Stretching out the measuring line (Jer. 2:8) is a military action. If the army did not have enough troops to guard a captured city, they might measure out certain lengths of wall to destroy. By doing this, they ensured that the city could not defend itself if it tried to rebel against its new captors.
Wormwood was a bitter-tasting shrub that grew wild along the rocky slopes of Palestine. In Scripture, its bitter taste is often symbolic of hardship and sorrow.
The fall of Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been invaded several times, but had always survived. Finally, however, because of the people’s continued rebellion, the Lord allowed the Babylonians to conquer Jerusalem in 586 b.c. Lamentation Chapter 4 contrasts Judah’s glory days with its pitiful state after judgment.
Lamentations contains five poems that mourn the fall of Judah and the sin that caused it. Chapters 1–3 and 4 are acrostic poems. This means that each verse starts with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in alphabetical order. Psalm 119 is another example of an acrostic poem.
The Babylonians exiled people from Judah and Jerusalem in stages. Daniel and his friends were taken in 605 b.c. Ezekiel was deported in 597 b.c., along with King Jehoiachin and many others (2 Kings 24:8–17). The final exile occurred 10 years later.
Son of man (or “son of Adam”) highlights the prophet’s humanity before the holy God. Ezekiel is called “son of man” 93 times in this book.
Tel-abib was located along the Chebar canal near Babylon. Ezekiel settled there with a community of fellow deportees from Judah (Ezekiel 3:15). Many exiles prospered in Babylon, and when the Persians allowed them to return to Jerusalem, many decided to stay.
God sometimes asked Ezekiel to act out his prophetic message. In Ezekiel ch. 4, God asks him to lie on his side for 430 days. In Ezekiel ch. 5, Ezekiel shaves his beard, a shameful act for a priest, to warn the people that God would judge Jerusalem for its rebellion.
God sent the prophets to warn Israel that the Day of the Lord was coming, when God would judge his people for their rebellion against him (Ezekiel 3:19; Amos 5:18–20; Isa. 2:12). Here Ezekiel specifically condemns Jerusalem’s crime and violence (Ezekiel 7:23).
A writing case (Ezekiel 9:2) was standard equipment for scribes. The case provided a surface for writing upon and a place for storing pens and ink. It also contained a knife for keeping the pens sharp.
Hearts of flesh to replace hearts of stone. The Lord says that his rebellious people have a “heart of stone” (Ezekiel 11:19), but he promises to someday give them a “heart of flesh,” enabling them to love and obey him.
Though Zedekiah was king of Judah at the time, Ezekiel refused to call him king. Instead, he calls him “the prince in Jerusalem” (Ezekiel 12:10). This is because Zedekiah was a “puppet king” placed on the throne by the Babylonians.
The women in Ezekiel 13:17 who “prophesy out of their own hearts” were false prophets and magicians. Unlike Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Deborah (Judg. 4:4), and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), these female prophets did not speak God’s words.
Ezekiel compares the Jerusalemites to a vine that can only be used as fuel for a fire (Ezekiel ch. 15). In the Bible, the people of God are often compared to a vine. Jesus describes his relationship with his followers using vine imagery in John 15:1–11.
A “fable” with an important message. Ezekiel’s story about the two eagles, the cedar tree, and the vine could be considered a type of “fable.” A fable is a story in which animals or plants are the main characters. Though they are sometimes entertaining to read, biblical fables teach important lessons.
Are God’s judgments fair?
Some of the exiles complained that God was punishing them for their parents’ sins (Ezekiel ch. 18). Ezekiel replies that God will not judge on the basis of a parent’s sins; neither will he forgive because of a parent’s righteousness. God’s judgement is fair.
The Hebrew word for swearing an oath (Ezekiel 20:5) literally means “I raised my hand.” In courtrooms today, people are asked to raise their right hand as they take an oath, promising to tell the truth.
Like Jesus, the prophets sometimes used parables to explain their messages. Parables convey a message by comparing one thing with another. Ezekiel apparently found the parable God gave him in Ezekiel 20:49 particularly difficult to deliver (see also Ezekiel 17:2).
Strange religious practices. The pagan King Nebuchadnezzar employed three means of divination to decide what he should do (Ezekiel 21:21). Shaking arrows is similar to casting lots. The teraphim are household gods (small figurines). “Looking at the liver” means examining the liver of a sacrificed animal.
Samaria was defeated by the Assyrians in 722 b.c., bringing the northern kingdom of Israel to an end. Judah’s final defeat came in 587 b.c. Ezekiel portrays the two kingdoms as two sisters (Ezekiel ch. 23). Their unfaithfulness to God caused their defeat.