In the context of these visions, any admixture of Jewish identity with foreign ways represented not only just such a hypocritical failure to trust God in all things but, ultimately, a decision to vanish from history. First, Ezekiel reminds his audience, the nations closely related to Israel failed through jealousy, pride, and treason.
Next, he prophesies that the great merchant cities of Phoenicia
are eventually doomed to ruin in the fullness of time -- whereas Israel itself will be regathered into its own land again.
This reminder of the election of Israel must have come as both a bitter challenge to the exiles (who had seen their nation brought low and their connection to it severed) and an argument that, even in such challenging circumstances, fidelity to the Covenant would ultimately reap much greater rewards than any attempt to attach themselves to a foreign civilization.
Significantly, Ezekiel's prophetic vision singles out the fate of Egypt for special attention. Although Egypt had been an undependable neighbor, it is likely that many of the exiles remembered the relatively benign nature of coexistence with the Egyptians as a potential model for coexistence within Babylon or, at best, as an alternative secular power to look to as a potential ally or savior. After all, the history of Israel is filled with encounters with Egypt that begin relatively well (as with Abraham and Joseph) and only decline over time:
Whenever ever a crisis loomed, they were prone to look to Egypt for help. The longer the Jews were away from Egypt, the more they idealized their experiences there and forgot about the slavery and the toil. Of course, King Solomon had married an Egyptian princess and did a considerable amount of business with Egypt, but after he died, those bonds began to unravel.
Instead of dwelling on nostalgia, Ezekiel denies the exiles the opportunity to look to Egypt for salvation. "Ezekiel's fellow exiles may well have heard his oracle with consternation, if they were pinning their hopes on Egyptian assistance."
Egypt, he prophesies, is doomed, and in fact over the next few decades the exiles would have seen Babylon crush their erstwhile ally from the mouth of the Nile all the way upriver to the Aswan cataract.
Ultimately, the fall of Egypt would frighten the nations and its people themselves -- like the Israelites -- will be scattered beofre eventually being forced to "acknowledge the sovereignty of Israel's God."
The ramification is clear: No earthly power can stand against the judgement of God. Even Israel itself can be laid waste and the Temple broken -- a situation which forces the exiles to depend entirely on God because their homeland no longer even exists. The destruction of the Temple in fact extends the predicament of Ezekiel's Babylonian captives to the entire nation of Israel, who could then no longer worship God in the ritually mandated way. It is suggestive that the first group of exiles, having been fortified by the ministry of Ezekiel, would be able to minister to their estranged cousins and teach them how to cope with the apparent paradox of a God who keeps His promises while still evicting an idolatrous Israel from possession of its promised land.
It is also significant that at the moment that the destruction of the Temple is communicated to the exiles, when the Covenant appears to have been irreparably broken, Ezekiel regains the use of his tongue. He evidently retains the ability to prophesy, but after a bitter judgment on urban
and pastoral survivors alike, the content of his preaching shifts to a vision of God as the shepherd of a now-scattered and demoralized people:
I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. […] I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.
The kings of Judah and Israel have failed; God will take over their responsibilities and symbolic role as good shepherd to come.
Eventually, the dynasty of David and the Temple will be restored; Gog defeated; the dry bones of the dead nation remembered.
Block, Daniel Isaac. The Book of Ezekiel, Vol. II. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997
Dorr, Kathryn Pfisterer. "The Book of Ezekiel." The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VI, ed. Leander E. Keck. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Glazov, Gregory Yuri. The Bridling of the Tongue and the Opening of the Mouth in Biblical Prophecy. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.
Greenberg, Moshe. Ezekiel 1-20: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983.
-- -- . Ezekiel 21-37: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1997.
Halperin, David Joel. Seeking Ezekiel: Text and Psychology. University Park, Penn.: Penn State University Press, 1993.
Malick, David. An Introduction to the Book of Ezekiel [article online]. Richardson, Tex.: Bible Studies Foundation, n.d., accessed 29 March 2010; available from http://bible.org/article/introduction-book-ezekiel.
Steibert, Johanna. The Exile and the Prophet's Wife: Historic Events and Marginal Perspectives. Collegeville, Minn.: Michael Glazer/Liturgical Press, 2005.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament Prophets. Colorado Springs, Colo.: David C. Cook, 2002.
Ezek 1:1 New International Version.
Kathryn Pfisterer Dorr, "The Book of Ezekiel," in The New Interpreter's Bible vol. VI, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2001), 1110-1.
The account of Ezekiel's commission and ordination is found in Ezek 2:3 to 3:11.
Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City: N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983), 90.
David Joel Halperin, Seeking Ezekiel: Text and Psychology (University Park, Penn.: Penn State University Press, 1993), 9.
Daniel Isaac Block, The Book of Ezekiel, vol. II (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997), 154.
It is also possible that he remained mute until the fall of Jerusalem and only then began to preach the visions that he had previously experienced. However, while this interpretation has some dramatic and sociological merits -- once news reached Babylon that the Temple had been destroyed, the exiles would have been even more in need of divine guidance -- it fails to explain God's apparent urgency for Ezekiel to begin preaching much earlier. Dorr (1139, 1453) outlines a few of the issues at stake here.
See Gregory Yuri Glazov, The Bridling of the Tongue and the Opening of the Mouth in Biblical Prophecy (Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press) 263.
Ezek 16:16. See Johanna Steibert, The Exile and the Prophet's Wife: Historic Events and Marginal Perspectives (Collegeville, Minn.: Michael Glazer/Liturgical Press), 101.
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament Prophets (Colorado Springs, Colo.: David C. Cook), 211.