When did the Prophet Ezekiel live?
Prophet Ezekiel made his debut as God’s Prophet in the July of 592 B.C.
The book of Ezekiel opens by narrating his call at Tel Abib, which is located on the banks of the river Chebar in Babylon.
“In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” Ezekiel 1:1
After understanding the magnitude of his call, the Prophet Ezekiel was dumbfounded, and he remained seated in silence for 7 days.
God had to give him a second call (in chapter two) for him to accept that he had indeed been called to be a watchman of God’s people.
Prophet Ezekiel is the successor of the Prophet Isaiah, but unlike his predecessor, he is with the captives in a foreign land.
The purpose of his call is made clear when he is given a scroll that had “lamentations and mourning and woe” written on both sides.
“Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.” Ezekiel 2:9-10
As such, the Prophet Ezekiel became the mournful character representing the dismay of God and his people who were now in captivity.
Ezekiel – before captivity
Examining Ezekiel’s life before captivity can help us understand the time and circumstances in which he lived.
While there is little information on his life before the call, we can extrapolate through backward projection to get a good picture of the kind of life he led.
Ezekiel was the son of Buzi, who was a descendant of Aaron. As such, Ezekiel hailed from the priestly lineage.
Even though he was probably too young to have participated in Josiah’s reformation (623 BC), he must have felt the impact of the reform of King Josiah, who worked with the priests to restore the true worship of Jehovah.
Prophet Ezekiel must have lived under the ensuing revival that swept over the nation of Israel.
He probably sympathized with the Prophet Jeremiah’s struggle in trying to convert King Jehoiakim from his apostasy.
Ezekiel must have been gripped with sadness as he witnessed Nebuchadnezzar make his first draft from Jerusalem during the reign of King Jehoiakim.
After Jehoiakim’s death, his youthful son, Jehoiachin, succeeds him, and Ezekiel has high hopes that he will change things.
Like most people, Ezekiel hoped that a new and younger leader would birth the change that was desperately needed in Israel.
We know this because of his lament in chapter 19 concerning a young lion.
In this context, Jeoiachin was the young lion that he hoped would restore the nation back to God – the way young Josiah had.
Unfortunately, he was disappointed, and that attracted God’s judgment as promised by Jeremiah.
Only three months after Jehoiachin’s rise to power, King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and carried all the young people with the treasurers into Babylon.
Ezekiel was among the young men who were placed at Tel Abib by the banks of river Chebar.
Even though they enjoyed some form of liberty (e.g., they could sit and enjoy themselves by the banks), they were still in captivity and desired nothing more than to go back home.
The Prophet of the exiles
The book of Ezekiel is addressed to his exiled community.
That’s because Ezekiel was called to be a prophet to the exiles.
We can infer this from the fact that he was called while among the captives (1:1), but this is made clear in God’s charge for him to address the exiles.
And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people Ezekiel 3:11
While he conveyed God’s message to the captives, Ezekiel knew that God would eventually restore his people.
He longed for the time when God would restore the house and kingdom of David. However, he also had to see the nucleus of a new nation that was forming right before his eyes in exile.
As such, he focused on the people he was with in captivity because he hoped they would be the catalysts of the change that was badly needed.
He reckoned that the restoration of his people would start with God gathering the exiles from their lands of captivity and then reuniting them with those still in Jerusalem.
Even though they had contact with the free Jews that had been left in Jerusalem, Ezekiel considered those in exile the real nation of Israel.
He understood that the change in heart would start with those in exiles because God was addressing them when he said:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27
It is highly probable that the message of Ezekiel was delivered to live audiences.
The picture of Ezekiel seated next to the captives by the river Chebar confirms this.
He would probably deliver the message to the audience at this or other locations.
This also confirms that the Prophet Ezekiel lived during the time Israel was taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar.
As we have already established, Ezekiel was specifically called to the Jews in captivity.
He was not just to be a prophet but a “teaching priest.”
It was incumbent upon him to reveal God’s plan for the restoration of his people. However, he was also to remind them that the judgment upon the nation wouldn’t be as quick and easy as they had imagined.
Ezekiel’s message was clear – yes, there was hope, but not anytime soon.
This message didn’t sit well with his hearers, and they rejected his declarations.
They believed that they would return to Judea very soon. However, Ezekiel continued to teach and rebuke them that God had given them into the hands of their enemy as punishment for their sinful ways.
Ezekiel reminded them that Jerusalem was stained with the blood of his servants and that it was defiled by their perpetual unfaithfulness. As such, the nation would be overthrown.
But the Prophet also taught that they had a way out of the current quagmire.
If they broke away from their past ways, then they would attract God’s divine favor. However, the nation rejected Ezekiel’s message and held on to their stubborn fanaticism.
Therefore, God told him to stop delivering the message and lock himself in a room that he would only come out of when God had a special message for his people.
From 592 B.C. (when he was called) until 588 B.C. (the 9th year of his captivity), there are several prophetic utterances that he made on the theme of judgment due to Israel’s sins.
The first group of prophecies is related to his call in the first year of captivity.
The second batch was declared a year later (591 B.C.), followed by some more warnings that were given in 590 B.C. After these, we next hear from the Prophet around the end of 588 B.C or maybe early 687 B.C, just before the end of captivity.
The end the Prophet had been speaking about was now near.
The Prophet’s words coincided with the actual siege of Jerusalem because Nebuchadnezzxer had begun the siege.
This was the final blow that Nebuchadnezzar would deal Israel as God’s punishment for their sinful ways.
The impending fall of Jerusalem was hard on Ezekiel, but the sad situation was compounded by another personal problem.
Around the same time, Ezekiel’s wife was taken away without warning. However, he was commanded not to show any outside evidence that he was grieving.
Also the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. Ezekiel 24:15-18
This was to be a prophetic sign of the unspeakable grief that was coming over Israel when the desire of their eyes (Jerusalem) would be destroyed.
After making this pronouncement, Ezekiel finished his prophecies about the looming judgment and waited for their fulfillment in silence.
Prophet Ezekiel lived during a sad time in Israel’s history.
His call coincided with his arrival in captivity, as documented in Ezekiel 1.
Because Israel’s captivity was a major event, it is easy to know the exact date – it was in 592 B.C.
Prior to his calling, he had been trained and prepared to be a priest because he came from a priestly lineage.
This would help him in his calling because he was not only called to pronounce God’s message but also to teach it to the people.
Even though his message was rejected, his prophetic declaration eventually came to pass when King Nebuchadnezzar overthrew Jerusalem in 588 B.C.