Understanding the Prophet Ezekiel’s Visions

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Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

by Milton Spenser Terry

Peculiarities of Ezekiel

The numerous parallels between the Book of Ezekiel and the Revelation of John have arrested the attention of all readers. But the number and extent of Ezekiel’s prophecies carry him over a broader field than that of any other apocalyptic prophet so that he combines vision, symbolical-typical action, parable, allegory, and formal prophesying. “Ezekiel’s style of prophetic representation,” says Keil, “has many peculiarities. In the first place, the clothing of symbol and allegory prevails in him to a greater degree that in all the other prophets; and his symbolism and allegory are not confined to general outlines and pictures but elaborated in the minutest details to present figures of a boldness surpassing reality, and ideal representations which produce an impression of imposing grandeur and exuberant fullness.

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Analysis of Ezekiel’s Prophecies; The New Temple, Land, and City

Ezekiel’s prophecies, like Joel’s, may be divided into two parts, the first (chapters 1–32) announcing Jehovah’s judgments upon Israel and the heathen nations; the second (chapters 33–48) announcing the restoration and final glorification of Israel. The first part, however, is not without gracious words of promise (11:13–20; 17:22–24), and the second contains the fearful judgment of God (37, 38) after the manner of the judgment of all nations described in the second part of Joel (3:2–14). Our space will permit us only to notice here the closing section of this great apocalypse, which is comprised in chapters 40–48, and contains an elaborate vision of the kingdom of God, and is the Old Testament counterpart of the new heaven and new land portrayed in Rev. 21 and 22. Ezekiel is carried in the visions of God to a very high mountain in the land of Israel (40:2; comp. Rev. 21:10) and sees a new temple, new ordinances of worship, a river of waters of life, new land, and new tribal divisions, and a new city named Jehovah-shammah. The minuteness of detail is characteristic of Ezekiel, and no one would so naturally have portrayed the Messianic times under the imagery of a glorified Judaism as a prophet who was himself a priest. From his historical standpoint, as an exile by the rivers of Babylon, smitten with grief as he remembered Zion, and the ruined city and temple, and the desolated land of Canaan (comp. Psa. 137), no ideal of restoration and glory could be more attractive and pleasing than that of a perfect temple, a continual service, a holy priesthood, a restored city, and a land completely occupied and watered by a never-failing river that would make the deserts blossom as the rose.

Interpretation of the Closing Vision of Ezekiel

Three different interpretations of these closing chapters of Ezekiel have been maintained. (1) The first regards this description of the temple as a model of the temple of Solomon, which was destroyed by the Chaldæans. The advocates of this view suppose that the prophet designed this pattern to serve in the rebuilding of the house of God after the return of the Jews from their exile. (2) Another class of interpreters hold that this whole passage is a literal prophecy of the final restoration of the Jews. At the second coming of Christ, all Israel will be gathered out from among the nations, become established in their ancient land of promise, rebuild their temple after this glorious model, and dwell in tribal divisions according to the literal statements of this prophecy. (3) That exposition that has been maintained probably by most evangelical divines may be called the figurative or symbolical-typical. The vision is a Leviticoprophetic picture of the New Testament Church or kingdom of God. Its general import is thus set forth by Keil: “The tribes of Israel which receive Canaan for a perpetual possession are not the Jewish people converted to Christ, but the Israel of God; i.e., the people of God of the new covenant gathered from among both Jews and Gentiles; and that Canaan in which they are to dwell is not the earthly Canaan or Palestine between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, but the New Testament Canaan, the territory of the kingdom of God, whose boundaries reach from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. And the temple upon a very high mountain in the midst of this Canaan in which the Lord is enthroned, and causes the river of the water of life to flow down from his throne over his kingdom, so that the earth produces the tree of life with leaves as medicine for men, and the Dead Sea is filled with fishes and living creatures, is a figurative representation and type of the gracious presence of the Lord in his Church, which is realized, in the present period of the early development of the kingdom of heaven, in the form of the Christian Church, in a spiritual and invisible manner, in the indwelling of the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, and in a spiritual and invisible operation in the Church, but which will eventually manifest itself when our Lord shall appear in the glory of the Father to translate his Church into the kingdom of glory in such a manner that we shall see the Almighty God and the Lamb with the eyes of our glorified body, and worship before his throne.”

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This symbolical-typical interpretation recognizes a harmony of Ezekiel’s method and style with other apocalyptic representations of the kingdom of heaven, and finds in this fact a strong argument in its favor. The measurements recorded, the ideal character of the tribe divisions, and especially the river of healing waters flowing from the threshold of the temple into the eastern sea, are insuperable difficulties in the way of any literal exposition of the vision. The modern chiliastic notion of a future return of the Jews to Palestine, and a revival of the Old Testament sacrificial worship, is opposed to the entire genius and spirit of the Gospel dispensation.

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