Ezekiel begins this book by telling us he is in exile in Babylon with many others from the Jewish kingdom of Judah.
Step back several hundred years and we see the unravelling events of what caused Judah, the nation of God’s people, to be subject to their enemies.
God was displeased with the sin and disobedience king Solomon displayed during his reign as king and the people of Israel were displeased with the heavy taxes king Solomon placed on them to support his lavish lifestyle (despite the Lord’s earlier warning in Deuteronomy 17). This caused many people to rebel and they rejected King Solomon’s heir to the throne, in favour of a king of their own choosing. This split the nation into two kingdoms:
the Southern Kingdom – known as Judah, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and ruled by Solomon’s chosen king, his son Rehoboam
the Northern Kingdom – known as Israel, consisting of the remaining ten tribes and ruled by a king chosen by the people, Jeroboam a former servant of Solomon.
Each kingdom produced king after king who did evil in the sight of the Lord, including idolatry, and led His people astray. Judah had a handful of kings who were righteous and faithful to God (Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah). Israel did not fare so well, their kings committed such evil that God’s judgment eventually came upon the whole nation and it was destroyed at the hands of the Assyrians.
Although the kingdom of Judah reigned longer than Israel they too found themselves under the Judgment of the Lord due to their disobedience and persistent indulging of sin, including idolatry. King Manasseh was so evil, more evil than the Amorites before him, that God promised to forsake Judah and thus the remnant of the Jewish nation [2 Kings 21].
Several years later Babylon, a foreign nation, became a powerful empire under the rule of king Nebuchadnezzar and soon they conquered the armies of Assyria and Egypt. Considering the wickedness of Judah, God delivered Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and his army over a period of time, taking captive some of the people of Judah in three stages.
Ezekiel is among the captives in the second stage and five years into his captivity is where Ezekiel’s story begins. Not too much is known about him; biblical scholars have placed his age at around twenty-five when he was taken captive and he lived in Babylon around the same time as the succession of the prophet Daniel. Ezekiel tells us that he is from a priestly lineage and trained as a priest [Ezekiel 1:3]. Having spent his life preparing and in expectation of fulfilling this role in serving the Lord, it is not impossible to imagine the despair Ezekiel must have felt upon his removal from everything that he knew and everything that he had worked toward. Knowing that the plan he believed God had laid out for him was (literally) disintegrating and disappearing almost before his eyes.
There was no temple by the Chebar River, no offering of sacrifices to the Lord or carrying out services and blessing the people. From someone looking in on his life it would seem that Ezekiel’s purpose no longer existed. But our God, the God of Judah, broke through Ezekiel’s despair. He broke through pain Ezekiel may have endured during the traumatic experience of seeing the destruction of his country, being uprooted from his home and banned from returning. He broke through discouragement and disappointment; He broke through and changed how Ezekiel would serve Him. Ezekiel would no longer represent the people to God as a priest, he would represent God to the people as a prophet. Ezekiel would no longer mediate between man and God, instead he would mediate between God and man. God did not abandon Ezekiel or his willingness to serve, instead He gave Ezekiel another opportunity to do just that.
For many of us there will be a time in our life (it could even be now) when we experience pain; pain that cripples our hope and distorts our perception of the future. We are unable to see God’s purpose being fulfilled and may have forgotten what it was to begin with. Yet even in our bleakest moment, when our lives take an unexpected course and situations take shape beyond our control, God is moving. Our God given purpose may look different to what we had planned, the time may occur later than we expected and the place in which our purpose is fulfilled may be foreign to us; nevertheless we must never forget that we serve an intentional God who knows His plan and purpose for our lives and how we can best glorify Him and His kingdom.