As to the prophet Ezekiel’s personal life, the Bible is largely silent. He was probably reared in Jerusalem where he may have served briefly as a priest before he was carried into exile by the Babylonian army. His prophetic calling and entire twenty-two year ministry took place in Telabib, Babylonia.
Of all the prophets, Ezekiel was probably the most unorthodox. Apparently, he rarely left his home but carried on a ministry to those who sought him out. He communicated God’s messages primarily through parables, dramatic sketches, and vivid object lessons. Though considered an interesting, articulate speaker, his offbeat symbolic acts must have provided no little amusement to some. Others seem to have taken Ezekiel’s prophetic acts seriously because they inquired diligently of their meaning.
Even Ezekiel’s calling was strange. God sent a mind-boggling vision—winged, symbolic man-animals, massive wheels revolving within wheels, with eyes all round, and a brilliant throne with a figure seated on it, encompassed in what looked like bright flames. Without even explaining the vision, God then filled Ezekiel with his Spirit and commissioned him to prophesy.
Let us observe the prophet at work in Telabib—an entertaining venture, yet deadly serious in purpose. Ezekiel often told vivid parables to illustrate points. He also enacted symbolic object lessons. One day Ezekiel staged a miniature military seige on top of a clay brick. Another time, he shaved his head and divided the hair into three equal parts. He packed luggage and carried it around like he was moving. Then, with luggage in tow, he dug a hole under the town wall. The prophet cooked his dinner over a fire, using dried cow manure for kindling. He moaned and howled, and bolted down his dinner, as if he was frantic with fear. And when his wife died, he did not mourn publicly.
During one period, Ezekiel lay motionless on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 90 days. At other times he lost his power of speech. Some believe Ezekiel may have suffered an illness which he brought into use for his prophetic work. A form of catalepsy in which the muscles become rigid and consciousness is suspended could possibly explain some of these physiological reactions.
Why did the prophet engage in these outlandish antics? God actually instructed him each step of the way, and each act had a profound meaning for the exiled Hebrews. For example, the miniature military seige portrayed an enemy siege against Jerusalem if she didn’t repent. The packed luggage illustrated that Judeans still remaining in Jerusalem would also be forced into exile. The number of days Ezekiel lay on his left side represented the number of years of Israel’s punishment—on his right side, the number of years of Judah’s judgment.
And why was the prophet instructed not to outwardly mourn at his wife’s death? God declared that many of the exiles’ loved ones would die during the final destruction of Jerusalem. The exiles, perhaps out of shocked numbness, would not weep and wail in sackcloth but would pine away in seclusion.
The book of Ezekiel overflows with many more fascinating prophecies—far too many to discuss here. However unusual were Ezekiel’s methods, they sparkled with ingenuity and forceful impact. It was surely an understatement when God declared to his messenger: “I am sending you to the people of Israel… and whether they listen or fail to listen, they will know that a prophet has been among them!” (Ez. 2:3,5)
What can we learn from Ezekiel?
God is surely the Creator of creativity, and Ezekiel was more than willing to use the most innovative methods God suggested in order to communicate powerfully to people. It is a sin to bore people with the Bible, and one thing Ezekiel illustrates is that God’s message can often be communicated more interestingly and powerfully through a wisely chosen medium.
Bible Verses about Ezekiel
What questions does this help to answer?
- Who was Ezekiel in the Bible?
- How does God speak to us?
- What did the prophet Ezekiel do?
- What was Ezekiel’s vision?
- What does the valley of dry bones mean?
Steve Fortosis served for six years as youth minister in several parishes. Meanwhile he was also working toward his masters, then his doctorate in religious education. Through the years he has enjoyed teaching on the college and seminary levels and writing professionally. He has published a number of books including story and prayer compilations, missionary biography, Biblical character biography, devotional lit, children’s lit, and even stories of Bible translation. Presently he resides in Florida with his wife, Debra, where he teaches part-time and writes on a free-lance basis.Steve Fortosis