Concerning the life of Ezekiel there are but a few scattered references contained in the book bearing his name. He was the son of Buzi, a priest of Jerusalem (Ezek. i. 3), and consequently a member of the Zadok family, As such he was among the aristocracy whom Nebuchadnezzar (597
Ezekiel occupies a distinct and unique position among the Hebrew Prophets. He stands midway between two epochs, drawing his conclusions from the one and pointing out the path toward the other. Through the destruction of the city and the Temple, the downfall of the state, and the banishment of the people the natural development of Israel was forcibly interrupted. Prior to these events Israel was a united and homogeneous nation. True, it was characterized by a spirit totally unlike that of any other people; and the consciousness of this difference had ever been present in the best and noblest spirits of Israel. The demands of state and people, however, had to be fulfilled, and to this end the monarchical principle was established. There is undoubtedly an element of truth in the opinion that the human monarchy was antagonistic to the dominion of God, and that the political life of Israel would tend to estrange the nation from its eternal spiritual mission. The prophecy of the pre-exilic period was compelled to take these factors into account, and ever addressed itself either to the people as a nation or to its leaders—king, princes, priests—and sometimes to a distinguished individual, such as Shebna, the minister of the royal house mentioned in Isa xxii. 15-25; so that the opinion arose that the Prophets themselves were merely a sort of statesmen.The Prophet's Spiritual Mission.
With the Exile, monarchy and state were annihilated, and a political and national life was no longer possible. In the absence of a worldly foundation it became necessary to build upon a spiritual one. This mission Ezekiel performed by observing the signs of the time and by deducing his doctrines from them. In conformity with the two parts of his book his personality and his preaching are alike twofold. The events of the past must be explained. If God has permitted His city and His Temple to be destroyed and His people to be led into exile, He has thereby betrayed no sign of impotency or weakness. He Himself has done it, and was compelled to do it, because of the sins of the people of Israel, who misunderstood His nature and His will. Nevertheless, there is no reason to despair; for God does not desire the death of the sinner, but his reformation. The Lord will remain the God of Israel, and Israel will remain His people. As soon as Israel recognizes the sovereignty of the Lord and acts accordingly, He will restore the people, in order that they may fulfil their eternal mission and that He may truly dwell in the midst of them. This, however, can not be accomplished until every individual reforms and makes the will of the Lord his law.His Individualistic Tendency.
Herein lies that peculiar individualistic tendency of Ezekiel which distinguishes him from all his predecessors. He conceives it as his prophetic mission to strive to reach his brethren and compatriots individually, to follow them, and to win them back to God; and he considers himself personally responsible for every individual soul. Those redeemed were to form the congregation of the new Temple, and to exemplify by their lives the truth of the word that Israel was destined to become a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. xix. 6). Law and worship—these are the two focal points of Ezekiel's hope for the future. The people become a congregation; the nation, a religious fraternity. Political aims and tasks no longer exist; and monarchy and state have become absorbed in the pure dominion of God. Thus Ezekiel has stamped upon post-exilic Judaism its peculiar character; and herein lies his unique religio-historical importance.
Another feature of Ezekiel's personality is the pathological. With no other prophet are vision and ecstasy so prominent; and he repeatedly refers to symptoms of severe maladies, such as paralysis of the limbs and of the tongue (iii. 25 et seq.), from which infirmities he is relieved only upon the announcement of the downfall of Jerusalem (xxiv. 27, xxxiii. 22). These statements are to be taken not figuratively, but literally; for God had here purposely ordained that a man subject to physical infirmities should become the pliant instrument of His will.
Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, is said to have been a descendant of Joshua by his marriage with the proselyte Rahab (Meg. 14b; Sifre, Num. 78). Some even say that he was the son of Jeremiah, who was also called "Buzi" because he was despised—"buz"—by the Jews (Targ. Yer., quoted by Ḳimḥi on Ezek. i. 3). He was already active as a prophet while in Palestine, and he retained this gift when he was exiled with Jehoiachin and the nobles of the country to Babylon (Josephus, "Ant." x. 6, § 3: "while he was still a boy"; comp. Rashi on Sanh. 92b, above). Had he not begun his career as a prophet in the Holy Land, the spirit of prophecy would not have come upon him in a foreign land (Mek., Bo, i. ; Targ. Ezek. i. 3; comp. M. Ḳ. 25a). Therefore the prophet's first prophecy does not form the initial chapter in the Book of Ezekiel, but the second: according to some, it is the third (Mek., Shirah, 7). Although in the beginning of the book he very clearly describes the throne of God, this is not due to the fact that he had seen more than Isaiah, but because the latter was more accustomed to such visions; for the relation of the two prophets is that of a courtier to a peasant, the latter of whom would always describe a royal court more floridly than the former, to whom such thingswould be familiar (Ḥag. 13b). Ezekiel, like all the other prophets, has beheld only a blurred reflection of the divine majesty, just as a poor mirror reflects objects only imperfectly (Lev. R. i. 14, toward the end). God allowed Ezekiel to behold the throne in order to demonstrate to him that Israel had no reason to be proud of the Temple; for God, who is praised day and night by the hosts of the angels, does not need human offerings and worship (Lev. R. ii. 8; Tanna debe Eliyahu R. vi.).
Three occurrences in the course of Ezekiel's prophetic activity deserve especial mention. It was he whom the three pious men, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, asked for advice as to whether they should resist Nebuchadnezzar's command and choose death by fire rather than worship his idol. At first God revealed to the prophet that they could not hope for a miraculous rescue; whereupon the prophet was greatly grieved, since these three men constituted, the remnant of Judah. But after they had left the house of the prophet, fully determined to sacrifice their lives to God, Ezekiel received this revelation: "Thou dost believe indeed that I will abandon them. That shall not happen; but do thou let them carry out their intention according to their pious dictates, and tell them nothing" (Cant. R. vii. 8; comp.
Ezekiel's greatest miracle consisted in his resuscitation of the dead, which is recounted in Ezek. xxxvii. There are different traditions as to the fate of these men, both before and after their resurrection, and as to the time at which it happened. Some say that they were godless people, who in their lifetime had denied the resurrection, and committed other sins; others think they were those Ephraimites who tried to escape from Egypt before Moses and perished in the attempt (comp.
Among the doctrines that Ezekiel set down in his book, the Rabbis noted the following as especially important: He taught "the soul that sinneth, it [alone] shall die" (Ezek. xviii. 4), although Moses had said (Ex. xxxiv. 7) that God would visit "the iniquity of the fathers upon the children." Another important teaching of Ezekiel is his warning not to lay hands on the property of one's neighbor, which he considers the greatest sin among the twenty-four that he enumerates (Ezek. xxii. 2 et seq.), and therefore repeats (Eccl. R. i. 13) at the end of his index of sins (Ezek. xxii. 12). In ritual questions the Book of Ezekiel contains much that contradicts the teachings of the Pentateuch, and therefore it narrowly escaped being declared as "apocryphal" by the scholars shortly before the destruction of the Temple (Shab. 13b; Men. 45a). No one was allowed to read and explain publicly the first chapter of the book (Ḥag. ii. 1; ib. Gem. 13a), because it dealt with the secrets of God's throne (comp.