Lawrence Boadt continues his commentary on this unusual and fascinating book….
We cannot be sure that Ezekiel himself had a hand in arranging his oracles in this exact way, but if he did not do it personally, it must have been done very soon after his death. The plan is very carefully modeled on the Book of Joshua which tells of the holy war for possession of the promised land. So, too, Ezekiel first preaches against the people’s sins in order to purify them for the battle; then he denounces the power of the foreign nations and rids the holy land of its enemies; lastly, he portions out the land to the tribes of Israel.
Beyond this basic outline, several oracles have dates connected with them so that we can follow the progress of the prophet’s thought. This is especially true of the oracles in chapters 25-32, almost all of which are dated to the period of greatest crisis just before the final fall of Jerusalem in 586 and 585 B. C. They give such a clear picture of the times that there is no need to doubt that many of these oracles came directly from the prophet’s own hands.
Ezekiel’s style is also unique. It is elaborate and favors long oracles with many repetitions and literary allegories and images. Unlike the shorter and more direct words of an Amos or Hosea or Isaiah, Ezekiel creates very dramatic picture stories, in which he uses other people’s words, or a favorite proverb, or even pagan myths about the gods, to get his point across. Examples of this are the allegory of the two eagles in chapter 17, the great mythical cedar tree in chapter 31, or his description of Egypt as the great sea monster Leviathan in chapters 29 and 32. He describes the city of Tyre as a great ship sinking with all its cargo, and compares the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah to two sisters who choose to live as prostitutes (chapters 16 and 23).
Another striking feature in Ezekiel is his use of symbolic actions and visions. He draws diagrams on a brick to show how the city will be taken (chapter 4), he cuts his beard into three parts and burns one part, chops up another, and throws the rest to the wind to show what will happen to the city (chapter 5), and he puts on a backpack and breaks through the walls of his own house to imitate the attempts people will make to escape during the coming siege by Babylon (chapter 12). He not only has the vision of Yahweh in his chariot in chapters 1-3 but another vision of the divine angels marking off the city of Jerusalem for destruction in chapter 8, a vision of the priests performing pagan worship in the temple itself in the same chapter, and a vision of God’s glory leaving the city in chapter 11 and its return again in chapter 43. He sees a famous vision of dead bones that come to life in chapter 37. Through the symbolic actions and the visions the prophet conveys the seriousness of his message and also shows the continuity of God’s care—he can be seen guiding and controlling both the punishment and the restoration as different stages of his plan.
When all these aspects are considered closely, the Book of Ezekiel has a great deal more unity than most other prophetic books, even those much shorter, and confirms the earlier remark that Ezekiel himself is responsible for a good part of its order. This is just the opposite of the Book of Jeremiah, which was edited and arranged long after his death by others.