Ezekiel 18; 34; 37
Sadly, the OT schedule being done in only one year has the class only looking at 3 chapters of Ezekiel. So much is available in his vision that ties directly into LDS theology that is not in these few chapters, and so we’ll discuss some of them here.
Ezekiel’s Vision by Raphael
In 594 BC, Ezekiel was a captive in Babylon. It was here in Babylon that he received his vision. The vision is important for several reasons. First, it shows that Jehovah is God outside of the boundaries of the land of Israel. Israel could survive in captivity and exile, even without a temple as their center place.
Ezekiel’s vision begins with him seeing God’s throne in the heavens, surrounded by four cherubim. Unlike the cutesy cherubs of later paintings, cherubim were a powerful group of angels, like the seraphim, who were considered warriors (cherubim protecting the tree of life with a sword), and trusted confidants of God. When we remember that angels and humans are all part of the family of God, just in different stages of development, we can better understand our connection with them, as many of us may someday be seraphim/cherubim, or may have been so in the pre-mortal existence. In Ezekiel, they are described as 4 headed beings. While some take this literally, I believe that the vision displays to Ezekiel the powers ascribed to the cherubim: fearless as a lion, powerful as an ox, the ability to move in all directions as an eagle, and the thinking capacity of man. The term wing, is often translated as covering, or veil. It also represents the ability of movement, or power. So, while the cherub may have had wings, it is as likely that the wings were special garments or veils to suggest they possessed the power and secrets of God.
Ezekiel’s initial vision is very similar to the one in Isaiah 6. Ezekiel has a theophany, or a vision of God on his throne. In Isaiah’s vision, he is cleansed by a coal from the incense fire before God’s throne. Ezekiel sees the cherubim as “burning coals of fire.”
The cherubim’s authority is represented by the wheel(s). These wheels are described with various stones or the colors of stones that are also represented in the Urim and Thummim found on the high priest’s breastplate. In some early versions of Ezekiel, there are actually 12 stone colors mentioned for the wheels. The Urim and Thummim symbolized the priesthood authority, and revelation or communion with God.
In such a revelation, Ezekiel sees God on his throne. As with Isaiah, Jacob and others, God is a man of glory in Ezekiel’s vision, not a burning bush or a spirit.
Son of Man of Holiness
Jehovah calls Ezekiel “son of man” throughout the vision. This is to signify to Ezekiel his status with God. In his mortal ministry, Jesus also would call himself “son of man.” Jesus was the Son of God the Father. In LDS teaching, one of God’s names or titles is Ahman, or Man of Holiness (D&C 78:20, Moses 6:57; 7:35). So, Jesus is the son of the Man of Holiness, and in this context, so is Ezekiel.
In conjunction with many theophanies, the prophet sees or reads a heavenly book. Moses had the Ten Commandments given him (Exo 20). Lehi received a book and prophesied (1 Nephi 1). Isaiah prophesied while reading a book in the ancient text, Ascension of Isaiah. John the Revelator swallowed a book that was given him (Rev 10:10). Here, Ezekiel sees a book containing the lamentations of his people, while they are yet in exile.
Watchman in Israel
Ezekiel 3, 33-34
Anciently, a watchman stood upon a tower, often at night, to ensure the safety of the kingdom or land. From his position in the tower, he could look over the land, perhaps for a few miles, which would give sufficient warning in case of approaching enemies.
Ezekiel is tasked with being Israel’s spiritual watchman, while they are in exile. They are surrounded by enemies and demon idols. His counterparts: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would be tried by the enemies of Israel. They were in need of prophets to teach them, warn them, and protect them from the world’s evils. So important was this position of watchman that God told Ezekiel that their blood would be on his hands if he did not faithfully perform his duties. So it is with those of us tasked in God’s service today. We are to watch over the members of the Church, protecting them from the world’s ever encroaching evils and dangers. If we neglect our duty, we will someday have to answer for the collapse and destruction caused among those we are to care for.
Those watchmen who are faithful in their responsibility, not only save the community, but save their own souls, as well. They are to be true shepherds of the flocks, and not just sheep herders that work for a wage. Instead, a shepherd put his life in danger to protect his beloved sheep. He would fight lions and bears to keep the flock safe. Those who did not protect their flock were not worthy of being Shepherds, even as Jesus has set the example for us. (Ezekiel 33-34).
The Future of Israel
In the next several chapters, Ezekiel sees the future collapse and destruction of Israel (remember, they are already in exile) and its temple. They will suffer much as they are scattered throughout the world. But then they will be gathered again in the last days.
Punished for our own sins
“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression” (Article of Faith 2).
Ezekiel teaches that all are responsible for their own sins. Children will not be punished for the evil actions of the parents, nor the parents punished for their children’s sins. This is a drastic departure from the Mosaic Law, where entire families were often stoned to death, whenever a major sin was caused by someone in the family (such as idolatry or rebellion). The idea was that if one was able to do such destructive things, then the entire family was capable of the same.
The Mosaic Law was based upon the needs of the nation as a whole. However, with Israel in exile, they were no longer a nation. Instead, Israel was a loose confederation of Jews that were mostly limited to local worship of Jehovah. Most Bible scholars believe that the concept of worship done in synagogues either began during the exile, or rapidly expanded during the exile, as a method to continue worshiping Jehovah without a temple. Suddenly, without a nation and the need to preserve the exiles as best as possible, the rule was changed by God. Now, only the sinner himself would be punished for grave sins. Those who repented, would be forgiven, while those who continued in rebellion would be stoned to death, in order to protect the religious community.
