezekiel being overpowered by the divine vision—as it triumphantly returns to assume its place in Jerusalem. These prophets had a very strange existence. One minute they're walking around in their home towns and the next they're seeing visions and hearing God's voice. They have to have a foot in both worlds, because they're the conduit between God and the people.