Ezekiel was a vital prophet for Israel and Judah while in captivity. He was a descendant of the influential priestly family of Zadok (Ezek. 1:3). This would mean that he was raised in Jerusalem and was familiar with the temple rituals, but we can’t be sure if he served in the temple. Given that he was likely 25-30 years old while in Babylon would lead me to believe that he had not served in the temple (Num. 8:24-26). Most don’t realize that he was married (Ezek. 24:16-18) and was living in Babylon when he received the call to speak for God (Ezek. 1:1-3:11).
There is a lot of history and dates to remember when we consider God’s people and the work of the major prophets. If we are going to understand Ezekiel it is important to have an idea of the history of Israel and Judah’s punishment by God. After many years of disobedience, God has determined it is time to punish the people of Israel for their sins.
The Assyrian captivity of Israel had been 120 years earlier. In 734 B.C., Galilee with the North and East countries of Israel were taken captive by Tiglath-pileser. In 721 B.C., Samaria and the rest of Israel were taken captive by Sargon. In 701 B.C., 200,000 citizens of Judah were taken into captivity by Sennacherib.
The Babylonian captivity of Judah also happened in 3 phases. In 606 B.C., some captives (the royal family and citizens of distinction) were taken to Babylon, including Daniel and his friends. In 597 B.C., even more, captives were taken to Babylon which included Ezekiel. In 586 B.C., Jerusalem is burned, the temple is destroyed, and King Zedekiah is blinded and carried in captivity. 5 years later (581 B.C.) the Babylonians came and took 745 captives (Jer. 52:30), even after a large group had escaped to Egypt which included Jeremiah (Jer. 43).
The captivity and punishment of Israel and Judah lasted 70 years (Jer. 25:11).
Most people refer to Ezekiel as “the prophet of the captivity” but that is not true since he is not the only one prophet during this time. Daniel has been in captivity for around 9 years when Ezekiel arrives and had already attained a notable level of fame. Daniel was “the prophet of the palace” while Ezekiel was “the prophet with the people.” He spent most of his time out in the countryside with the people. What is most intriguing to me is that Ezekiel and Daniel probably knew each other and could have spoken often. Ezekiel’s relationship to Jeremiah is intriguing as well. Ezekiel is in captivity preaching the same message that Jeremiah is preaching in Jerusalem. Jeremiah is older which means that Ezekiel could have been familiar with him before he was taken into captivity. It is possible that he was a student of Jeremiah and had spent time with him before his captivity. Like Jeremiah, the main thrust of Ezekiel’s message was that Judah was going to face God and His judgment.
The book of Ezekiel is an intriguing and challenging book meant to give us hope and courage as we face life’s most difficult times; times when God punishes us for sins. Amid the hardships of life and sin; God is still loving, kind, and merciful to His people.
“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
Ezekiel 11:19–20 (ESV)