Many people who read the Bible have questions about the death of Ezekiel’s wife. The primary issue in the minds of many people is God’s role in the death of the prophet’s wife. Why did God cause the death of Ezekiel’s wife? What kind of God causes the death of a person in order to provide an illustration to a sermon? Did God kill Ezekiel’s wife?
All these questions throw aspersions on the nature and the character of God. Thus, a proper understanding of the death of Ezekiel’s wife becomes imperative if one desires to know and understand God’s announcement to Ezekiel that the death of his wife was imminent. The death of Ezekiel’s wife occurred during Ezekiel’s series of messages to the people in Babylon, announcing the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of Judah.
These studies on the death of Ezekiel’s wife will explore the events related to Ezekiel’s ministry, the story of Ezekiel’s wife, the death of Ezekiel’s wife, the mourning rituals in Israel, and the alleged cruelty of God. The last post will focus on the cost involved in being a prophet of God.
Many times in the Old Testament, God used the personal lives of the prophets to communicate a specific message to his people and Ezekiel’s call was no different. God used the birth of Isaiah’s son to present a message of deliverance to Israel. God used Jeremiah’s buying a piece of land to declare to Israel that there was hope for the future. God used the marital problems of Hosea to present the infidelity of his people Israel. God used these events to convey a specific message to the people and the death of Ezekiel’s wife, along with his loss of speech, served the same purpose.
Ezekiel was called to proclaim God’s word to the people of Judah who were in exile in Babylon. Ezekiel has been described as an eccentric prophet because of the extreme methods used to communicate his message to the people.
Ezekiel used many symbolic actions to present his message to Israel. These symbolic acts required strange behavior which were intended to communicate God’s message to the exilic community. In one of his revelations to the prophet, God told Ezekiel to pack his belongings, dig a hole on the wall, and to go through it with his face covered. This act was meant to convey a message to the people of the coming judgment against Jerusalem and the nature of the exile.
God commanded Ezekiel to make an etched mud brick to portray the siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1–3). Ezekiel lay down on his side for several days to portray the coming judgment upon Judah (Ezekiel 4:4–8). God commanded Ezekiel to eat unclean food to represent the food people would eat during the siege of Jerusalem and in their exile.
In another symbolic act, God told Ezekiel not to perform the mourning rituals to grieve the death of his wife. God’s command to the prophet is troubling because God’s command leaves the reader with questions about the character and nature of God.
“The word of the LORD came to me: Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your upper lip or eat the bread of mourners.”
“So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded. Then the people said to me, ‘Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting this way?’”
“Then I said to them: The word of the LORD came to me: Say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire; and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword.”
“And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your upper lip or eat the bread of mourners. Your turbans shall be on your heads and your sandals on your feet; you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall pine away in your iniquities and groan to one another. Thus, Ezekiel shall be a sign to you; you shall do just as he has done. When this comes, then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.”
“And you, mortal, on the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes and their heart’s affection, and also their sons and their daughters, on that day, one who has escaped will come to you to report to you the news. On that day your mouth shall be opened to the one who has escaped, and you shall speak and no longer be silent. So you shall be a sign to them; and they shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 24:15–27).
“What These Things Means To Us?”
Ezekiel 24:15–27 relates the death of Ezekiel’s wife and God’s command telling Ezekiel not to mourn outwardly for his wife. Ezekiel’s refrain from mourning was to be a sign to the people in exile that when Jerusalem had fallen, the people would not mourn for the city nor for the temple. God’s command to Ezekiel raises many questions in the mind of the readers: Why was God taking the life of Ezekiel’s wife to send a message to the people? Why did Ezekiel remain silent and did not protest God’s decision to take his wife? Why did God not want the exilic community to mourn the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and their children? Although the text does not provide many answers to these troubling questions, the text does have much to say about the reality of a life in submission to God.
Each action Ezekiel was to take or not to take against the normal mourning practices were intended to be signs to the people that there was something God wanted them to know or understand about what was happening in Jerusalem, what was happening to their children, and to the people who were about to go into exile.
Central to the proper understanding of the meaning of the death of Ezekiel’s wife are the words of Ezekiel 24:19. When the people saw how Ezekiel reacted after the death of his wife, they asked Ezekiel, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting this way?” (Ezekiel 24:19).
Ezekiel’s actions were intended to teach the people what they needed to know and understand about their predicament. People today who want to understand the message God was trying to communicate through the death of Ezekiel’s wife must ask the same question the people asked Ezekiel, “Tell us, what do these things that you are doing mean?” When we understand what Ezekiel was doing then we will understand the significance of the death of Ezekiel’s wife.
While the events of Ezekiel 24 were addressed to the people of Judah who lived at the end of the sixth century BCE, those same events can teach important lessons to people today. The message of the Bible, while they were time specific, is also a timeless message. This timeless nature of the biblical message must fuel our desire to understand the importance of these events, bridging the generations that separate us from the people who were in exile in Babylon.
The first exile of Judah took place when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, conquered Jerusalem in 597 BCE. At that time 10,000 people were taken into exile, including Jehoiachin, king of Judah, his mother, the royal family, their servants, and the palace officials. In addition, another 8,000 professional people were also taken to Babylon (2 Kings 24:12).
Among the captives was a young priest called Ezekiel. Ezekiel and his wife were taken to Babylon together with the political, military, and religious leaders of Judah. The captives were settled in a place called Tel-abib on the river Chebar. Five years later (592 BCE) Ezekiel was called to the prophetic ministry to minister to the people living in exile in Babylon.
Ezekiel preached to a people separated from their native land, a place they called home, the land of promise. In Babylon, they were foreigners, living in a strange land, living in a foreign nation against their will, being held captive by a pagan people. The people of God were living in a land that was not theirs. They were a people whose identity had been stripped from them. By the rivers of Babylon, a very disturbing message was sent from God through Ezekiel to the people in exile.
Ezekiel was called to be a prophet during the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin, 592 BCE. Ezekiel was 30 years of age when he received his call. According to Numbers 4:3, a man had to be 30 years old before he was considered to be mature enough to be a priest. Ezekiel was called to a rebellious people to accomplish a difficult task.
Yahweh told Ezekiel, “Son of man, I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says!’ And whether they listen or refuse to listen – for remember, they are rebels – at least they will know they have had a prophet among them” (Ezekiel 2:3–5 NLT).
Ezekiel was a man committed to the task he received from God. Ezekiel was asked to do many extraordinary things as part of his prophetic call. He followed God obediently, doing all that was asked of him. John Bright puts it this way, “No stranger figure can be found in all the goodly fellowship of the prophets than Ezekiel” (Bright 2000: 336).
Posts on the Death of Ezekiel’s Wife
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – Prophetic Acts
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – Ezekiel’s Wife (forthcoming)
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – The Message to Israel (forthcoming)
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – God’s Supposed Cruelty (forthcoming)
The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – Ezekiel and the Prophetic Office (forthcoming)
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Bright, John. A History of Israel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.