Monday, November 08, 2010

Notes on Ezekiel, 1

Historical Context: 2 Kings 21-25, 2 Chronicles 33-36
In 609 BC, Josiah, king of Judah dies in battle against Pharaoh Neco. He is replaced by his son Jehoahaz, who reigns for three months before he is deposed by Neco. Neco replaces him with Eliakim, whom he renames Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim comes under pressure from Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and in 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar takes a number of Judean hostages, among whom is Daniel. Jehoiakim died in 597, and was replaced by Jehoiachin, who reigned for three months. Nebuchadnezzar took him and a number of other Judeans captive, replacing Jehoiachin with Zedekiah. Ezekiel appears to have been among this group of captives, since most of the events in the book are dated from the captivity of Jehoiachin. Thus the context for Ezekiel is that he is a captive in Babylon among the exiles. He is a priest separated from the temple in Jerusalem.

Religious/Theological Context:
About a century before we meet Ezekiel, Manasseh became king of Judah. He made idolatry official policy, and reigned for more than half a century. Though he repented near the end of his life, it was too little, too late. He was replaced by his son Amon, who reigned for two years and restored his father's official policy of state idolatry. Amon was succeeded by Josiah, who became king on 640 BC. Josiah was a godly man, and instituted religious reforms, but they seem to have had little effect on the people as a whole. After Josiah's death in battle, it appears that the people returned to the idolatry of those who had preceded Josiah.
The prophet Jeremiah began to prophecy in 627 BC, the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah. In 622 BC, the scroll of the law was found in the temple, and its legitimacy verified by Huldah the prophetess. After the death of Josiah, the religious apostasy quickened, and the final twenty years of the kingdom of Judah was a time of disaster: political, social, and religious.

Personal Context:
Assuming that the "thirty years" of Ezekiel 1:1 refers to the thirtieth year of Ezekiel, Ezekiel was born in the year that the Book of the Law was found in the temple. He grew up in a priestly household, and no doubt expected that when he reached the age of twenty-five, he would begin the five-year apprenticeship that would precede his entering into full priestly status when he turned thirty. Thus his entire life would have been one of training for the priesthood. However, the year he would have begun his apprenticeship is the year that he was taken into captivity. he spent the next five years perhaps hoping that he would return to Jerusalem and to his "real" calling as a priest. Instead, in his thirtieth year, God called him as a prophet.

The standard English-language technical commentary for some years to come will probably be that by Daniel Block in the New International Commentary series. Also worth consulting is the short commentary by John Taylor in the Tyndale OT Commentaries, and the exposition by Christopher J. H. Wright, The Message of Ezekiel. Keil's commentary in the Keil & Delitzsch should not be omitted. The one by Lamar Cooper, Sr. in the New American Commentary series is worth consulting, though marred by a dispensational theology. William Greenhill, the Puritan commentator costs more work than I have found him to be worth. Iaian Duguid's volume in the NIV Application Commentary series well repays study. Two incomplete commentaries worth consulting are those by Calvin, who made it into chapter 20, and the Anchor Bible volumes by Moshe Greenberg. Greenberg died before completing the commentary, and Jacob Milgrom, who was appointed to complete it died not too long thereafter. It is uncertain when that set will be completed.

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