Today our study of the old covenant prophets brings us to the first of two prophets who ministered in Babylon during Judah's exile in that foreign land. This prophet also experienced one of the most intense prophetic ministries in terms of the things he did to deliver God's message, including lying on his side for more than a year and cooking his food over a fire fueled by dung (Ezek. 4). We are speaking, of course, of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was thirty years old at the time of his call, which came during the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's exile, while the prophet was living in Babylon near the Chebar canal (vv. 1–3). Remember that the ancient Judahites were exiled from their land in three phases. First, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captured some of the leading men of Judah after he wrested control of the Holy Land from Egypt in 605 BC (2 Kings 23:31–24:1a; Dan. 1:1–7). Then he exiled King Jehoiachin and most skilled leaders of Judah in 598/597 BC as a punishment for Judah's revolt under the reign of Jehoiakim (24:1b–17). Finally, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and took into exile all the Judahites except for members of the lower class (25:1–21). A priest and the son of Buzi, Ezekiel was part of the second group of people that Nebuchadnezzar took from Judah to Babylon.
Apparently, God called Ezekiel in the same year King Zedekiah of Judah came to visit Babylon (Jer. 51:59). The Judahites in Babylon never fully accepted Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar had put on the throne in Jehoiachin's place. Instead, these exiles regarded Jehoiachin as David's true heir (2 Kings 24:17; Jer. 38:19). Nevertheless, they were doubtless encouraged to see Zedekiah come and go from Babylon in peace, and they likely thought relations between the two nations would improve to the point where they could soon go home. After all, as we saw in our study of Jeremiah, almost no Judahite believed Jerusalem would actually fall until it was too late. These Judahites with false hope did not include Ezekiel, whose book foresees the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem because the people lacked the same holy jealousy for the Lord that He had for them (Ezek. 16:1–52).
God's appearance to Ezekiel in Babylon revealed His uniqueness. Most ancient Near Eastern peoples believed a god was limited in his control to one land and people. By coming to Ezekiel in Babylon, the Lord of Israel showed how different He is from other deities. Unlike false gods, the true God is not bound by time or space.
In the modern West, people are not apt to believe God is limited to one place. However, our relativistic culture has no trouble limiting the universal reign of the triune God of Israel. It is all too common to hear someone say something like "You have your god, and I have my god, and both are right." Yet the Lord of Scripture is not just the God of one nation but of all people, even those who hate Him. We serve a sovereign God who is the great King of all creation.