Some Bible books set the scene fairly well for you and Ezekiel is one of those books. It begins to identify the date and place, “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.”The date tells us that Ezekiel’s vision was happening as the Southern Kingdom of Israel, Judah, was nearing its end. Babylon was about to destroy the city and the temple in 586 BC. So, scholars seem to agree that Ezekiel had his vision around July 31, 593 BC according to our calendar. Jehoiachin was the second to last king of the southern kingdom but had been taken captive to Babylon about five years earlier. He was replaced with a puppet king of Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah. Ezekiel was taken captive with him. The date is well attested to and agreed upon by most conservative scholars.

As far as the place is concerned, Stuart explains, “Verse 1, in the first person and thus spoken by Ezekiel himself, functions as an introduction to the entire book and makes two paramount points: (1) Ezekiel was among the exiles; (2) he saw revelatory visions. Virtually everything we read in this extensive book was first reported to that defeated community of expatriate Jews forcibly deported to Mesopotamia by the Babylonians, an unknown number of whom (probably a few hundred) lived where Ezekiel did at the city of Tel-Abib along the Chebar River. This river was in fact a great irrigation canal that took water from the Euphrates River at the city of Nippur and carried it in a large semicircle through the countryside until it rejoined the Euphrates downstream near the city of Uruk.”[1]

Ezekiel and his fellow Israelites were ripped away from their homes. It’s not that they didn’t have a home, they knew they had one but it had been taken away from them by their enemies. They had been uprooted. As one writer puts it, “It is having deep roots which have now been plucked up, and there you are, with roots dangling, writhing in pain, exposed to a cold and jeering world, longing to be restored to native and nurturing soil. Exile is knowing precisely where you belong, but knowing that you can’t go back.”[2] Psalm 137:1-6 expresses what that was like. It says, “By the Waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there, our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?  If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!  Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” You might join me sometimes in feeling like a foreigner in a strange land. I find myself by my own “waters of Babylon” where I want to sit down and weep. We’re aliens and pilgrims in a world foreign to our values and far from the home, we long for. The good news for the Israelites, and for you and me, is that God speaks to His people, even in a foreign land. He used Ezekiel to speak to Israel and Ezekiel can speak to us for God if we want to hear him.

[1] Stuart, Douglas, and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. 1989. Ezekiel. Vol. 20. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

[2] Duguid, Iain M. 1999. Ezekiel. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.