Feast upon the Word Blog

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Sunday School Lesson 43: Ezekiel 18, 34, and 37

Posted by Jim F. on November 14, 2010

Chronologically we turn backwards at this point. Jeremiah was the prophet in 597 B.C. when Jerusalem was finally captured and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and its people were carried into Babylon. Like Lehi, Ezekiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah, but Ezekiel did not prophesy with them. Instead, like Daniel, Ezekiel was with the large group from Judah taken captive into Babylon earlier. He began to prophesy only after arriving in Babylon, so prophets in Jerualem, like Lehi and Jeremiah, may not even have known about Ezekiel. Tradition has it that he died and was buried in Babylon. With that in mind, as you read Ezekiel, ask yourself what difference the absence of the Temple makes to his preaching and teaching.

Chapter 18

Verses 1-4: The people of Israel seem to have used the  proverb of verse 2 against the Lord. Can you explain how the proverb works as a complaint? Why might that complaint have arisen in Babylon? Why does the Lord speak here of his ownership of all souls? What point is he making when he speaks of the soul of the father and the soul of the son? How is he responding to the criticism of him implicit in the proverb?

Verses 5-9: In the Old Testament, what does it mean to be just (verse 5)? Does it mean perfect obedience to all the commandments? Can you explain why you answer that question as you do? What does it mean to walk in the statutes of God (verse 9)? To “deal truly”? Why does verse 9 end by repeating what was said in verse 5? What does that suggest about the material in between?

Verses 10-20: What is the point of these verses? How do they apply to Israel in Babylon?

Verses 21-24: What has been the Lord’s point in the chapter so far? What does the Lord mean when he asks, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?”

Verses 25-29: What complaint is the Lord responding to in verse 25? Do we ever make a similar complaint? When? What is the Lord’s answer? Explain the last half of verse 29.

Verses 30-32: Why does this section begin with the word therefore?

Chapter 34

Verses 1-10: How does this describe the shepherds—leaders—that Israel has had? (Clearly Ezekiel is using Jeremiah 23 as his model.) How is the Babylonian captivity related to these verses? It is easy enough to think of ways that these verses may apply to others, especially those who lead earthly governments. But how might they apply to us? (Remember that Nephi says “I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” He doesn’t say, “I did liken all scripture unto others.”)

In verse 3, the correct translation is probably milk rather than fat: “Ye eat the milk, and ye clothe you with the wool.”

Here is an alternate translation of verse 10: “Thus says the Lord GOD: I swear I am coming against these shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves [i.e., feed themselves instead of the sheep]. I will save my sheep, that they may no longer be food for their mouths.” (New American Bible).

Verses 11-22: How does the Lord’s leadership contrast with that of the leaders of Israel? Can you list the different things that the Lord does as shepherd and explain what each of those might model for us? Consider the context and the theme of these verses and the previous 10 verses: What do you think the rams and the he-goats in verse 17 might represent? What about the lean cattle and the fat cattle in verse 22?

Verses 23-31: Why does the Lord use King David to represent the ideal shepherd who will govern Israel? For us, who is that shepherd? Is he someone who has already come? Someone with us? Someone yet to come? Do you see the ways in which these verses promise to fulfill the covenant made to Abraham (Genesis 17:2-8 and Genesis 22:16-18)? Does it fulfill the restatement of that covenant that the Lord made through Moses (Exodus 19:4-6)?

Verses 25-30: In these verses we don’t see the shepherd theme that has previously dominated this chapter. Why not? What is the Lord talking about? What is he promising? Compare these verses to Leviticus 26:3-7. What’s the connection?

Chapter 37

Rather than a “mere” prophecy, we have here the record of a prophetic vision.

Verses 1-14: Can you think of different ways to understand this prophecy of the resurrection? For example, what might the dry bones have meant to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity, those to whom Ezekiel delivered this prophecy? What might the resurrection represent to them? Many contemporary Jews read this chapter as something other than a prophecy of resurrection. How do you think they do so? Are we forced to choose between the various possible, reasonable interpretations? Why or why not? What do you make of the fact that Ezekiel brings about the resurrection of these bones by preaching “the word of the Lord” to them? What might “word of the Lord” mean here? In verse 11, “we are cut off for our parts” can also be translated “we are clean cut off.” What is Israel saying in verse 11? What does verse 14 promise?

The word “spirit” could also be translated “breath.” How does that connect verse 14 to verses 5 and 9? Does this give us any clue as to different ways of understanding the resurrection described here?

Verses 15-23: What is the overall theme of these verses? (Notice that verses 15-20 describe an “object lesson” that is used in Ezekiel’s preaching in verses 21-23.) In that context, how would those in Babylon have understood the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph? How do we understand those two sticks? How are those two understandings related to each other?

Most Old Testament scholars—though not all—understand the sticks to be exactly that, sticks, rather than scrolls (as in Isaiah 8:1) or wooden writing tablets (as in Habakkuk 2:2). They appear to understand the sticks as the scepters of the nations’ rulers. (See, for example, Walter Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 25-48, translated by James D. Martin [Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1983], 273-74.) Consider each possible interpretation as if it were true. What understanding of the prophecy does each interpretation yield? Must we insist on the truth of one interpretation to the exclusion of the others?

Are we supposed to see a parallel between the coming together of the bones and the coming together of the sticks? What is the significance of the sticks being “in thine hand before their eyes” (verse 20)?

Verses 24-28: Is there a difference between a king and a shepherd (verse 24)? Why is David used as a figure of the Messiah? What promises does the Lord make in these verses? (As I read them, there are four, marked by the words “for ever” and “everlasting”—which translate the same Hebrew word.) How do those promises correlate with the Abrahamic covenant and its Mosaic clarification? How do these promises relate to the new covenant that Jeremiah promised (Jeremiah 31:31; Hebrews 8:8)? Do they relate to us in any way? If so, how?

3 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson 43: Ezekiel 18, 34, and 37”

  1. Kevin Barney said

    Thanks, Jim. Now that I’m teaching GD again, I am finding your lesson notes very helpful.

    The date at the beginning of your text should be 597, not 595.

    Folks might be interested in this blog post I did once on Ezekiel’s Sticks:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2006/01/26/ot-ezekiels-sticks/

    I’m a partisan of the writing board theory. My wife is actually going to construct a working model of such writing boards, complete with wax fill, for me to show my class.

    • Jim F. said

      Kevin, thanks for catching the typo. I’ll make the change. I’m glad to hear that you find these useful.

      I think there are good reasons for accepting the writing boards theory, but I don’t know enough to decide between the various theories. I think they all fit with the LDS understanding of what the verses mean in the Restoration.

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