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Though the figure and invocation of God is of course central to the power and purpose of Ezekiel's prophecies against the foreign nations, and indeed in all of his prophecies as a whole, there is also necessarily a great deal of personal power in the voice and words of the prophet. Without this, his exhortations and condemnations would not be heard or heeded. This leads to a third possibility for the essential purpose of his prophecies against the foreign nations -- that of strengthening his position within the community of exiled Israelites.
Despite the commonality of oracles and prophecies condemning and predicting the downfall of foreign nations in the prophets of the Old Testament, it is highly unlikely that these words ever reached the leaders or the people of these foreign nations, or that the prophets or writers of these texts ever intended them to (Tuell 2009, pp. 167). Using these nations as examples not only provides greater room for explanation and imagery for various purposes, as explained above, but it also simply and directly adds to the legitimacy of the prophet as a whole. The question of Ezekiel's position within his community has been the subject of no small amount of scholarly debate, and linguistic parsings of his prophecies and the minute details of the different sections and the organization of his text all arrive at different conclusions as to how the prophet was trying to present himself, and the degree to which he claimed divine inspiration, guidance, and even communicative abilities with God (Ward 2006; Zaspell 1985). Regardless of the exact nature of the prophet's position or projected self-image, however, it is clear that Ezekiel was attempting to bolster the power of his message by presenting the legitimacy of his prophesying abilities as best as he was able.
Ezekiel's main purpose throughout his text is to steer the people of Israel back onto a righteous path, one that is both pleasing to God and will lead to the security and prosperity of the people in this world as well. He will definitely be assisted in this objective by increasing his own personal power and legitimacy as a prophet. Addressing the sins and punishments of the other nations before describing Israel's return to glory accomplishes exactly this.
The continued scholarly and lay fascination with the text and prophecies of Ezekiel are a testament to the personal power with which his prophecies are conveyed. The prophecies against the foreign nations form a large part of this power, and attempts to ascribe modern place names to those used in the Book of Ezekiel during these prophecies -- both in the section primarily focused on herein and in later predictions made by Ezekiel -- have been fairly commonplace throughout the eras of biblical scholarship up until contemporary times (Zaspell 1985). Seeing these predictions come true would definitely have added weight to Ezekiel's words in the minds of his audience, and as he was predicting an overrun of these relatively weak and small countries (with the exception of Egypt) by the immensely powerful Babylon, Ezekiel was on fairly safe ground in making these predictions, and thus secured himself a prominent place in the ranks of the Old Testament prophets.
The three varying interpretations of the purpose behind Ezekiel's prophecies against the foreign nations could all possibly be true. The desire to strengthen his theological condemnation of Israel -- and the potential for its future restoration -- both serves and is served by the possible political ends of his prophecies; the two can in fact be seen as two sides of the same coin. Even seeing these external prophecies as a bid to increase his domestic power, or at least the power and spread of his words, is also more of a service to these two other goals than it is an end in and of itself. Thus this trio of purposes exists to reinforce each other, strengthening the theological and political import of the prophecies to the ancient exiled Israelites.
Block, D. (1997). The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 (Volume 1): The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand rapids, MI: Wm. B. Edermans Publishing.
Block, D. (1998). The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25-48 (Volume 2): The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand rapids, MI: Wm. B. Edermans Publishing.
Malick, D. (2009). "An Argument of the Book of Ezekiel." Accessed 15 May 2010. http://bible.org/article/argument-book-ezekiel
Tuell, S. (2009). Ezekie:l New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
Ward, J. (2006). "Exegesis of Ezekiel 37:1-14." Dissertation: Knox College. Accessed 15 May 2010. http://homepage.mac.com/bpirwin/knox/PDF%20Files/Exegesis%20Sample%20(Ezek37).pdf…[continue]
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