While the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered by Assyria and scattered among the nations due to their idol worship, the Southern Kingdom of Judah remained. Yet, while Judah worshiped God in the temple, they did not follow Him in their hearts. Despite warnings from many prophets like Isaiah, Judah strove to be like the great gentile empires and followed their ways. They also mistreated the poor and the widows, desiring wealth and corruption. As a result, Judah was conquered by the Babylonian Empire in 597 BC and the upper class of Israel was deported to Babylon.
Among the members of the upper class was a priest named Ezekiel. While in exile, Ezekiel receives a call from God to be His prophet to the exiles of the Israelites. He has a vision of God who handed him a scroll to eat. The scroll had words full of bitterness and woe, but Ezekiel accepts the scroll and eats as instructed. It was sweet in his mouth. God then gives him the direction to be His prophet.
The prophecies of Ezekiel are written in the book of Ezekiel. The first 32 chapters of the book of Ezekiel is a condemnation of Israel. Through dramatic acts, parables, poems, and visions, God works through Ezikiel to speak to the exiled Jews of the coming doom of Jerusalem. This all occurs prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. The final 14 chapters of the book occur after the destruction of Jerusalem and are a message of hope and restoration. God will remain with the people in exile and bring them back to their land one day.
Ezekiel is a unique prophet in that some of his prophecies are accompanied by a physical representation. In his first prophecy, he builds a replica of Jerusalem and attacks it. He then lays on his left side for 390 days, the amount of years that the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been unfaithful to God. After this is completed, he flips to his right side and lays for 40 days, the amount of years the Southern Kingdom of Israel had been unfaithful. Then Ezekial cuts all of his hair off, burns one third of it, attacks one third of it with a sword, and scatters the final third in the wind. In this way, Ezekiel describes the coming conquest and defeat of the Jews and Jerusalem. This God will allow to cleanse Judah of its sins. This prophecy will be fulfilled when Zedekiah rebels against the Babylonians, and the Babylonians completely wipe out Jerusalem and exile all inhabitants.
Another famous vision of Ezekiel is when he sees the temple while in exile. The Isrealites were worshiping false gods in the courtyard of the temple. He then saw the glory cloud of God that had been seated on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the temple, depart to the east to the Hill Country. This occurs just before the Babylonians wipe out Jerusalem as a sign that the sins of the people had driven God from their presence. Incredibly, the next time we see the mention of the glory cloud of God is when Mary is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation. She then hastens to visit her cousin Elizabeth who lived in the same Hill Country that the glory cloud of God was seen departing over. In addition, the direction that the Glory cloud left Jerusalem was the same direction from which Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey the Sunday before He died.
Another action of note occurs when Ezekiel’s wife dies, and God instructs him not to mourn her death. When the people inquire at this odd behavior, Ezekiel tells them that just as he has not mourned his wife, so too are the Jews not to mourn the loss of Jerusalem when it is destroyed. Ezekiel will say many more words of warning and condemnation for the people of Israel in the first 32 chapters until word comes to the people that Jerusalem has indeed been destroyed.
In the following chapters, God then begins His message of restoration through Ezekiel with the promise of a Messiah king from the line of David. In addition, He tells the Jews that He will take their stony hearts and give them new ones that would love Him and other people. This leads to the famous vision that Ezekiel has of the valley of dry bones. The bones show the physical and spiritual death that has occurred in God’s people. Then a wind comes through the valley that causes the bones to be given life. They stand up and skin and bodies grow over the bones. A multitude of people have been brought back to life by the wind of God.
One of the final visions of restoration occurs when a messenger from God shows Ezekiel God’s new city. In the city is a temple that is much larger than the one that had been in Jerusalem, and from the temple flowed a stream that became a huge river which gives life to the dead region in the valley below. This vision seemingly of the return to Jerusalem would have been mystifying for the people of the time because God never calls this city Jerusalem.
When reading Ezekiel, we understand that all of His prophecies are relevant to the time period. But in light of Jesus who comes as a fulfillment of all scripture, we see that many of Ezekiel’s prophecies (especially those of restoration) have a double fulfillment. Specifically with the vision of the valley of dry bones, we see that God will give His Holy Spirit through the actions of Jesus and initiate a new creation of people free from sin. This Spirit is accessible to us today through the sacraments and His Church. In addition the vision of the new temple with water flowing forth is fulfilled in Jesus who is the new temple and the waters of baptism flow from His pierced side on the cross, giving life to all who receive it. Even with these fulfillments, we know that there are still more fulfillments to come in the future and at the second coming of Jesus.
Although we get to understand some of the fulfillments of Ezekiel’s prophecies because we have the Church, Ezekiel would not experience even the return to his homeland. He dies in exile, and some Saints believe that Ezekiel was killed by some of the Jewish leaders who did not want to hear his prophecies anymore. Regardless of the cause of his death, Ezekiel joins the crowd of prophets persecuted by the Jewish people referenced by Jesus in /his last days on earth. Ezekiel reminds us that even though God may call us to do some outlandish and unpopular things for the sake of His truth, the will of God must be done.