The name Ezekiel means “God strengthens.” When a Hebrew baby was given that name in the seventh century before Christ, it was almost prophetic of the spiritual resources the child would need for the years awaiting him.
Ezekiel was taken into Babylonian captivity, along with many other Jews, in 597 B.C. In the fifth year of his captivity he was thirty years old and God called him to prophesy to his brethren in that strange land. Back in Canaan, where other Hebrews remained, pressures were building that would ultimately result in the horrible destruction of Jerusalem (which came with Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion in 586 B.C.).
Ezekiel’s prophecies can be divided into two historical periods: those given before the fall of Jerusalem (chapters one through thirty-two) and those given after that calamity (chapters thirty-three through forty-eight).
When the news of Jerusalem’s destruction (including that of the sacred temple) reached the exiled people of Israel, they were deeply depressed. Was there no hope for them as a nation? It was Ezekiel’s task to give them a message of hope—grounded, of course, upon their repentance.
Ezekiel chapter thirty-four is remarkable in that it contains a series of divine promises framed in the phrase, “I will . . .” Note what the Lord promised to his people. God said, "I will:
- search and seek them out (vv. 11, 16a);
- deliver them (v. 12);
- bring them out (v. 13a);
- gather them unto myself (v. 13b);
- feed them (v. 14);
- cause them to lie down (v. 15b);
- bind up the broken (v. 16b);
- strengthen the sick (v. 16c);
- destroy the enemy (v. 16d);
- judge my sheeps’ differences (vv. 17-22);
- watch over them (v. 23);
- be their God (v. 24);
- bless them (vv. 25a, 26b);
- cause them to dwell in safety (v. 25b);
- make them a blessing (v. 26);
- abundantly satisfy them (vv. 29-31)."
There are some very important lessons to learn from this situation.
First, note that God did not shield his people from all hardships. That is not what human existence is all about. Our earthly domain is an environment of suffering; that is what the introduction of sin has done, and we all are paying the price for that. We suffer for our own sins (1 Peter 4:15), and we suffer as a consequence of the sins of others (Exodus 20:5; Romans 5:12).
That is the nature of this cause-and-effect world of which we are citizens. Only heaven has that spiritual atmosphere where such problems will not exist (cf. Revelation 21:1-5), and we are not there yet!
Second, God allows his people to suffer for their own good. Suffering is the classroom of obedience. Christ was even subjected to suffering that he might become qualified as our merciful high priest (cf. Hebrews 2:10, 17-18; 5:8-9). Trials are a refining process—if we are wise enough to learn from them (James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Third, it is nonetheless the case that our Creator promises to sustain us—if we will demonstrate our confidence in him by trusting him, obeying him, and leaning on him during the hard times through which we struggle.
Ezekiel, the ancient prophet, provides us with much instruction and consolation in this regard. Remember, we are to learn priceless principles from these Old Testament narratives (Romans 15:4). Let us, therefore, appreciate and profit from these words of God’s man—a voice of encouragement in a time of sorrow.