I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.
Ezekiel is the third of the major prophets (following Isaiah and Jeremiah). Ezekiel’s first tasks as a prophet were none too enviable: First, he had to eat a scroll with words of “lamentation and wailing and woe” (2:10-3:3). (Not the most appetizing spread, though it turned out to be sweet!) His next assignment was a Herculean test of endurance: to lay on his right side 360 days, then turn over and (ah, relief!) rest another mere 40 days on his left side! He also got to eat bread baked over cow dung…These were all symbolic acts, not meant to tickle his audience but to prick the consciences of those in Judah and in exile to wise up to the results of their injustices and sacrilege. Ezekiel was in exile in Babylon when he got that first vision of the cherubim and wheels (the basis for the spiritual, “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel”). After he got started as a prophet (about 593 B.C.), he was hooked–he kept at it for about twenty years.
Far from being random, Ezekiel’s visions, symbolic acts, and oracles are ordered in three thematic sections (as a result there’s some mixed up chronology). The first theme is the anticipated destruction of Jerusalem. Although Nebuchadnezzar’s forces brought Ezekiel and many other notables to Babylon in 597 B.C., that king’s forces did not destroy Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s prophecies condemn Judah for its wickedness and predict Jerusalem’s impending destruction of 586 B.C. The second section goes after the foreigners, trying to rid Judah’s “neighbors” of any gloating (chaps. 25-32). They are all put through the ringer for their pride and deceit.
The third thematic section slowly sheds this dire outlook. The bottoming out of the doomsaying comes with the news that Jerusalem has fallen (33:21; 586 B.C.). This event cues in a slough of optimistic prophecies that the Lord will now bring salvation (chaps. 33-38). Included among these is Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones that are “re-fleshed” and given new life (37:1-14). The end of this section describes a tour Ezekiel is given of the future Jerusalem, complete with a description of the new Temple. The sacrilege of the previous generations will give way to greater trust in God, especially among Israel’s future prince, priests and Levites. Most significantly, the presence of the Lord will return to the Temple. Jerusalem (which means “founded by [the god] Salem”) will receive a fitting new name: The Lord is There (48:35). For Ezekiel, God’s faithfulness gives everyone a reason to hope.