The Prophets of Captivity: Ezekiel
As we grow up, we all develop a sense of eagerness to reach certain stages of life. I remember really looking forward to getting my driver’s license, for example. You might have similar hopes and longings about relationships, a career, some type of comfortable lifestyle, or other goals.
But what happens if those dreams are interrupted? It can be very difficult, even depressing. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” says Proverbs 13:12. Among the three prophets of Judah’s captivity—Daniel, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah—Ezekiel provides an excellent example of what to do when our hopes are postponed.
Ezekiel in Babylon
When we first meet the prophet Ezekiel, he has already lived in Babylon for five years. He was part of the second wave of Babylonian captivity, which took place in 597 B.C. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar deposed King Jehoiachin and took him, along with Ezekiel and ten thousand other exiles, from Jerusalem to Babylon (Ezek. 1:2; 2 Ki. 24:14). Ezekiel 1:1 states that Ezekiel began writing “in the thirtieth year,” a number which is probably best understood as his age.
Then comes another detail. He was also “Ezekiel the priest” (Ezek. 1:3). There is a depth of disappointment contained in that little phrase. At his age, Ezekiel should have been actively serving in God’s temple in Jerusalem. Perhaps he had grown up with eager anticipation for the day when he could begin that honorable service. Yet now, instead of functioning as a priest in the house of the Lord, he had no prospects beyond a captive existence in Babylon, living in a settlement next to a canal with other Jewish exiles.
Whether you are in your teens, your 20s, your 50s, or your twilight years, you can probably identify with Ezekiel’s situation. Most of us can look back at a time when we seemed to be on the cusp of something grand only to have it fall to pieces. Your memories might even be categorized as “Before” and “After,” divided by an event of disappointing regrets or interrupted plans.
Despite any frustrations Ezekiel may have felt, God did not intend to leave him in that condition. Something amazing was on the way! God gave Ezekiel a unique, personal glimpse of His own majestic glory.
A Vision of Glory
Trace the vision as it is described in chapter 1. A bright cloud rises above the northern horizon. As it approaches, four winged creatures emerge, each with four faces, their angelic bodies sparkling like polished bronze. Wheels full of eyes are beside them. Above them is a shining space, bright as crystal, upon which rests the likeness of a throne. And look! There on the throne sits One whose appearance is of gleaming metal and fire, with brightness all around Him like the light of a rainbow on a stormy day. “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Ezek. 1:28).
One truly amazing aspect of this vision is that the throne of God’s presence evidently came all the way to the earth where Ezekiel stood (see Ezek. 1:18). In a later vision, Ezekiel watched the same glory depart in stages from the temple and the city of Jerusalem (Ezek. 10-11), when the Lᴏʀᴅ could no longer remain among the rebellious people who remained in Judah. One might even say the people expelled Him from His own house. Yet that same glorious Lᴏʀᴅ, the covenant-keeping God, had not forgotten a discouraged priest in the land of Babylon.
Following that vision, Ezekiel was used by God for decades as he prophesied to the proud, self-satisfied Jewish captives in Babylon. He exhorted them to humble themselves and trust God in their circumstances. He declared God’s judgments upon various Gentile nations as well. Yet during that time, Jerusalem fell and God’s temple was destroyed, making it abundantly clear that Ezekiel would never set foot in that sacred space.
But then, twenty years after the events of chapter 1, Ezekiel received his last major prophetic vision. It was a personal, guided tour of a magnificently vast temple complex which will one day be constructed as the center of Christ’s earthly kingdom. After nine chapters of measurements and other glorious details (Ezek. 40-48), the book of Ezekiel concludes abruptly but appropriately with this expression: “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, ‘The Lᴏʀᴅ Is There’” (Ezek. 48:35).
“I Have Made You a Sign”
This declaration forms the backdrop for Ezekiel’s entire experience in captivity. He lived in exile, but the Lord was there. He was prevented from serving God the way he might have planned, but the Lord was there. His ministry was not in Babylon’s palaces even though that is where God was using Daniel during the very same time period. No, Ezekiel lived and worked in a nondescript settlement next to a Babylonian canal, surrounded by other discouraged captives. But the Lord was there.
The same Lord who used Ezekiel in unexpected circumstances can also use you. “I have made you a sign for the house of Israel,” God told him on one occasion (Ezek. 12:6). God also intends to make you a sign for your classmates, your co-workers, or your community so they know where to find Him. You might not have ever dreamed that life would take you where you are now, but God has you right where He wants you. And besides, He is there.