What are 10 Things I Should Know About Ezekiel?

By Clement Harrold

May 10

1) He is the third of the four major prophets. Whereas Jewish tradition considers Ezekiel to be the last of the great prophets (after Isaiah and Jeremiah), Christian tradition lists Daniel as a fourth.

2) He is an exilic prophet. Ezekiel, whose name means  “God makes strong,” lived and preached during the time of the Babylonian Exile, a calamitous period in the history of Israel marked by political and spiritual desolation. A major theme in his writings is the comparison of Israel to an adulterous bride, due to her repeated infidelity towards Yahweh.

3) We know exactly when he lived. Ezekiel took careful note of the day, month, and year on which he received major revelations, and these are recorded throughout his book. Even skeptical scholars accept that the book is the work of his own hand, and that his public ministry occurred in the B.C. 590s-570s. Ezekiel came from a high-ranking priestly family, and was therefore deported from Israel in the second (and largest) of the three waves of the Babylonian Exile. He is thought to have been aged twenty-five at the time. He then received the first of his visions in his thirtieth year, the traditional age for the beginning of priestly service (see Ezek 1:1).

4) His book follows a clear literary structure. Thanks to Ezekiel’s formal education, his writing is much more structured than many of the other prophetic books. The work can be roughly divided into four parts: his ministry prior to the destruction of Jerusalem (Ezek 1-24), his oracles against the nations that oppose Israel (Ezek 25-32), his prophecies of the coming restoration for God’s people after their exile (Ezek 33-39), and his vision of a new Temple and a new liturgy (Ezek 40-48).

5) His writing feels bizarre in places. Not unlike the New Testament book of Revelation, the book of Ezekiel contains lots of mysterious and sometimes surreal imagery. At times the prophet is driven to do some unconventional things, like shaving his head (see Ezek 5:1-17) or baking bread over a pile of burning dung (see Ezek 4:9-13)! Like many of the prophets, Ezekiel engages in these intentionally exaggerated and jarring forms of behavior in an attempt to shake people out of their apathy. By baking bread over burning dung, for example, he symbolizes his descent into the depths of moral filth which have consumed the children of Israel.

6) He received his calling from a flying chariot. Ezekiel chapter 1 relates how the prophet received his divine commission when the glory of the Lord, enthroned in human form, appeared to Him on a chariot descending from the sky. Strikingly, the chariot-throne was composed of four living creatures: a human, an eagle, an ox, and a lion. In later Christian tradition, these four creatures came to be used as symbols for the four evangelists: Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark respectively (cf. Rev 4:6-7).

7) Liturgy is central to his work. Ezekiel is living and prophesying in the wake of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple at the hands of the Babylonians. In the face of this national identity crisis for the Jewish people, he boldly foresees the building of a future, eschatological Temple, breathtaking in its size and beauty (see Ezek 40-42). This new Temple—begun in the Catholic Church and fulfilled in Heaven—stands at the physical center and spiritual heart of the envisioned future society.

8) His book was very influential on John and Revelation. While Ezekiel’s influence is felt throughout the New Testament, it is the fourth Gospel and the final book of the Bible which allude to his writings the most. For example, both works draw on Ezekiel’s imagery of the new Temple as the source of living water for all Israel (see Ezek 47):

Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (Jn 7:37-38)

Jesus cites Ezekiel in order to identify Himself as the new Temple! This theme is echoed at the end of the book of Revelation, when the living waters are described as flowing from the heavenly throne (see Rev 21:1-2; 22:1).

9) “Newness” is a major theme in his visions. Like all the prophets, Ezekiel points forward to future restoration and fulfillment. In addition to a new Temple, he envisions new priestly leadership for Israel, a new Exodus, and a new Spirit. He is the source of the famous hope expressed in chapter 36 of God one day replacing His people’s hearts of stone with hearts of flesh (see Ezek 36:24-28), as well as the dramatic vision of chapter 37 when the valley of dry bones is transformed into a new and living creation.

10) He acknowledges the imperfections in the Mosaic Covenant. Ezekiel repeatedly condemns the people of Israel for their infidelity to the Mosaic Law. At the same time, he readily acknowledges that the various prescriptions found in the Pentateuch will not last forever, and that they point forward to the spiritual perfection which Christ will one day bring (see Ezek 20:25-26).

Further Reading:


John Bergsma and Brant Pitre, A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament (Ignatius Press, 2018)

Clement Harrold is a graduate student in theology at the University of Notre Dame. His writings have appeared in First ThingsChurch Life JournalCrisis Magazine, and the Washington Examiner. He earned his bachelor's degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2021.

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