Ezekiel was a priest (Ezek. 1:3), but he never served in that office because he was taken captive to Babylon during the reign of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:10–16), who was the king of Judah who followed Jehoiakim. It was during the eleven–year reign of Jehoiakim that the first deportation took place when Daniel was taken captive. Jehoiachin then came to the throne and reigned only three months. In 597 B.C. the second deportation took place, and Ezekiel was taken captive.
Ezekiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel. Jeremiah was an old man at this time. He had begun his ministry as a young man during the reign of young King Josiah. He had remained with the remnant in the land and then was taken by them down into Egypt. Therefore his ministry at this time was confined to the remnant in Egypt. Daniel had been taken into the court of the king of Babylon and had become his prime minister. Ezekiel, then, was with the captives who had been brought down to the rivers of Babylon. The captives had been placed by the great canal that came off the River Euphrates, which was several miles from Babylon itself. Ezekiel’s ministry was among those people.
Psalm 137 is the psalm of the remnant in Babylon: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof” (Ps. 137:1–2). But at the same time Ezekiel writes: “The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezek. 1:1). What a contrast! While these people had already put their harps on a willow tree and sat down to weep, this man Ezekiel was seeing visions of God!
Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel were all prophets, but each had a particular and peculiar ministry to a certain group of people, and apparently they never came into contact with each other. From the record in the Book of Daniel you would not gather that Daniel ever visited his people in Babylon where Ezekiel was; yet he had a great concern for them and he actually defended them. But did Daniel and Jeremiah know each other? Well, we know from his book that Daniel was acquainted with the prophecies of Jeremiah. I have a notion that as a young man in his teens he listened to Jeremiah in Jerusalem. Ezekiel also was a young man when he was taken captive, and he too had probably heard Jeremiah, but had no personal acquaintance with Daniel.
The message of Ezekiel is the most spiritual of all the prophets because he dealt particularly with the Person of God. Someone has said, “Ezekiel is the prophet of the Spirit, as Isaiah is the prophet of the Son, and Jeremiah the prophet of the Father.”
During the first years of the captivity the false prophets were still saying that the people were going to return to Jerusalem and that the city would not be destroyed. The city was not destroyed even at the time of the second deportation. It was not until about 586 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar came against the city the third time, that he burned and destroyed Jerusalem. Therefore for a period of about ten years, these false prophets were saying that the people would return and the city would not be destroyed. Jeremiah had sent a message to Babylon saying the city would be destroyed, and Ezekiel confirmed his message. He warned the people that they must turn to God before they could return to Jerusalem. When the time came, a very small remnant did turn to God, and they returned to Jerusalem very discouraged.
Ezekiel began his ministry five years after he was taken captive at about the age of thirty. In many ways, he spoke in the darkest days of the nation. He stood at the bottom of a valley in the darkest corner. He had to meet the false hope given by the false prophets and the indifference and despondency begotten in the days of sin and disaster. The people would not listen to his message. Therefore, he resorted to a new method. Instead of speaking in parables, as the Lord Jesus did, he acted out the parables. He actually did some very interesting stunts. We read in Ezekiel 24:24, “Thus Ezekiel is unto you a sign: according to all that he hath done shall ye do: and when this cometh, ye shall know that I am the Lord GOD.” The people would not listen to his words, so he would act them out, and he attracted a great deal of attention that way.
We have folk who use this very same method today. We have placard carriers, flagpole sitters, and walkathons. People do these things to attract attention and gain publicity. This, too, was Ezekiel’s method. One time he walked into a house, locked himself in, and then started digging himself out. When he came out, he came out in the middle of the street! Here in Pasadena, California, it is nothing new to be digging in the middle of the street, for the city workers keep digging up the streets all the time. But in Ezekiel’s time, when a man came up out of the middle of the street one day, people naturally gathered around and said, “What’s the big idea?” Ezekiel had a message for them, and he gave it to them (see Ezek. 12:8–16).
Ezekiel is the prophet of the glory of the Lord. There were three prophets of Israel who spoke when they were out of the land. They are Ezekiel, Daniel, and John (who wrote from the island of Patmos). All three of these men wrote what is called an apocalypse. They all used highly symbolic language; yet they saw the brightest light and held the highest hope of all the prophets. Ezekiel saw the Shekinah glory of the Lord leave Solomon’s temple, but he also saw the return of the glory of the Lord which was projected into the future and will come to pass during the Kingdom Age, or the Millennium.
The meaning of Ezekiel is seen in this coming of the glory during the Kingdom Age. Ezekiel looked beyond the sufferings of Christ to the glory that should follow. As Peter said of the prophets, they saw the sufferings and they saw the glory that would follow (1 Pet. 1:11). I think Ezekiel saw it better than any of the other prophets.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 25: Ezekiel. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)