The prophet Ezekiel was a contemporary of both Jeremiah and Daniel, as well as Habakkuk and Zephaniah. He was a priest as well as a prophet, and the focus of his “ministry” was mainly among the common people of Judah. Like Daniel, he was taken into captivity in Babylon, where he lived by the river Chebar among the “middle class” captives (unlike Daniel, who served in king Nebuchadnezzar’s palace). Some biblical scholars identify the Chebar as one of the large Babylon canals that emptied into the Euphrates River.
There are two basic parts to the inspired book Ezekiel wrote; the first twenty-four chapters chronicle his efforts before Jerusalem was destroyed, trying to persuade those of his people already in captivity to repent of their sins and meekly accept the punishment God had already decreed. Chapters 25-48 record Ezekiel’s efforts to reassure his people – including the “new” captives – that they had not been abandoned by their God, and that He would keep His promise to restore them to their land when their seventy years of punishment in exile were finished.
In an example of the bible “commenting” on itself, Revelation chapter four explains the first chapter of Ezekiel – both contexts emphasize God’s sovereignty over all of creation, especially all the nations of humanity. The image of the Lord’s glory here (Eze. 1) is one of the most vivid in all the scriptures, and Ezekiel’s “commission” as a prophet (chapter two) is the focus of this heavenly vision. There are two points of emphasis in the Lord’s instructions: 1) Ezekiel is to speak regardless of whether or not the people accept his message (2:5), and 2) he is not to fear the consequences of delivering God’s message, no matter how scary those consequences might seem (2:6-7). God repeatedly warns Ezekiel that he will be speaking to a “rebellious house,” but he is to “speak my words to them” (3:4). In Ezekiel 3:17-21 the prophet learns that his role is to be a “watchman” or sentinel for his people, and that he would be personally responsible to deliver the Lord’s warning; failure to speak would result in Ezekiel’s own condemnation and destruction!
Chapters 4-5 record some of the most graphic warning signs God ever sent His people about their impending destruction, and Ezekiel is the “star” of these warnings. First, he is to depict the siege of Jerusalem on a tile, in a way that all who saw it could recognize it; next, he is to lie on one side (left – evidently in a public place – perhaps with the tile in sight) for 390 days, while prophesying about Israel’s punishment. Following this, he was to turn and lie on the other (right) side for forty more days while foretelling Jerusalem’s destruction. During this time, he is to dramatically alter his diet so that he becomes thin and emaciated in appearance, as a sign of the deprivation that would come from the Babylonians’ siege of Jerusalem. In chapter five, Ezekiel is to shave his head and beard with a sword, and then publicly divide and dispose of the hair (1/3 burned, 1/3 chopped up with the sword, 1/3 scattered in the wind) as a sign of God’s judgement against Jerusalem.
In Ezekiel 12:10-14, the prophet foretells – in detail – the capture and exile of King Zedekiah (cf. 2 Kings 25:1-7) by the Babylonians. What makes Ezekiel’s record significant is that he records this event five years before it occurred!
Ezekiel chapter eighteen presents what may be the most direct statements in the entire bible on the subject of personal, individual responsibility. The Jews of Ezekiel’s day, even before they were in captivity, had already begun to complain that they were suffering unfairly because of their ancestors’ sins rather than their own (verse 2, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”). God’s response (vv. 4 & 20) is simple and explicit; “the soul who sins shall die.” It is important to note that there are no “degrees” of sin specified here (i.e., there is no distinction between “petty” sins and “serious” sins, nothing that says God will only judge and punish us “if we commit more than X number of sins”). Since there is no “threshold” specified, we should conclude that any sin and all sins carry the death penalty (cf. Ezekiel 28:15). The guilt of sin is not inherited from parents, nor from anyone else; each of us is completely responsible, before God, for the things we do in the body!