Throughout this year-long journey of lessons from The MANual, my NIV Bible for Men, we’ve continually heard about the call of the people of Israel back to God and to His commandments starting in Genesis and now in the books of the prophets. While this may seem like boring repetition, let’s view the main message, not as repetition but from a different angle or point of view. This is especially true of the prophets.
As we learned in the Introduction to The Prophets, there were “Former Prophets” like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, and others, whose messages are scattered throughout the Old Testament. We also learned about the “Latter Prophets,” including the first two “Major” prophets: Isaiah and Jeremiah, including his book of Lamentations. In this post, I cover the last two major prophets: Ezekiel and Daniel.
The Book of Ezekiel
While Jeremiah was prophesying in Jerusalem, Ezekiel was giving the same message to the 10,000 Jews already captive in Babylon (2 Kings 24:10-14). Both groups stubbornly believed that the “City of God” would not fall and they would return to their land. But Ezekiel warned that the punishment was imminent as God was purifying His people of their sins.
The 48 chapters of Ezekiel are generally divided into five parts: the Call of the Prophet (Chapters 1-3); Judgement and Condemnation against Israel (4-24); Judgement and Condemnation of Nations (25-32); Salvation for Israel (33-39); and the Restoration of Israel and the Temple (40-48).
The phrase “you shall know that I am the Lord” recurs 33 times in Ezekiel to remind the people of Who God is. Ezekiel is also called the “son of man” 93 times in this book. Apart from Jesus, only Ezekiel and Daniel (only once in Daniel 8:17) are called “son of man.” One commentator indicated the Hebrew word often used for man is “adam” so perhaps God is pointing out Ezekiel’s morality and weakness as a “human being” like Adam in the Garden. When Jesus called Himself the “Son of Man” in the New Testament, it showed He was not only fully man, but fully God as the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.
Men of God: Ezekiel
Ezekiel was a younger contemporary of Jeremiah. His name means “God is strong” or “God will strengthen.” He was the son of Buzi, one of the sons of Zadok (the first high priest in Solomon’s Temple). Ezekiel lived in a home near the Chebar River, less than one hundred miles south of Babylon, where the elders of Judah were accustomed to meet.
At age 30 (the normal time to become a priest), God called Ezekiel to become a prophet. This made him about the same age as Daniel, who was exiled to Babylon at a young age nearly a decade earlier.
Like Isaiah reported 150 years earlier (Isaiah 6:1-8), Ezekiel received a shocking encounter with God. He received a vision of a great lightning storm coming from the north with four living beings with four faces and four wings and feet with hooves to represent Jerusalem’s coming destruction (1:4-12). Above the storm appeared the likeness of a man that symbolized the glory of The Lord (1:26-28). Ezekiel fell down on his face and heard God tell him he must speak to the rebellious, hard-hearted, and stubborn people (2:4,5; 3:7).
Ezekiel is handed a scroll with “words of lament and mourning and woe” and told to eat it. He finds that the scroll tastes as sweet as honey. God says, “son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your own people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says, ‘Do this whether you listen or not!’ ” (3:10,11). Ezekiel then becomes a watchman for Israel (3:16-19) but was only allowed to speak when God had a message for the people (3:24-27).
- Have you ever heard a message clearly from God?
- How would you respond? Like Ezekiel who went facedown and obeyed? Or would you ignore God and continue your rebellious ways?
After this vision, Ezekiel began to preach about the approaching siege on Jerusalem (chapters 4-24). He fearlessly told the exiled Jews about God’s timeless truths. He stated the upcoming devastation would be God’s judgment for their idolatry (chapters 8-9). Ezekiel challenged them to turn from their wicked ways since the punishment was certain to come since they listened to false prophets (13) and rebellious leaders (14).
Ezekiel also used allegories about a useless vine (15), the betrayal of an unfaithful wife (16), and the story of two eagles (17) about King Nebuchadnezzar and his son, Zedekiah’s alliance with Egypt. Another allegory is about two sisters who became prostitutes (23, 24) to symbolize that the northern and southern kingdom’s sins were repugnant to God.
Ezekiel’s wife died in the ninth year of his captivity. God prevented him from mourning her in public as a sign of Judah’s lack of concern for the things of God (Ezekiel 24:16–24). This shows us that obeying God can come with a high price, but not obeying God will cost us more — our eternal life. Ezekiel spoke to the seven surrounding pagan nations that God would judge them as well (chapters 25-32).
The prophet’s vision of resurrecting dry bones in Chapter 37 is perhaps the best-known passage of Ezekiel. The prophet sees himself standing in the valley and commanding the human remains to reconnect with tendons, flesh, and skin, The resurrection of the dead is to parallel the restoration of Israel.
- When have you felt you were in a valley of your faith?
