The book of the prophet Ezekiel stands out in the Old Testament for many of its dire proclamations of destruction and devastation. He foretells the coming of the Lord's chastisement, both for the Hebrews and the surrounding nations. Although his prophesies are sobering and even terrifying, Ezekiel's ultimate message is one of hope.
The historic context for Ezekiel's writing is similar to the prophet Jeremiah, his contemporary. Ezekiel begins writing in Babylon in 593 BC, about six years before the total destruction of Jerusalem. He foretells the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile. Ezekiel does not live to see the restoration; his prophesy ends in the early years of the exile. Despite the dismal setting for his ministry, Ezekiel speaks to his people about the new hope which will be fulfilled after his time.
In the early passages of his prophecy, Ezekiel focuses on signs which warn of and explicate the coming trials. At different times, the prophet is compelled to act in symbolic gestures which illustrate the Lord's message to His people. For instance, he must bake bread using cow dung. The Lord explains, “Thus the Israelites shall eat their food, unclean, among the nations where I drive them” (Ezek 4:13). This action demonstrates how the people in exile will be forced to break their religious culinary customs in order to survive. Later, he must act the part of an exile as a prophetic sign. He is instructed to pack his bags and dig through the wall in order to leave the city (Ezek 12:1-7). This is all done while the people watch on, in order that it might be a sign for them. Other such gestures also serve as outward signs to communicate the harsh warning of dark times to come.
The greatest warning is for the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. Although he is a priest, Ezekiel does not live in Jerusalem during the time he acts as prophet. Yet, the Lord gives him a vision to show the extent of corruption within the holy city and in the Temple itself. Ezekiel sees that the holiest place has become a stronghold for sin, a complete inversion to its true purpose. He witnesses various kinds of idolatry, as representatives of the people venerate images and false pagan gods (Ezek 8:7-18). This abominable activity demands retribution. God instructs His angels to carry out justice against the evil doers, while providing a mark for protection for those who show remorse for the sins of their leaders (Ezek 9:4). Though this action is harsh, it only signifies the true justice which is to come at the hands of the Babylonians.