Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Ezekiel: Priest-Prophet

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Ezekiel: Priest-Prophet

Article excerpt


The Book of Ezekiel distinguishes itself from other prophetic books in several significant ways. Ezekiel's prophetic tenure is entirely in the exile. There is an unprecedented level of revelation in the visions of God and the angelic host. Ezekiel's name hardly appears in the book; instead, God consistently refers to him as ben adam (Son of Man). Ezekiel is surprisingly silent for much of his tenure, often acting out symbolic actions. For the most part, redemption is not contingent on Israel's behavior; rather, God redeems Israel for His Name's sake. Even after Israel is redeemed and returns to her Land, the war of Gog will occur.

It appears that Ezekiel's combination of prophecy and priesthood can explain many of the distinctive aspects of his book. Ezekiel's career is intended to parallel the priestly career he would have had in the Temple in Jerusalem in better times. By serving as a priest-prophet in exile, Ezekiel was able to encourage the Jews at the time of the destruction that God remains with them even in exile. Additionally, the passive nature of Ezekiel's prophecy allows God's personality to occupy center stage.


In a survey and analysis of the priesthood in the Torah, Rabbi Eitan Mayer explains the wide range of priestly functions. (1) Priests offer sacrifices, conduct the Temple service, and bless the people. The High Priest represents Israel before God with his garments bearing the names of the twelve tribes (Ex. 28:11, 21, 29-30). Among its other functions, the priesthood is responsible for teaching (Lev. 10:8-11); judging (Deut. 17:8-11); and mediating through the Urim ve-Tummim (Num. 27:21).

Sorting these functions into two broad categories, the priesthood serves as a bridge from God to the people through teaching, judging, mediating, and conferring the priestly blessing. It also serves as a bridge from the people to God through participation in the Temple service and wearing garments inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes.

Priests had to be passive while serving in the Temple. They were anointed like the utensils during the Tabernacle dedication ceremony (Ex. 29:7, 21; 30:25-33, 40:9-16). The special clothing worn by the priests are mandatory during service (Ex. 28:35; 29:9).

Perhaps the most extreme manifestation of the nature of the priesthood in the Torah is the injunction prohibiting Aaron from mourning the death of his sons Nadab and Abihu during the dedication of the Tabernacle:

And Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, 'Do not bare your heads and do not rend your clothes, lest you die and anger strike the whole community. But your kinsmen, all the house of Israel, shall bewail the burning that the LORD has wrought. And so do not go outside the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, lest you die, for the LORD's anointing oil is upon you.' And they did as Moses had bidden (Lev.10:6-7).

While he performs the service, the priest's personal identity is eclipsed by his position. A bridge between God and the people must stand still in order to function properly.


Ezekiel was a priest exiled from Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E. along with King Jehoiachin and some 10,000 of Jerusalem's elite citizens (II Kings 24:11-14). Though he could not serve as a priest in the soon-to-be-destroyed Temple, Ezekiel's priesthood plays a central role in his prophetic mission.


In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, when I was in the community of exiles by the Khebar Canal, the heavens opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month--it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin--the word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, by the Khebar Canal, in the land of the Chaldeans. And the hand of the LORD came upon him there (Ezek. 1:1-3).

Ezekiel began his prophetic tenure in the fifth year of Jehoiachin's exile, or 592 B. …

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