- What have you done to resurrect your dry bones?
The book concludes with a message of hope, as the prophet foretells the restoration and blessings for God’s people. It also tells of the need for cleansing the nation during 70 years of captivity (chapters 33-48). Ezekiel describes the restored state when the Temple is rebuilt outside the main part of Jerusalem. He distinguished between priests and Levites to signify that the highest official is no longer the king, but rather the high priest since political affairs are always subordinate to religious considerations.
The Book of Daniel
This next major prophetic book identifies Daniel as its author (9:2; 10:2). Jesus also mentions Daniel as the author (Matthew 24:15). The book was written approximately 536 B.C. to record the events over the 70 years between Daniel’s captivity in 605 B. C. and his death in 533 B. C. It gives a historical account of the faithful Jews who lived in captivity. More importantly, it shows a glimpse of God’s plan for the ages, including a direct promise of the Messiah.
The 12 chapters of Daniel cover his life (chapters 1-6) and describe his apocalyptic visions (7-12). While Jeremiah was preaching to the Jews still in Judah, and Ezekiel ministered to the Jews exiled in Babylon. Among those Jews was young Daniel, who later served as a counselor in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court and several rulers who followed.
Chapter 1 describes the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Daniel was one of the noble young captives educated by the order of the evil king, Nebuchadnezzar. The king changed the names of Daniel and his three friends to make them Babylonians. He required that they change their lifestyle with a new diet and religious loyalty to Babylon’s gods.
Men of God: Daniel
Daniel had the unique ability to interpret the king’s dreams that told of God’s unfolding plans. His name means “God is my Judge.” He was a Jew, born in the middle of the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640–609 B.C.) so he had heard of this good king’s religious reforms (2 Kings 22-23). Daniel quickly rose to great favor and was awarded one of the highest government positions that served the king and several rulers who followed.
But Daniel’s greatness comes from his quiet refusal to give up his convictions. He limited his food intake and indulged in prayer. Daniel resisted changing the good habits he learned as a youth to those of the king’s court. He communicated with God because he made it a practice.
- What spiritual practices or habits do you retain from your early life? Which did you leave behind?
- Have you made any new disciplines from certain foods or drinks in an effort to keep your body healthy?
Chapters 2-4 describe a series of troublesome dreams by Nebuchadnezzar. Back in the day, dreams were considered messages from the gods that wise men, sorcerers, magicians, or astrologers were to interpret. But these dreams were sent by God so only Daniel could understand them. Before Daniel would reveal any dreams to the king, he found his three friends and prayed. He also gave all credit to God for the wisdom to interpret dreams.
After getting answers to the dreams, Nebuchadnezzar honored Daniel by elevating Daniel to an even higher position in the court. He also appointed his three friends as assistants. The king made a 9- foot tall statue of himself to try to unite the nations. He decreed everyone to worship the idol or they would be put to death (2:24-25). Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to worship the statue. But they trusted their God and are miraculously spared despite being thrown into a fiery furnace (chapter 3).
Daniel interprets another dream for the king but tells Nebuchadnezzar the truth that he needs to stop sinning (4:19-27). God judges the king for his pride, but only restores Nebuchadnezzar after he recognizes and admits God’s sovereignty.
- Is humbling yourself and admitting your sins difficult for you?
Chapter 5 records Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar misuse of items taken from the Temple. He sees a message from God written into the wall of the palace. Only Daniel could interpret the writings about the coming judgment from God. He told Belshazzar of his father’s repentance and was thrown into the lions’ den. Daniel was miraculously spared and the emperor, Darius believed in God (6:25-27).
Chapters 7-12 describe Daniel’s vision of four beasts that represented the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. He also received a vision in chapter 8 involving a ram, a goat, and several horns representing the future kingdoms and their rulers. Chapter 9 records Daniel’s prophecy of seventy weeks to end their sin. God gave Daniel the precise timeline of when the Messiah would come, followed shortly thereafter by a great judgment. Daniel is visited and strengthened by the angel Gabriel, who explains the end times when a Messiah will come and believers will be made pure and holy (Daniel 12:10).
God Buddy Focus
The book of Ezekiel reminds us to return to God when we are stale and dry in our beliefs. His vision of the future kingdom encourages us to look forward to Christ’s return when He rules all the nations from His throne in the new Jerusalem.
In Daniel, we learn about living in a culture that does not honor God. The prophet found practical and creative ways to save his life and the lives of his three friends. We too can learn to adjust without compromising God’s standards by emulating Daniel’s life of purpose, prayer, and prophecy.
This week, discuss these questions in your group:
- Describe a time you had “dry bones” and how you found restoration.
- When you find yourself in a “fiery” situation, do you panic or pray?
- Share your current needs with some close friends and rely on them to pray with you.
My next post is about the minor prophets.