A Maker of
Metaphors: Ezekiel's Oracles
CAROL A. NEWSOM
A recognition of Ezekiels skill in manipulating the power of metaphor
to illumine reality helps us to grasp the subtlety, meaning, and
prophetic force of his oracles against Tyre.
After having been charged by God to deliver an oracle in highly figurative language, Ezekiel protested that he was developing something of a reputation. “Oh, Lord God, people are saying of me, 'He's just a maker of metaphors!' “* (h'lō' memaŝŝel mesalîm hu'; Ezek. 21:5; Eng., 20:49). In truth Ezekiel deserved the reputation, though not the criticism that is implied, for one finds in Ezekiel a greater number of elaborately worked out metaphors, allegories, and symbolic speech than in any other prophet. In the oracles against the nations (Ezekiel 25—32), Ezekiel entrusts a particularly large part of his argument to metaphorical language. Here Ezeldel does not merely use striking metaphors to announce judgments. He often begins, rather, with an image by which a nation might represent itself or one which Ezekiel's exilic audience might have applied to that nation. Then Ezekiel subjects the metaphor to scrutiny. Does it mean what it first appears to mean? Or does it reveal something about the subject rather different from what the audience first thought? How does it stand up to rival metaphors? Finally, Ezekiel uses the metaphor to demonstrate the appropriateness and the inevitability of Yahweh's judgment on the nation in question.
While Ezekiel's original audience may have lacked appreciation of his metaphorical style, the prophet stands a good chance of getting a sympathetic hearing (for his rhetorical technique at least) from modern readers. During the past generation there has been a new perception of metaphor as more than elegant decoration of information that could otherwise be commu-
*All translations are those of the author.