The impetus for Ezekiel’s literary activity was the reception of visions and
messages from the Lord, which had announced the imminent destruction of Jerusalem.
The reason for writing these down is so that Israel might have a permanent record of the
reasons for that judgment as well as the prophetic assurance that God would eventually
restore Israel to the land in glory and peace.
The Interpretation of Apocalyptic. The message of Ezekiel, couched as it is in
visions and symbols and directed toward the ultimate outcome of history is often termed
“apocalyptic.” This term has been variously defined. It should be understood as a specific
literary genre that has its beginnings in an exilic type setting. Merrill defines it as a “cata-
clysmic way of perceiving the eventual sovereignty of Yahweh and the elevation of his
people Israel as the head of all the nations.”1 It is important to remember that, though
symbols do not interpret themselves, when the biblical author uses symbols and images
he does so within the framework of the intentions of the divine author. This means that
the clues for interpreting these symbols lies within the totality of a writer’s work, as
supplemented by the rest of Scripture. Once the knowableness and inner consistency of
the Scriptures are assumed, the interpreter may ascertain and validate the text’s meaning
and application. Thus, the actual intention of Ezekiel’s futuristic images must correspond
1 Eugene H. Merrill, “A Theology of Ezekiel and Daniel,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, Roy B. Zuck, ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 366. Alexander defines apocalyptic literature as “symbolic visionary prophetic literature, composed during oppressive conditions, consisting of visions whose events are recorded exactly as they were seen by the author and explained through a divine interpreter, and whose theological content is primarily eschatological” (Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel in Everyman’s Bible Commentary series (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), 115; see also Alexander’s “Hermeneutics of Old Testament Apocalyptic Literature,” (unpublished Ph.D. diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1968)).