Ezekiel’s Call to Be a Prophet (Ezekiel 1-17)
Let us begin, as the Book of Ezekiel does, with God’s call to Ezekiel to become a prophet. When we meet Ezekiel, as a descendant of Jacob's son Levi, he is by profession a priest (Ezek. 1:2). As such, his day-to-day work had previously lain in slaughtering, butchering and roasting the sacrificial animals brought by worshipers to the temple in Jerusalem. As a priest, he also served as a moral and spiritual guide to the people, teaching them God's law and adjudicating disputes (Leviticus 10:11, Deuteronomy 17:8-10, 33:10).
However, his priesthood had been violently interrupted when he was taken as a captive to Babylon in the first deportation of Jews from Jerusalem in 605 B.C. In Babylon, the Jewish community of exile was preoccupied with two questions: "Has God been unjust to us?" and "What did we do to deserve this?" The desolation of these exiled Jews is captured well in Psalm 137:1-4: "By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion!' How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?"
In exile in Babylon, Ezekiel receives a dramatic call from God. Like Isaiah’s call (Isaiah 6:1-8), Ezekiel’s begins with a vision of God (Ezek. 1:4-2:8) and concludes with God's command to become a prophet. Direct calls to a particular kind of work are rare in the Bible, and Ezekiel’s is one of the most dramatic. Although Ezekiel’s original profession was the priesthood, God called him to a prophetic career that was primarily political, not religious. It is fitting that the vision in which he received his call includes political symbols such as chariot wheels (Ezek. 1:16), an army (Ezek. 1:24), a throne (Ezek. 1:26) and a sentinel (Ezek. 3:16), but no religious symbols. Ezekiel’s call should dispel any notion that calls from God are generally calls away from secular professions and into church ministry.
Ezekiel’s prophetic career begins in Babylonian exile eleven years before the final destruction of Jerusalem. His first charge from God is to refute the empty promises of false prophets who were assuring the exiles that Babylon would be defeated and they would soon go home. In the opening chapters of the book, Ezekiel is shown a series of visions depicting the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem and then the slaughter in the capture of the city.
See Theology of Work Project Key Topic #2 – Calling – at www.theologyofwork.org.