Jerusalem and Samaria destroyed by Babylon and Assyria
In the following chapters, Ezekiel speaks to Israel concerning why they have been taken into Exile. As Jerusalem had not yet been completely sacked and the temple destroyed, Ezekiel explains that its destruction is certain. Because Judah and Israel were evil and worshiped other gods, they no longer had God’s true power to protect them. This holds true for the surrounding nations, as well.
Israel would be restored in time. Even Egypt would be destroyed by Babylon, and when it arose from the Phoenix’ ashes, it would not ever regain its former strength and beauty.
The concept of a Messiah was becoming highly developed from the time of Isaiah and later. Ezekiel also sees the coming of the Messiah ben Judah (Savior, son of Judah), who would come forth and save Israel from its enemies.
Christ will be the one true shepherd, even the future servant David. While many would expect a Messiah to save them from the physical enemies of the world, the Messiah’s first coming would involve bringing his sheep to him and protecting them from all the spiritual dangers. In his 2nd Coming, Jesus would destroy the physical and spiritual enemies of Israel.
Jesus shall be Israel’s Prince of Peace (Melchi Zedek), as he establishes a covenant of peace with them and begins the Millennial reign. However, he also becomes the spiritual Prince of Peace, bringing peace and hope to the souls of all those who believe and trust on his name.
In the return of Israel, God will change them both physical and especially spiritual:
“For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezek 36:24-28).
In reference to a baptism of water and of spirit, the people will walk under a new covenant with God. This is very similar to covenants expressed in the Book of Mormon by King Benjamin and Alma the Elder (Mosiah 2-5, 18).
Dry Bones and Sticks = Restoration
Most LDS are very aware of the LDS belief that a portion of Ezekiel 37 foresees the coming forth of the Bible and Book of Mormon in the last days. And it is a valid way to interpret it. However, we must remain aware that there are often multiple ways to read, and correctly understand scripture. Nephi told us to “liken” the scriptures unto ourselves, in what Jews would call pesher (commentary) or Midrash (explanation of scripture). However, it is important we seek to understand all the correct meanings, so as to expand our own understanding of scripture.
Ezekiel sees a valley of dry bones. These bones suddenly change to living, breathing beings. This can be understood on at least two levels: first it foresees the future resurrection of all mankind through the power of Christ’s own resurrection. But it also determines the restoration of Israel as a living people and nation. We see things that once lived, but for a long time seemed dead. Now they become alive again. Israel as a physical people and nation stopped existing for the most part for almost 2000 years, until 1948, when the nation of Israel was restored. Yet, spiritual Israel also was dead. The Great Apostasy had taken the living Church that mortal Christ set up, and left it a skeleton that had no spirit nor true physical form. For centuries, the Christian church did not have all the priesthood authority, revelation, apostles, prophets, temples, or modern scripture. It was a valley of dry bones, until the Restoration of the Gospel occurred in 1820, when the Father and Son came to the boy Joseph Smith and began the miraculous reconstruction of Spiritual Israel.
In the verses concerning the “stick” of Judah and Joseph/Ephraim, we can gain better understanding of what is happening. First, it foresees the physical and spiritual restoration of both Judah and Israel in the last days (represented by the leading tribe of Joseph through his son Ephraim).
But when we look at the Hebrew word for “stick” (‘etz) we find that a better translation would be “wood.” Based upon the context, we determine what the wood is. If you sit on it, the wood is a chair. If you eat on it, it is a table. If one writes on wood, then it is a book.
In ancient Babylon, books were created with thin boards that had wax on one side. The scribe would write in the wax, and then place two boards together with the wax on the inside to protect it. In essence, Ezekiel is describing the Babylonian technique for preserving their documents, by combining them together. So we literally can have two books combined with the testimonies of Judah (the Bible) and Joseph (Book of Mormon).
Some ask how the Book of Mormon can be the stick of Ephraim, when Lehi was a descendant of Manasseh. The key is not who wrote the books, but for whom the books were written. The Bible was written primarily for the Jews and their fellows (converted Gentiles), while the Book of Mormon was written primarily to the spiritual and physical tribes of Ephraim (which most LDS today belong to, according to their patriarchal blessings) and all others who join the LDS Church and are members of other tribes of Israel.
David Larsen’s notes of Margaret Barker’s Temple Symposium IV discourse on the Paradise Temple: http://www.heavenlyascents.com/2010/11/08/the-temple-studies-group-symposium-iv-margaret-barker/
Model of the Third Temple as described by Ezekiel: http://www.sonstoglory.com/ThirdTempleEzekielsMillennialTemple.htm#PhotosofEzekielsTemple
Cherubim/Seraphim Wings or Coverings: http://bible.cc/isaiah/6-2.htm
Isaiah’s theophany in Isaiah 6 and in the Ascension of Isaiah (OT Lesson 36) from my blog at Joel’s Monastery: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/09/ot-gospel-doctrine-lesson-36-glory-of.html
Painting: Raphael's Vision of Ezekiel: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5c/Raffael_099.jpg/300px-Raffael_099.jpg